By Dave Eber
Jason X screamed. He was held in stasis, unable to move, but still he screamed. He no longer had any idea how long they had held him. His waking hours were nothing but pain, as they operated on him again and again, injecting him with drugs, burning him with lasers, and digging their blades into his skin and muscle. He saw nothing but the inhuman faces of his tormentors as they tore him apart and put him back together again. And then they would put him into the tank for weeks or months at a time, where his sleep was filled with confusing visions and nightmarish images. And always he was there, the demon who had enslaved him, both when he was awake, and when he slept. There was nowhere for him to run, nowhere to hide, and no respite from the fear and the pain. And then finally, Jason could hold on no longer. He fell into a deep dark well inside himself, and the man who was Jason X was no more. Only then did the pain finally stop.
"Report, Dr. Matthews."
"Boatman's plan has failed. Bonengel was tipped off by loyalists within the CDCA, and the clones proved to be somewhat… unstable. Bonengel has branded Boatman a traitor and declared a state of emergency. He's ordered a purge of the CDCA, although the real conspirators were already long gone by the time the coup fell apart. I barely managed to get away in time myself.
"He's declared Bonengel's actions illegal, and called on the military to remove him from power, although it's mostly for show. Boatman has gathered his supporters to him, and Bonengel's actions have driven most of the CDCA to his camp anyway. The CDCA controls most of the abominations, and they've already moved to secure several key feng shui sites. Boatman planned for this contingency well in advance, and it looks like he's caught Bonengel off-guard."
"Your analysis, doctor."
"Bonengel will recover quickly. He still has the support of the majority of the military and police forces. The public, unsurprisingly, doesn't know what to think. Both Bonengel and Boatman are attuned to an equal number of sites, more or less. As such, civil war is likely to break out any day now."
"Excellent, Doctor. Stay out of the fray as much as possible, and keep a low profile. There is still much to be done."
"You will keep me apprised of any new developments. I will contact you again shortly."
Things happened so quickly that we were caught off guard. There had been long standing rumors of tension between Bonengel and Boatman, and just a few weeks prior, the scuttlebutt among the Jammers was that things were reaching a boiling point. And yet, despite this, we really didn't see it coming. One day, the Buro was a monolithic, overwhelming entity, and then the next it had suddenly split into two warring factions. Before we could fully grasp what was going on, 2062 had suddenly plunged into a bloody civil war, leaving us to try and figure out what exactly had happened. We watched things develop for the first few months, gathering what information we could. The first few weeks were the most devastating, as Bonengel and Boatman declared all-out war on each other. Cities were leveled, armies destroyed, and millions displaced as each side tried to do as much damage to the other as quickly as possible. Eventually, things settled into a stalemate. Both Bonengel and Boatman had the same level of chi going for them, and they soon realized that hitting each other's feng shui sites meant that they would both lose the war. And so the war became a protracted game of chess, played out on a global scale, with neither able to gain a real advantage over the other.
Of course, with the two focused on each other, we never expected either of them to come after us. In retrospect, we were right about this, but of course, there was no way for us to know at the time what was really going on. If we had, we might have been able to avert the tragedy that was to come. Unfortunately, reflecting on past mistakes is a luxury afforded only to the survivors.
Dr. John Haynes, Dragon Observer,
Full Contact Historian, and High-Caliber Anthropologist
"Time to save the world again, eh Dirk?"
Dirk Wisely regarded Jason X as he reassembled his weapon, a moment of calm before the coming storm. Although he had only known the ex-Buro supersoldier for a short time, they had fought side by side, and Dirk had come to respect and trust him, and even to call him a friend. It wasn't something he had ever expected, but Jason had a sense of loyalty and honor that Dirk had encountered rarely in his lifetime. And now Jason was going to die. He knew the mission was suicide. Dirk had said as much. He had begged him to wait for Kar Fai to return. Once the old monk was back, they could come up with a better plan, or at least this one would have a fighting chance. Jason had nixed that idea, saying that there was no more time to waste. "We all gotta die sometime," he said with a rueful grin. He always said that before a mission. Jason pulled a ring off of his finger and handed it to Dirk. It was heavy and silver, and featured two crossed swords over a shield.
"It was a commendation for 'outstanding loyalty and honor.'" Jason chuckled. "It doesn't really suit me any more." Dirk looked from the ring to Jason.
"I can't take this."
"Yeah, you can," Jason replied.
And then Dirk saw the town square and the portal, and the hordes of abominations bearing down on Jason and his team. Dirk hadn't been there, but he could see it anyway, in complete detail. He heard the explosions and the screaming, and smelled the blood and the acrid tang of hot metal. He watched Jason hold the line while the others escaped, firing even as he disappeared in a haze of black smoke and gunfire.
The cell phone woke Dirk, the sound tinny and distant. Murky gray light blanketed the Kowloon morning, washing the colors out of Dirk's apartment. He reluctantly groped around until he found his phone.
"Dirk, is that you?" It was a woman's voice, older and familiar. Dirk struggled to clear the cobwebs out of his head.
"Who is this?"
"Dirk, it's me. Listen, we need you again." Dirk sat up in bed as a cold lump of ice dropped into his stomach. He said nothing, letting the words sink in.
"Dirk, are you there?" Her voice was insistent. "We need your help."
"I told you, I'm done." Dirk replied, his voice flat.
"I mean it Dirk. This is serious. It's the Architects, just like before, but worse. I'm calling everybody in." Dirk hesitated, remembering the Architects, remembering what went down in South America.
"You'll have to do it without me. I've had enough. I'm not getting involved this time."
"You're already involved Dirk. You're in danger. They're out to make sure we don't stop them this time."
"I'm sending Godard to meet you. He'll be in Hong Kong early this evening to bring you back in. When he calls you, arrange a place to meet. Someplace public. Once everyone is here, I'll get you up to speed. Do you understand?"
Dirk sat quietly for a second, staring at nothing. The sounds of the world outside seemed muted and distant.
"Yeah, I got it."
"Good. Remember Dirk, watch your back."
The bar at the Hotel Excelsior was like every other mid-upscale hotel bar in the central district. It was arranged with tasteful, potted ferns, red-painted walls, and lights dimmed to just the right level. Dirk chose it because it was an easy place to find, even for someone who's idea of Hong Kong was so different as to be unrecognizable by any modern definition of the place. Dirk sat by the bar, a half-full glass of scotch in front of him, feeling vaguely out of place among all the blazers and ties. Talking to Godard had been a surreal, almost dreamlike experience. Now he felt slightly twitchy and ill at ease, like waiting in the doctor's office to find out just how bad it really was. The liquor wasn't helping any, either.
"Hey, buy me a drink?"
Dirk turned to face the woman who had appeared next to him. She was slightly shorter than him, and beautiful, with vaguely Eurasian features, high cheekbones, and wide eyes. Long, silky brown hair cascaded down her back, and a red mini-dress clung to her slender body. It took Dirk a moment to remember where he was, and that he wasn't talking to a Wanchai working girl.
"Uh…I'm kind of waiting for someone here."
The woman stepped a bit closer to him. "Oh, be nice. Don't you like me?"
Dirk furrowed his brow. "Excuse me?"
"Come on. Let's have a good time." The woman stepped even closer to Dirk, her eyes glassy and bright. Something felt very wrong.
"Er, um, look…I…who are you?" The woman leaned in until her lips were inches from Dirks' mouth. She brought a hand up to touch his face, and he noticed she had unusually long, ruby red nails.
"How about a kiss?" She whispered.
"Dirk, move!" Dirk heard the shout from across the room, and by the time he recognized the voice his instincts had already taken over. He dove backward even as he turned toward the speaker. An arc of purple energy lashed out above his head, slamming the woman full on in the chest. She flew backwards over the bar and into the mirror, shattering it into a thousand pieces. Dirk looked up to see everyone in the bar tumble over each other in a mindless, panicky rush to get away from the giant bald maniac with the robotic arm and the huge insecto-death ray. Godard, Dirk recalled, was not big on subtlety.
"Dirk, c'mon, let's move it!" Godard backed toward the exit, his weapon still trained on the bar as Dirk scrambled to his feet. Once he was up, the two of them bolted for the front entrance and out into the cool evening air.
"We need to roll now," Godard said, looking around warily as everyone on the sidewalk backed up in alarm. Dirk looked around, then spotted a valet pulling up to the curve in a fire-red convertible.
"I've got it," Dirk called out, sprinting for the car. He leapt into the front seat, past the startled valet. Godard jumped into the passenger side, and Dirk slammed his foot down on the pedal. The tires squealed in protest, and within seconds the hotel was a distant memory as the car sped away from the curb. Storefront lights hummed to life around them in neon green and red and blue as the night settled in.
"What the hell is going on?" Dirk yelled above the hum of the engine. "What was all that about back there?"
"Just drive," Godard yelled back. "We've got to get out of Hong Kong ASAP and into the Netherworld. You're lucky I showed up when I did."
"Who was that, and why did you shoot her?"
