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Masks XVI: The Outside Man


Rodford Edmiston

Part One

      "Are you sure about this?" asked Brade, as she scrolled through the translated report on her computer.

      "The German Chancellor called me personally," said the President, her voice a bit scratchy over the speaker phone, due to the utilities in the region still being somewhat kludged. "Said both the fact that they knew nothing about it beforehand and that the initial investigation ran into serious problems - three people died and five others were injured - tells him it needs to be checked out with super help immediately. They also want people with recent experience exploring hidden old bases. Considering what's been found in lost secret bases lately, I agree."

      "I'll set it up, then," said Brade, with a sigh.

      "I know, we're all tired," said the President, in a sympathetic tone. "I think the worst part of this recovery is the people who feel bound to increase our workload, when they should be decreasing it. Hell, this afternoon I have to meet with a member of Congress who thinks that an alien invasion and a war which cost tens of thousands of lives and caused billions in damage is no reason for him to stop advancing his personal agenda."

      After ending the call Brade scowled at the report on her screen. The situation seemed minor on the surface, but something told her she needed to take it seriously. She checked her assignment sheet, and found that the team most experienced with exploring bases had all three members available. So was Ike Kenniman, for that matter, which was a definite bonus. However, two of the team members had been in the thick of the War and were on mandatory leave. Well, that leave was to rest them after what they'd been through, with the War and the early part of the recovery. Hopefully, giving them a different sort of task would actually help take their minds off their experiences. Brade smiled, as she remembered Winston Churchill's motto "A change is as good as a rest." She didn't think that always held true, but it definitely did in some cases.

      Of course, even if the personnel she wanted agreed to take the assignment they'd need to work with someone local. More likely, several someones. Some of those would almost certainly need to be law enforcement, probably federal. Brade set to work.

       * * *

      The man entered the Oval Office in an unhurried but very much not relaxed manner. He moved directly to the single seat in front of the President's desk. He was sweating from walking through the July heat, and should have been grateful to be in one of the few buildings in the capital city with both emergency power and working air conditioning. Instead, he looked as if every moment, every step, was a personal insult. Small wonder, since he'd been ordered here by the President from the secure bunker where he and many other members of Congress were currently living.

      This was a private meeting; there were no aides for either him or Sievers. However, a pair of men from the Secret Service stood unobtrusively not far from the visitor. That they were unusually large men was no accident. Sudgrave responded to the President's greeting and extended hand by ignoring both and sitting abruptly. The President had hoped they could at least be civil, but this frosty action disabused her of that expectation.

      Mark Sudgrave was a member of the opposition. An ambitious, driven man, he frequently strove - in vain, so far - for the position of his party's leadership in the House. His lack of success was largely due to holding views most of his own party members considered extreme. He had been a thorn in President Sievers' side from well before she won her first-term election. He had even been overheard - about halfway through that first campaign - suggesting a Constitutional amendment restricting the office of President to men only. He later claimed he was making a joke, but most members of his party weren't laughing. One of his recent actions had actually driven some of his remaining supporters away from him, and small wonder. At a time when everyone should be helping with the aftermath of the War, he was persisting in his personal vendetta against the President. The President decided to skip the pleasantries and be direct.

      "I want to know why you started impeachment proceedings against me," said Sievers, managing a civil tone.

      "You never made a declaration of war!" shouted Sudgrave, throwing his arms wide in a dramatic gesture. Perhaps he expected to shock her. Since he had behaved this way in practically every meeting they'd had, he failed.

      "In the first place, they attacked us," said the President, trying to be reasonable. "If I'd gone through the process of a formal declaration of war, we'd have been defeated and occupied before it was completed. As things developed, it was all over within the sixty day limit."

      "You've always got an excuse, don't you?" said Sudgrave, acidly. "Well, you're not getting away with it this time!"

      "Okay, enough with being polite," said Sievers, angrily. "Mark, in case you hadn't noticed, the war's over and we won. Right now we need to focus on rebuilding and repairing, but you're doing things which will only cause delay. Let it drop."

      "Or what? You'll arrest me? Like you did your own Vice-President?"

      "Harold is not under arrest."

      "Then where is he?" said Sudgrave, stabbing his right index finger on her desktop in another practiced, dramatic gesture.

      "He and I are not on speaking terms right now. He resigned of his own free will and I am working on a replacement. I suggest you let that matter drop, as well, and let's get back to your own potentially treasonous act."

      "The last resort of scoundrels is patriotism!"

      "Even if you got that quote right, it would apply to you, not me."

      "Me?! How could I possibly be a scoundrel?! Or treasonous?!"

      "That's a strange question - and an even stranger attitude - from a man who caused major delays in the acquisition of the Brown Racer fighters and their Harpy missiles," said Sievers, acidly. "All because of that juicy deal you got to support a less capable plane which would have cost much more."

      "Now, just a moment..."

      "No, you 'just a moment!'" she snapped, suddenly leaning forward and jabbing a finger at him, making him reflexively pull back. "You repeatedly and consistently not only voted against every measure I took to defend this planet and this nation, you worked both openly and behind the scenes to sabotage my efforts! You're lucky I have been too busy to have you charged with treason!"

      "You... you can't talk to me like that!"

      "Wake up, Sudgrave! You were wrong, about me, about the invasion and about your choice of friends and what actions to back. I will not roll over and let you try and pretend all your mistakes were my fault, much less now than I would have before the War! So either shut up, sit down and do what's best for this country or I'll have the Justice Department accelerate their investigation of your activities in the SuperCharger fighter scandal!"

      "That's blackmail!"

      "No, that's politics. Something I usually try to avoid. However, if you don't see reason, I will demonstrate - as I have before - that I can play dirty with the worst of them. As much as that would hinder our recovery work, it would stop you from doing something much worse."

      She sat back and crossed her arms.

      "Now see here...!"

      "I believe the President is through," said the Secret Service man who had moved up to his right side.

      Sudgrave suddenly realized that he was not going to be allowed to have his say. This was such an unfamiliar experience for him that he was momentarily at a loss. The two Secret Service agents in the room weren't. The took him ungently by the upper arms and shoulders, bodily lifted him from the chair and marched him from the Oval Office.

      "God," said the President, after Sudgrave was gone. Alone, now, she put her head in her hands. Do I have to declare martial law just to get the political idiots to back off long enough to handle a national - planet-wide - emergency?!

      She'd already declared a state of emergency for the whole country and its possessions. Every US citizen had been affected - over half directly - by the invasion. The least harmed were helping themselves and their own first, and Sievers couldn't blame them. She just hoped this little talk would motivate Sudgrave to actually do his job. That would be much better than wasting time and resources prosecuting an admittedly good deal maker.

      "All right," said the President, straightening and steeling herself. "Let's get back to work."

      At least she could currently focus almost entirely on domestic problems. Most of the world was still in shock, and both leaders and citizens focused on fixing the local problems the War had caused. This meant there were currently few international disagreements, and most of those were over resources needed for recovery from the War. Only a few radical voices were starting to blame the attack on their usual enemies. There was even a vague hope among diplomats that the recent, horrible events would bring greater unity to the world. President Sievers held little hope for this. However, one of her priorities - though well down on the list - was to do what she could for both allies and enemies.

       * * *

      Energia didn't really feel like meeting with her teammates just now. In fact, she didn't feel like doing much of anything. She was on mandatory leave, and had been enjoying the peace and quiet that brought. However, the message had sounded urgent, so here she was. She landed on the roof of the "bakery" and shucked out of her space suit after she entered the head of the stairs. At least the latest model - which she had received only a few weeks before the War - had stealth features. All the previous ones had been silvery on the outside, like something out of a Sixties TV show.

      As Energia flew down the staircase in Blue Impact's headquarters she heard voices. One of them male.

      She went on her guard, just a bit. Then relaxed when she saw that the man was Ike Kenniman; Dr. Device, himself. The others present were her teammates.

      "Ah, there she is," said Blue Impact, as Energia lofted over the railing and headed for Gadgetive to give her an affectionate hug. "Glad you could make it."

      "Wouldn't miss it," said Energia, her tone less enthusiastic than she intended as she gave the two older supers a less intimate but still warm greeting. "So, what's up?"

      "Here we go again," said Gadgetive, grinning.

      Energia gave her a puzzled glance.

      "You up for a mission this Thursday?" said Ike. He shrugged and grinned. "Sorry about the short notice but we only just learned about it."

      "Not another underground base," said Energia, sourly.

      "Got it in one!" said Gadgetive, with a smirk.

      "Did you really think you'd need all three of you to talk me into it?" said Energia, playfully.

      Despite her tiredness, she was actually feeling a bit excited. Far better exploring a dank, damp dungeon than killing thousands fighting for the Earth. Even if there were occasional badgerbears.

      "Brade called Blue Impact and me to see if we thought you two would be okay with a mission when you're supposed to be resting," said Ike. "I found Gadgetive and she said we should make an outing of it; come here and talk to Blue Impact in person, then call you and invite you here for the same purpose."

      "So, what's the situation?"

      "During the War, the Shilmek bombarded a small section of the Harz Mountains which had no known military or infrastructure value," said Ike. "A weak, encoded signal began broadcasting from there. Turns out it was in an old Nazi Army code, one of those they developed after learning Enigma had been beaten. Decoded, it said 'Containment failing,' plus some garbled stuff, over and over. It came to a sputtering stop after three days. Locals told investigators the Nazis had a secret, underground research installation there during - and by some accounts, for several years after - the Second World War.

      "Preliminary investigators checking the area encountered problems, some of them fatal. Germany asked President Sievers for help investigating, given recent experience among US supers with this sort of thing. She wants you three and me to give that help."

      "Okay," said Energia, thinking it through. "I assume the message was some sort of automated thing..."

      "Yeah. Towards the end of the War both sides made major advances in automation. The US developed the Music Box control system for their Argus reconnaissance satellite, as just one example. Because they were running so short on trained people, the Nazis used those technologies much more extensively than the Allies did.

      "Anyway, the location is in Bode Gorge, which has a bedrock of Ramberg granite. Great for digging a secure base into. After the war the area was under Russian control until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1950. The area was then run by local communists until the mid-Sixties. By the time Germany reunited the base was long forgotten."

      "We'll work with some national police and a regional super, a woman named Dampf," said Blue Impact. "She has water control powers."

      "Okay, I'm in," said Energia. "I'm just a little puzzled about why there's so much concern over this that they're sending us there, instead of having us help with law enforcement or reconstruction work."

      "We're all officially on break from that," said Blue Impact. "In fact, we're prohibited from working any more in those areas until next year. All part of the regulations affecting those who were in the thick of the battle; we're on rotation. However, the Germans are putting just about every super they have into recovery projects, straight through until those are done. Meanwhile, folks all over the world are making a point of checking anything the Shilmek paid particular attention to. They seem to have detected things long forgotten, some of which are turning out to be significant, though usually not urgent. This is expected to be a low stress job. We just use our experience to help the locals get in and do a preliminary inspection."

      "You know that's not how it's going to turn out," said Energia, again sourly.

      "Do you want to help or not?" said Gadgetive, pointedly.

      "Well, sure. I'm just saying we need to be ready when things go sour."

      "Just you be ready by seven tomorrow morning," said Blue Impact. "There's several time zones difference between here and there and we'd like to get there early enough locally to have time to get a lot of work done that day."

       * * *

      The funeral service for Buzz - in his home town, at his family's group of plots - was quiet and respectful. That is, pretty much the opposite of what Buzz himself had been. Some confessed later that they were tempted to pull some prank or other, but just didn't have the nerve or the energy.

      His family turned out to be good people, though they all seemed mystified as to what Buzz had actually done with his life. Not because they didn't know; they just had trouble understanding what they knew.

      Back at the Assembly base there was a somewhat less restrained memorial service, part wake and part comic eulogy. During this people told stories about the deceased member, and there actually were a couple of pranks pulled. Paula begged off early, but Susan elected to stay a while longer. Back in their quarters, Paula showered and changed into sleepwear, but decided against going to bed for a while. Instead, she browsed the Internet for a while, then decided to do a bit of housecleaning.

