Heroes from Another Time

A Quick Tour
...Of the Solar System...

…Ends at the Citadel…

…on Mars. Also known as “The Drifter” for its planetological properties.

John Cromwell Mansfield was pleased to see so many technicians scurrying about. Technicians in Cybertronic uniforms.

“Looks like they took my warning seriously.”

So, say you’ve got a big old moon, about the size of Saturn’s Rhea. Constructed about like most of the Europa-type moons: rock core, lotsa metals, giant ocean, heated by tidal forces from a nearby gas giant, surrounded by a thick layer of ice, water and other volatiles.
— Tour guide, pretending to be
Ambrose Hab

Many such: outer solar system: more a few billion years ago: possibly.
— Prop Watson

Perturbed by a passing object in the outer solar.

Probable orbit: cometary: long ellipse: falling toward the sun.

Unless a planet gets in the way.

Low probability: over short period of time.
High probability: on a solar-system time scale: Roche limit.

Travis McGee

The Roche limit is how close it has to get to the planet for the tidal forces to break it up. What once warmed its interior can now destroy it. The biggest chunks swing around the planet about half a revolution, then crash. If the planet has a thin crust like Earth’s, you get something like the Pacific Ocean. Not very pacifically. In fact, if the perturbing force were intentional, it might be a heckuva weapon. What if the target has a thick crust? Like Mars.
— Tour guide

Mantle melted: wobble: whole planet: rings the planet like a bell.
The crust: half melted: division created: lowlands: highlands.

Pretty much like the Northern Lowlands on Mars. And the Southern Highlands.

Jules Alveris

Hellas; the epicenter: of such an event; Hellas Planitia.
Two percent: mass of Mars: ejecta distributed.
Over Southern Highlands: raise the average surface 2 kilometers: Highlands.
Volatiles: instantly converted: superheated steam: blown out: into space.
Some remains: bubbles out: through molten impact basin: next few hundred million years.
A soda bottle: Martian mantle: congealed: Martian crust: solidified.
Chunks of moon: big chunks: incomplete absorption.
Plumes of magma: thrust upwards: keep thrusting: the last, unabsorbed remains of moon: mostly metal.
Floated in place: like feathers on jets of air.
— prop Watson

Jesus.
— tourist listening to prop Watson,
although he might just as well have sworn by a much later incarnation of the martyr-hero, Nathaniel Durand

Lou Addo noticed the analog recording device the tour guide was using as a prop used the same phrases he had heard from their own Speak-and-Spell Watson.

In his mind that confirmed that the devices both must be simply playing back an actual conversation stored on the original Watson and transferred to both analog devices.

“Probably on the Cybertronic Watson, too.”

The recordings preserved by Watson were well-known in the academic community. Lou was agnostic on the scholarly debate over how authentic they were.

They certainly were authentically downloaded from Watson. That much had been verified.

Long time ago: a billion years: two, probably.
Plumes: a lot colder: most are solid: Drifters sinking: tops: still poke through; some of them.
Deep vents: many; carved by superheated lava; tunnels pushed: right through: to the deep roots.
To main bulk: of the old remains: of moon: of moons: metals: crystalline metals: many metals.
— prop Watson

Spectacular. But what if the moon was inhabited? It had oceans. It had billions of years. How far would a civilization advance? When it could never see the stars?
— tour guide

Interesting.
— prop Watson

View
Satellite Dish Readjustment
...Is Step One...

…To Clean Up the Amusement Park.

But who should do the rest? The Brotherhood? Cybertronic?? Capitol???

“I don’t see the downside of letting the Brotherhood know about the problems we’ve found.”

John Cromwell Mansfield could see that Lou was beginning to see the downside as soon as he asked the question. Not for nothing did the Brotherhood call its investigators “Inquisitors.”

As much as Mansfield wanted to use the news to manipulate the stock price of Capitol, calling in the Brotherhood could be a problem.

Sure, they would root out the heretics and cultists.

But their ongoing feud with Cybertronic was going to be a problem. Both corporations were at the forefront of vigilance against the Heretic Threat. Most of society had forgotten the Dark Legion War.

Cybertronic and the Brotherhood advocated eternal vigilance. But the other corps were back to squabbling with each other, fighting endless corporate wars for various pieces of real estate around the solar system.

Even Cybertronic and the Brotherhood had their own little feud. Each advocated a different approach to the Heretic Threat. The Brotherhood wanted to rid the system of any threat of machines which could be corrupted by the Dark Legion. Cybertronic wanted to develop machines which were resistant to the Legion.

Capitol had partnered with Cybertronic to use Cybertronic’s technology to make the Punishment Street Amusement Park a safe technological marvel. “Certified Safe by Cybertronic” signs were everywhere in the park.

Sure they did a lot of stuff with old-fashion Dieselpunk tech. But signs of creeping technology were everywhere.

Signs with the Cybertronic logo.

Antenna position identified:
Percentage: Lunar antennas pointed: Pluto: 89 percent:
Anomaly level: moderate
— from the Speak-and-Spell Watson
purchased at the Amusement Park

Jules Alveris concurred with the tentative decision to give Cybertronic a chance to clean up the park.

But they did not come here to “clean up” the amusement park. They came here to see it.

And Jules wanted more than ever to see it before it got cleaned up.

“Let’s go do the tour!”

The guided tour of Straffar Gatan — sure it was bound to be a little corny. They would delight in pointing out all the historical inaccuracies. But it was a recreation of the actual street in The Nines where The Punishment Street Irregulars found their first adventures.

Turned out that some of the historical touches were kinda fun. The surveillance cameras in Number 39 were rigged to photoshop their faces onto video of actors prowling around the “apartment building” so they could be viewed on the monitors in the supe’s apartment.

The tour guide had just the right “creepy ticketseller” vibe that you could almost imagine he was recruited in The Nines at the very time when the Irregulars first investigated here. Or — maybe? — from cultists trying to revive the old Heretic Cults from the Dark Legion War.

When they got to the fourth floor, they sorta snuck away from the tour group so Lou could use Watson Junior to see where the dish was pointing. That was where they got their first clue something was really wrong.

The dish was not pointed at Mars…or at any other legitimate target in the known solar system. It was not even pointed at Pluto…which would, at least, have been historically accurate.

Lou carefully took down the coordinates.

Then they went to the Hall of Guns, which also in the “apartment building” at Number 39. Mansfield loved the place. Seemed to have just about every gun the Irregulars had ever used…or had used on them.

The tour ended at a kind of shooting range, where they were able to test their marksmanship against a challenge which Detective Civitas had survived: Each shooting gallery was rigged with a Dieselpunk mechanical Castigator which ran on hidden rails toward the shooter.