"She was-" Godard craned his neck around to look backwards, then snapped forward again and reached for his gun. "Crap. Hit the gas. Punch it! Move!" Dirk shifted into high gear and slammed his foot down on the pedal, weaving through traffic at high speed. Godard turned around in his seat and brought his weapon up. Dirk heard it crackle with energy as Godard started firing, and he glanced into the rear-view mirror to see a silver blur flying toward them. Then it was in the car. Dirk looked over to see something silvery, metallic, and vaguely female bat Godard's gun aside and sink a taloned hand into his shoulder. Godard gritted his teeth as he clutched the thing's arm in his hands and tried to push it away. Dirk reached into his jacket, pulled out his Browning automatic, and unloaded into the creature at point-blank range. The thing staggered backward, and Godard smashed it with his robotic arm, flinging it out of the car and into the street. Dirk whipped the wheel hard to avoid an oncoming car, and then turned toward Godard.
"Are you OK?"
"It's coming back," he said. "Look out!" Dirk glanced over to see a flash of movement, and then he had to fight the wheel as the thing dove into the car like a silver banshee, howling for blood. Dirk fought to keep the car under control as Godard struggled with the creature. He looked over to see Godard smash his metallic fist into the thing's face. It went over the side again, but clung to the door, hanging on as the car raced through traffic. Then Dirk heard the loud bellow of a truck horn, and turned to see a semi bearing down on them.
"Hang on!" Dirk yelled. He spun the wheel hard to the left while slamming on the brakes. The car spun sideways and the passenger door whipped open, flinging the creature out into the street. The thing rolled across the pavement, and Dirk slammed on the gas. As the creature righted itself, the semi smashed into it, crumpling the thing beneath its wheels as Dirk sped away.
Dirk kept his foot planted on the floor until he realized they weren't being followed any longer. He then eased up on the gas and looked to his side. Godard was clutching his bloody shoulder, and his skin was soaked with perspiration, but he was smiling nonetheless.
"Hey," he said. "Just like old times."
Somewhere, within a darkened, empty room, Rhys Engel sat on a thin mat, legs folded into the lotus position, seemingly deep in meditation.
In another place of his own devising, a mnemonic construct known as a memory palace, Rhys Engel sat at the head of long, antique oak table. A warm fire crackled in the hearth nearby. A dozen or so irregularly shaped crystals, each slightly larger than a fist, rested on the mantelpiece. Hovering above the center of the table was a slowly rotating holographic globe that displayed the positions of various CDCA and BuroMil Forces, the location of major feng shui sites, and their disposition. The light from the projection reflected off the silvery masks worn by the occupants of the room, all of whom were seated around the table. One of these figures stood before the group, speaking.
"With the breakdown of central authority, conditions, which have basically been static for the past ten years, have drastically changed within the span of three months. About fifteen percent of the world's feng shui sites have been destroyed, most within the first month of the war, and we estimate that Boatman and Bonengel combined currently control about ninety-one percent of the remainder. Since they both suffered similar losses, they've each really lost about twenty-three percent of their chi energy since the start of the war. Of the remaining nine percent, some are controlled by independent indigenous groups - rebels, separatists, and even local tribal groups and petty warlords. Others have been seized by agents of the various factions in the Secret War, who have taken advantage of the situation to establish a foothold in the juncture. Finally, some of the feng shui sites have simply been abandoned, as they've been rendered uninhabitable by the use of biological, chemical, nuclear, or arcanowave weapons. Also, Boatman and Bonengel combined control only about eighty-two percent real territory. Much of the remainder has become a wasteland, due to use of the aforementioned weapons, while in other places both sides have simply retreated, as neither has enough manpower to effectively hold the ground. As mentioned, much of this territory has been claimed by various small, independent groups who have rebelled against the authority of both factions. Furthermore, the division of available chi between the two factions, and the loss of nearly a fourth of the world's feng shui sites, has seriously weakened the Buro's influence over the world's populace. Desertions are on the rise, unrest is becoming more common everywhere, there have been outbreaks of armed rebellion, and there are rumors of overt Jammer activity in some areas. Our projections indicate that even if Boatman and Bonengel remain locked in a stalemate - and we have no reason to believe this will change - these trends will continue."
"Thank you, Dr. Oram." Inoue Oram nodded slightly, then took her seat at the table. Rhys Engel stood up and studied the globe hovering before him. Then he rose and addressed the group seated around the table.
"My friends, we've arrived at a decisive point in history. When we first formalized our goals some years ago, our plan was to subvert the Buro from within over several years, eventually building to the point where we could seize power quietly. However, the outbreak of civil war has changed things. I believe that this plan is no longer viable, and we need to rethink our strategy."
"Why is that so?" asked Esteban Vincente. "Our goals have not changed. In fact, this war only strengthens our plan. With the chi of the Buro waning, we will find it easier to attract new minds to our cause. And with Boatman and Bonengel focused on each other, we have more freedom to act."
"I'm afraid you are mistaken. Both Boatman and Bonengel have become increasingly paranoid since this war began. Because they have less chi to support them, they've tightened security even further. Everyone is watched more closely, and arrests, even among senior officials, grow more frequent every day. Only through our combined influence and efforts have we escaped detection, but that won't last. As Dr. Oram reported, the situation deteriorates daily. The world is dissolving into anarchy. If we continue our present course, we run the risk of being swept away in the rising tide of chaos."
"But what can we do, then?" This time, it was Dr. Celeste Carter who spoke. "Although we have surreptitiously attuned to a few feng shui sites, we don't have nearly enough power to act openly."
"But we do have a unique opportunity." Engel replied. "Primus and I have been doing some unusual research over the last few weeks, and we've come to an interesting discovery. Primus, if you could elaborate."
A wiry, brown-skinned man in his mid-sixties rose and addressed the gathered conspirators. "For the past two years I've been exploring the theory of localized critical shifts. Critical shifts of varying degrees occur when an agency gains control of a critical number of feng shui sites. Critical shifts affect all of reality, and truly significant change requires control over a great number of feng shui sites. Achieving this goal generally takes a very long time to effect. A localized critical shift, in theory, would involve a dramatic change in the nature and alignment of chi energy - a critical shift, so to speak - over a relatively small, controlled area. Effectively, the dominant reality paradigm would be rewritten in this area, and we would set the attributes of this new paradigm. This is generally considered to be impossible."
Primus gestured toward the projection. The globe was replaced by an image of a crystalline tower, along with several arcane, mathematical formulae.
"I believe Dr. Engel and I have developed a method to effect this. The image you see is of a structure we've dubbed a `Nexus Tower.' A Nexus Tower has the power to warp the chi energy around it. It works in a way similar to an arcanotower, but on a larger scale, and without the negative side effects that come from exposure to arcanowave energy. While this in itself is somewhat useful, we've theorized that a series of these, aligned to each other in a specific geomantic configuration, and acted upon by the correct paradox formulae, should be able to warp the chi energy that passes through the space between any of these two towers. Anyone attuned to these towers would be able to control the way in which the chi energy is changed, much as if they were attuned to a feng shui site. In effect, this would create a localized critical shift.
"What kind of an area are we talking about?" Vincente asked.
"As Primus mentioned, we will only be able to align the towers in a specific geomantic configuration," Engel replied. My research has led me to conclude that four towers, built at key feng shui sites in Hong Kong, Western Australia, Northern Tasmania, and the Solomon Islands, can be used to effect a localized critical shift over the entire area within those four points." Engel nodded toward the image of the tower, and a map of Southeast Asia and Australia appeared, with four lines in the shape of an elongated diamond, connecting the four points. A murmur went through the assembled group.
"You're saying we could take control of all of Australia?" Jeroen Becker asked.
"Australia, New Guinea, much of Indonesia and, of course, Hong Kong. Over 7,700 miles between the two farthest points. The geomantic conditions, not to mention the relative political stability in the area, make this an ideal choice."
"Side effects?" asked Inoue Oram.
"Unknown. With a shift in energy this massive, the results are unpredictable. Anyone properly attuned to the towers at the time of the shift should be safe. Within the affected area...madness, possibly death, but not on a large scale. Liberal estimates put this figure at about 5 percent of the populace." Dr. Oram nodded thoughtfully.
"But even if we manage to implement this localized shift, what's to prevent either Boatman or Bonengel from taking control of the area again?" Dr. Carter asked.
"As soon as the towers are online, the shift will realign reality to our design," Primus replied. "With the right alignment of chi energy, reality in the area will work in our favor. As such, arcanowave technology will cease to function, and the effectiveness of non-arcanowave technology would be reduced as well. Further, with the new paradigm working in our favor, we should be able to create a barrier which will protect the area."
Vincente nodded toward the image, which turned back into a globe. "That area is firmly under Bonengel's control. How will we build these towers without his noticing?"
"We won't," Engel replied. "He'll notice them. But don't worry. Leave Bonengel to me."