      That was when she found the bottle of ibuprofen. The one which had given her such trouble several months back. She had put it on the dresser after finally getting the one tablet out, and it was quickly pushed behind something and forgotten.

      Paula opened the bottle and deftly dumped a single pill into her left palm. She put that back, then dumped two. Then three. She switched hands and performed the same test, going from left to right. She then put all the pills back, since she didn't actually need them. Her health was perfect, these days.

      Too easy, she thought, with a sour expression.

      So many things were easy, now. However, some of the things she most wanted were hard. A few were very hard. One was impossible.

      Paula sighed. She should be happy. She was empowered, perfectly healthy, had a wide range of abilities which she was still learning about, and had the potential to live a very, very long time. She could become Champion, again. She didn't want to.

      Why is it different, now? Why am I so dissatisfied?

       * * *

      The borrowed VTOL craft circled the large, steaming crater slowly, staying in the air on direct thrust.

      "The mountain... just isn't there anymore!" said Solange, her voice almost a wail.

      She hadn't been living there nearly as long as some of the others who were now displaced by the destruction of the Intrepids base. In some ways, though, it was more her home - her refuge - than it had been any of theirs.

      "We'll fix it," said the Black Mask, confidently. "Even if we have to build a new mountain to put it in."

      "Later, though," said Bowman. "We're fine for now in the old Guild Hall, thanks to the generosity of the Assembly."

      "I can't believe how much effort the Shilmek expended on this place," said Jet Jaguar, obviously both astounded and intimidated. "They went deep into the basement rock under the mountain... much deeper than any of our facilities!"

      "Our team has repeatedly given the Shilmek trouble," said Bowman, as he turned the craft northeast. He smiled in a satisfied manner. "Just as we did this time."

      "This is also one of the places which might have been hosting Queen Tolnar," the Black Mask pointed out.

      "I'm worried about funding," said Colossa. "There's so much rebuilding to be done..."

      "There's no hurry. We have a good place to operate out of. We've already updated the computer system and installed Bunter."

      "Two teams operating out of back-to-back bases just isn't natural," said Rapscallion, in mock outrage. "Should be face-to-face."

      He smirked.

      "Or doggy style."

      Most ignored him. The rest just groaned and looked away.

Part Two

      "God damn, I'm a horny bitch!" said Michelle, laughing as she watched Vic pose in the sexy bustier the stylist had bought for the super. "Whooo! You make me wet just standing there, girl!"

      "I don't know how I let you talk me into this," said Vic, embarrassed but also incredibly aroused.

      "Are you kidding? Your nipples got so hard when we were putting that on you I'm surprised they didn't puncture the fabric!"

      Michelle was now a full-fledged stylist, and earning good money. Good enough to move to a better apartment. Vic insisted on paying part of the rent, since she spent most of her weekends and some weeknights here. Being one of the first recruits for the Bureau of Special Resources meant she had a lot of say in her area of assignment.

      "So," purred Vic, "do I look good enough to eat?"

      Her lover laughed so hard she almost fell off the bed, which made Vic laugh.

      "Oh, you naughty, naughty girl! Come here. You need to be punished."

      Smiling, heart pounding, Vic sauntered sexily over to Michelle.

      "I'm afraid you'll have to help me get this off," she said, in a mock-timid tone. "I'm not that familiar with women's garments."

      "Oh, you're going to get off, all right," said Michelle, pulling Vic down on top of her, then rolling them over.

      They kissed, long and slow, Vic kneading Michelle's ass while she, frustratingly, did nothing with her hands.

      "I hate it when you tease," said Vic, quietly, when they finally took a break.

      "It's called foreplay, hun," said Michelle, smiling as she pushed Vic's hair out of her face. "You usually get off pretty quick, but I tend to need more time. So, c'mon, work with me."

      "Sure," said Vic, smiling. "Now, can you get me out of this thing?"

      "Not yet," said Michelle, back to teasing.

      As it turned out, Vic didn't get out of that bustier for nearly two more hours. And then only because Michelle wanted to save water in the shower.

       * * *

      "Sometimes it doesn't seem fair," said Vic, quietly, much later.

      "That so many died or were seriously injured or lost someone they love, and you're here with me?"

      Vic nodded, and Michelle hugged her closer.

      "I still have trouble believing Cosmic Ray is dead," said Vic, even more quietly. "Poor Doro."

      "One of my best customers was a Major in the Army," said Michelle, trying to be calm and not succeeding. Tears formed as she continued. "She was one of those who volunteered to stay at her base and make it look fully occupied. None of them lived."

      They hugged, and were silent the rest of the night.

       * * *

      When Template entered the meeting room she was surprised to see their Lunie liaison already present. For a moment she thought he was in the wrong place, or that maybe she was. As busy as they all were these days, she wouldn't be surprised if they were both in the wrong room. Then she remembered the Lunies were offering their automated building technology to help with the aftermath of the War. Since this meeting was on what advanced technologies could be applied and how to rebuilding both super facilities and civilian infrastructure, of course he should be there.

      "You can't be this eager to talk about advanced construction techniques," said Template, in a tired joke.

      "I wanted to catch you early to let you know about something which is probably important but not urgent enough for its own meeting."

      "Which is?" said Template.

      "Have you heard about the Moon Scouts?" said Jimmy Kent.

      "What about the Moon Scouts?" said Template, not really in the mood for an indirect approach.

      The Pine Island Academy hadn't been completely untouched by the war, but damage there had been almost trivial. This meant it was being used both to house displaced supers - including entire teams, or the surviving members of teams - and to help plan the recovery elsewhere. Aside from the Pine base, the Pioneers had moved into their reserve facility on the island while their mainland base was being repaired. They were also hosting a number of supers there.

      Most of the job of organizing, overseeing (and occasionally refereeing) these matters fell to Template. Just now, she and Jimmy were in an otherwise empty conference room at the old Pine base. As with so much of that inventor mastermind's work, it was grandiose. The room was much larger than it needed to be, especially vertically, and had a massive oak table. The main display screen - original but refurbished by the school's teachers and students - was likewise more suited to a large theater than a meeting room. The layout was obviously designed to be intimidating.

      "Something about all the activity in space during the attack caused that old computer to switch to a different mode," said Jimmy. He shrugged. "Maybe the events triggered a memory or started a subroutine. Whatever it was, the computer suddenly directed all the Scouts - most of whom were busy fighting the Shilmek - towards a single location. Some didn't manage to make it there until after the surrender, but once they were all in one place they were instructed to excavate... something from the solid bedrock. They then used their powers to send it to the Moon."

      "Buh?!" said Template, who had only been half listening before, the rest of her mind on the upcoming meeting.

      This, though, got her attention. The energy required to move something that far out of the Earth's gravity well... She'd thought the ancient ship housing the computer was badly damaged. If it could still muster that much energy it could present a significant danger.

      "Yeah. Some sort of advanced teleportation. This exhausted their powers and left them stranded in civilian form in the middle of the Canadian Shield."

      "That's..." Template had been in that region for weeks during her work at that diamond mine. She had a good idea of just how bad that situation might be for someone unpowered, unprepared and unequipped, even during the Summer.

      "Fortunately for them, we detected the disturbance caused by the teleportation. Also, their excavation caused seismic disturbances which were already being investigated by the Canadian government. They were worried it was either more Shilmek activity or someone taking advantage of the post-War confusion to do something bad."

      "So they were rescued."

      "Yeah. They're rather depressed and confused. They were depowered and cut off from contact with their... I guess you could say sponsor, completely without warning or explanation. It simply left them stranded and pretty much helpless."

      "So what does the computer have to say about all this?" said Template, starting to feel worried.

      "So far, it hasn't communicated with us, even though we've called it repeatedly. However, we are detecting considerable activity. We think it's completing the repairs to get underway. Hopefully, it'll leave the Moon and go back wherever it came from."

      "Great," said Template, with a gusty sigh. "One more thing to worry about."

       * * *

      The apergy travel pod settled silently and gracefully onto the grassy meadow. Six uniformed German police officers - members of the Bundespolizei - a man in a suit and a woman in a costume waited by their own two vehicles for the three women and one man to exit. Beyond the Germans was a pile of fresh rubble, and beyond that a pair of large, old-looking metal doors, set into a face of cut rock, under an overhang.

      "Wow," said Energia, looking around and seeming impressed. "Reminds me of my family's trip to the Red River Gorge, only moreso. Gorgeous!"

      "It's trees and rocks," said Gadgetive, with a shrug.

      The man in the suit led the procession to greet the quartet.

      "Karl Schmidt, of the Bundeskriminalamt," he said, shaking hands all around. He gestured towards the woman. "This is Dampf, one of our premier costumed law enforcement officers."

      "I am very pleased to meet you," said Dampf, smiling as she also shook hands.

      Her English wasn't as smooth at Schmidt's, but still quite understandable. She wore a full-body costume in shades of blue and green. However, there was no mask, only a snug-fitting hood which left her entire face bare.

      Schmidt next introduced the uniformed officers. They nodded, but said nothing and did not offer to shake hands.

      "Until we determine what is inside this mountain, only we six will enter," said Schmidt, sternly, indicating the supers and himself. "These men will maintain a cordon around whatever entrance we make."

      "We saw what looked like several fresh craters and a large sinkhole along a line below that ridge," said Blue Impact, pointing. "That and the very impressive steel doors over there seem to be the only ways in."

      "Those are all we have found, as well," said Schmidt, nodding. "The first team lowered themselves into the sinkhole on climbing ropes. Their investigation was barely started when they triggered a rock slide, with disastrous results for them. As for the doors..."

      Blue Impact nodded, immediately understanding that opening those doors without heavy equipment or high explosives would likely require powers.

      "Was the sinkhole caused by the Shilmek attack?" said Ike.

      "Yes. They blasted the ridge in several places, but when they struck there it punched through into some sort of cavity, likely artificial. For some reason that seemed to satisfy them, and they ceased fire.

      "We weren't certain why they bombarded this mountain," said Schmidt, "but that combined with the signal we soon detected coming from here made us very concerned, so as soon as we could we sent a patrol here to examine it.

      "The attack also uncovered that large portal behind me. From what we have learned, it was apparently covered deliberately late in the Second World War, or immediately after. The locals tell us there was some sort of extensive installation here, begun by the Nazis in Nineteen Forty-three. Something completely absent from our records."

      "Secret Nazi base of unknown purpose with at least some equipment still functioning," said Ike, nodding. "Yeah. I can understand the concern. Let's get busy."

       * * *

      Energia flew over and around the hole, taking her time. This was great flying weather and terrain, the most fun she'd had in the air since before the War. The depression was more than deep enough for her to drop completely out of sight, and roughly as wide as a basketball court. She hovered above the chaotic rubble in the bottom for a while, noting with a shudder a few splotches of blood left by the previous explorers. She didn't land or even touch anything, just looked and used with the camera Gadgetive had given her. The video was sent in real time to the flyer, where the others watched. After completing a thorough examination of the hole, she flew straight up, to well above the treetops. From there she took video of the rest of the damaged areas. Then, a bit reluctantly, she concluded her survey and returned to where the others waited.

      "They punched through the rock and a thick layer of concrete with a lot of rebar," she said. "It's all a tumble of rubble. I didn't see any way in. You'd probably need heavy construction equipment working for months to make one. If there's anything left besides the rubble."

      "There is," said Dr. Device, with a confident nod. "I took magnetometer and gravimeter readings as we flew over. Besides whatever is immediately beyond those massive doors, there's a huge complex of chambers and tunnels under this mountain. Some of the chambers are surprisingly large."

      Energia handed the camera back, then Gadgetive restarted the show. The flying super watched with the others as the young inventor paused, zoomed, enhanced and so forth. After a second play-through with a bit more tinkering, she was satisfied. Gadgetive put away the large, mobile screen she'd used to show the video and burned copies onto three DVDs. One went to the uniformed police. One to the plainclothes policeman. One to Dampf.

      "What do you suppose could be in there?" said Energia, puzzled. "What would they want to have out here, away from industry, railroads, highways, centers of population..."