The idea was to “kill” the target before it got to you. The rest opted for SMGs, but Lou wanted to use the pistol that Civitas had been forced to use on the original Castigator. “That should win me some blue tickets.” Maybe even the red.

The charging mechanical beast was so realistic he was able to get really charged up with adrenaline has he fired away. In fact, he may even have done more damage than its designers intended.

Some parts of the target were designed to be blown away in realistic gouts of “blood” and “guts.” But his shooting seemed to get to the mechanical innards.

“They may have to retire that target,” he thought.

Then the mechanical pieces began move on their own, slowly reassembling into a different kind of target.

A real target.

A real Twisted Marionette.

Mantle melted: wobble: whole planet: rings the planet like a bell.
The crust: half melted: division created: lowlands: high…
— from the Speak-and-Spell Watson
purchased at the Amusement Park

Lou Addo recognized the Twisted Marionette as one of the creatures the Irregulars had fought.

Before he had a chance to shoot it himself, Mansfield had tossed aside his sub-machine gun and pulled out his Plasma Rifle … from his days as a Blood Beret.

It looked like Mansfield had been able to tap into the adrenaline of the Castigator almost overwhelming him as he blazed away with the pistol. Because the Twisted Marionette went down before it had a chance to attack.

Before the rest of them had a chance to attack.

Mansfield kept surprising them. One minute he would be demonstrating what a Blood Beret could do with plasma; the next, he’d almost be imitating a Brotherhood Inquisitor.

He knew there might be a connection between the misalignment of the satellite dish and fact that the Heretic Cultists here seem to have the ability to create Twisted Marionettes.

Creatures which hadn’t been seen since the Dark Legion War.

“I think we better investigate Mansfield’s control room.”

So they returned to the casino to see what the Blood Beret could show them in the basement.

DNA residue identified:
Fourth Floor:
“Castigator” identified: Konrad von Saar
Sample contains: alien DNA
— from the Speak-and-Spell Watson
purchased at the Amusement Park

Travis McGee followed Mansfield deeper into the casino basement after they collected samples from the zombie women.

“They sure didn’t do a very good cleanup job after the massacre,” he told himself. “We even found pieces of flesh. I guess it was a quick coverup job in a place where few guests would ever go.”

“Few guests” — obviously those words didn’t include Mansfield. He was showing them deeper and deeper into the under-basements of the casino. Then he showed them a secret door he had found on his previous visit.

Lou closed the door once they were inside.

Inside they found a small room and Mansfield showed them a manhole cover in the floor. They pried the cover off the manhole and found a ladder.

“Ladders are for climbing,” Jules pointed out. “In this case, climbing down.”

Descending at least 40 feet, they found a large, well-lit room. It’s walls were covered with bookcases. Travis could see where Mansfield had stolen the books…

…operating manuals it would seem. Because all around him Travis could see the control panels shown in the manuals which Mansfield had stolen on his last visit to this place.

Lou seemed right at home here. It didn’t take him long to figure out how to turn the whole thing on. Took a little longer to decide that was the right thing to do.

Everything in the manuals seemed to indicate a connection between the misaligned satellite dish and this room. These controls. If cultists were controlling the dish to get signals from Heretics in the outer solar system, this was probably the place they were doing it from.

Sure enough. When Lou turned on the system, it showed a map of the entire solar system. Three planets were marked with symbols they found in the manuals — Pluto, an unknown planet, and Nero. Nero was the one which was blinking on the screen Lou had called up.

“Nero. The last known location of the Irregulars,” Jules said. But they all knew that.

Lou compared the coordinates on the screen with those he and Watson had found for the current orientation of the satellite dish. “An exact match,” he said.

Lou figured out how to change the blinking cursor on the planet Nero to Jupiter. A green button lit up saying “Activate.” With some trepidation, Lou hit that button. When the Activate button went out, Travis could see Nero was no longer highlighted on the screen. Instead, the alchemical symbol for Jupiter was highlighted.

“I’ll bet that dish is now pointing at Jupiter,” Jules said.

Travis remembered the samples they were planning to test once they got down here.

He watched as they fed the samples into the analyzer on Watson Junior.

The Cybertronic unit soon told them the samples were indeed the DNA of famous child actresses and ingenues. From the past four centuries.

“Aw,” Mansfield complained. “I was hoping they’d be clones.”

They went back to their rooms and Mansfield notified Cybertronic they had three days to clean out the amusement park or he would call in The Brotherhood.

View
Cryogenically Frozen Starlets
...Put in an Appearance...

…and Lou Uses the Coverup…

…to get to the bottom of all the factions at the Punishment Street Amusement Park.

Lou Addo took the pills the Dr Feelgood offered.

“I’m sure such a fine upstanding organization would never do anything which would endanger the health of their guests,” he told them as he signed the paper waiving his rights to sue.

Then he took the monorail back to the casino where they were staying. It turned out to be part thrill-ride and part transportation.

Then he decided to do some drinking. But his drinking was interrupted by gunfire from the basement. The horrific scene he found down there got him started thinking about the various faction which made up the culture of the amusement park.

Travis McGee was following the police to the scene of the altercation when he heard the shots ring out from the basement of the old casino…which was where he’d last seen Jules and Mansfield.

John Cromwell Mansfield was hardly surprised when more zombie women emerged from the same corridor as the one he shot. He wasn’t even surprised when they all screamed at once.

One of them clawed at him and a bunch of police came down the stairs…

…followed by Travis.

He shot the one who clawed him. Then he set down his box and moved out of the way of the crossfire.

These had pretty faces, unlike the first one he killed.

Definition: Stub:
Stub:one continuous iteration: reality:
Known iteration: reality 1: Kim Paleo suicide:
Known iteration: reality 2: Kim Paleo saved: undergoes rehab:
Known iteration: reality 3: Det Civitas sends message in his own sweat: to himself:
Known iteration: reality 4: Det Civitas sends message in his own blood: to The Fanboyz:
Known iteration: reality 5: The Fanboyz continuum:
— from a file found
on Watson II

Jules Alveris took command of the situation and ordered the police to fire at the zombies. They cordoned off the area and killed some of them. One of the survivors seemed to be a little girl — he recognized her as a famous child star who had died at a young age. She handed the others rattles which they all pointed…

…at him.

He was not wearing armor. But from the way the sonic attack from their rattles injured his arm to the bone, he had a good idea the rattling sound could pierce armor.

First, Lou arrived. Then security.

They were taken to an infirmary - he noticed Mansfield had slipped away - where his arm was healed and they were all asked to sign non-disclosure agreements. He managed to snag cruise tickets and a Cybertronic replica of Watson.

And Lou had a lot to tell them about what he had figured out about what was going on in the amusement park. It fit with what Jules had seen.

It turned out it was a good thing Mansfield had not been caught up by security. When they met up later in the suite he had a fantastical story to tell.