He called himself Jack Seven, and he told us he was a supersoldier who had deserted from the Buro. He came to us with a dire warning: Homo Omega was about to launch several surprise attacks across the junctures, with the goal of wiping us out. Naturally, we were suspicious - after all, why would Omega target us specifically, especially with a war going on - but Jack said that we urgently needed to gather everyone together, and that he would explain once everyone had arrived. What's more, his intel turned out to be good. Several of us narrowly avoided being ambushed by abominations. Besides, there was something about him that made him easy to trust. It was like he fit right into our rhythms effortlessly, like he knew us all already.
The Prof sent out warnings and started to call everyone in. Soon they began trickling in, Dragons, past and present. Some of them were faces I hadn't seen in ages. Naturally, Kar Fai and everyone who had taken part in the Netherworld war showed up, but so did people whom I had never seen before, people that I had only heard about in stories. Johnny Tso, Little Jim, Big Mack, Johnny Badhair, Concourse Godard, and Dirk Wisely all came. Zheng showed up with a handful of students, along with bunch of new recruits from the 1856 juncture, and Silver Fist arrived with her crew as well. Even people who had only fought alongside the Dragons temporarily, or who were thought long gone, made their way to the Junkyard. People like Oscar Balbuena, Silver Jet, Joey Paz, Melissa Aguelera, Serena Ku, Bao Chou, and a host of cops, hoods, gunmen, and martial artists. It was probably the single biggest gathering of individuals who had ever called themselves "Dragons." It felt good, too. Sure, we were under the gun, but we could sense that something big was coming, and in our arrogance, we felt like we were ready to carry out some grand design, to accomplish some lofty goal that would resonate through the ages. None of us stopped to think that with all of us in one place, we made a huge target. No one, except Dirk.
Dr. John Haynes, Dragon Observer,
Full Contact Historian, and High-Caliber Anthropologist
"I've called you all in because the situation is desperate. By now the Prof has brought you all up to speed on the situation in 2062. I'm here to tell you that the war is just a distraction, a sideshow. It was orchestrated by Homo Omega, who's been carefully manipulating events over the past few years to bring things to this point. He needed Bonengel and Boatman at each other's throats, so that neither of them would pay any attention to what he was doing."
Jack Seven gazed across the room. He was somewhere in his mid-thirties and rugged, with glossy black hair and penetrating, dark eyes. The Dragons had all crammed themselves into the largest room in the Junkyard, and were now squatting on metal crates and pieces of junk, leaning against the wall, or simply standing and listening. Some of them looked skeptical, but all were paying attention. Jack continued.
"Some years ago, Omega hooked up with a cabal of Vivisector abominations, and they hatched a plot to rule the world. As part of this plan, they've decided that the world will be a lot easier to rule if there aren't so many humans around to worry about. So Omega's been secretly producing Neutron Bombs by the hundreds. When they're finished, he'll have enough to wipe out over ninety-five percent of the earth's population. He's also been quietly building an army of arcanowave drones. The ones you saw in the Netherworld last year were basically test versions. Now that he's perfected them, he plans to use them in a lightning attack to seize multiple missile silos. With Bonengel's and Boatman's forces spread thinly over the globe, neither of them will be able to react quickly enough. Omega plans to arm the missiles with his neutron bombs, and then rain them down over the world. When the dust settles, Omega and his cabal will be the only ones left standing."
This time, a murmur rippled through the crowd, and then Johnny Tso spoke up.
"So why is he coming after us? What do we have to do with it?"
"Omega is intelligent, far more intelligent than you could possibly imagine. He accounts for every possible contingency, and doesn't leave anything to chance. He ran the numbers, analyzed the stats, and took a good hard look at the history of Architect operations in the Secret War, which ones failed, and why. What came up was the Dragons. He determined that the one random element, and thus the thing most likely to screw up his plans, was all of you. Apparently, you have a habit of showing up unexpectedly and destroying months of careful planning, usually in a few hours. That's why Omega is out to get you. He wants to take you out before you can interfere with his plans."
"Ok, but what can we do about it?" Oscar Balbuena said. "How do we stop him?"
"We'll have to take out his arsenal before he has a chance to move it to the missile silos. That means we have to destroy the bombs before he finishes building them. We don't have much time, though. Maybe a week, maybe less. I know where his hidden bomb factory is, and I can get us in. Then we can blow the place. If we destroy the bombs before they're armed, they'll be harmless."
Dirk looked directly into Jack's eyes. "How do you know all this?"
Jack returned his gaze without flinching. "I was part of the plan. Omega has recruited a few humans in key positions within the military and the CDCA. He sold us an idealistic vision of the future, one in which the Buro state was a memory and everyone lived in freedom. I bought into it, and covertly worked to help him carry out his plans. By setting Bonengel and Boatman against each other, I thought we could be rid of both of them, and that we'd be paving the way for a brighter future. I only discovered his true plans by accident."
"So why come to us?" Kar Fai asked. "Why not Bonengel or Boatman? If they knew about this, they'd take him down pronto."
"I can't get close to either of them. They've both become increasingly paranoid since the war began. They keep themselves isolated, and only listen to their closest advisors. Even if I could get through to either one of them, it'd be too late. Besides, like I said, I don't particularly care for either of them."
"It sounds like we have work to do." The Prof stood up. "Jack, if you can provide us with the information we need, we'll get organized. We need to know how big our target is, what defenses we can expect, and how we can take it out."
"Of course. We can begin briefing as soon as you're ready."
"Excellent. All right everyone, get some rest. We'll be reconvening shortly."
Kar Fai and Zheng joined in conversation with the Prof and Jack, while everyone else filed out in small knots, deep in their own discussions. Dirk was the last to leave, his eyes fixed on Jack Seven. Something about him seemed strangely familiar, and something about him just didn't seem right.
Establishing connections with the few remaining Lodge survivors in this juncture has begun to reap the rewards I expected. I've convinced them that I plan to resurrect the Lodge from the ashes of history, and so now they look to me with an almost messianic zeal. It's quite sad really. They're so desperate to regain some of their past glory, to no longer have to skulk and crawl and hide like vermin, that they'll do anything to please me. One such example is the communiqué I received from one of them today, a cockroach who works on the maintenance staff at the BuroPresident's office, of all things. He's a disgusting little creature, but he notices things, and no one ever notices him. According to his message, earlier this week Bonengel met with Dr. Engel, one of the last remaining loyal senior CDCA scientists. Soon afterward, he authorized a massive, top secret project, to begin immediately in four different locations in the south Pacific. Apparently, he plans to build four towers, possibly similar to the one destroyed in South America a few years ago. I have no idea what he intends to accomplish, but I imagine that Dr. Boatman might. Ever since the war began, I've had to act cautiously - too cautiously for my tastes. Although Boatman believes he has my complete loyalty, he's become more suspicious lately. This piece of news may be exactly the distraction I need. Boatman spends half his waking hours scheming against Bonengel, and the other half trying to guess what schemes Bonengel is hatching against him. Feeding him this information should be much like dangling a piece of raw meat in front of a hungry wolf. No doubt he'll focus all his attention on stopping Bonengel, no matter what it is he's doing, and that will leave me free to finally complete my work.
We split into four teams, roughly a dozen to a dozen-and-a-half per team. Kar Fai led the first team, Zheng the second, Ting Ting the third, and Dirk the fourth. I was in the third group, along with the Golden Gunman, Hiro Asataka, Suong Xa, and Oscar Balbuena. The plan itself was relatively simple. Jack had the access codes that would get us inside the base. He would go on ahead and open the doors for us, as well as disabling the internal security so we wouldn't be spotted. He had already provided us with maps of the building, and we had analyzed them and determined where to place our explosives. Once inside, the plan was for each of the teams to go to their designated location, plant the charges, and then rendezvous outside the building. Jack would keep security offline until we were clear, and then rejoin us once the mission was complete.
The trip through the Netherworld and then to the factory was relatively uneventful. We left the Junkyard in small groups, and regrouped at a pre-arranged point in the 2062 juncture. Omega's facility was located in one of the outlying areas, where military presence was almost non-existent. He had chosen the location because it was largely ignored by both Boatman and Bonengel. That worked for us as well, as we were able to move about unnoticed. The facility itself was a squat, ugly, industrial complex, largely indistinguishable from any other industrial complex in the juncture. There was little visible security, but that wasn't unexpected, as Omega was maintaining a low profile. We reached our point of entry - a service bay at the rear of the complex - and Dirk used a secure comlink to contact Jack. A moment later, the door slid open, and we quietly entered the building and dispersed.
We moved quietly through the complex, with Hiro navigating while we kept a sharp eye out for any guards. It was a little unsettling that we weren't encountering any resistance, but Jack had assured us that the complex was mostly automated. Finally, we reached our destination, a chamber that housed one of the sub-generators for the facility. Like the rest of the building, it was a dark and ugly room full of pipes and catwalks and massive, rumbling machinery. My team spread out, and we began planting our charges.