      "Typically, these installations were used for multiple purposes," said Ike, with a shrug. "Oh, they'd build something for one or two connected purposes, but they would subsequently accumulate more uses as the War went more and more against them."

      "But why here?" said Blue Impact.

      "All that rock overhead gives good protection against both detection and attack," said Ike. "Also, you can start in the side of the valley and dig in relatively easily on the horizontal, instead of having to dig down from level ground."

      "During that time of the war," said Schmidt, "the Nazis were starting to work on major, sustained efforts for creating super weapons. They were still largely holding their own with their existing technologies, but both sides had been working on improving things since even before the War began, and both sides knew the other would continue. Given the heavy bombing campaign waged by the Allies, it made sense to place some installations in isolated areas, deep underground."

      "All right," said, Ike, rubbing his hands together and smiling. "Next order of business, then, is a detailed examination of those doors. Dampf, if I remember correctly you can not only control water, but detect it and move through it?"

      "Those are correct, yes," said the German super, nodding. "I become one with the water. I have moved through underground rivers before, to help miners and spelunkers in trouble."

      "Excellent. These old bases often have flooded sections, so those abilities will be useful in multiple ways."

      The supers and police walked the short hike to the exposed doors. The members of the Bundespolizei stopped at the base of the pile of debris which had fallen away from the artificial cliff face in which the massive doors were installed, while the six investigators clambered up that to the doors.

      "First, let's look for gaps..." said Ike, rubbing his chin as he examined the portal.

      "We have already done that," said Schmidt, perhaps a bit stiffly. "You can see where we even cleared the rubble away from the base."

      "How high on the doors did you check?"

      "To about halfway up."

      Between Dr. Device and Gadgetive using drones and Energia flying on her own while carrying instruments the others provided, they soon completed the examination.

      "Impressive," said Ike. "A fit like that of a quality safe door. We can't sneak a fiberoptic scope in, or anything else. Annoyingly, the doors are thick enough we can't get good scans through them, either."

      He looked at Dampf.

      "I have no sense of any water beyond, aside from expected humidity."

      "So, we need to do this the hard way," said Energia, with a sigh.

       * * *

      One thing to their advantage, the original builders had recognized the inconvenience of opening those huge doors for the passage of mere individual humans. There was a person-sized door installed in the right large one. However, it was as thick and well-fitted as the larger doors. A few test thumps by Blue Impact revealed it was as securely fastened, as well.

      "Not encouraging," said Gadgetive, running her hand over the outside of the smaller door. "I bet this thing was designed to only be opened from the inside."

      "So who closed the door before they dropped part of the mountain on it?" said Blue Impact. She didn't say anything, but worried they might find piles of long-dead bodies; murdered slave workers and their suicided masters. None of them needed that; especially not after what some of them had been through in the Shilmek War.

      "Probably they had a smaller exit somewhere else," said Ike. "That's pretty standard. Some sort of escape shaft to the surface. Good luck finding it, though. Even if you do, they probably filled it in after the last man came out. That's also standard practice."

      "So you want me to try and cut around the edges?" said Energia, starting to get impatient.

      "Before we cause any damage, I wish to document as much of the operation as possible," said Schmidt.

      He had one of the uniformed officers fetch a bag from his car. Inside was a slightly aged but good quality video recorder, with a tripod and lamp. He set this up and panned around as he gave a brief explanation in German. Meanwhile, the technical pair discussed the optimum approach for penetrating the door, complete with equations.

      "I'm starting to feel like the odd one out here," said Blue Impact. "This door is far beyond my strength."

      "You will likely find more purpose here than I," said Dampf, wryly. "My main use is to represent our government. As is herr Schmidt's."

      "I'm not going to complain until we get inside," said Energia, with a contented sigh. "Just being out here, seeing these mountains and forests, breathing this wonderful air, is making me feel better than I have in a long while."

      In the end the gadgeteers decided to kludge together a tunable cutting laser and use the power supply of the flyer. Out here, away from utilities, Energia had no quick way to recharge, so they were holding her in reserve for the moment.

      "Same thing, every time," said Energia, in a mock-critical tone as she leaned against the flyer and watched the pair work. "Those two get involved in something technical and we two do nothing or are just used for fetch and carry or guard duty."

      "Until the screaming starts and we have a big battle," said Blue Impact, from where she sat on a boulder nearby.

      "Oh, yeah. Then they appreciate us."

      "You two keep that up," said Gadgetive, in a stage mutter, as she and Ike worked, "and you can program the DVR next time."

      "I love the way you three interact," said Dampf, smiling. "It is obvious you are very good friends for a long time."

      "What about me?" said Dr. Device. "I interact."

      "Sorry, Ike, but you are literally the odd man out, here," said Blue Impact, grinning. "Only an auxiliary member."

      The laser completed, Ike and Gadgetive loaded it into the flyer and brought that to the narrow cleared space in front of the doors. Once the device was out, Blue Impact flew the vehicle back to its first spot, to clear the area in front of the doors, trailing a cable between vehicle and laser.

      "Looks good," said Ike, after a brief inspection. "Now, you folks better get to cover. There'll be a lot of scatter from this and only Gadgetive and I have protection."

      "Speak for yourself," said Energia.

      "Oh. Right."

      They tuned the laser first to the frequency at which the outer layer of corrosion was most absorbent. After tracing once slowly around the edge of the door with that - basically to clean the surface - they switched to the frequency that particular alloy of steel best absorbed.

      The work was slow, due to the laser was being used at a low power setting. This was because they wanted to reduce the chance of damaging things on the other side. However, in a bit under an hour they had the door cut free. Energia and Blue Impact worked the thick slab of armor steel loose and pushed it in, then to one side. Beyond lay darkness.

      "No power," said Ike, reaching through the opening with a probe.

      "I'm sensing something in the distance," said Energia, frowning in concentration. "Faint, though."

      "Yeah, there's something generating both AC and RF in there," said Gadgetive, using her own probe. "It's a good ways in, but definite."

      "Just how extensive is this place?" said Blue Impact.

      "It could go on for several kilometers," said Dampf.

      "It does," said Ike, nodding.

      They gathered their lights and other equipment, and entered.

Part Three

      "Could you do some narration, please?" said Schmidt, still recording, walking at the rear with the camera, which now had the large, top-mounted lamp turned on. "I am not a veteran videographer, and wish to concentrate on this process."

      "Typical mid-War Nazi construction," said Ike, looking around as they proceeded - slowly - into the base. He pointed out the features as he described them. "The cave walls are somewhat smoothed but not really finished, the installation of the pipes and beams is a bit rough and everything is oversized to make up for the lack of quality and the possibility of bombing... Late in the War, of course, things were of much lower quality and much more brute force to compensate, while early in the War a tunnel like this would resemble a subway station."

      "You all right?" said Energia, moving close to Gadgetive and speaking in a low voice, as Ike continued.

      "Mostly," she replied, with a shiver. "I lost family to these maniacs, I knew that, but this is the first time it's... personal."

      There were light fixtures, but the explorers didn't even bother looking for switches with no power detected here. The air was damp but only a bit stale. In a moment of quiet, they could hear water dripping in the distance.

      "Spooky..." said Energia.

      "Yeah," said Gadgetive. "The other places were smaller, not as echoey."

      "I dunno," said Energia, quietly. "That tunnel in the old Pine base was pretty echoey."

      They saw a few items scattered along the corridor; scraps of wood, cloth and paper; rusted tools and parts; things less identifiable. None were deemed worth more than a brief examination. Fortunately, there were no bodies. All items on the floor - and the floor itself - were covered in a thin layer of fine grit mixed with dust.

      "I'm assuming most of the debris on the floor was stirred up by the bombardment," said Ike. "Indoors dust is largely shed human skin cells, and there aren't supposed to have been any humans in here for decades."

      "Eeewww..." said Energia.

      Eventually, they could see a branching ahead, a smaller tunnel going off to the right at a forty-five degree angle. Just past the split they could see what looked like factory equipment in the main corridor.

       "Looks like the small one goes uphill from here," said Energia, pointing right. "Command center more likely that way?"

      "Your guess is as good and any," said Blue Impact, with a shrug.

      "We do not separate," said Schmidt.

      "I definitely have no problem with that," said Gadgetive, fervently.

      There was a security gate just inside the entrance to the smaller hallway. This was only a minor impediment to the explorers.

      "Well, it has to be protecting something," said Blue Impact, as she tore the rusty lock open.

      "I'm sensing power ahead," said Energia, frowning in concentration. "It's weak, though."

      "Lights off for a moment," said Ike, leading by example.

      After a few seconds, they could see dim light coming down the tunnel. They put their own lights back on and, encouraged, hurried ahead.

      "Okay, watch for security devices," said Blue Impact, making sure she was in front.

      "She is invulnerable?" said Dampf.

      "Nobody's invulnerable," said Gadgetive, absently, watching her palmtop's display of sensor readings. "She's pretty tough, though."

      Moments later they were in a small chamber, obviously some sort of combined office and control center. There were fluorescent fixtures overhead, but those were dark. The light came from indicator lamps on some of the equipment, shining through a thin layer of dust.

      "You are not going to tell me that those have been burning this whole time," said Gadgetive, fists on hips, staring defiantly at the bulbs.

      "At low, steady voltage, an incandescent bulb can last for more than a century," said Ike, absently. "Though I think these came on just recently, in response to whatever the Shilmek attack did to this place."

      "Wiring's hot, but weak," said Energia.

      "Let's not turn anything on, then," said Blue Impact. She looked around again. "I don't see a radio."

      "This was a manager's office," said Ike, looking carefully but not touching. "We can find the radio room later." There were other corridors leading in three directions from the room. However, what most attracted their attention was a manila envelope with ACHTUNG! hand written in large, block letters on it still showing clearly through the dust. Ike reached for it, but Schmidt stopped him.

      "This is my job," he said, firmly. He handed his camera to Dampf. Then, carefully, he lifted the envelope from where it had been left on the desk in front of one of the control panels. Despite that care, he stirred a considerable amount of dust.

      "Paper's so brittle I'm not sure... Ah, there we go."

      Perhaps because it was a better quality paper, the document inside was in much better condition. There were several pages of typed material and diagrams, bound together with a paperclip.

      "'Beware the Narrow One! The power to his containment must not be interrupted for even the slightest moment!' Then there's a map and much technical writing."

      "What do they mean by 'Narrow One'?" said Ike, confused.

      "In German, it is der Schmale."

      "That guy who could create a dimensional fold, effectively making himself thinner?" said Blue Impact, frowning. "I remember, now. He fought for the Nazis during the War. At first he was just used for espionage and assassination, but he kept manifesting new abilities. By the last time anyone heard of him, he was fantastically powerful. Then he just disappeared."

      "Last time anyone saw him was in the Fall of 1945," said Gadgetive, nodding as she remembered her Masks history classes. "Allied Command actually looked for him. Since he was so effective they worried what the Nazis were saving him for. Figured it was something big. He never showed, though."

      "Well, one thing we now know," said Schmidt, as he finished skimming the pages. "His real name was Albrecht Jentzsch."

       * * *

      "Wow," said Energia. "So, uh, where..."

      "This..." said Schmidt, who appeared to be developing an ulcer. He looked vaguely - almost desperately - around for a moment, as if trying to find a solution somewhere in that room, then sighed. "I must contact my superiors. I will go outside and use my satellite phone. Please continue your exploration, but do not alter anything."

      "Understood," said Blue Impact. "However, if you let our gadgeteers scan those pages, they can start mapping this place and determining what it was for."

      "Ah. Of course."

      That took only a few minutes. Then Schmidt nodded to them - specifically, Dampf - carefully gathered the papers and left.

      "So much for not splitting up," said Energia, her voice slightly sing-song.

      "Oh, come on," said Ike, as he perused the scans on his palmtop. "It's a short, straight run to the main tunnel, and a slightly longer but just as direct path to the door. We've already been through there; there's nothing to worry about."

      "You just had to say that," muttered Energia.

      "Do you read German?" said Dampf, to Dr. Device.

      "Oh, yeah. Did some graduate work at Heidelberg."

      "Me, too," said Gadgetive, sounding distracted as she also studied the document. "The German, I mean. Never been to school outside the US, except for that one conference in Canada."