He had not found the Tomb of Civitas in the sub-basements below the casino, but did find a secret control room. Jules would have found it hard to believe, but Mansfield brought back some books he found there.

They looked like operating manuals. For some kind of satellite dish…

“Like the one on top of Straffar Gafan 39,” he told the others.

The manuals were written in a strange language none of them could read.

Then there were a bunch of documents even Mansfield couldn’t explain.

“They must have been in the bottom of the box when I stole…er, ‘appropriated’ it,” he told them.

Jules could not help wondering if the ex-Blood-Beret was telling them everything.

View
From the Red Pills
...To Grimbly World...

…And Below the Casino Where…

The Punishment Street Irregulars once stayed.

Travis McGee wasn’t surprised — much — by any of Mental Assaults on the Red Pill ride. No sooner than he had gotten himself stabilized inside of the rotating Pill than the ride started trying to convince him it was going off its rails and being attacked by monsters.

The Freestyle Arena wasn’t much better. He tried a bumper-car move off of Alveris’s pill. Jules gave up on that game pretty quickly and went in search of a game of King-of-the-Hill.

“Doing surprisingly well, too,” Travis said inside his own Red Pill.

But most of the action was thuggish types trying to pick on the newbs and tourists. Jules got a bunch of the victims together to try to beat the thugs on their own turf. That did not go well.

“Newbs will be newbs.”

They headed back to the casino, where they all had a bit of luck at the gambling tables.

Jules told them he had determined the casino where they were staying was the only building still around from the original GrimblyWorld visited by The Irregulars 1,400 years before. So they decided to explore the basements, searching for the Tomb of Civitas.

When they got to the area below the Casino, they found two choices. He decided to try sneaking into the part which looked like it might be intended for guests. Jules stayed behind to act as a lookout.

“Which is just as well,” Travis told him. “You’re not much for stealth.”

Not that he fared well without Jules to give him away. Security was fairly tight and they spotted him right away. He tried a lame story about looking for a bathroom, but that only landed him under arrest. He was taken away by the Luna City PD.

As they offered him a pill to “calm his nerves,” Lou began to wonder about what kind of doctor would become a house physician at an amusement park.

John Cromwell Mansfield chose the darker path. He was sure he could fake his way through with a little bluster.

“And a box. If I were carrying a box, everybody would just assume I belong here. A janitor or something.”

So, he stole a cardboard box, put it on his shoulder and started exploring like he knew where he was going and owned the place.

Didn’t take him long to find a secret door which led to a small room with a manhole cover in the floor.

“Just what I was looking for,” he told himself as he climbed down the ladder under the manhole.

Sure enough, he found a small control room loaded with screen and keyboards. They were all turned off.

Mansfield looked around for books or something. And he found a number of books with no titles on the covers — or on the title pages — so he grabbed a random sample of the books and shoved them into the box.

It was then that he noticed a small number of papers in the bottom of the cardboard box.

“No time to look at them now.”

He headed back up the ladder.

What kind of doctor? What kind of attorney would become a lawyer for an amusement park? “So, Mr Addo, would you like to sign some papers?” When he asked about the part about damage from mental attacks, they told him he didn’t have to worry about that. “You haven’t suffered any mental wounds, have you? That shouldn’t even apply to you.”

Jules Alveris was not so sure his decision to leave his post as lookout was the best choice he had ever made.

“I think I’ll go back down there,” he told himself after a brief spot of gambling. “They don’t have to know I ever left.”

“Stop! I’m afraid this area is off limits.” The security guard held up his hand.

Just then a busty female figure appeared behind the guard…

…and removed the back of his head. With her claws.

Before he had a chance to react to the violence of the zombie-woman’s attack on the guard, Jules saw Mansfield stride up behind her, carrying a heavy cardboard box on his shoulder — almost nonchalantly.

The former Blood Beret calmly reached in his pocket, pulled out a pistol, and shot the Eternal Zealot — he was pretty sure that was what it was — in the head. Multiple times. Spraying Jules with its blood.

View
Another Origin Story
...This One for...

The Fanboyz

It all started with a letter.

They got together at an amusement park .

Lou Addo got the letter from Jules. They all showed up at The Red Pill Skate Park section of the Amusement Park. And suddenly realized for all their fantasizing about low-gravity skateboarding, none of them had ever done it.

Or were particularly suited for it.

“Agility?” Travis McGee asked Jules. “I’m not very good at that.”

One thing Lou knew Jules was good at: getting tickets. He walked up to the creepy-looking ticketseller and soon had gold tickets for all of them.

Lou took the lead. He pushed himself hard in the high-gravity pipe to get some good speed. “That should help for whatever comes next.”

Sure enough, when the pipe got to the low-gravity section of the skate park — outside the gravity generators which made Luna City the easiest part of the moon to live in — the pipe jogged sharply left.

He decided the easiest way to navigate it was a 360. His speed took him up the far side of the pipe and over the top.

“In the lower gravity, that wasn’t too hard.”

The flow of the 360 took him automatically down the next section of the slalom. A crashing sound behind him told him that Jules had not found it so easy.

“So, what to you attribute the success of The Fanboyz to?”
— Reality-TV host,
questioning John Mansfield

Travis McGee told Jules he wasn’t much good at athletics.

So far that was proving pretty true for all of them.

“Buncha history geeks should stay away from skateboard parks,” he thought to himself. Even low-gravity parks where they insist on lotsa protective gear.

“Luckily I have some ancient tunes,” he thought as he put a copy of Tom Petty’s Freefallin’ into his Mishimi Walkman and plugged the ’buds into his ears.

Sure enough, Jules was freefailing ahead of him in the first jog of the pipe. Getting past put a scare into him. John Cromwell seemed to take it in stride.

Now he was in second with a big gap between him and Lou when he came to a much more extreme jog in the pipe. He watched Lou double the 360 he used on the first jog — hunkered down and holding onto his board.

The flashy exit Lou used come out of the long jog gave the academic the confidence to throw in a flashy stand that made it look like he was skateboarding the side of the pipe.

“I think I’ll forego the flash,” Travis told himself.

“I was just trying pull a real-estate scam. And wham!”
John Cromwell Mansfield,
to an interviewer

Jules Alveris finally had it figured out: get momentum and spend it to take the path of least resistance.

For the long jog, that meant two 360s. “I guess that makes a 720.” When those gave him more momentum, he had the chance to follow the leads of Lou and Travis and add a 225 at the corner.

He did not add a flash move like Lou’s — or even Travis’s simpler one — at the end of the turn. Just a simple banked turn.

“Savin’ my momentum for whatever comes next.”

Whatever came next turned out to be a big loop. Lou spotted it first, but when Jules realized what the extreme curvature of the loop meant he shouted, “Loop-de-loop!”