Suddenly, a klaxon rang out, and the amber lights turned red. Heavy steel doors slammed down, barring the way we had come in, while new doors opened up. Standing behind them were dozens of twisted-metal nightmares wreathed in fire. The Golden Gunman was the first to react, as usual. He whipped out his pistols and opened fire. The first cyborg let out an inhuman screech as sparks erupted from its chest, and then it toppled to the ground, flames guttering out. Ting Ting yelled for us to scatter as the rest of them poured into the room. Oscar wasn't fast enough. He drew his gun and opened fire, but the thing was already too close. The thing grabbed his head with a massive claw and lifted him off the ground, and Oscar screamed as flames engulfed his body. Ting Ting rushed up and decapitated the creature, but she was too late to save him. I took cover behind a piece of machinery and began firing, but as I watched the CHAR units advancing from all sides, I realized we had been set up, and I knew we were done for.
Dr. John Haynes, Dragon Observer,
Full Contact Historian, and High-Caliber Anthropologist
At the center of the complex was a massive room, about one hundred fifty feet wide, tunneling seven stories down into the earth. Walkways ringed the chamber at each story, with lifts providing access to each floor, and to the passageways that radiated outward like spokes on a wheel. At the bottom of the chamber was a huge closed iris that provided access to the main reactor below. Dirk looked down at the iris. It was supposed to be open.
"Welcome, my friends." Jack's voice echoed through speakers set into the walls. "I see you've made it. Excellent. Everything is right on schedule."
Far above, seven stories up, a command platform overlooked the room. The platform provided complete control over the chamber, including the doors, the lifts, and the iris. Dirk looked up at it. He and his team were at the bottom of the chamber. Jack Seven was at the top, leaning over the command console, looking down.
"What the hell is going on?" Dirk raised his voice, but didn't shout. He knew Jack could hear him.
"It should be obvious, don't you think?" Dirk stared up at the tiny figure, then started back toward the door his team had entered through.
"Don't bother Dirk, I've sealed it. I couldn't have you leaving. You'll miss the surprise."
"What surprise?" Tricia said warily.
"You expected the iris to be open, didn't you? I wouldn't want to disappoint you." Jack flipped a switch, and red lights began to flash as an alarm went off. The iris began to open, and suddenly a huge column of steam shot out of the opening. The Dragons pressed themselves against the wall to avoid the heat from the blistering steam. Finally, the alarm shut off, and the torrent of steam cut off as quickly as it had begun. A circular platform, nearly as wide as the diameter of the iris, had risen up through the opening. Standing on the platform was a massive abomination, fully six stories high. Its huge torso and limbs were covered with biomechanical, chitinous armor. Luminous, pulsing green liquid flowed through tubes that stitched across the thing's abdomen and chest. But none of that compared to the horror of the hundreds of long metallic tongues that writhed like hungry eels within its gaping maw.
"Oh my God." Tricia said softly.
The Thing with a Thousand Tongues let out a roar of pure rage, and the Dragons scattered as it lumbered toward them. There was nothing in the chamber to hide behind, and there was nowhere to run. Dirk watched as the Thing reached out and grabbed the nearest Dragon. His name was Mike, and he was, Dirk recalled, an ex-Army Ranger. Mike screamed, and there was the sound of bones cracking, followed by a horrible slurping sound as the Thing devoured him. Then there was the sound of gunfire, and Dirk looked across the room to see Tricia unloading on the Thing at point blank range with her shotgun. The shells exploded harmlessly against its armored hide, serving only to attract its attention. The Thing turned toward her and raised a massive foot above her head.
"Tricia! No!" Dirk knew he would never reach her in time. Then Little Jim slammed into the Thing's other leg, making it stagger, while Tricia dove out of the way. The Thing lifted Jim into the air, shaking him like a rag doll. Johnny Badhair opened up on it with a pair of Uzis, sending bullets ricocheting across the chamber. The Thing brutally smashed Little Jim against the wall twice, and then casually tossed him to the ground, as he then turned and stomped with a massive foot, missing Johnny by inches. Godard unloaded on the Thing with his Helix Ripper, filling the room with eerie, purple light as the Thing roared in genuine pain. Tricia rushed to Jim and pulled his body to the edge of the room. His eyes fluttered open, and he looked up at Tricia, smiled weakly and put his hand tenderly on hers. Then his eyes closed once more and his hand slid from her grasp to rest on the cold floor.
Dirk turned his head and swore quietly. He looked up at the command platform, his eyes burning with rage. He hit the button to activate the lift, but it didn't respond. Dirk swore again, and then dug into his pack. He pulled out a bulky metal pistol with a grappling hook sticking out of the barrel. He stepped out from under the walkway, pointed the gun upward, and fired. The grappling hook shot skyward, trailing out a silver cable behind it. It looped over the seventh floor walkway, and the hook snagged the railing and held fast. Dirk flipped a switch on the back of the gun, and cable began to snake back into the gun, rapidly pulling Dirk up to the top of the chamber.
When the grappling line finished retracting, Dirk grabbed the railing and began pulling himself up. Several shots rang out, and Dirk let go as sparks danced on the railing. He grabbed the walkway, wrenching his shoulder painfully as he dangled above the room, and the grapnel gun fell to the floor. Dirk looked up to see Jack coming toward him, gun in hand. With his free hand, Dirk reached into his jacket, pulled out an object the size of an apricot, and flung it toward Jack. Jack dove to the ground as the smoke grenade went off, and Dirk used the distraction to pull himself up. As Jack coughed and tried to regain his footing, Dirk punched him in the jaw, sending him sprawling. Jack tried to bring his gun up, but Dirk punched him in the gut and the face, and then slammed Jack's wrist down against the railing repeatedly. After the third time, the pistol dropped from his numbed hand, falling seven stories down to the chamber floor. Dirk and Jack scuffled, their fight taking them onto the command platform. Then Dirk twisted Jack's arm into a hammerlock and slammed him face first into the console.
"How do we kill it?"
"Go to hell!" Jack spun and deftly reversed the hammerlock. He slammed Dirk's head repeatedly into the console, then grabbed the lapels of his jacket and slammed his back into the walkway railing. Dirk let out an incoherent yell as Jack pushed him off his feet, so that he was leaning precariously over the railing.
"Sorry Dirk," Jack said through gritted teeth, "but we all gotta die sometime." Dirk's eyes widened as Jack pushed him farther out over the railing.
"Jason?" Jack snarled and punched Dirk in the gut, then pulled him off the railing and slammed him face first into the wall. He leaned in so his mouth was next to Dirk's ear.
"Sorry, you got the wrong guy"
Dirk swung his elbow up, smashing Jack in the nose. Jack snarled and flung Dirk backwards over the railing. Dirk reached out frantically and caught the edge of the walkway with one hand. Jack walked over to the railing and looked down at him, dangling seven stories above the ground. There was a grin on Jack's bloodied lips.
"Well, it looks like it's over Dirk. It's been fun, but it's time for you and your friends to die now."
"Jason! What happened to you? Why are you doing this?" Even as Dirk spoke, he searched around for something in his pocket.
"I told you, you've got the wrong guy. There is no Jason. Now it's time for you and your friends to die."
Jack lifted a boot to smash Dirk's fingers, but before he brought his foot down, he saw a glint of silver on Dirk's hand. Two crossed swords over a shield, emblazoned on a ring. A ring that meant something to him, that tugged at his mind. A flood of images suddenly washed over him. He hesitated, uncertain, and Dirk pulled a mini-taser out of his pocket and thrust it into Jack's leg. Jack let out a yell as the electricity tore through him, and he released his grip, staggered backward, and slumped against the wall. Dirk quickly grabbed the railing, and then groaned as he pulled himself up over the side. He went over to Jack and crouched next to him.
Jason's eyes opened and he looked around, unfocused. "Dirk?" He tried to rise, then staggered as his legs gave out beneath him. Dirk grabbed his arm, and helped him to sit down.
"Jason, what happened to you? We thought you were dead."
"Omega captured me, he...he did things to me. He changed my face, and he messed with my mind. It's hard to remember. He erased who I was. He wanted to use me, use my knowledge of the Dragons against you. It's a trap. There are no bombs here. This is all a set-up, an ambush."
"How do we stop it?"
"Help me; I need to get to the console." Dirk lifted Jason to his feet, and then helped him over to the console. Jason leaned against it for a moment, and then began working the controls.
"There's a fail-safe code for all the neural greppers wired into the abominations. Each one contains a tiny bomb. The code can be used to trigger the bombs in case the greppers ever malfunction." Jason's fingers moved rapidly over the terminal. There was a flashing yellow warning on the screen. Jason paused for a second, then punched in a command, and the warning went from yellow to solid red.
"There, that did it."
"No, it didn't. Look!" Dirk pointed to the floor below. The Thing still loomed before them, attacking the Dragons who were desperately trying to hold it off. Several of them lay in crumpled heaps on the ground.
"Damnit! There must be a separate code for the Thing. I can't trigger it from here."
"Then how do we stop it?" Jason looked Dirk in the eyes.
"I'll have to do it manually."
"Are you crazy? How the hell do you plan on doing that?"