      "For some reason, gadgeteers and masterminds are good with languages," said Blue Impact.

      "So now I am not needed even for translation," said Dampf, with a sigh, though she kept the camera going.

      "Wait," said Energia. "I thought you were second in command. With Schmidt gone, you're in charge."

      "Oh! You are right. Well... Carry on, then!"

      She smiled as she said it, grateful they were at least trying to include her.

      "Gadgetive...," said Ike, remembering something, "you remember those plans you sent me of Gortner's dimensional fold machine?"

      "Yeah," she said, nodding.

      "The what?" said Dampf.

      "Mastermind inventor," said Energia. "Had thieves steal a bunch of high tech equipment to build a device which he planned to use to raid alternate dimensions."

      "So what does that have to do with... Here?" said Blue Impact.

      "They trapped der Schmale in a dimensional pocket," said Ike. "At least, that's my guess."

      "What a way to go," said Energia, with a shudder. "Wonder if he suffocated or dehydrated first..."

      "Wait," said Blue Impact. "If they trapped him decades ago, why the warning about releasing him? Surely he was dead by the time they abandoned this facility..."

      "They trapped him in November of 1945," said Ike. "They closed the facility in January of 1947, two months after the surrender. It this is right, they spent most of the time between making sure the containment would last as long as possible."

      "They were that worried..." said Blue Impact, shocked.

      "Which means we should be, too," said Energia.

       * * *

      While Gadgetive and Ike worked on the diagrams, the others carefully documented what they could in the room. They were careful not to touch things any more than they had to.

      "Okay, correlating the diagrams from that envelope with the scans we made outside, it looks like that last hit by the Shilmek took out the main power distribution room," said Ike, finally, frowning as he rubbed his chin.

      "What's the power source?"

      "Underground river."

      "That is what I have been feeling!" said Dampf. She gave them a smug grin. "Perhaps I will be useful on this expedition after all."

      "They installed a small dam, flooding a natural chamber," said Ike, scrolling his palmtop to show them the specific diagram. "They have some sort of generator at the dam. Don't know what would run unattended for so long, but all of that should have been untouched by the attack."

      "Which destroyed the main power distribution room," said Blue Impact, pointedly. "Is there an auxiliary?"

      "Three, actually. Which should be handling the load for the containment device with no problem between them. Even if only two were working."

      "Okay, look at these readings," said Gadgetive, pointing to the control panels. "The one for the main power distribution room is completely dead. These three over here are for the auxiliary units. They're all showing trouble."

      "They each show a different problem," said Ike, frowning.

      "Yeah," Gadgetive, nodding. "One is dead, one is putting out too little power, and the third is overloading."

      "Damn..." said Ike, rubbing his chin some more. "Okay, we need to get to those rooms..."

      "That is a decision only Schmidt can make," said Dampf, firmly.

      "Speaking of which, where is he?" said Blue Impact. "He's been gone a long time for just a call."

      "Knowing our superiors, this is not a surprising interval," said Dampf, her tone wry. "However, perhaps we should go and tell him what we have discovered."

      "All of us?" said Gadgetive, apparently reluctant to leave the room. Despite all the eagles and swastikas on documents and decorations. As long as there was antique tech to examine, she was happy.

      "He told us to continue our exploration," said Blue Impact. "We leave a note telling where we've gone, then get eyes on the situation with the power supply."

      She looked at Dampf. Who dithered for a moment, then nodded.

      "Yes. He specifically said to explore. So, which tunnel?"

      "The one on the right, again," said Ike. "It leads further into the mountain, as well as deeper. Straight to the dam and generator, if I'm reading these diagrams right. If all three auxiliary power supply rooms are reporting a problem it's probably at the source."

       * * *

      "Naturally, it can't be that easy," said Energia in a stage mutter as they looked at the pile of fallen debris.

      "It doesn't quite go all the way to the top," said Ike, standing on tip-toe and peering. "We should at least be able to clear crawl space. The concrete fracture overhead is conchoidal, so it has formed a dome and is probably stable."

      "I suggest you folks stand back, then," said Blue Impact, miming pushing up her sleeves.

      Indeed, in just a few minutes she had made enough of a path to scramble through. On the other side of the fall they spent a moment to catch their collective breaths and examine the tunnel.

      "Yeah, we're almost there," said Ike, nodding. "I can hear water running."

      "I can feel a current, as well," said Dampf.

      "I smell smoke," said Blue Impact, who had the most sensitive nose. "Like something electrical burned out."

      They soon stepped into a large, natural cavern, mostly flooded. They shone their lights around, Energia actually lifting off and making her whole body glow to illuminate the chamber.

      "Ok, I can see a problem - probably the problem - right away," said Ike. He pointed. "There are four transformers over there: One big and three medium. Presumably, the big one goes to the main power room. However, one of the three others is obviously damaged, probably from an internal fire."

      They hurried along the walkway to the concrete pad poured for the equipment, heading straight for the damaged secondary transformer. Energia shut off her glow, and dropped down to fly alongside the others.

      "It's dead," said Energia. She flew along the cable for a bit, towards a panel on posts near the dam. "Yeah. There's a set of switch boxes over here, and one relay is tripped."

      "Schmidt said not to alter anything," said Ike, pulling out a socket set. "However, this is already out of service."

      "Continue, then," said Dampf, swinging the camera from Energia to him. "This still is under the category of exploring."

      With a side panel off, Ike made a quick visual exam, then clipped leads to wires.

      "It'd take days to rewind this," he said, sighing. "Let's try the big one."

      It proved to be in much better shape.

      "Okay, if I'm right all we have to do is switch output cables."

      "Okay," said Dampf, thinking it through. "Make those alterations, but do not actually switch on yet."


      With Energia and Blue Impact doing most of the lifting and toting, they soon had the change made.

      "You both are filthy," said Energia, almost laughing at the two gadgeteers. "Blue Impact isn't as dirty as you, and she was carrying things in her arms!"

      "I'd go and wash downstream of the dam," said Ike, wistfully, "but this stuff would pollute who knows what?"

      "There is a major above-ground river not far downhill from here," said Dampf, sternly. "This water heads in that direction."

      "We'll just do what we can with wipes, then," said Ike, sighing.

      "Why get cleaned up now, when you many just have to get dirty again fixing something else?" said Blue Impact.

      "Because ever since little-miss-I-don't-have-to-touch-things-to-move-them made her comment, I've felt grimy," said Gadgetive. "Besides, there's plenty of cleaning gear in the flyer."

      After cleaning as best they could - and bagging all their trash, at Dampf's insistence - Ike decided to try and decipher the workings of the power source.

      "I'll be damned," said Ike, as he examined the structure. "Uh, pun not intended. This is all but certainly pozzolanic concrete."

      "Which is?" said Blue Impact.

      "Roman concrete," said Gadgetive. "Yeah, that would explain it holding up so well. The Pantheon is still going strong after two millennia, after all."

      "Still no idea how the generator works," said Dr. Device, with a shrug. "Everything here is either stainless steel, heavily galvanized non-stainless, aluminum, a polymer or completely encased in something impervious."

      "Well, you should - eventually - be granted permission to dissect the thing," said Blue Impact. "After we've determined just how much of a threat remains."

      "What happens when the containment device runs on low power?" said Energia.

      "The most likely scenario is that the dimensional pocket would slowly shrink. Shrink enough, and it squirts him back into this world. No idea how long that could take."

      "Could it have already happened?"

      "Sure. However, something is still drawing a lot of power. Enough that the pocket might have stabilized at a smaller size."

      "I hear someone in the tunnel," said Blue Impact, turning.

      Moments later, they could see a light approaching. Soon, Schmidt was back among them.

      "They said under no circumstances are we to alter any functioning equipment." He looked at the work done on the transformers, and his eyes went wide.

      "Those were and still are non-functional," said Dampf, quickly. "We examined the equipment and made an improvised repair, but have not switched on the current."


      He sighed, looking tired.

      "They want him released. There were documents - and finding them to confirm is what took so long - that he was imprisoned because he turned against Hitler and the Nazis. That he was threatening to end the War himself if Germany did not surrender. By doing to the high command what he had previously done for them."

      "Then our next task is to find the containment room," said Ike.

      "Lead on, Macduff!" said Blue Impact, with a broad sweep of her arm.

Part Four

      Except presumably for Dampf, the only way in or out of the chamber - at least while it was flooded - was back the way they came. They trooped along the sloped corridor up to the "management" room and took the central tunnel. According to the diagrams, this was level for a distance, then after passing the radio room and several laboratories, it descended steeply to the containment chamber. This was nearly as deep under the mountain as the generator room.

      However, as they walked along Blue Impact - again in the lead - stopped, held up a hand to the others and listened, frowning in concentration after they stopped.

      "What is it?" said Ike, quietly.

      "I swear, I hear voices. Mixed languages, but mostly German."

      "Could someone have beaten us inside?" said Energia, to Schmidt.

      "It's... possible. Very unlikely. The entire area has been under guard since shortly after the signal was detected."

      "If someone is there, they're having a party," said Blue Impact. "I hear music, too."

      "Could be someone just left the radio on," said Ike, innocently. Which elicited a rolling of the eyes by Gadgetive.

      They proceeded more cautiously. Soon, they could see light ahead, and all of them heard the voices.

      Blue Impact motioned for the others to wait while she moved ahead to peek around the door frame. She stared for a moment, then came back to them. She appeared puzzled.

      "There's a guy in black pants, white shirt and red suspenders, wearing old-fashioned wire-frame glasses, with antique headphones on, sitting in front of banks of radios."

      "Could that be der Schmale?" said Gadgetive, startled. She looked at Schmidt, who shrugged, obviously well out of his depth with this unexpected turn of events.

      "We could go ask him..." said Ike, glancing down the corridor.

      Blue Impact nodded, turned around and walked back to the doorway, the others trailing. Schmidt was well behind the group as a whole, while Dampf stayed in the middle. The two Germans seemed unaccountably nervous. It was only now that Blue Impact realized the camera was no longer in use. Maybe it had run out of memory? She shook her head, and reminded herself to keep her mind on the business at hand.

      Blue Impact got to the large, open doorway - everyone but Schmidt close behind - and knocked, loudly, on the steel frame. The man with the earphones jumped, and spun around as he yanked them off his head. They could see now that he also wore a black bow tie. He stared blankly for a moment.

      "<Albrecht Jentzsch, I presume?>" said Ike.

      "Ja," said the man, looking uneasy.

      "Okay, even I understood that," said Energia. "Now, if we can just get him to turn down those radios so we can talk..."

      "My apologies," he said, in heavily accented English.

      He began turning off radios, not even rising but scooting around the room on the wheels of his chair. With the noise gone, he stood and gave a slight bow.

      "At your service."

      Schmidt now chose to step forward, though not too far forward. He introduced himself and the others, in German. The stranger nodded.

      "I apologize if I seem... nervous," said the slim, smiling man, who looked more uncomfortable than nervous. "I was hoping to put off actually meeting with anyone for a while, yet."

      He gestured at the banks of antique radios.

      "I am still trying to catch up with the future."

      "You know you were imprisoned for more than sixty-five years?" said Schmidt, switching back to English.

      "Yes. That was quite a shock. I had no idea those fanatics would be so... vindictive."

      "So why did they imprison you?" said Energia, earning a brief glare from Schmidt.

      "I... had an attack of conscience. Killing the enemies of our nation in war was one thing. When I learned that they were simply slaughtering millions of non-combatants..."

      He sighed and shook his head.

      "I was naive. I thought I could persuade or perhaps intimidate Hitler and his cronies."

      He gave a sour laugh. Then he saw their expressions.

      "Yes. Stupid."

      Actually, hearing someone talk about persuading or intimidating Hitler and his inner circle had reminded the others in the room of the history behind this place... and this man. There was a moment of silence after that. Finally, Schmidt sighed, and turned to Ike Kenniman.

      "Would you please take your team on to the confinement room?" said Schmidt, quietly. "Make certain all is secure there."