Too late. After Lou cracked up — even though it seemed like he figured it out — the other two went down as well.

“Good thing we got all this protective gear. Upside down and backward is not a good way to fall.”

Lou and John got out of his way and it looked like he was going to make it.

But Travis just wouldn’t get out of his way. He was going to have to go around the politician. Which meant going up on the side of the tube. While he was upside down.

He had momentum going for him. But it wasn’t enough.

“At least falling from the side of the tunnel isn’t as bad as falling from the top.”

The protective gear worked, though. The only damage they took was the dread he saw in the eyes of Lou and Travis. They took some mental damage from the assaults — fake emergency doors, indeed — but they were able to recover once they were out of the Slalom.

Once they saw the next part of the skate park, it became clear why to low-gravity part of the park was called “Red Pill.” In low-g, you needed a full pipe instead of just a half-pipe. If you made that full pipe out of clear red plastic and put a hemispherical cap on each end, you got something which looked sorta like a red pill.

Which kinda sorta made it a non-historical reference to the Red Pill bust from The Irregulars’ early career.

“A little hokey,” he thought as he saw the creepy attendants loading skaters into the chain of red pills that made up the ride ahead of them.

View
Ambushing the Ambushers
The Creeps Try to Rob a Real Killer

…And a Wannabe Ends up Dead

Once Officer Civitas had the name of Mark Lucas — and his address — it was easy to find the place.

From the dealer’s appearance — greasy, pale, and thin — the CSI officer was guessing Lucas was a small-time drug dealer and addict, essentially selling drugs to fund his own addiction.

“Seems high. Very high,” he thought. “Probably juggling SLO and Fautus — or maybe using Red Pills instead of Fast.”

Judging from his jumpy, agitated, and fearful demeanor, Civitas was betting on the Red Pills, with one of the tainted kind in the mix. So they made sure he had no chance to go for a weapon more dangerous than his Slicer. Russel Compton was able to disarm him easily, and they got the name of his supplier (for the Red Pills, anyway): Shane Cano.

He even knew where the guy was staying: the Pelican Motel a few miles away.

For some reason, Officer Hab was complaining he never got to be in any of their big gunfights.

“Sorry, we try to avoid firefights when we can,” he told the CSI officer.

“How come you never avoid them when I’m not around?”

“I wonder how this guy got his hands on so many drugs.”
Officer Harrison
(on seeing the several thousand Red Pills Mark Lucas had in his apartment, along with a wide assortment of just about every kind of drug the Rat had ever seen)

Officer Hab was not surprised the concierge at the Pelican Motel let the Investigators in for a reasonable bribe. “Even if it is an upscale place in the Farmyard section…it’s still Cheapside.”

The place was mostly bare except for several expensive suits, shirts and ties hanging up neatly, as well as a spare pair of dress shoes.

It was plain to Ambrose that Cano thought of the room more as a wardrobe than as a home. But then, such things were often plain to the most observant detective on the LCPD payroll.

His suspicions were by raised the map of Cheapside open on the table. He found a cross drawn on it precisely at the Moxley Road Parking Lot. Next to the cross, he saw “3am” scrawled.

And he wasn’t the only one.

“Looks like a set-up,” the Rat — who had seen his share of set-ups — told them. Everyone was pretty much in agreement on that front. And Ambrose was glad they had the jump on the 3 o’clock time frame.

He was glad they had been kicking in doors instead of taking it slow and steady because they would have a chance to look for an ambush ahead of time.

Analysis complete: 10 “Red Pills” tested to destruction:
9 doses: match previous analysis: suspected designer drug:
9 doses: chemical variants of street drug: Faustus:
Faustus: also known as Eff: also known as Fast:
10th dose: anomaly detected:
10th dose: contains same designer drug:
Designer drug: detected in other 12 doses:
10th dose: anomaly: contains adulteration:
10th dose: danger: contains adulteration:
Danger: adulteration may be hallucinogenic:
Hallucinogen: apparently different designer drug:
Adulteration: may be based on known hallucinogens:
Adulteration: may be dangerous:
Watson

Officer Compton had grown accustomed to accepting Ambrose’s word when the detective told him the Moxley Road Parking Lot was clean. So they set up a stake-out on the location well ahead of the designated hour.

But they were not the only ones to arrive early: As they watched, a car full of gangers pulled up into the center of the lot.

One of them looked younger than the rest and very nervous. One of the older gangers — he recognized some of them as known Creeps — handed the nervous one a gun. The other three spread out to various hiding spots just outside the perimeter of the parking lot.

After checking out the gun, the younger Creep got in the car and drove away.

“We better follow him,” Ambrose suggested. Agreeing, Russel Compton got in their car — Ambrose riding shotgun — and followed the ganger to a nearby safe house.

At 3am on the nose, the Stainless Steel Rat radioed that someone had arrived at the parking lot and parked on one side. Shortly thereafter, the nervous ganger exited the safe house and got into the car and drove away. Ambrose suggested they stay and watch the house.

The Rat soon radioed that the ganger was back, and was parking on the other side of the parking lot from the car that arrived at 3am. The two men got out of their respective vehicles and began walking towards each other. The ganger was carrying a briefcase, and the other man was carrying a sports bag.

As they met in the middle of the parking lot, the ganger suddenly pulled out his pistol and shot three times at the guy with the sports bag. According to the Rat, it looked like he winged the guy with one of the shots.

Compton could hear the voice of Civitas in the background as the Rat reported on what happened next: The wounded man pulled out his own gun and expertly shot the nervous ganger dead.

About this time, four Creeps came running out of the safe house and jumped in another car, careening off toward the parking lot. He jammed his Mark 7 Patrol Car into gear and gave pursuit.

By the time they got to the parking lot, the mystery car was heading for the exit. Apparently the wounded man had made it back to his vehicle. The backup vehicle cut the fancy ride off at the gate. The gangers in hiding came running out of the shadows and jumped into the car, which sped away.

“Apparently they convinced their buddies to high-tail it out of there.”

Ambrose, manning the machine gun mounted under the right headlight of the Mark 7, shot out the tires on the mystery car, switched expertly to single-shot and disarmed the well-dressed guy with a well-placed shot.

“Sure glad you showed up,” he told them as they handcuffed him and put him in the back of the patrol car. He told them he was from Mars and said his name was Shane Cano.

They found about 50,000 Capitol dollars and his corporate ID in the mystery car. The ID was from Handsure Holdings. It describes him as Executive Officer, Venture Division.

When the ID checked out with his biometrics, the Rat said, “I guess Shane Cano really is his real name.”

“I’m glad you finally got into the firefight you were looking for,” Officer Civitas told Ambrose.

They also found a ticket in Shane Cano’s name back to Mars.