"The grepper isn't that far beneath his skull, and there's a very small weak spot where I can get to it. If I can get on top of his head, I can trigger the bomb."
"Then let me do it. You can barely walk."
"Sorry Dirk, but you don't know how to trigger it. I'm the only one who can do this."
"This is insane! There has to be another way."
"There is no other way, and we don't have time to argue about it." Dirk looked Jason in the eye, and then his shoulders slumped.
"You're gonna die, you know." Jason just looked at him, and smiled sadly.
"I need a distraction. Godard's Ripper is the one thing you have that can actually hurt the Thing. Tell him to blast it. That'll give me the distraction I need. Do it now." Dirk took one last look at his friend, and then picked up the comlink.
"Dirk? Where the hell are you?"
"Listen to me. I need you to open up on the Thing with your ripper. Give it to him full throttle."
"I already tried that. It's not strong enough."
"You just have to keep him distracted for a few seconds. Trust me."
Dirk looked over at Jason, who was standing on the edge of the walkway. He looked back at Dirk and gave him a signal that he was ready.
"Now," Dirk yelled. Below him, Godard cut loose with his Helix Ripper. Purple lightning lashed into the Thing, which howled and turned toward him. At that moment, Jason leapt from the walkway and landed on top of the Thing's head. Godard kept up the fire, and the Thing flailed around wildly. Jason plunged his hand into the soft part of the Thing's skull and began groping around, ignoring the pain as its acidic blood seared his arm and shoulder. The Thing let out a frenzied roar and leaned back, its arms flailing as it tried to dislodge its attacker. Then Jason found what he was looking for, and the Thing's head exploded like an overripe melon, raining green ichor on the walls and floor. Jason was flung backwards by the explosion. He smashed into the railing, and then fell to the floor below. The remaining Dragons scattered as the Thing's body came crashing down to the ground.
Dirk activated the controls to the lift, and then raced down to the chamber floor and over to Jason. Jason was badly burned, and his limbs were bent at unnatural angles. Dirk knelt by him. Jason's eyes opened.
"Is everyone safe?"
"Yeah, we're safe." Jason swallowed, then began to cough up blood.
"Hang on," Dirk said. "We're gonna get you out of here."
"Listen to me Dirk. The things I told you, most of it was true. Omega really is planning to wipe out humanity, but he's not going to do it with bombs. The Vivisectors have developed a nanovirus. It's designed to rapidly rewrite the DNA of any human it infects. The lucky ones die painfully. Everyone else gets turned into abominations. I was half-lying about the missile silos. He actually plans to use his drones to seize a bunch of satellite launch stations. He's designed special satellites to carry the virus. He plans to launch them into space, and then bombard the planet with the virus from orbit. That way he gets the whole world all at once. You've got to stop him."
"But how? How do we stop him?"
Jason coughed up more blood, and his eyes began to glaze over. "You'll have to destroy his base. Everything is controlled from there. If you take out his base, he won't be able to release the virus into the atmosphere. But it's big. It's really big. It's designed to withstand an attack from a floating fortress. You'll need more explosive power than you've got here."
"But how do we find it?"
"Dr...Ally. Dr. Ally Matthews. She knows where it is. She can...she can get you inside. Look for her." Jason's voice had trailed off into a whisper.
"Time to save the world again, eh Dirk?" Jason's voice slurred, and then he was silent.
The ambush had taken a heavy toll. Little Jim, Oscar Balbuena, Joey Paz, Dr. Shen, and Silver Fist were dead. Bao Chou had been discorporated. In all, we lost about two dozen people. Few of the survivors made it out unscathed, and most were out of the fight for the duration. And we had lost Jason X for the second time as well. Kar Fai seemed to take it the worst. The Prof was obviously hit hard when she heard the news, but she didn't stop to mourn, because there was still work to do. Kar Fai, I think, blamed himself for what had happened. He was our leader, and he had led us into a trap, never mind that we had all followed without hesitation. It was like the spark was gone from his eyes. For the first time since I had known him, he looked old and tired.
But we had to go on, so we did. We had to find Dr. Ally Matthews, the former head of the Biomass Reprocessing Center. It wasn't going to be easy; we had no idea where she was, but we knew she wouldn't be easy to get to. We had to keep it fast and light, so the Prof sent Dirk, Godard, Hiro, and Tricia to bring her back.
Dr. John Haynes, Dragon Observer,
Full Contact Historian, and High-Caliber Anthropologist
A1. The latest report from Dr. Engel indicates that Project: Monolith is proceeding according to schedule. The towers should be complete and online in approximately two weeks time, all within 48 hours of each other. As per Presidential Order AA566356-A-988, all available resources are prioritized toward the completion of this project.
A2. BuroMil Intelligence reports that the separatists are massing their forces in northern China. This is the largest concentration of separatist forces in the last 14 months, and indicates that a major offensive is forthcoming. Analysis indicates that this offensive will be directed towards disrupting Project: Monolith. General Olivet, Supreme BuroMil Commander, reports that he expects the separatist's target will be Tower One, Mount Makarakomburu, Solomon Islands. This is the most isolated of the towers, and the most difficult to defend. BuroMil Intelligence predicts that this attack will occur in approximately fourteen days. General Olivet requests the reassignment of six divisions to reinforce units defending Tower One, per Presidential Order AA566356-A-988.
A1a. BuroInt Loyalty Report on Dr. Engel indicates a LIR (Loyalty Index Rating) of Alpha-Alpha-Seven. Arcanoencephalograph rating is 99.99804 percent. The results of the Loyalty Reports on Dr. Engel's senior staff are all at Alpha-Alpha-Six or higher (see Appendix C, sub-section 7b). BuroInt recommends continuation of Dr. Engel's security rating.
A2a. Buro IntSec analysis has concluded that there is a 99.97% likelihood that separatist intelligence on Project: Monolith was obtained from a mole within the BuroPresident's command staff. An immediate purge is advised (see Appendix D, sub-section 2).
Excerpt from Daily BuroPresidential Briefing 620224
Tricia's shotgun took out the last guard as the rest of the Dragons scrambled out onto the roof. Concourse Godard had the unconscious Dr. Matthews slung over his shoulder. Alarms blared nearby, and Dirk knew that he'd be hearing the sound of grav-car engines soon. He looked around, and spotted an aircar resting on the rooftop landing pad. Then he noticed the rack of jetpacks nearby, and the hint of a smile appeared on his face. He grabbed a Blue Spear from one of the downed soldiers, and then turned to the others.
"Take the car and get out of here. I'll meet you back at the portal. If I'm not there in half an hour, don't wait for me."
"What about you?" Godard asked.
"I'm going to give you some cover. Now get moving."
While the Dragons sprinted to the aircar, Dirk strapped on one of the jetpacks, grabbed the controls, and hit the ignition switch. He shot up into the air, followed closely by the rising aircar. As the aircar dove down into the maze of skyscrapers, Dirk circled in the opposite direction and jetted upward for a better view. Sure enough, there were three PubOrd grav-cars on an intercept course with the aircar. Things had to be pretty rough for the Buro, Dirk thought, if they could only spare three cars. Apparently, things just weren't what they used to be.
Dirk hit the thrusters on his pack and shot toward the approaching cars, coming in toward the left side of the formation. They were so focused on the retreating aircar that they didn't notice him until he was on top of them. Dirk opened fire with the Blue Spear, and there was a muffled boom and a fireball shot out of the engine of one of the grav-cars. It took a nosedive, and the other two veered off and came around in pursuit. Dirk dodged and weaved as machinegun fire erupted around him. The cars were a lot more maneuverable than he thought, and they stayed on him through every tight turn and dive. He cut hard to his left as a line of windows exploded into a billion glass splinters under a hail of fire.
The low fuel warning buzzer sounded in Dirk's ear. It was time for desperate measures. Dirk shot straight up, the cars in hot pursuit. Then he killed the engines, dropping right passed the startled grav-car pilots, who banked off in opposite directions. Dirk fired up the thrusters and pulled out of the dive, then came around behind one of the cars. He opened fire, missing the car but getting the pilot's attention. He veered off toward the sun as the grav-car turned to follow him, and then shot straight toward the second car. He opened fire again, and a flurry of sparks danced around the grav-car's cockpit, distracting the pilot for a few crucial seconds. Dirk made a sudden turn as both cars opened fire. A fireball erupted behind him as the two cars slammed into each other, and debris rained down from the sky as he sped off into the city below.
Dr. Ally Matthews eyed the Prof warily. "Why should I believe you?" she asked.
"Because if you don't, every man, woman, and child in 2062 is going to die." The Prof sat on a crate, opposite Dr. Matthews. About a dozen Dragons stood around the room, watching the exchange.
"And you're blind," the Prof snapped. "What did Omega promise you, that would make you turn your back on your own kind? Head of the CDCA?" Dr. Matthews let out a contemptuous snort. Suddenly, Ting Ting was across the room in a flash, her sword out. She pulled Dr. Matthew's head back and held the blade to our throat.