      "Of course," said Ike. He glanced over at Dampf and Jentzsch.  The two were hesitantly trying to start a conversation, but were encountering difficulty. Perhaps Schmidt thought that having just the three Germans there would help ease the feeling of awkwardness. "You certain you don't want any of us to stay here with you?"

      "Yes. Thinking upon it, the only criminal or war crime accusations against him were assassinations of enemy officers. While the reports were that he was ruthless and later in the War needlessly violent, I am now wondering how much of that was simply wartime exaggeration against the enemy."

       * * *

      "So much for war propaganda," said Gadgetive, smirking. They passed darkened laboratories on both sides, but they could now make out light ahead. "Nice guy."

      "Maybe," said Dr. Device, looking thoughtful. "That's not what's bothering me. Did you notice how Dampf keeps referring to Schmidt as herr rather than using his law enforcement title?"

      "I've done that, back in the US," said Energia, shrugging. "Usually because I couldn't remember whether someone was a Detective, Lieutenant or what."

      "Given her long history of working with law enforcement - in Germany, all costumed supers are either approved by the law or wanted by it - you'd expect her to know and use the proper title."

      "Did you notice that the video camera has been off since shortly after we left the power room?" said Blue Impact.

      "No, I hadn't," said Ike, startled.

      They reached the downward portion of the corridor; a steep section more like a ramp than a hallway. The light was now more noticeable. They barely needed their own lamps.

      At the bottom of the slope they found a short, level hall. At the end of that was the containment chamber.

      "Wow," said Gadgetive, as they walked through the propped-open double doors into the room, "that's huge!"

      In the center of the chamber was a massive device which looked less like Gortner's dimensional fold machine than an early particle accelerator. Massive cables ran between it and dusty consoles all around the room. The fluorescent lights were on, giving the room a more thorough but much more stark illumination than their hand lamps would have.

      "Old-time tech," said Ike, smiling and nodding as he walked around it. He carefully put a hand on the device. "It's mostly shut down, too, and has been for a while. It's barely warm, barely running. So what's using all the power?"

      "All that radio equipment..." said Energia.

      "Yeah," said Gadgetive, nodding. "A bunch of old, tube radios - especially heavy-duty military base equipment - would eat a lot of current. Though some of the consoles in here are still on, too..."

      "That's not what I meant. I didn't see any antennae or sense any RF outside. Even receivers, especially those old tube ones, emit some RF."

      "You're right," said Gadgetive, frowning.

      "He could have put up a simple longwave dipole," said Ike. "He might not have had the radios on when we arrived. The radio room wasn't all that warm."

      "This whole thing stinks," said Blue Impact, scowling. "What's up with Schmidt and Dampf? Their bosses ask for our help, in case there's something weird here, and the weirder it's turned out the more they seem to be wanting us to leave."

      Ike looked curiously over at Energia, who was walking slowly around the machine, staring at it intently.


      "You're right that there's only a low current flow," she said, slowly, "but... there's still some sort of distinct spatial strain present. Like a... dimple... in space..."

       * * *

      "This equipment is in surprisingly good shape," said Ike. He looked up and around the ceiling, using his hand lamp on the shadowed areas. "Over-designed components. Redundant backups. Don't know what that paint is, but it sealed the room very well. So, no water damage. There's almost no oxidation, either."

      "There's something else," said Energia. "This room is a dead zone. A Faraday cage. The only EMF I'm getting from outside is coming through the open door."

      "Ike, there's barely even any dust on this stuff," said Gadgetive. "I also don't see any vents."

      "I wonder if the room was hermetically sealed and filled with an inert gas," said Ike, in a distracted manner. "Even the ends of the conduits they drove through the rock look sealed."

      "So it's very well preserved," said Blue Impact, nodding. "That explains why it kept working for so long."

      "It's more than that," said Dr. Device, apparently Officially Impressed. "I would like to give it a detailed examination first, and maybe a cleaning, but my guess is you could run this back up to full power without a problem. Let's just hope we don't have to..."

      "That's good to hear," said Dampf, surprising them as she walked into the chamber. She looked... tired. "I am afraid this situation has not gone as expected. We thought perhaps to find dangerous equipment left from secret War research projects. Instead, we have a German citizen who is a refugee from another time. Thank you for your help; you have, indeed, greatly speeded our investigation. However, we must now ask you to leave. There are... political complications. I'm certain you understand."

      "Yeah," said Gadgetive, in an angry mutter, "we understand."

      Neither Schmidt nor Jentzsch were in the now quiet radio room when they walked by, Dampf behind them as if to usher them on. However, Energia noticed that someone had pulled the lead wires from the back of one of the sets and left them hanging loose off the edge of the table it was on.

      I bet they were using the antenna to talk outside on Schmidt's radio, thought Energia. Though that still doesn't explain where the antenna is.

      Dampf guided them all the way out into the main tunnel, where Schmale and Schmidt could be heard but not seen, much further along that chamber, deep in the machinery.

      "What's all this for, anyway?" said Gadgetive, gesturing at the part of the large hall they hadn't explored. "That's a lot more than you'd need to produce the confinement projector."

      "It turns out this facility was meant to produce..." She hesitated, frowning. "Die elecktrisch Glocken? Electric bells?"

      "Oh, those," said Ike, his tone dismissive. "They'd never have worked independently."

      "Ah," said Dampf, trying to look enlightened but not completely succeeding. "Well, I know they brought herr Jentzsch here on a pretense, claiming that by studying him they could not only understand how to make the bells work, but improve his own powers. He is now giving herr Schmidt a tour, and I am supposed to join them. Again, thank you for your help. I believe you know the way out."

      She looked very uncomfortable as she turned away, waving awkwardly over her shoulder.

      "All right," said Blue Impact, with a sigh. She started walking - though slowly - towards to the entrance. "Might as well head back."

      "Couldn't we sneak around some?" said Gadgetive. "I've only seen that one bell in that museum, and they won't even open it to let you look inside."

      "What are these bells?" said Energia.

      "Devices which were supposed to use a vacuum engine to generate energy, which would then react with the Earth's magnetic and electrical fields to fly." Ike shook his head. "Idiots."

      "Well, some of us have to go to a ceremony in DC in a few days," said Blue Impact, smiling at Energia. "I'm just glad we got through here before that mess."

      "Not looking forward to that," said the younger super.

      "I know," said Blue Impact. "However, if we want to further acceptance of supers among various factions, this is part of that."

      "Then, back to college," said Energia, with a tired sigh. "Hold on. Can we not just walk outside blindly?"

      Ike started to chastise her for being paranoid, then remembered how often she'd been right. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small container.

      "Okay, was saving these in case there were areas we couldn't get into."

      He opened the phial and poured the contents - which looked like fine, grey sand - onto the already gritty floor. He then used his palmtop to enter some commands. The "sand" stirred, and evaporated.

      "Micromechanical drones," said Ike, proudly, watching his palmtop. "Okay, the Bundespolizei are out there, keeping watch. Nothing suspicious. Not even straight up, above the entrance."

      He entered more commands, and the swarm of tiny mechanical gnats returned, pouring into the phial. Ike put his palmtop away and capped the container.


      "For now," said Energia, in a mock-sinister tone.

      They walked outside, paused for a moment, blinking in the afternoon sunlight, then moved past the police officers to their travel pod. The six men watched in stone-faced silence and the supers flew away.

       * * *

      Energia was very uncomfortable as she mingled with the other invitees to this special awards ceremony. The weather was typically stifling for August in Washington. Not helping with the heat was the fact that she wore her formal costume, which was not only a bit snug these days, it was far from her coolest. Of course, with the power still off in much of the city it would have been worse most places indoors. Congress was still meeting in several different emergency bunkers, teleconferencing to get things done. Few government officials besides the President and her staff were actually in Washington these days.

      She milled around the reception area - outdoors but with multiple portable awnings to sit or stand under - a plastic tumbler of ginger ale in her hand. The snacks were adequate, but far below the usual standard for a major Washington event. Something which was quite understandable. Even if they could have gathered the resources for a major fete, they would have cut back to avoid bad publicity. There were parts of the country which were still not getting fresh food, months after victory.

      Those who - like her - were recipients of the awards to be given out later were dressed in their finest. Some were obviously still injured, though Energia had shed the last of her own bandages a few weeks earlier. Though most here were strangers to her, she knew many of the people she saw. There were mask friends and acquaintances as well as people in the military and law enforcement she had worked with, so she wasn't alone. She just wished her parents and Uncle Randy could attend.

      She knew this ceremony was important for morale, to help reinforce that they'd won and officially recognize those who had performed above and beyond the call of duty. She still didn't want to be here. From what she'd overheard, most of those here didn't. Civilian, military or super, they would prefer to be continuing the work.

      Soon, word was passed to assemble for the ceremony. With a reluctant sigh, Energia dumped her drink and headed for the portable toilets. Only to find others had that idea before her. Eventually, though, she was headed for the Capitol building.

      Standing there, on the steps of the mostly undamaged structure, under an awning to keep the worst of the Sun off, with dozens of professional TV cameras and thousands of smart phones pointed at her, this was one of the few times since taking up the mask when she'd felt exposed. Embarrassed to be in costume in public.

      Oh, well; my part should be brief, since there's so many being recognized, she thought. She gave a tired smile.

      Despite officially being on leave, since coming back from Germany she'd been busy almost continuously, mainly helping first responders with accidents, aiding relief efforts and fighting crime. Not under the authority of Special Resources - she doubted they even knew about her activities - or as part of a regular team, but responding to radio calls. Energia just wished so many people didn't think that having a war was justification to abandon all traces of morality. Many of those she'd helped arrest actually believed the nation was in a state of anarchy, every person for himself. If the brigands couldn't be reigned in, that might become true... They were actually sabotaging some of the repair work.

      Civilians received their awards first, to the cheers of the surprisingly large crowd. Then regular law enforcement officers of various types. The largest single group consisted of members of the US military. A distressing number of those medals were posthumous. Then came the supers. Many Energia thought deserving of recognition weren't here, and she wasn't certain what many of those who were here had done to get medals.

      Within each category the awards were given in alphabetical order by name. With the supers, that meant - with only a few exceptions - their mask name. There was no confusion about who went when. They had even been informed ahead of time what award they would receive.

      "Energia," said the announcer.

      She took a deep breath, straightened her posture even more, and walked forward to the President.

      Energia actually zoned out a bit as President Sievers recited  the reasons for her award, which was the Presidential Medal of Freedom With Distinction. Interestingly, the recitation was phrased to avoid mentioning how many she had killed; only that she had defended the entire northeast, largely by destroying much of a Shilmek fleet. There was no mention of anything she had done for the President, personally. That was understandable; the mess with the Vice-President was still being kept quiet. However, as she moved in to put medal on the young super, President Sievers whispered "Thank you." in Energia's ear. Which made her smile as they shook hands.

      The smile was replaced by an expression of confusion as someone began screaming in the crowd.

      "She's a murderer! She killed my husband and his friends! She's fucking one of theeeemmmm...!!"

Part Five

      "Why would someone say that?! I mean, yeah, Maldren and I are lovers, but so what?! We both fought to defend Earth!"

      Gompers paged through the folder he held until he found some loose cards. He selected one and handed it over the desk to the upset super.

      It had a photo of the fake Energia from years before. The data, however, was for her. Well, some of it.

      "'Alien Collaborator'?!"

      "Those are spotter cards, which someone published as a way to identify costumed people for the uninitiated. It also rates them on several characteristics, including 'Friend or Foe?' You and Maldren are both classified as 'Foe.' She had these on her, by the way. We already knew about them, from previous investigation."

      President Sievers had been even more upset than Energia over the interruption, though she hadn't shown it at the time. Later, she made sure to have one of her people explain what they learned about the situation. The Secret Service had quickly identified the woman and just as quickly figured out who her late husband was. Gompers had taken Energia aside that evening, as things were winding down, to explain what they had learned. Fortunately, the man's office was also one of the few air conditioned.

      "Why would someone do that?" said Energia, too confused to even be angry. "All the things..."

      "We know which company printed these - they normally do sports and challenge game cards - but when we tried to find whoever ordered the work done we reached a dead end at a Post Office box. Payment was through a money order, bought with cash, so that was also a dead end."

