…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.