"Talk," Ting Ting hissed, "or I'll slit your throat." Dr. Matthews' eyes were wide.
"Ting Ting, enough." Ting Ting reluctantly let go and sheathed her sword. The Prof removed her glasses and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Think about it, Dr. Matthews. Why would I lie to you? Why would we risk our lives to bring you here?"
"Because... you're fanatics. Like the Jammers. You just want to destroy everything." Her voice was uncertain.
"No, Doctor. You know that's not true. Think about it. What do you think Omega really wants? Do you think he really wants to remake the world into a better place? Do you think he really cares about the welfare of humanity?"
"You, you don't understand," Dr. Matthews replied. "Homo Omega is a creature of pure genius. His understanding is far beyond what you or I could hope to achieve. He's not blinded by the petty, selfish concerns of people like Bonengel and Boatman. He can make the world a better place."
"Homo Omega is a monster. He's a perversion of life, and his idea of a better world is one without humanity. He doesn't feel compassion, or love, or kindness. He doesn't feel anything. He doesn't care about human life, and he certainly doesn't care about you. He isn't going to make the world a better place. He's going to destroy it." Dr. Matthews looked at the faces of the Dragons. She saw the same thing in every one.
"It doesn't matter," she said quietly. "Even if I did show you where it is, and even if I could get you inside, you'd never be able to destroy it. It's too big, and too strong. You don't have enough explosives to take it out."
"How do you know?" Godard asked.
"Because I know," Dr. Matthews replied. "You couldn't have enough. Even if all of you carried as much as you possibly could, it wouldn't be enough. Nothing short of a nuclear weapon could destroy it. And you don't have one of those, do you?" She looked around the room, her gaze defiant. None of the Dragons said anything.
"I didn't think so."
"Um, well, actually..." Everyone turned to face Johnny Badhair, who was standing in a corner of the room, looking sheepish. "That is, well, I kind of maybe know where we could get one."
"You want what?"
"You heard me Potemkin. I know you have it. I need it."
Battlechimp Potemkin scowled. He was in a meeting room in the Monkey House, surrounded by a dozen or so cyber-enhanced simians and human cronies. He was facing the Prof, who stared back at him unflinchingly. She had come with Dirk, Dr. John Haynes, the Golden Gunman, and Johnny Badhair, who at the moment was staring intently at the ground, apparently having developed a sudden, intense interest in his feet.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Potemkin said angrily.
"Yes you do. You managed to get yourself a nuclear device. Don't lie to me."
"How do you..." Potemkin's gaze suddenly shifted over to Johnny Badhair. "You," he said in a low, menacing voice.
Badhair looked up. "What?" he asked innocently.
"You slimy traitor." He took a step toward Badhair, and the Golden Gunman stepped in his path. All the Jammers in the room tensed up.
"We don't have time for this Potemkin. I need that device, and I need it now." Potemkin growled low, and then turned and began walking around the room.
"Even if I had such a device, why would I give it to you?"
"I already told you why we need it. If we don't destroy the Fortress, Omega will unleash his virus, and wipe out everyone in 2062."
"So what? Why should I care? As I see it, he's doing us a favor. No more Bonengel. No more Buro. Why would I want to stop that?"
The Prof stepped forward, until she was eye to eye with the cyborg chimp. "You think the tyranny of the Buro is bad, how do you think things will be when Omega's in charge? And do you think he's going to stop with 2062? Once he has control there, you know damn well he's going to turn his attention to all the other junctures, and that means he'll have to come through here. What happens to you and your people then? You think Omega's going to spread freedom and happiness throughout the timestream? I don't think so. I think when he's through, the Buro will seem like a fond memory in comparison, not that you'll be around to remember it." Potemkin stared into the Prof's eyes, and then finally turned his head.
"You have a lot of people here from 2062, Potemkin. People who signed up with you because they want a better future too. A lot of them have families and friends still living in 2062. What are you going to tell them?"
"Alright," Potekmkin said softly. "You can have it." Potemkin turned his back on the Prof. There was a map of the world hanging on the wall. He looked at Hong Kong, and let out something that almost passed for a wistful sigh.
"That's not all. I need your help, too. I need you to launch an attack on Omega's fortress."
Potemkin whirled back around to face the Prof. "What? Are you crazy? Forget it."
"I can't do it without you. We need a distraction, something to keep Omega's forces occupied while we plant the bomb. You just need to keep them busy for a little while."
"We can't do it. There's just no way. We're still not back up to full strength after we were attacked last year. And even if we were, we're not an army. We don't have the firepower for that kind of battle. Besides, from what you said, that fortress is impregnable. A direct assault would be suicide."
"You're the only ones who can do it. I know you don't have a lot to work with, but you know better than anyone else how to take on a superior force. Like I said, you don't have to defeat them, just keep them busy."
One of the Jammers, a blonde woman in her late twenties, wearing what once might have been a BuroMil officer's uniform, stepped forward.
"She's right, commander. Without our help, they won't stand a chance, and then Omega wins. We can't let that happen."
"Major, this plan is insane. You know we won't stand a chance."
"That's not necessarily true. According to what the Prof has said, most of Omega's forces will be busy at the launch stations. That means his fortress won't be heavily defended. Give me command. I'll lead them into battle. I know BuroMil tactics, and I know their weaknesses."
"This isn't the Buro, and Omega isn't likely to follow their field manual"
"Commander. Please. We have to try."
Potemkin looked at her for a moment, then he threw his hands up in the air. "Ok. Fine. Fine. We'll help. You're in command, Major."
"Thank you, commander." She turned to the Prof. "What do you need?"
"Start mobilizing your forces. We have some information as to what to expect. I'll debrief you shortly, and we'll work out a plan. Then we move."
"We've engaged the first wave of separatist forces at Nauru and Papua New Guinea. We estimate about 20 assault wings with about as many abomination squads. The assault wings are providing air cover while the abominations are hitting the ground defenses."
"We're holding the line, but we've just received reports that a second, larger force composed mainly of heavy armor and abomination shock forces are moving rapidly overland toward Tower Two."
"Hong Kong?" Bonengel frowned. "Is Boatman mad? The city is heavily fortified."
"Yes sir, but the tower is on the south side of the island. We've diverted most of our defenses in the region to Tower One, and the remaining Hong Kong units are centered around the city itself."
"Reposition those units around the tower, and call in reinforcements from New Guinea. I don't want anything to get through."
"BuroPresident, if I may point out, leaving the city vulnerable may be just what the separatists want. Furthermore, we have reports that a floating fortress is moving toward Tower One. If we divert our forces away, we may not have enough strength to stop it."
"BuroPresident," a new voice sounded. "Emergency transmission from General Griffith, code ultra-one." Bonengel swore silently and switched over.
"BuroPresident, we've just received reports that there have been coordinated attacks on twenty-four separate launch stations across the globe."
"What? Where is this coming from?"
"We don't know yet sir. We had no intel on this. It just came out of nowhere. Half the stations have already been seized. We expect the rest to fall within the hour."
"How could Boatman pull this off without our knowing it was coming?"
"We don't believe the separatists are behind this, BuroPresident. The reports are unclear, but it appears that the attacking forces to be advanced war machines or robots unlike anything we've seen before, although some of the other reports suggest abominations. We suspect they may be some kind of arcanowave drone."
"Impossible. All the Drones were destroyed in the Netherworld, unless... damn it! Boatman has been secretly producing these things. This offensive is just a feint!"
"BuroPresident, reports indicate that nearly half the stations under attack are separatist controlled. Judging by their response, they seem just as surprised as we are."
Bonengel scowled. "What are you talking about, General? If this isn't Boatman behind this, then who is?"
"Major Hotti...er, Hottenscheweiller, we just picked up word over BuroMil channels that Omega's seized the launch stations. Best guess is that we've only got an hour or so before all his satellites are up in the air."
Major Sara Hottenscheweiller picked up a radio. "Hidden Dragon, this is Leaping Monkey. We've got to get this started. Is your team ready to go?"
"Roger. Start your attack. We're good to go."
"Affirmative. Out. All units, this is command one. Start the attack now. All units are go!"
Sara felt the engine of the battle-matic sputter to life. She put down the radio and picked up a pair of low-light binoculars. Omega's fortress loomed before her across a blasted plain. It looked like a charred tree-trunk, with blackened and twisted branches reaching into the night sky. Just looking at it made her uneasy. A dozen flying monkeys raced overhead, while a motley assortment of homemade tanks and jury-rigged vehicles of all kinds sped forward.
"Major," a voice crackled over the radio.
"This is command one," Sara replied, her voice sharp.
"Er, right. Um, command one, we got bogeys." Sara lifted her binoculars again. A dozen assault drones, bristling with weapons, were flying out from the tower toward the flying monkey squads. A massive, baleful eye glared out of the metal shell of each one. Although they were machines, they were also alive, and unmistakably malevolent.
"Unit two, this is command one. You've got hostiles coming right for you. You know what to do, Apeshot."
"Roger that," a gravelly voice replied. "I got you Major."
"Unit four, are your SAMs in position?"