      "But... Why does she think I killed her husband?!"

      For some reason, asking this brought tears to her eyes. She had killed so many... As far as she knew, though, all were Shilmek or human thugs.

      "He was one of the men who attacked you in that warehouse complex," said Gompers.

      "Oh, them," said Energia, her sadness vanishing in a cloud of confusion. "I thought they were working for the Shilmek. I mean, some had wooden weapons, which would go through my plasma wall. It seemed like they were targeting me, specifically."

      "Two of the seven survived. They both claim they were defending their place of employment against the invaders. They named you as one of them. Saying you were obviously attacking the facility."

      "But..." She shook her head. "I was flying along at very low altitude, keeping out of sight and quiet, and definitely not doing any damage. How could they think I was working with the Shilmek?!"

      "Bigotry rarely makes sense. All seven have a record of anti-super sentiments. Likely, they were just using the War and you being where they could get at you as a reason to remove someone they see as an enemy, regardless of what you actually are."

      "I... wondered if that might be it, at the time. I rejected that, because it makes no sense! I was fighting for the Earth! Even an idiot should have been able to see that!"

      "Which might have only increased their resentment. They would likely rather die than have a super help them."

       * * *

      The call on her special cell phone came a few days later. Jenny was moping around at home and not really feeling like being Energia just then, but the woman on the other end of the call said it was important, urgent, and that Blue Impact, Gadgetive and Ike Kenniman would all be there. Jenny found herself agreeing to attend, as much from a lack of will to decline as anything. Then, of course, having agreed to that, she had to keep her word.

      As Energia approached the border of the Bureau's Maryland campus she got out her issue communicator and called ahead, identifying herself. She was granted clearance to go straight to the headquarters building. As she landed out front she noticed that the foyer had been extended, the new space containing a security checkpoint. With a tired sigh, she entered, showed her ID and let herself be scanned. Finally cleared, she entered the actual lobby and found a smiling young man waiting to escort her to the meeting. This was in the office of the Chief, herself.

      Her teammates were already waiting, as was Brade.

      "Good morning," said the huge super, nodding to Energia, as she greeted the other two women. "Dr. Device is on his way, so I'll wait for him to arrive before starting the briefing."

      Ike arrived shortly after this, breathing a bit hard and looking harried.

      "Sorry. My flitter got challenged by a police helicopter and it took me a while to get free."

      "I'll get right to this," said Brade, as the slightly rumpled Dr. Device took his seat. "I got a call this morning from the head of the German Criminal Police Office that the officers of the Bundespolizei you met on site in Germany were impostors. The authorities still haven't found the real ones, but the fakes and the apparently genuine Bundeskriminalamt officer and Dampf have disappeared."

      Brade watched the stunned reactions of the four supers seated in front of her.

      "For now, the Germans insist on handling things," said Brade. "I have the distinct impression they delayed telling us what they learned because they didn't want to admit there was a problem. I'll keep you up to date. Well, as soon as they tell me anything." 

       "That's all you called us here for?" said Energia, trying to keep her tone neutral and not quite succeeding.

      "I was asked - told, actually - very specifically to keep this quiet. As we learned during the Shilmek War, our current coms aren't as secure as we thought, so I pretty much had to tell you in person."

      "Since she's the boss," said Blue Impact, giving Energia a stern look, "we come to her."

      "Well, yeah," said Brade, a touch embarrassed. "Anyway, thank you for coming. However, there is one more thing. Stop by the tech office, turn your current coms in and pick up new ones. You're in the first group to get these."

       * * *

      Julie Toulon was prepared to knock on her daughter's bedroom door, but found it only half closed. She tentatively pushed it open, to find Jenny lying on her bed, staring listlessly at the ceiling. A catalog from her college lay - apparently unopened - on her desk. That now too-small desk which had served her since middle school.

      This part of the US had hardly experienced any disruptions during the War, only occasionally even losing power. Julie knew many areas were still trying to get basic utilities back, and silently gave thanks they'd had an easy time. She also noted - not for the first time - that she really needed to get a larger bed for this room.

      "Honey?" said Jenny's Mother. "Aren't you going to select your courses?"

      "I think I'm going to skip this semester," said Jenny, trying to sound casual but just sounding tired.

      "They managed to get the college back in operation in time for the Fall semester. The Post Office got the catalog here. The least you can do is attend!"

      "I just need some time off. The folks at Special Resources said it was okay. Why do you have a problem with it?"

      "You need to get back into your old routine," said her Mother, firmly. "Or some sort of normal routine. If you just mope around here, you'll keep dwelling on the bad things that happened."

      Julie had watched, live, as her daughter got her medal. She'd known there was some sort of disturbance, but even several days later the details were scarce. She knew that whatever it was, the event had upset her only child. Jenny wouldn't talk about that, though. Any more than she would talk about what she'd done in the War.

      "I really don't feel like talking about this right now."

      "You really need to talk about this right now. You aren't going to change anything that happened, no matter what you do. You have to deal with it and move on with your life."

      Jenny scowled, and looked away.

      "All right," said Julie, straightening and crossing her arms. "If you don't, I will."

      "Will what?" said Jenny, suddenly suspicious.

      "Select courses and sign you up for them."

      "You wouldn't..."

      "Don't test me, young lady."

      "All right, all right," said Jenny, yielding ungracefully to the inevitable and rising tiredly from her bed. "If it'll make you happy..."

       * * *

      Julie called Randy later about the exchange.

      "I wonder if she has post-traumatic stress syndrome," said Julie, sounding worried. "She did have a head injury, besides all that fighting."

      "She was checked by doctors after things settled down," said Randy, frowning. "They said she had a mild concussion, nothing to worry about. They did recommend therapy, given all she'd been through. I know she's seeing - whatisname - the psychologist at the Bureau. He said she's handling her traumas very well."

      "Maybe they missed something."

      "Well, suggest she have a checkup."

      "I think it would come better from you," said Julie, with a sigh. "She's... well, I don't want to pressure her about too many things in a short time."

      "I understand. We're supposed to meet with the Intrepids in a couple of days, to plan out the rebuilding of their base. I'll suggest she see Dr. Whiskers while we're there."

      "Why don't you just go ahead and make the appointment?" said Julie. "Let her know about it on the way there."

      "I hate to be that sneaky about this..."

      "I think you need to be. She's that stubborn."

      Wonder where she gets that, thought Randy, rolling his eyes.

       * * *

      The medical facilities at the current headquarters of the Intrepids had an air of age, despite all the equipment being in perfect condition. Randy couldn't help but think of several movies - most of them made before he was born - which largely took place in similar settings. Energia had seen most of the same movies (when Randy had to baby sit her, he had sometimes shown the mildest of these) but that didn't seem to be why she was participating with obvious petulance. Energia had always liked Dr. Whiskers, but today was barely being civil to her.

      The feline physician ran several tests, including simple X-ray photos. Something Energia had be reminded to allow, since she normally absorbed high-energy photons.

      "Her concussion was very mild," said Dr. Whiskers. "She appears completely recovered. Neither can I find any other problems. I see no reason for any further medical treatment."

      "See?" said Energia, sourly, arms defiantly folded across her chest.

      She was not happy about the trick her Uncle had pulled. Of course, these days there was very little she was happy with. Which gave Randy an idea.

      "So it's all attitude," said Randy, nodding matter-of-factly.

      "What? No!"

      He gently took her by the arm and guided her out of the infirmary. He walked them along the slightly musty hall, not really heading anywhere, just moving. There were crates, boxes and pieces of equipment evacuated from the Intrepids' now destroyed base stacked everywhere. Though the facility was quite large, all this additional material made it seem crowded.

      "Talk to me. If you know what's wrong, tell me. You're worrying people."

      "You're missing the obvious," she said, coldly. "All of you. Yeah, there's all that stuff from the War and the woman at the ceremony, but I'm dealing. Thanks in part to that therapist, and you and Mom and Dad and everyone else being so supportive. Even Rapscallion, in his own way. None of that makes up for Maldren not being here!"

      "Oh..." said Randy, mentally kicking himself.

      The Prince had returned to Shilmek to help his Mother rebuild the Empire. There was no way to know when - if ever - he would be back. Energia going to join him was off the table for multiple reasons.

      "All right," said Randy, nodding. "I think I understand, now. Honey, there's nothing I can do to help with that, but I can help with other problems you have. You know that. I'm here for you."

      "I know that, Uncle Randy," said Energia, tenderly, as she hugged him. "I know that. Thanks."

      "I've got something in the works which should make you feel better. I'll deliver it when we get together at your place before you go back to college."

      He eyed her.

      "You are going back, right?"

      "Had to," said Energia, sourly but with a trace of anger. "Mother threatened to enroll me in a bunch of courses I didn't want, and while I might get away with skipping a semester, if I flunk several courses I lose my deal with the government."

      "That's my sister," said Randy, nodding and beaming with pride. "Masterminds shake their heads in envy at her ruthless brilliance."

       * * *

      "Okay," said Jenny, a few days later, when Randy arrived at her family's home carrying a large cloth bag, "what's the surprise?"

      "She's hardly talked about anything else since she got back from that meeting," said her Father, grinning.

      Jenny glared briefly at him. They were in the entertainment room in the basement, away from prying eyes. Just a private family moment, before Jenny flew off to college the next day.

      "I've been working on this since learning you'd get that medal," Randy said, presenting a gift-wrapped box from the bag. "Courtesy of my friends Angelina and Cindy. They put a rush on my order, even though they're currently swamped."

      "A new costume?" she said, taking the box.

      Inside was, indeed, a new costume. The most notable difference between this and her old ones was a diagonal strip across the chest from right shoulder to left hip, where there was a design reproducing the badge on the ribbon which was part of her award.

      "You can wear the pin which came with the medal on your left collar," said Randy, beaming. "Save the actual medal for special occasions."

      Jenny held the costume up in front of her, tears brimming. She felt a flood of emotions, not all of them good. However, the strongest was affection for her Uncle. She abruptly spun around and hugged him, costume dangling from her left hand.

      "Thank you," she whispered.

      "I just hope it fits," said Randy, feeling a bit awkward. "You'll have to transfer all your gear over, of course, and..."

      "Oh, shut up," said Jenny, smirking, as she rocked the two of them back and forth. "I do know the drill by now."

      "They still giving you discounts for connecting them with the super costume business?" said Julie, after uncle and niece parted, and the latter hurried off to change.

      "Yeah," said Randy, nodding. "They also just plain like Jenny."

      "Well, she'll be a while," said Max, grinning as he dropped onto the couch. "In addition to everything else, she'll be posing and staring in the mirror for at least ten minutes."

      The others followed suit, Julie beside her husband, Randy taking a seat in the lounger across the coffee table from them.

      "How is that super PAC of yours coming along, now?" said Julie. "Is it really even needed these days, after supers did so much to defend the Earth in the War?"

      "More than ever," said Randy, sadly. He sighed and shook his head. "That success threatens some people, so they've redoubled their efforts."

      "Idiots," said Julie, expression darkening.

      "What's that called, again?" said Max, quickly, perhaps to cut off a rant from his wife. He frowned. "Your PAC. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever heard it called anything but some variation of 'that super PAC.'"

      "That, unfortunately, is not uncommon," said Randy, sourly. "It is officially the Equality for the Enhanced PAC, usually abbreviated EFE. It's not big enough financially to be a super PAC in the political sense - we're actually one of the smaller ones, overall - but people still call us 'the' super PAC and seem to think we're therefore the biggest."

      They chatted for a few minutes, until they saw Energia literally floating down the stairs in her new costume.

      She hovered over the coffee table, turning slowly, beaming, showing off the outfit. Appropriate complimentary noises were made.

      "I take it this lifted your mood," said Randy, grinning, as his niece landed on the couch beside her Mother.

      "Admirably!" said Energia, laughing.

      "Well, I hate to run, but I promised Karen I'd be back before supper. It's her turn to cook, which means it's my turn to play Momma."

      Energia's laugh baffled her parents, since they didn't know that Randy was also Template, and was the one who had actually given birth to Roy. Most likely, her Uncle would soon be her Aunt.