“At least one of us can get to Mars.”
Officer Harrison,
who is still not entirely comfortable with that title

Officer Civitas was thinking, as they cleaned up the drugs scattered across the parking lot, “All this ‘regular police work’ is keeping us from some of the things we should be following up on.”

He could list several:

  1. the weird glow he had noticed at the Home Made Foods factory;
  2. what does this Brotherhood charity have to do with his new-found powers;
  3. whatever was going on with the expedition to Pluto;
  4. the loose ends from the von Hölle investigation;
  5. the interrogation of Shane Cano; and now
  6. the background of the Handsure Holdings division of Capitol.
View
Insane BuildBots
...Make Clumsy Killer Robots...

…and the Irregulars Find the Right Party

Four-Seven, Fiver-Three. Disturbance at construction site on Venice Street. Fatalities reported. Emergency. Please respond.
—Dispatcher 4

Harry Harrison heard the two officers in the other car talking about what they were going to do with the attractive woman they had in the back of their car.

Officer Hab offered to drive her to detox. Harry heard Officer Compton telling him to try to get more information about the party. “Try to get her to tell you who gave her the drugs.”

The CSI crime computer in the front seat said, “Preliminary testing complete: query: test to destruction?”

And Hab pulled away with the girl as Harry turned his attention to the rampaging BuildBot they had been sent to subdue.

The Rat saw Officer Compton race out to attract the giant robot’s attention. A single shot the officer’s pistol certainly did that, but Harry knew the thing was built like a tank.

“Probably didn’t even pierce the armor. If I could just trick it into walking into one of the buildings, the floor might collapse and trap it below ground,” he suggested to Civitas.

So he drove to the other side of the partially completed structure — it seemed to go up about 4 stories so far — and positioned the police car so Civitas could fire the machine-gun below the headlights at the monster.

Then he got out and carefully aimed his assault rifle.

Group 5 wants Rock Stars for its demonstration project? Then I have the volunteers for them.
Lt Pierre Vordach

Civitas was happy to be firing the automatic weaponry built into the car, but he saw the Rat’s plan to lure the machine into the building was not working. After it threw a scoop full of debris at Officer Compton, it started lumbering toward undefended policeman.

“Throws like a girl,” he observed as he pumped bullets into the robot’s torso.

Lining up their shots carefully, they were able to bring down the BuildBot without a great deal of trouble.

Cleaning up the mess was going to take more time.

Fiver-Three, Fiver-Three. Suspected breach of the peace. 4747 Alley Lane Street. Shots fired. Please Respond.
Dispatcher 7

Russel Compton immediatedly recognized the address as the location of the party where Kim Paleo said she got her Red Pills. Also, confusingly enough, it was an address listed on a note Ambrose found in her bag…after she died.

“But she didn’t die!” he told himself. He talked her down off the bridge. He remembered it. Officer Hab didn’t search her bag because Hab was taking her to rehab.

Didn’t take long to identify several others at the party who had taken the Red Pills:

  • Lena Weiss — decided to turn the music up as loud as she could to frighten off evil spirits.

“Turning of the power at the switchbox solved that problem.”

  • Griff Parsons — decided this is all too dangerous for him. Parked on the drive next to the house. Attempted to drive home. Car was boxed in by about eight other cars on the drive. Tried to smash his way out in his drug-induced, panicked effort.

“Fortunately, Officer Civitas decided to shoot the engine block instead of the driver.”

  • Serge Mason — got into a heated argument with a friend who shot him.

“What are friends for?”

  • Roger Blakeney — shot his friend Serge Mason dead. Locked himself in the attic room. Refused to let anyone in, threatening to shoot himself.

“A lot of suicide threats for a drug everybody says is safer than Fast.”

Russel was able to identify the name of one other user:

  • Mark Lucas — the guy who was selling the Red Pills.

“It took some doing, but we got his address from the others.”

View
Quantum Superposition
Just Another Day in the Lives...

…of Cops on the Beat in Cheapside

Four-Seven, Four-Seven. Bodies down. Disturbance: suspected shooting. Florence Avenue and Pointer Street. Proceed with caution.
Dispatcher 7

Russel Compton found a sports car shot up on a side road in the deepest, most dangerous part of Cheapside. He recognized one of the drug-dealing gangers from the next district as a member of the Croaks.

“This is one of the guys we chased out of the Punishment Street apartment,” he told his partner, even though Hab was probably already picking up on the resemblance.

The car was pumped full of bullets, and the perps disappeared into the surrounding tenements as quickly and silently as they emerged.

He doubted that potential witnesses are going to want to spill any beans apart from the obvious “there were a load of guys with guns.” But he asked anyway.

Witnesses had made themselves scarce and they couldn’t agree on whether it was a drive-by or an ambush.

He found a significant amount of Fast — 60 small grey pills, divided into a dozen self-sealing plastic bags — in the car and 50,000 Capitol Dollars.

He spotted a couple of minor gangers from the Creeps will keep an eye on things. They gave themselves away by running as he and Hab approached. And they tracked them down, even though they fled through the tenements and backstreets they knew intimately.

Roughing them up didn’t do much, as standing around watching stuff is not illegal. They did admit to being members of the Creeps, but not much more than that.

Fiver-Three. FIver-Three. Suspected Arson at White Heights. Perpetrator at scene. emergency.
Dispatcher 7

Harry Harrison didn’t think they needed this dispatch as he and Officer Civitas could already see the flames a few blocks away. When they got closer, they saw a couple of bystanders looking up to a third-story window.

A young lady was looking helplessly out from the window and smoke was billowing around her. The Rat saw flames in other windows of the apartment. Being a hero, Harry wanted to try to save her. It was pretty clear that, If they did not rescue her, then when the fire brigade arrived — it was bound to take several minutes, he could hear the sirens in the distance — and she would be dead by the time they could get to her.

When they got her to jump, her reflexes were so addled she misses the blanket they are holding out for her.

“Slow reflexes,” he thought, “a classic symptoms of a SLO ride.”

The EMTs with the ambulance that eventually arrived, confirmed that she was using Sulphurolithide-oxycodone.

“Also known as Sloth, Slow, or Slippery Slope.”

Making a point to find out, Harry learned from the fire marshal that the fire was caused by arson. The cause was someone setting fire to a load of flammable chemicals in a janitor’s closet in the floor above Snell’s apartment.

The fire marshal suggested it fit with the other arson attacks which had been plaguing his jurisdiction.

Four-Seven, Four-Seven. Suspected attempted suicide in progress Cheapside Overpass. Female, aged around 20, 5’ 4”, 110 pounds. Dark hair, blue sweater. Please respond.
—Dispatcher 3

When Ambrose Hab looked back on it later it was all clear in his memory: Kim Paleo was an attractive young waitress. She was apparently at a party took some Red Pills, and had an adverse reaction.