"We're ready." The voice was low and guttural, yet still distinctly feminine.
"Give 'em hell Koko." Sara picked up her binoculars again. She saw Apeshot and his squad veer off as the assault drones opened fire. The squad turned tail, and predictably, the drones followed them. The monkeys bobbed and weaved, most of them successfully dodging the cannon fire, and then they suddenly scattered in all different directions. At that moment, a volley of surface-to-air missiles streaked up from the ground. The lead drone exploded in midair, momentarily lighting up the darkness, while four others sputtered and smoked. The rest broke off pursuit.
"Major, we've got more bad guys coming in dead ahead."
The faint smile disappeared from Sara's lips. The battle was just getting started.
"Hidden Dragon, this is Leaping Monkey. We've got to get this started. Is your team ready to go?"
Dirk rolled his eyes. "Roger. Start your attack. We're good to go." He was sitting in a stolen grav-car, along with Concourse Godard, Ting Ting, The Golden Gunman, and Dr. Ally Matthews. Kar Fai, Zheng Yi Quan, Trica, Hiro, and Dr. Haynes were in a second car, right behind them. Both cars were flying low to the ground, heading toward Homo Omega's fortress from the north side as the Jammers attacked from the south. The thing looked even more disturbing up close than it did from a distance, like some weird amalgam of bone and metal.
"Send the code now, Doctor," Dirk said. Dr. Matthews reached forward and tapped several keys on the grav-car's console. There was a momentary pause, and then three short beeps.
"That's it," she said. "We're cleared for landing." Dirk hit a switch on the comlink.
"Hiro, we're clear."
"Thank you." Dirk let out a quiet sigh of relief. Despite her reluctant agreement, he hadn't been convinced that Dr. Matthews still wouldn't betray them. He was still half-expecting to be blown out of the sky, even as he brought the car in for a landing. On top of everything else, it was hot as hell in the car. Apparently, the Buro didn't believe in air-conditioning.
"All right," Concourse said from the back seat, hefting his Ripper. "Let's get ready to rock." Dirk brought the car to a halt, then popped the hatch. The Dragons piled out, ready for action. The landing bay was empty and eerily quiet. Godard frowned.
"Well," he said. "How do you like that?"
"Come on," Kar Fai said. "Let's go."
The Dragons moved quietly toward the fortress, with Dirk carrying what looked like a large, silver toolbox. Dirk walked Dr. Matthews over to the door.
"You're up again Doctor. Let's play this smart, shall we?" Doctor Matthews gave Dirk a derisive glance, and then placed her hand into an aperture by the entrance. There was a wet, squishing noise, and then the door slid open. Dirk peered into the hallway beyond. It looked like a cross between a sewer tunnel and the inside of a ribcage. It was empty and silent. Godard and the Golden Gunman moved up to flank the entryway, weapons drawn. Dirk turned back and looked at the others. Kar Fai nodded, and the Dragons stepped inside.
"What is the situation?"
"The first three towers are complete. The fourth one will be complete within the hour."
"That isn't fast enough. There is a floating fortress headed for the first tower. It will likely be there within a half hour. Bonengel misjudged the strength of Boatman's forces, and he let himself be outwitted. It's doubtful that his forces will be able to destroy the fortress before it destroys the tower."
"We are working as fast as we can, but the process cannot be rushed. You'll have to find a way to slow down Boatman's advance."
"We have been doing as much as we can. We've already altered several small events in the past in our favor, but we're stretching probability to the breaking point. Any further, and we run the risk of rending reality irreparably. The dominant paradigm is working against us. You must activate the final tower before Boatman's forces reach them. There is no other option."
"I understand. It will be done."
Hiro Asataka spun in mid-air, and his heel smashed into the side of the abomination's head. There was a sound like eggs breaking, and the thing dropped to the ground. He whipped his sword around in a tight arc, and split the second abomination in half. Then a third one leapt toward him, followed by a fourth and a fifth, only to be cut down in a hail of bullets as Tricia and the Golden Gunman opened fire. The Dragons looked around warily. Four waves of abominations had attacked them while they planted the bomb. Only the fact that the pathways to the reactor core were few and narrow had allowed them to hold the things off. They were all cut and bruised and tired, but the attacks seemed to have stopped.
"Dirk," Godard yelled. "What's the situation?"
"It's set," Dirk said from where he was crouching. "We've got fifteen minutes."
"All right then," said Kar Fai. His face was dirty and streaked with sweat, and there were dozens of tiny rips and tears in his clothing. "Let's get out of here."
Suddenly, there was the sound of groaning metal, and a heavy steel door began sliding open. Steam filled the room with an angry hiss, causing the Dragons to back away. Finally, the door settled into place with a loud clang as the steam dissipated. Standing in the doorway, like a nightmare come to life, was Homo Omega.
With Boatman distracted with his new campaign against Bonengel, it was easy for me to quietly divert the resources I needed to finish the project. And so finally, I have seen my plans come to fruition. Today, I have seen the culmination of my life's work. Today, the first three were born, the children of the Reascencion, the heralds of a new order. I have taken the gifts of our ancestors, and combined them with the knowledge of the Architects to create a new being; human on the outside, animal on the inside, and so much more than either. Stronger, faster, and sharper than any human or transformed animal, and without the Achillies heel that plagues our kind. Never will they have to fear reverting back to some base, crawling form. I look forward to testing them, to discovering the limits of their capabilities, and to teaching them who they are, and where their destiny lies. I have named them, Ursus the bear, Arachne the spider, and Serket the scorpion. The names are fitting, for they are indeed gods among men. And yet, the end of one journey marks the beginning of another, and there is much to do. Soon, my children will have brothers and sisters, and together, they shall forge a new world out of the ashes of the old.
A new age has begun.
The Dragons stared at the apparition, momentarily paralyzed. Then Dr. Matthews stepped forward, a look of smug satisfaction on her face.
"Homo Omega, welcome. I've brought you the Dragons. They're ripe for the slaughter, just as you wished."
"Thank you, Doctor." Omega replied, his voice echoing mechanically. He raised his arm, the flesh on it writhing and twisting like maggots on a hunk of meat. The bone and sinews re-formed themselves into a living gun, and Omega opened fire. Doctor Matthews' body disintegrated into clumps of red, wet flesh as the Dragons dove for cover. Omega swept his arm across the room, unleashing a tempest of destruction as he showered the room with chaingun fire. Tricia popped up and snapped off several shots with her Desert Eagle. Sparks flashed across Omega's chest, and he turned his gun on her. Tricia curled up behind a piece of machinery, her hands over her head, as the shells exploded around her. The Golden Gunman emptied his pistols at the cyborg, the bullets ricocheting off Omega's weapon. He then jumped and rolled for cover as the control panel he was behind exploded under a torrent of fire.
Suddenly, Hiro appeared out of the shadows behind Omega. He thrust his katana straight through the fleshy part of cyborg's torso with deadly precision. Instead of falling, Omega swung his arm around, narrowly missing the ninja. Hiro ducked and rolled, then sprang to his feet and whipped his blade toward Omega's head. Omega moved with inhuman speed, catching the blade with his claw. Tendrils of flesh and metal snaked over the sword and Hiro's hand, trapping him. Hiro tried to pull free, then gasped and looked down. Omega's gun had morphed into a short, thick blade, and Omega had plunged it into the Hiro's gut. Hiro looked up at him, blood trickling out of his mouth, and Omega thrust his arm savagely upward, ripping the ninja in half.
Godard charged forward and cut loose with his Helix Ripper. Purple lightning cascaded over Omega, flinging him backwards against the wall. Energy crackled and exploded around Omega as Godard held down the trigger, his face a mask of rage. Omega let out a raspy, metallic growl, and thrust his arm forward, his claw morphing into a massive assault rifle. He opened fire, and Godard's body jerked spasmodically as the shells tore into him. He dropped to the ground with a thud. Omega strode forward, his arms twisting and changing as they took on new forms, when a loud yell rang out. Kar Fai leapt through the air and kicked Omega solidly in the chest, and the cyborg went flying backwards thirty feet across the chamber and over the side of a walkway.
"Master," Zheng called. "Quickly, lets get out of here"
"No," Kar Fai said over his shoulder. "Go on without me. I have to stay here."
"You can't," Dirk said. "We've only got about ten minutes before this place blows. I've already let one friend die to save my skin. I'm not going to let it happen again."
"If we all leave, Omega will deactivate the bomb. If we all stay, we're all dead. One of us has to stay behind to keep him busy, and that's me."
"Then let me stay here and fight by your side, master," Zheng said.
"No!" Kar Fai turned to face Zheng, and his features softened. "Listen to me Yi Quan. This isn't your time. Too many of us have died here already. You still have much to do. You'll have to lead them now, and find others to carry on the fight. They need you more than ever now. You have a responsibility, just like I do. You can't turn your back on them."
"Master..." Zheng said, his voice quavering.