      They said their goodbyes, and Randy donned his flight gear.

      "Okay if I fly with you part of the way?" said Energia.

      "Sure," said Randy, with a fond smile.

      Together, the two supers flew into the afternoon sky.

Part Six

      The current Secretary-General of the United Nations was Arlo Stivers. A citizen of the Netherlands, he was no stranger to recovery from large-scale disasters, nor to using technology to recover from them... or to induce them defensively. The only area in his country occupied by the Shilmek had been deliberately flooded, substantially hampering their efforts.

      "China is the most frustrating," he told Ambassador Fenton. "They were especially hard hit, and keep requesting aid, but reject everything we offer them."

      "I understand they were especially firm about rejecting any help which included supers," said Fenton, sourly.

      Roger Fenton had been appointed the US Ambassador to the UN only a few weeks before the Shilmek attack. He had tried to convince the Chinese of the seriousness of the threat, but his warnings had been rejected. Politely, at first, but eventually with such rancor he'd given up trying. Now they were claiming they were not warned, and blaming Fenton, personally, for not making the warnings convincing. Both often in the same sentence. They had repeatedly "requested" his replacement, but the President had far more pressing matters to attend to.

      "Very much so," said Stivers, nodding. "It seems they want money and material, but no supervisory help. Manpower, of course, they have plenty of."

      "Funding is going to be the biggest problem," said Fenton, with a grimace. "From what I understand, they do have plenty of materials. It's skilled supervisors for this sort of work which they lack. A number of people they used to have in such positions were purged over the past few years for either committing corruption or reporting corruption."

      "They are trying so hard to be a modern commercial nation, without giving up their hidebound, inflexible system of government."

      "We and our allies have first choice on everything," said Fenton, firmly. "If China doesn't like that, well, we aren't required to please them. Especially after the way they allowed the Shilmek into various border areas, expecting them to attack outwards."

      "I'm glad you're supporting the UN's official position," said Stivers.

      "There's really not much choice. There aren't enough resources to go around, not right now." Fenton sat back in the very comfortable chair, looking across the large desk at the older man. The room was cool and pleasant. The Shilmek had largely spared New York as a whole and the UN facilities specifically, apparently expecting to use them after victory. The fact that utilities for most of the city were left intact was helping greatly with organizing the reconstruction. "However, while that was the official reason for asking to speak privately with you, there's something else I want to bring up."

      "I'm not surprised," said Stivers. "This matter with China could have been handled much less formally."

      He leaned forward, elbows on his desk, steepling his fingers.

      "Just what is this other matter?"

      "President Sievers wants the UN to declare Pine Island an independent state," said Fenton.

      "This has been discussed before, but there was no firm commitment from the US on the issue."

      "There is, now. There are several reasons for the change in policy. The main one is that we'd like the UN to select the island as the location for that hospital specializing in supers various members have been promoting. Being an independent nation will help with the operation of that."

      Stivers nodded slowly, thinking the idea through.

      "I'm surprised no-one has suggested that before. It makes good sense. And not only because there is already a medical facility for supers there."

      "This would also be a favor for the people at the school, there. Since it was opened, any time there's an event where a large number of supers are injured, many of them wind up there. Their infirmary is currently swamped."

      "So it would be a benefit all around," said Stivers, quickly warming to the idea. "Well, you can count on my help with this."

      "Your support is definitely welcome," said Fenton, smiling. "Now we just have to convince a majority of other UN members. Some of whom were hoping to get that facility for their own country."

       * * *

      On Shilmek the physical damage from the rebellion and loss of the War was minimal. The social and administrative damages were far more serious. Queen Tolnar had to admire the skill and efficiency of the plotters, however much she hated what they had done with those talents. They waited for a period when the Grand Council was in session, but a large number of the members were away on other pursuits. One of those being Tolnar, herself. Poison gas bombs had taken out most of those in attendance; then followers of the usurpers - pretending to be a mob of angry citizens - had killed the rest. The news which later went out to the public was that the corrupt monarchy had been overthrown by a grass roots army of freedom-loving people rising up in revolt. However, at first the events in the Grand Council Assembly building had been kept quiet.

      The usurpers knew enough about the procedures of the assembly to maintain a pretense that there were minor problems with communications. Another twenty-eight nobles and their staffs were ambushed on return to the capital before warnings were spread of the coup.

      Multiple purges - official using both real and invented charges to justify formal execution, and unofficial through simple assassination - by the usurpers had further reduced the ranks of the nobles. Tolnar had brought back the several dozen who fled the Empire with her to Earth, and more were coming in who had evacuated to other safe locations. She had teams of people locating heirs of titles and estates. She was also ennobling many military and executive personnel who had stayed with her or otherwise supported her rule against the usurpers.

      All of that together would provide less than half the upper level managers needed to run the Empire, once the recovery was well under way. Most of those would be inexperienced with such duties. For now, Tolnar was even keeping some of those the usurpers had put in place of the nobles killed or driven off, those replacements who had proven themselves both competent and fair to those in their charge.

      Complicating all this, some of the groups who had rebelled against the usurpers while they were involved on Earth were not eager to yield authority to Tolnar.

      Currently, she was in a meeting with her staunchest supporters, her son among them. She needed that support. She was about to propose a change to Shilmek society as dramatic as what the usurpers claimed they were providing. Ironically, an earlier, tentative exploration of the same measures was part of what sparked the rebellion.

      "Have you read the Terran historical material I provided?"

      They nodded, some murmuring assent. Most were keeping their expressions carefully neutral, but a few were already showing disapproval.

      "Once we reach a point where martial law needs to be rescinded - and I am well aware that is likely more than a year away, yet - we need to have something ready to replace both the military command now extant and the Grand Council of Nobles. I believe the only alternatives with a chance of working are either a dictatorship, or a constitutional monarchy."

      Now even more attendees appeared uncomfortable. However, none challenged her statement.

      "I realize both of these solutions are anathema to what our Empire has stood for over these past many thousand years. Unfortunately, I see no way to reestablish the Grand Council in time to do the job which will need to be done. Worse, once we move in either of these directions, there is no turning back. Not easily or quickly, at least."

      There were reluctant nods.

      "My own preference is for a constitutional monarchy. On Earth and a few other worlds where this has been tried, some variations were successful enough to last for centuries."

      "You want us to work out the details," said Sheppue, who had the advantage of many long talks with his Queen during the stay on Earth and the trip back.

      Tolnar was disappointed that Maldren was not the one to guess this. He was still distracted over missing his consort. That was a matter they would have to resolve, and soon, but in private.

      "You will all be an important part of whatever form of government we create," said Tolnar, looking around and making eye contact with each of them. "I trust you. To give good advice, to support me in this effort, to hold important positions in the new government... and to let me know when there is something wrong."

      Many still looked doubtful, and a few defiant. However, in the end they all agreed to work with her towards the goal.

      Tolnar ordered drinks to be served from her private stock. About half of her potables had been looted by the usurpers, though fortunately they had missed some. Once the attendees all had full tumblers, she raised hers.

      "To the new Shilmek. Long may it raise its collective head in pride."

       * * *

      Move-in was underway.

      The Ramsey Technical College had not been directly affected by the War, but utilities had been off for varying lengths of time during it. The electricity had been absent the most.

      Due to this, some things had to be replaced, and some repaired. The greatest losses were items which had required refrigeration. Besides much spoiled food, many experiments were destroyed. Some of the equipment, itself, had been damaged by the repeated improper shutdowns. The work to repair the infrastructure was now almost complete. The work by the students returning for the new semester to recover their lives was in progress.

      There were already plans to use advanced technologies - some developed by the super inventors attending or teaching at the school - to make it as independent of public utilities as reasonably possible.

      Vic beat Alex to the dorm this semester, thanks to being stationed in the area by the Bureau. When the young genius finally called the room to ask for help with her luggage, Vic went down to oblige. What she saw left her a bit startled. She made a point of walking around Alex, as she stood outside the dorm, with her luggage.

      "Well, looks like someone has finally started to bud out," she said, smiling.

      The difference between the twig figure girl of before and the slightly more curvy, slightly taller one of now was subtle, but definite.

      "Thank you for noticing," said Alex, with a tired smile. "Though, if you'll recall, I actually started last semester. I'm just glad the development has continued."

      Her attitude was so subdued - at least in comparison to her normal, manic self - that Vic was actually worried.

      "You okay?"

      "Mostly. I lost a couple of military cousins in the War. Not close relations, but still..."

      "Ow," said Vic, moving to give her a hug. It lasted longer than she originally planned, because Alex seemed reluctant to let go. Finally, though, they broke, leaving Vic feeling a bit awkward. She quickly reached for the two biggest suitcases. "Here, let me help you with your luggage."


       * * *

      The entire school was subdued the first few days of the new semester. Vic just hoped that mood didn't last long. She was eager to be away from the reconstruction and law enforcement work and back in school. She wanted to get busy, not mope.

      Their first meal at the cafeteria after classes actually started saw the usual suspects gathered together at one of the larger tables, with a few extras present. Energia was there - and in a new costume - but very uncommunicative. Remembering what she had done and what had been done to her, Vic wasn't surprised. She certainly wasn't about to press Energia on the topic, and the others followed her lead. The burden of talk about frontline events of the War therefore fell on Vic. She wasn't particularly eager to be the center of attention, but handled it gracefully. Finally, after Vic gave the sanitized version of her War adventures, the conversation turned... Though people still seemed determined to focus on her.

      "How'd you grow your hair back so fast?" said Betty Gonzales, gesturing at Vic's long locks.

      "It's an extension," said Vic, rolling her eyes. "I've worn them before, remember. Michelle bought them for me and taught me how to wear them."

      "Oh, right; she likes long hair. Guess I just thought, well, regeneration..."

      "I've noticed that when someone knows you're a super, they think everything about you is super," said Harriet, grinning. "I've had people ask me to open jars for them, and I'm not super strong. They act surprised - sometimes even offended - when I tell them that I'm a limited shapeshifter, not a strongwoman."

      "Anyway, I hope this semester is a quiet one," said Melanie.

      Vic was getting mixed signals from her. She suspected the lobster girl was a bit embarrassed she hadn't joined the fighting, but also very relieved that she hadn't had to fight. Vic could definitely understand both attitudes.

       * * *

      A multi-species, multi-cultural coalition of starfaring civilizations met on a neutral world to study recent events and make plans accordingly. Some saw opportunity in the current situation.

      "This is an incredible circumstance, and a chance to gather new worlds into our consortium! We can seize all or part of the Shilmek Empire while they're weak!"

      "Are you insane?" said another, mildly. "Queen Tolnar is back in command of the Empire, and she is allied with Earth, the world which defeated the supplanters for her. Together they are more than a match for any other combination of two interstellar powers we are aware of."

      "There are far more than two interstellar powers represented here," said a third.

      The discussion continued for hours, until the evening break. Then resumed the next day. However, eventually, the consensus was that the best course was to offer aid. For a price, of course.

      Not all were satisfied, but most would follow the consensus. Those which objected the most strongly were too weak - even together - to do much about that. Or to the Empire or Earth. Though there were concerns some might try.

       * * *

      "You look... thoughtful," said Sharma, at the thrice-weekly therapy session with Paula.

      "I had an insight," said Paula, nodding, as she settled into her chair. "I realized that I'm not mad at my situation. I'm mad at myself."

      "For what?" said Sharma, puzzled.

      "For not grabbing back my masculinity when I had the chance. We were in such a hurry to get Penardwen home that I completely forgot about my own problem. Well, we all did, but it was my responsibility. I'm mad at myself for the screwup."

      "That is a significant insight. Are you also resentful towards Susan?"

      "No," said Paula, shaking her head as she sat back in her chair. "No, I actually thought this over. Not her, not Pen, not her pantheon. Just me. It was my responsibility - my chance - and it just completely slipped my mind. Until it was too late."

      They talked for over an hour, during which Sharma clarified things for both herself and Paula.

      "You do seem much more... well, not more content, but less discontented."

      "That's a pretty good summation," said Paula, nodding. She sighed, then gave the mystic a tired smile. "I'm focusing on the positives of my situation. I'll get through this."