“So adverse, she’s trying to summon the courage to end it all by jumping off the highest viaduct in Cheapside,” he mused.

She was babbling when they arrived — all sorts of nonsensical things: demons, shadows, monsters, being followed.

“Useless gibberish.” Yet it reminded Hab of Watson’s Report somehow.

He also remembered Compton getting her attention. It even seemed like she was convinced not to jump. He remembered her saying, “I was at a party. I got a new kind of Faustus, a bad Eff.” He remembered her coherent enough to say: “It… it… it feels wrong.”

He even remembered her surprise when Compton told her the monsters were real.

“I killed some of them yesterday,” he told. The surprise on her face told Ambrose she had been trying to convince herself that she was hallucinating the shadow, imagining the monsters.

That seemed to be the turning point, when Compton convinced her to come down. He could almost remember the hug she gave Compton when she decided.

But that was not possible. He also remembering the long keening way she stretched out the last word — “wrong” — as she fell to her death.

He remembered searching her bag as her broken body lay on the ground. He remembered telling the ambulance drivers to take her to the morgue. He remembered giving the Red Pills he found in her bag to Watson for analysis.

Fiver-Three, Fiver-Three. Missing person report. Lyda Miller. 7013 Down Side View. Routine, proceed.
Dispatcher 7

Officer Civitas was surprised when Hab and Compton showed up at the scene of a routine missing person’s report. He sure hadn’t called for backup.

Turned out they were following up on some other call — or some contact Russel had. Drugs might be involved.

On the seventh floor of the Down Side View tenement, which was overlooking the Home Made Foods factory, they met Hiram Miller, a slothful, food-stained sort. His apartment was a mess. It had the relevant paraphernalia and a few traces of SLO.

“Ample evidence of petty wrongdoing should we feel like hauling his arse downtown.”

That turned out not to be necessary. His partner, Lyda Miller, went missing a couple of weeks ago. He did not bother reporting it, because she is a bit flaky. “Now the place really needs tidying up.”

Actually, it was clear to Civitas the apartment had not been tidied for many months.

Armed with some kind of advance knowledge about Hiram’s purchases, Compton was able to get a lot of information out of Hiram. Lyda was a SLO addict, too.

Hallam was under the influence of SLO as he spoke to the Investigators, which means he took twice as long as he should to say anything. He also gave a vague description of Lydia and how he was supporting himself since he lost his job at Home Made Foods.

Something about the “dole.” Civitas was not sure Capital condoned any such social services.

Best he could figure, it was some compromise with the other corps which kept the peace in Luna City. “He’s lucky he’s not on Mars,” he thought they didn’t have to compromise with the bleeding hearts on Mars.

Four-Seven, Fiver-Three. Disturbance at construction site on Venice Street. Fatalities reported. Emergency. Please respond.
—Dispatcher 4

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Searching for a Friend
...or, Rather, "a Friend"

…at Capitol.

Or someone who told von Hölle he was a friend.

The first thing Watson did after becoming sentient was begin searching for reports about people being released from a stupor caused by watching The Giant Eye — a pirate TV show. The data which Civitas had just downloaded into the CSI computer’s memory showed that Fabian von Hölle was using the broadcast to power his attempt to pull another JaegerCorp executive through time. A dead executive. The reports were coming in. Watson decided it was its duty to report this. “Necrobionic reports coming in.”

Russel Compton managed to control himself when Civitas downloaded the contents of the mad scientist’s computer into his CSI analysis unit — his “mis-requistioned” computer.

Repressing the urge to scream, he told the veteran in calm and measured tones, “I hope you realize what you just did.”

Drawing his bolter, Officer Civitas smiled, “Of course I know what I just did.”

He pointed the handgun at the computer.

Compton was more interested in what he had seen through the portal. “Gothic architecture,” he told them. Also of interest: “How the hell did this floor manage to not be noticed?”

A little research indicated the “mistake” by the architects dated back to when the building was constructed.

Fifty years before it began broadcasting The Giant Eye.

For 50 years, the floor had been “missing.” Numerous executives of CEN had tried to fix it. Going back 50 years. Several presidents had supported these efforts. Even the most recently retired president had a go at it.

He was in the The Virgin Islands, a resort for the very rich on Mars.

You were right about Officer Civitas, Sister Mary Elizabeth. He definitely has potential. Try to find out if he is interested in any of your projects.
Nathaniel Durand

Covered in his own blood, Officer Civitas was unable to convince the paramedics he wasn’t really injured — especially when that damned computer confirmed the DNA analysis on the blood.

Thinking that shooting the computer wouldn’t shorten his stay in the hospital — “The last thing I need is a psychiatric code in the diagnosis” — he acquiesced and let them take him to the hospital.

On the way there, he saw pockets of calm in the chaos that reigned throughout Luna City — soup kitchens, homeless shelter, people helping people. Some of the people appeared to be from a charitable organization known as The Brotherhood. Semi-religious, but not really.

The thing that caught his eye, though, was that some of the Brotherhood volunteers in seemed to glow slightly. It was Lunar night, but that made little difference in Luna City. The place was lit up like day. When the nights last 14 days, everybody runs on artificial light.

The lights did make it hard to tell if his eyes were playing tricks on him. But the glow on some of the people helping other people was clear enough. “Must be related to those visions I saw back at the tenement.”

Turned out it was not as easy as he expected to get released from the hospital. Not only was he covered in his own blood, but when they cleaned him off they discovered his leg was badly scarred. The scars even corresponded to a large tear the Malignants ripped in his pants.

They put him in an oxygen tent and it took the intervention of a strange guy named Nathaniel Durand to get him out.

Harry Harrison was convinced he could do nothing to advance the investigation while he was laid up in the hospital. Then an orderly came in and removed the other beds from the semi-private room, pulling back the curtains. Kids began filing into the room, lining up with the tallest children in back, the shortest in front. “Just like a choir,” thought Harry. Then they began to sing, “Become your best today….”

When Civitas returned from the hospital, Ambrose Hab informed him that he had named the CSI analysis unit Watson. And he couldn’t help but agree when Compton asked if anyone else noticed the more conversational tone of Watson’s pronouncements since von Hölle’s database was downloaded into it.

And they all agreed that none of them had ever heard the word “necrobionic” before Watson began talking about “necrobionic reports.”

“Probably something he picked up in the mad-scientist download,” he decided.

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The Fall of Fabien von Hölle
...When a Dark Apostle's Plans...

…Are First Thwarted by…

The Punishment Street Irregulars.

CSI Officer Civitas could see a faint green glow coming off the Imperial Gendarme who had broken the Pax Civitas. As a police officer he was accustomed to having his orders followed — especially by other officers of the law.