Kar Fai smiled softly. "It's been an honor to have you as my student, Yi Quan. Now it's time for you to become the teacher. Remember what I've taught you. I know you'll honor me." Kar Fai turned to Dirk. "Go on, get them out of here."
Dirk looked Kar Fai in the eye, then bowed his head slightly. "It's been an honor," he said quietly. Kar Fai nodded back, and Dirk turned to the others. "All right, let's get out of here. Now!" Dirk and the rest of the Dragons scrambled out of the room. Kar Fai turned around at the sound of a heavy thump on the floor. Omega had climbed back over the walkway, and now stood facing him on the opposite side of the chamber.
"Fool," he hissed, his voice ripe with malice. "You cannot stand against me. I will crush you first, and then dispose of your pathetic little band of followers."
The timer on the bomb read 9:27 as the last great grand master of Furious Tiger Kung Fu settled gracefully into a fighting stance.
"Come get some."
"Unit thirteen, watch your left. You've got a squad of plasma troopers closing in." The voice on the radio crackled with static. Johnny Badhair swung the barrel of his machinegun to the left and opened fire. Hot tracers whizzed through the air, and Johnny grinned evilly as the bullets tore into the cyborgs, shredding them like they were branches in a wood chipper.
Suddenly, the battle-matic lurched sharply beneath him, and Johnny stumbled backwards and hit the floor. A huge drill tore through the center of the chassis, and he was flung from the deck. He hit the ground, and saw what looked like a cross between a tank and a beetle coming up through the ground, the battle-matic impaled on the massive drill that protruded from its front. It used its two front legs, also tipped with drill bits, to pull the former tank off and toss it aside like it was a toy. As the Jammers scrambled to get out of its path, it turned, and Johnny could swear it was looking down at him hungrily. He swallowed hard, and looked around for somewhere to hide, when King Kung streaked out of the sky and landed on top of the drone like a sledgehammer. The cyborg gorilla grabbed one of the drone's legs, bent it backwards, and plunged the drill bit into the top of the thing. The drone lurched and flailed wildly as King Kung ripped off chunks of its carapace.
"All units, all units. Pull back! Pull-" The transmission abruptly went dead. Johnny glanced to his left. The radio had fallen nearby. Then he looked over toward Sara's battle-matic. It had stopped moving, and greasy black smoke was pouring out of the engine. The crew were huddled around it, pinned down by fire from all sides. Overhead, Johnny saw an assault drone coming around for another pass, and he let out a curse. There was no way they would survive another hit. He looked around wildly, and then spotted a fallen motorcycle. The rider, a member of the Dallas Rockets resistance group, was dead, but her rocket launcher was still intact and loaded. Johnny grabbed the weapon, then picked up the cycle and kick-started the engine.
Johnny sped across the battlefield, dodging the bullets whizzing all around him, even as the drone closed in. He raced toward the battle-matic, then turned abruptly and sped straight toward the drone. He had paid attention when the first wave of drones had been hit by the SAMs. The only one that exploded had been hit dead-on from the front. All the others had been hit in the side, where the armor was too thick. Johnny lifted his rocket launcher as the drone bore down on him, then smiled as he saw a piece of armor plate jutting from the ground directly in front of him. He gunned the engine as he hit the makeshift ramp, and he shot up into the air. He pulled the trigger, and the rocket blasted straight into the drone's massive, unblinking eye, followed by Johnny and his motorcycle. Johnny let out a loud whoop, and then he and the drone disappeared in a massive fireball in the sky.
Kar Fai ducked as Homo Omega swung a whizzing, buzzsaw-like blade at his head, then leapt into the air, spun, and kicked Omega in the head. Omega staggered backward, and Kar Fai struck Omega's torso, aiming for the wound left by Hiro's sword. His hand sunk into the cyborg's innards, and he grabbed something wet and metallic. He twisted his hand, and Omega let out a gurgling cry as green ichor sprayed out of the wound. Omega grabbed Kar Fai's arm, his claw morphing into hundreds of fleshy tendrils that snaked around Kar Fai's body. He grabbed for Kar Fai's head, his buzzsaw now a massive claw, but Kar Fai grabbed the claw and held it, inches away from his face. As the two struggled, locked in place, Omega met his gaze.
"You can't win."
"I don't need to."
Kar Fai twisted his hand again and pulled, ripping out a handful of guts and wire. Omega howled as his tendrils uncoiled. Kar Fai leapt up, planted one foot on Omega's chest, and kicked with the other, smashing the cyborg in the face as he flipped end over end. Omega responded by backhanding Kar Fai, who flew across the room and slammed into the wall. Kar Fai groaned, then shook his head and picked himself up as Omega advanced toward him.
The timer on the bomb read 4:32.
Primus hovered about six inches above the ground, his legs folded in the lotus postion, his head down. A dozen initiates sat on the ground in a circle around him in the same position. The room was dark and barren, and thirteen paradox cubes whirled through the air, tracing ever more complex patterns. The room hummed with energy, and the muted sounds of battle could be heard, as if from far away. Suddenly, the cubes all stopped moving, and hung frozen in space. Primus snapped his head up. His eyes were open, and lit with a strange, inner light.
"It is finished."
"Bonengel's forces are in disarray. He tried to split them between Hong Kong and the first and second towers, just as you predicted, Doctor. We're nearly over the first tower now. We should have it destroyed in the next two minutes."
"Excellent, commander. Keep me informed."
"Yes sir. Just a moment." The commander turned to someone off screen, then turned back to face the monitor. "Doctor, we're picking up some strange readings. Some kind of large-scale energy fluctuation."
"What are you talking about. Some kind of weapon?"
"We don't know sir. We're trying to confirm now. It looks like some kind of wave, heading straight for..." The monitor image became distorted, then glowed white and disappeared.
"Report, commander. Report!"
There was no reply. Over the Solomon Islands, the energy wave slammed into the floating fortress, which buckled and crackled with electricity. Several explosions rocked its surface, and it gradually tilted and began a slow dive toward the ocean, ending in a titanic splash. The energy wave spread out, encompassing all four towers and everything between them. Abominations howled and screamed as it washed over them, then died. Tanks stopped working, and grav-cars plummeted from the sky. Cyborgs spontaneously mutated, then dissolved, while the rest of the soldiers looked around in confusion, no longer sure of where they were, or what was happening.
Far away, at the center point between all four towers, Rhys Engel sat alone, deep in meditation. And in the halls of his memory palace, Rhys Engel sat at the head of his table, surrounded by the inner circle of the Purists, and he smiled.
"A new age has begun."
Kar Fai stood on shaky legs, and his body swayed like a reed in the wind. His left eye was gone, and blood flowed freely down his face. Several of his ribs were cracked, he was limping, and his clothes were stained with blood. Homo Omega stood opposite him, his breathing loud and irregular. One arm was all but gone, reduced to nothing but a mass of shredded flesh and metal. Thick liquid oozed freely from the hole in his torso, and the side of his head had been smashed in. There was a look of pure hatred on his inhuman face.
"You are finished," he rasped.
Kar Fai smiled weakly, then spat out a mouthful of blood.
"Bite me, asshole."
The timer on the bomb read 0:14.
Dirk Wisely sped away from Omega's fortress in the grav-car, Ting Ting and the Golden Gunman next to him. The remaining Dragons followed in the second car. The Jammers had already dispersed, and he had the engine running as hard as possible. Omega's fortress was already a distant speck behind him. Dirk looked town at the timer on his wrist. It had been synchronized to the timer on the bomb. It read 0:03.
"Brace yourselves, and don't look back."
There was a blinding flash, followed by a loud rumble, and then the shockwave slammed into the grav-car. Dirk fought with the controls until he had stabilized the car. It was built to survive a blast at this distance. Dirk had figured that in when he had set the timer, although the delay in the reactor room had cut it close. Behind him, a mushroom cloud had appeared where Omega's fortress had once stood, illuminating the night sky.
"Goodbye," he said softly, and the cars sped off into the darkness.
With the destruction of the fortress, that was pretty much the end of it. The drones all shut down, and the satellites never launched. The future was safe, as safe as it could be, anyway, with two madmen at each other's throats. We don't know if Boatman or Bonengel ever discovered what happened to Omega, or if they even paid much attention. Word had it that something even bigger had happened, though no one could say what exactly it was. All we heard was that Australia, Hong Kong, and a good chunk of the South Pacific was cut off. Literally. It was surrounded by some kind of energy barrier. Tanks and other vehicles went haywire when they passed through it, and arcanowave devices just didn't work at all. Abominations wouldn't go near it, and the soldiers they sent inside became disoriented. Those were the rumors, anyway. Who knew what was really going on? No one knew exactly what had happened, or who was behind it. It was all just rumors.
And as for us, there were no celebrations, no parades, no thanks. Not that there ever was. We just mourned our fallen companions as best we could, and then we moved on. A few chose to stay a while in the Junkyard, but most of us just went home. The battle was over, and the world had been saved, again. The only thing missing was any sense that we had won.
Dr. John Haynes, Dragon Observer,
Full Contact Historian, and High-Caliber Anthropologist