Sure Imperial had its issues with Capitol, but they had agreed to give the Luna City Police Department its authority — just as long as it accepted Imperial recruits as well as recruits from the corporation which had once tried to abandon them on Mother Earth. But Civitas was beginning to learn to trust his second sight, which had been ringing bells since he first laid eyes on the guy.

Apparently Russel didn’t need second sight because he immediately ran over and began using the non-lethal-force version of his nightstick to convince the gendarme it was unwise to disobey the direct order of an LCPD officer in an emergency situation.

The Rat tried to tackle the gendarme, but the lack of police training betrayed him. Instead of using unarmed combat per standard police procedures, the newly deputized criminal tackled the Imperial as if they were in some weird kind of sporting event. The gendarme, obviously better-trained than Harry, deflected the attack and threw the Rat to the ground.

“So much for the Stainless Steel,” thought Civitas, as Det. Russel Compton demonstrated the value of good old-fashioned training and took advantage of Harry’s distraction to knock the gendarme unconscious.

Two Mishimi Samurai came around the corner in time to see this beatdown. When Compton joined his own calls for everybody to stand down — using the unconscious gendarme’s body as an exclamation point — Civitas heard one of the Samurai say, “Maybe they’re on our side,” as they sheathed their swords.

It was not yet clear if the gendarmes got the message, but Harry Harrison definitely did not. Opening fire with his assault rifle, The Stainless Steel Rat once again demonstrated his disregard for standard police procedure. Det. Compton promptly arrested him, but Civitas was not sure whether that was just for show.

The gendarmes had no way of knowing that the Rat had been deputized — he certainly hadn’t been acting like a cop — so Civitas hoped the Imperials might fall for such a deception. Harry made a run for it shortly after he was cuffed by Compton.

But the Imperial Gendarmes were not convinced, they opened fire and most of their shots went wide or were absorbed by the body armor most LCPD officers wore as a matter of course. It didn’t take long to take them all down since said officers had much better fire discipline.

As soon as the seal on Pluto was broken, the Dark Apostle sent out a message to her most technologically sophisticated Arch-Heretic — an insane scientist named Fabien von Hölle. He told her their plans had been thwarted. He had constructed the network and the antennas. He had assembled the Conduits. He had even gathered three-quarters of the Dark Symmetry he needed to open the rift and bring her through…

Harry Harrison wasn’t sure why Det. Compton arrested and cuffed him. But, when the cop whispered in his ear that he should run for it, he wasn’t going to argue: Cuffs or no cuffs, it was time to get out of there.

Rounding a corner, the Rat spotted a welcome sight: an abandoned weapons store.

“Clerk must’ve taken a powder when the rioting broke out.”

Harry was low on ammo, so he decided to help himself. He found a reload for his assault rifle, but the weapons were all in locked cases on the walls and there was no armor to be found. “Damn handcuffs,” he complained when the cases stymied him.

Once the shooting died down outside, he came back out and found his “fellow” officers talking to the Samurai about the situation, amid a pile of dead and unconscious Imperials.

Seemed like Harry’s original assumption — that crashed lifepod was from the Mishiman attack ship and the Samurai were defending it from the Imperials — was wrong. The Samurai told them that lifepod was from the freighter — which proved to be true. They were convinced the captain of the freighter was on the lifepod and needed to be arrested for their investigation into the cause of the crash.

“Looks like a setup to me,” thought Harry, who had seen his share of frame jobs. They told the Samurai to sort through the survivors on the lifepod. Compton ordered them to take anybody they arrested to the LCPD, suggesting the Precinct House might be over-crowded.

Harry got the clear message that only the captain was to be detained, and it looked like the Mishimi Samurai got the same idea.

Showing the other officers the gun shop, he was surprised to find the clerk back at his post. The others were able to buy reloads for their weapons. Then Harry remembered he was out of ammunition for the grenade-launcher on his weapon. He tried to light-finger a couple, but Det, Compton noticed and raised an eyebrow, so Harry had to wait for a better opportunity.

The scene he was presented with as they entered the Capitol Entertainment Network Tower was not what Harry had been expecting. Most of the lighting that normally made the foyer as bright as day had burned out and that which remained flickered erratically.

The huge screens that should have been displaying the CEN’s television shows were showing either static, or — far more worryingly — a giant eye that appeared to be scanning the room.

Thick, rubbery cables dangled from the suspended ceiling. An electronic howl filled the air.

“Sounds like a scream,” Harry thought. “Perfect distraction for a heist.”

Too bad they weren’t planning a heist. “With the police now.”

Capitol executives, security personnel, and staff were rushing back and forth in a state of confusion. “Good side to this chaos: should be able to bluff or bully our way past the nervous looking security who are guarding the lifts.”

“Downside: If we mess up they will likely start shooting.”

Outside, Harry could hear a series of explosions as wreckage from crashing air vehicles hit the ground.

Harry overheard an executive talking to a maintenance worker about how the building was
being overloaded by huge power spikes from somewhere between floor 191 and 193. He took the opportunity to grab the worker’s toolbox and got in the freight elevator with the other cops.

No button on the elevator for the 192nd floor so they went up to 191. Civitas wanted to try the 193 button and “blast our way through the floor,” but Russel Compton was reluctant to pass through 192.

Those power spikes had him nervous after Straffar Gatan.

They found the ceilings in 191 to be quite high: Apparently the enormous rooms were some kind studios for shooting TV shows. When they tried to use the stairs they found no doors to 192, but there were six flights of stairs going up to get to 193. The floor was too thick and strong to punch through easily, so Harry had to show the police how to break into the elevator shaft so they could climb down to 192.

Just as they got the doors pried open, the CSI unit sprang to life: “Antenna position identified: Percentage of Lunar antennas pointed at Pluto: 89 percent: Anomaly level: moderate:”

“Not exactly the most opportune time to get that information,” he pointed out.

“Moderate anomaly level: higher than expected percentage: Possible explanation of anomaly: Public interest in Pluto: Interest in Planetoid Pluto: High due to start of project: Project Pluto: Highly difficult terraforming project: Pluto: Most hostile terraforming project ever attempted: end report:”

He wasn’t strong enough to pry open the doors to 192 by himself, but when the others clambered down, they were able to force them open.

Harry peered into the studio-within-a-studio of the Giant Eye, the show that does not exist. Thick, tangled, rubbery cables cover the floor, and he was reminded of the scenes Straffar Gatan.

“Not a good memory.”

…But the Dark Apostle’s plans were disrupted. Three LCPD officers broke into the studio at the last minute. One of them single-handedly severed his connection to all five Conduits, while his comrades held off the Minions. Then he destroyed the power supply. Fabien von Holle didn’t know this officer’s name, but he would never forget the face — he transmitted the memory of the face to Pluto — the face of Luna City Police Detective Russel Compton.

Looking past the Stainless Steel Rat into the studio, Det. Compton saw it was split over two levels, the lower being the studio floor itself – a big walled space with an access corridor running around it — and the upper level housing the Production-Control room, the lighting rigs and gantries.

The two floors were connected by a stairwell in the western section of the outer corridor and another in the northeast corner of the main studio. The production control room had two other doors that led out onto the gantry suspended six meters above the main studio, where they were standing.

Directly in front of the Rat, the three occupants in the room didn’t quite block their entrance to the room, so Russel slipped past into the main portion of the room while Harry engaged the three cameramen, each of whom had been converted by the Dark Symmetry into obscene necrobionic machinery.

Their bodies were pallid and the smell of decay was strong in the room. Thick rubbery cables punctured their flesh and ran into their ruined eye sockets, nostrils, mouths, and ears.

The cables pulsed and throbbed as they pumped the bodies with a mixture of electricity and necrobionic liquids. The few unconnected cables in the room writhed around, looking for new hosts to interface with.

Von Hölle had set up his machinery in the center of the studio. From there he was guiding the arcane process like a twisted parody of a conductor. He stood in a metal cage that was already crackling with energy.

Civitas told Compton it looked like the energy field which protected the Castigator from any direct attack. So he looked around for an indirect attack. “The Castigator,” he said. “Right, from the 4th Floor at Strafan Gaffar.”

Surrounding the mad conductor and the central console were five people in vertical, clear, plastic tubes with antennas on top. Compton recognized them as Jenny Green, Markus Peterson, Clarence Beeks and his wife Mary Beeks — “The missing residents from Straffar Gatan,” he remembered — and Sandrine Peterson.

Each of the five was unconscious; their eyes were rolled back into their heads, and they were strapped into what looked like some kind of cryopod. The cryopods were in turn linked to the main console by more of the organic cables and also by clear tubes that were full of a green liquid.

The cryopods were slowly filling with the green liquid and it was clear that little time was left. Already he could see the liquid eating away at the victim’s clothes.

Det. Russel Compton knew his job: Save Sandrine Petersen, her uncle — he had been helpful in the interview, if slightly rude — and the other victims. The tubes feeding green liquid into the ’pods were the most vulnerable part of the whole apparatus, so…

He jumped into action, racing across the room to where the tubes linked von Hölle’s machine to the cryopod where Sandy Petersen’s face pressed up against the clear plastic. Extending the blades from his nightstick, he started cutting on the tubes, which actually seemed to be pulsing like veins.

“Some grenades would be handy right about now,” the Rat was screaming as he distracted the hideous cameramen by pumping bullets into them from his assault rifle. Officer Civitas was shouting as well, something about the body parts strewn around the floor.

Scattered around the room Compton could see the remains of about 20 people. Most appeared to be in Capitolian suits, while four are wearing black, unmarked jumpsuits. Their faces had the melted wax look of the cameramen, but they also looked drained and shrunken, like empty husks.

Civitas identified them as some kind of ninja, but Det. Compton figured they must’ve been sent by Jaeger to find and eliminate von Hölle. “Probably brought by Markus Petersen,” thought Compton. “They must’ve come straight over here from JaegerCorp. I guess Petersen ran into more than he expected here.”

The tubes running to the closest cryopod proved to be more heavilly armored than he expected, but he threw everything he had into his attack and cut the cables as well as the pulsing tubes. The ’pod immediately opened and the body inside — it looked like the wife of the missing factory worker from Straffar Gatan 39 — slumped semi-conscious to the floor.

Civitas was screaming something about the bodies twitching and pouring Bolter slugs into the inert forms.

Von Hölle reacted to the destruction of his cryopod by pointing at Compton and screaming something. But his words were lost in the noise of his machine and in the green energies that wrapped around his cage.

After von Hölle gestured at the four bodies of the creatures Civitas identified as some kind of ninja-assassin, he went back to his mad conductor routine with renewed vigor as the energies gathered around his cage.

The gestures had brought the dead ninjas back to life — or what Compton saw as some kind of undead life — with distorted joints sprouting strange claws and horny armor. They could now stand on two legs or run on all fours like some kind of malignant predatory beast.

As he moved to begin chopping on the umbilicals pumping green acids into Sandrine Petersen’s ’pod — Russel figured she was the primary victim he needed to save — he noticed the Stainless Steel Rat was using a different strategy on the cameramen. Instead of cutting the power lines which had them tethered to the giant circuit box on the far wall, Harry was machine-gunning the man-camera hybrids with his assault rifle.

And still complaining about the usefulness of grenades.

“As long as he keeps them off my back while I do the real work.”

It appeared that Officer Civitas’s Bolter shells had penetrated the heavy armor on the circuit box before he had turned his attention to the Malignants. But now he was doing his best to keep the predator-ninjas off of everybody’s backs. One of them got Civitas’s leg, but he kept firing with his Bolter.

“Wait a minute!” he said, seeing Civitas’s limbs were still intact, “Did I imagine that?” Blood covered the leg, but he could not tell if it belonged to Civitas.

After he freed Sandy, Det. Compton turned to the hoses to the pod housing her uncle. He was getting the hang of this now and he was able to turn his momentum on those blows into a secondary attack on the umbilicals to the next cryopod. Even before he was able to rescue Jenny Green, however, von Hölle became enraged that his “Conduits” were being severed.

The force-field around his cage suddenly turned off and von Hölle screamed.

“You don’t know what you’ve done!”

“I know exactly what I’ve done,” Compton replied. “I’ve annoyed you.”

“I was about to bring Erich through!”

“Erich is dead.”

“No. I have found a way to communicate with Erich. Through time.”

“Your friend is dead.”

“No! He’s on the other side. In a cold, dark place. I must bring him through!”

“So: What is it? Is he in a cold, dark place?” An image of the terraforming project on Pluto flashed through Russel’s mind. “Or are you talking to him through time?”

While he had the madman distracted, the Rat opened up on him. But von Hölle held up his hand and a rift appeared in the space just in front of him. The bullets from the assault rifle just disappeared into the rift.

Compton gave up on shooting von Hölle as a bad job and turned his attention to freeing last two civilians from their ’pods. When they slumped to the floor, Compton could see the other two officers were still busy with the Malignants.

“I guess I have to do everything myself.”

Although von Hölle was using some kind of Dark Lance on him, the weapon was not having much effect. He taunted the madman before attacking the armor on the Power Box with his nightstick, using it like a can-opener. Det. Compton had always thought of his nightstick with the blades extended as a medieval mace.

“A mace is kinda a can-opener. For canned Teutonic Knight.”

As the cables writhed to attack him, Russel cut the power and the tentacle-cables slumped to the ground. All the machinery went dark and von Hölle screamed.

The madman screamed, “You don’t know what you’ve done!” And then he made a run for it.

When you can open up rifts in space and step through, running is surprisingly easy.

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