      "Good. Because we need you. Not just the team, but the country and the whole world. You were a major force for order as Champion. Whether or not you resume that mantle, you can still do much good."

      Paula nodded again, more slowly this time.

       * * *

      Energia was walking across the campus, just out of her last class for that Wednesday, when she saw her team's large apergy flyer landing in the parking lot beside her dormitory. She lifted into the air and hurried over, worried there was some emergency.

      As she descended towards the egg-shaped vehicle, she was surprised to see exiting it not only Blue Impact and Gadgetive, but Ike Kenniman, Dr. Device himself.

      Energia landed and had a brief but very affectionate greeting from both her teammates, and a somewhat less familiar but still friendly one from the older super inventor.

      "We need to talk," said Blue Impact. "Ike and I have some news, and we need to let you and Gadgetive know what's going on."

      "Yeah, they won't tell me anything until we're all together," said Gadgetive, almost whining. "All they said was that it's an update on the situation in Germany."

      "Well, I'm glad to see you, but we're attracting attention just standing here," said Energia, leaning closer and speaking quietly. "Why don't we go somewhere more private?"

      "I bet you know just the place," said Gadgetive, with a smirk.

Part Seven

      "This is more private?!" said Gadgetive, as they seated themselves around the weathered picnic table. "There's dozens of folks watching us!"

      "You'll notice, though, that they're keeping their distance," said Energia.

      "You checked for bugs, right?" said Ike.

      Not only had Energia and Gadgetive both done so in their own ways as a matter of conditioned reflex, but Ike had made his own check.

      "You can count on folks keeping their distance, too," said Energia. "It's sort of a school tradition. So, what's going on?"

      "While Schmidt and Dampf were the real thing," said Blue Impact, "the supposed police weren't. Also, Schmale was lying through his teeth. That mild-mannered act was just that."

      "The fake police were actually members of a German colony in Argentina," said Ike. "That may be why none of them spoke in front of us."

      "They took Schmale back to their enclave," Blue Impact continued. "Where he basically staged a coup and took over."

      "So we've unleashed a new menace on the world," said Energia, with a sigh.

      "It gets worse. The real Bundespolizei were found dead in a ravine not far from the base."

      "God..." said Energia, feeling sick.

      "Dampf turned herself in when she learned this," said Ike. "She said they promised her no-one would be hurt if she helped them. Exactly why she was part of this I don't know."

      "What about Schmidt?" said Gadgetive.

      "He was the real thing, but is as missing as the fake Bundespolizei," said Blue Impact. "He may be in Argentina, or hiding somewhere else. Or dead himself."

      "So far, Schmale has been busy consolidating his hold on the Argentinian Nazis. The government of that country is also causing problems for him, partly due to international pressure, and partly due to worry over what those maniacs will do."

      "You said Schmale was lying," said Energia. "About what?"

      "He and Schmidt both, with Dampf quietly going along," said Ike. "Turns out Schmale did, indeed, commit atrocities, including killing German civil and military authorities who tried to control him."

      "Yow..." said Gadgetive, looking startled. She shook her head. "And I said he was a nice guy..."

      "Okay, what's our role in this?" said Energia.

      "They want us to go back to that base and investigate it. Thoroughly, this time. We may have to use the containment device on Schmale. If he can be captured or lured back there."

      "What are his powers, anyway?" said Gadgetive, frowning in thought.

      "Ill defined," said Blue Impact, sourly. "Remember, they didn't have the sort of powers testing procedures we have today. Also, he was active during a major war."

      "I suspect he's like Zeep in some ways," said Ike. "That might help us. Zeep has said that right after his conversion, it was all he could do to keep himself together."

      Energia felt every hair on her body trying to stand on end. She had a much better idea than any of the others just what her mentor was and could do.

      "Another Zeep... only this one crazy."

       * * *

      Once back over the base, the quartet made a high pass, scanning thoroughly.

      "Yeah, there's folks waiting down there in ambush," said Gadgetive. She looked up from her display. "Heavily armed, too. No wonder the Germans told us we'd be on our own."

      "You're insulting an awful lot of people," said Energia, raising an eyebrow.

      "Is there a leak?" said Blue Impact. "Or did the Nazis just do this out of precaution?"

      "Is there any sign we've been spotted?" said Energia.

      "No," said Ike, who was looking at his own display. "Given that this pod is silent and has stealth characteristics, that's not surprising."

      "Okay," said Energia, nodding. "We land in a concealed location and move in as quietly as we can. Then ambush the ambushers."

       * * *

      None of the four were experts at woodscraft. However, they had all learned the basics of moving quietly and keeping to cover. Energia, especially, was quiet, floating along upright, just off the ground. They were spread out in a rough arc as they approached the concealed men from behind. They were almost ready to attack, when someone up in a tree whom they hadn't seen spotted them and cried out in alarm.

      "GET 'EM!" yelled Gadgetive, charging.

      Energia put up her plasma wall and sent out an inductive charge in a broad band. This produced high-voltage electrical currents in every substantial metal object in the field of effect, which included all their opponents. The man in the tree screamed as his assault rifle gave him a nasty shock. Many of those on the ground had a similar experience.

      Energia had her plasma wall, Ike and Gadgetive their soft body armor and Blue Impact was just plain tough. Given the surprise of their attack, Energia's disarming effect and Blue Impact's speed, only a few shots were fired, and none hit. They had the entire group subdued in under two minutes.

      "That was easy," said Gadgetive, smirking. "So much for the Nazi superman."

      "Now you've jinxed it," said Energia.

      Indeed, as they moved out of the woods and into the open area on the hillside below the huge pair of doors they came under heavy fire.

      "They must have been inside the base," said Energia, as she flew upwards.

      "Careful!" shouted Ike. "They might have a neutralizer!"

      Energia saw two men struggling to get a device on a tripod through the small doorway. She abandoned finesse and shot a lightning bolt at it.

      "They did."

      Again, subduing the attackers was a work of moments.

      "Okay," said Energia. "That's that. Now, lets get to that device."

      "There might be more inside," said Ike.

      "You two zip-tie these!" said Blue Impact, as she ran up the near side of the debris pile. "Energia and I will check inside."

      "That's an older model neutralizer," said Blue Impact, as she launched herself from the top of the debris pile in a leap towards the door. "Probably all they had."

      Energia nodded, and followed Blue Impact through the door. Inside, she went high and glowed, so she and her teammate could see. What they saw was that the Nazis had apparently set up camp in here.

      With a tired sigh, Energia hovered while Blue Impact quickly checked the gear. Her team seemed to have captured all those trying to ambush them. Which left the question of why the ambush had been staged. All this fighting... She was starting to think she should just retire from active heroing.

      "There's lights on in the construction area," Blue Impact noted.

      Energia was about to reply when the universe went crazy.

      She experienced a horrible sense of disorientation and dislocation, as sight and sound and space itself became distorted. Energia realized she was falling, and tried to use her bump of gravity to feel where down was. It wasn't there! For the first time in her life, she didn't simply know which way was up.

      She screamed, her plasma wall flickering out as her mind went white with panic. She felt an impact, but that wasn't from landing; there were arms around her. Besides, hitting from the full height at which she had been flying would have been much more lethal.

      Then came a harder jolt, despite Blue Impact supporting her as best she could when they landed. The super strong woman laid the younger super gently onto the dirty floor.

      "What's wrong?" she shouted at Energia, who was curled into a ball, shuddering.

      "That would be me," said a pleasant voice.

       Blue Impact turned and through the small door saw der Schmale outside. He was standing on top of the debris pile. He looked back over his shoulder at someone.

      "These incompetents are those you claim now hold the title National Socialists?"

      Blue Impact heard what she thought was Schmidt's voice, but couldn't make out the words.

      "Ah, well." Der Schmale began walking down towards Blue Impact and Energia. Only, he reached them in much less than a second, startling Blue Impact. He peered at the younger of the two. "What is wrong with her?"

      "I don't know," said Blue Impact, angrily. "You're the one doing it. Stop it!"

      "I already have. I merely bent space to bring her to the ground. I was caught unawares by her reaction."

      He peered at the green-clad super in bland curiosity.

      "Interesting. She was bending space to fly, but that has stopped. Revive her. I wish to examine that power in operation." Blue Impact looked back toward the doors. She couldn't see Ike or Gadgetive, but now saw a scowling Schmidt and a very uneasy Dampf standing on the top of the debris.

      Deciding that two were better than one against three, Blue Impact tried rousing the younger woman. Slowly, Energia began to respond.

      "What did you do?" she moaned, when Blue Impact had her alert enough to understand what was said to her.

      "Herr Einstein was right." He shook his head and smiled. "Those Jews, so good with figures... Gravity is a distortion of space caused by the presence of mass. And I distort space!"

      "Why?!" said Blue Impact, furious, as she stood, fists clenched. "What are you doing here?"

      "To capture you, of course," said der Schmale, completely unimpressed. He gave a rueful laugh. "Ah, those first days... what a... Steep learning curve? Once I realized the date, I was not surprised as I scanned the airwaves to find no sign of my former masters."

      He laughed again.

      "However, I was very surprised when - hearing you knock while I listen to those radios - I turned and saw not only strangers, but among them ein Schwarzes und ein Jude. With a woman in charge of the group! At first I thought that meant those two were your servants, with you being in control an example of how thoroughly the lesser races were ruled today. However, both spoke with you as equals! It seems this age is too weak to control the inferiors."

      "You are a Nazi," said Blue Impact. "Still. So much for your defection."

      The pleasant expression suddenly vanished, replaced by wrath. Behind which was something sinister, something mad.

      "Of course I rebelled! Hitler was strong and competent at first, but he became a drug addict and therefore unworthy. His increasing superstitious reliance on those fortunes he had cast for him early in the war did not impress me, either. He needed to be replaced by someone strong... By a true superman!"

      He lifted his gaze and smiled towards into the distance, an expression which sent a chill down Blue Impact's spine.

      "I rebelled! To replace the cult of Hitler with the cult of Schmale!"

      "You want to form the Cult of Narrow?!" said Energia, stalling for time to recover.

      "You have no place to make fun of my chosen name!" he shouted, defiantly. "I am wider than all of you! I stand where you cannot even see, much less reach! The name has implications..."

      There was a popping sound. They looked back, and saw Schmidt holding one of the assault rifles the ambushers had carried. He was pointing it at Schmale, and looked surprised. Schmale smiled, and was suddenly standing back outside, in front of Schmidt, arms spread as if about to deliver a benediction. Schmidt looked startled for a moment, then emptied the magazine into Schmale's chest. To no apparent effect.

      "You must be disciplined. It shall be mild, since you have not yet realized my greatness, and do not yet realize what I am."

      Schmidt's left hand fell off. He stared at the spurting blood without comprehension. As Schmale turned back to Blue Impact and Energia, the previously immobile Dampf rushed to Schmidt and clamped her hand around the man's wrist, slowing the loss of blood. She shouted something at Schmale in German. He turned, glanced at her, glanced at the wound, shrugged. There was a puff of smoke from the stump, and Schmidt screamed, jerked free of Dampf and collapsed. She stared for a moment, then dove for him.

      "As you can see, I am merglkgipft..."

      He shimmered, flickered, then distorted, much like a video image suddenly beset with interference. Except for the wiggling from the distortion, he wasn't moving.

      "Hurry," said Energia.

      Blue Impact looked down and saw Energia on her knees, hands extended, obviously straining.

      "Hurry! That's not him! It's a projection! He's still in that pocket. I felt it, once he started using his powers. I can block him for a while."

      Blue Impact made it back to the cleared area in front of the doors in two quick leaps. Dampf was still busy with Schmidt. Gadgetive and Dr. Device were on the ground, not moving but not obviously harmed.

      Blue Impact put one gadgeteer over each shoulder, turned and moved carefully through the small doorway, then ran. She reached the containment chamber in less than a minute. Since she was still alive and free, she assumed Energia was still holding Schmale off. She quickly put the two gadgeteers on the floor, and began slapping Ike ungently back and forth across the face.

      "Come on," she said, desperately. He moaned and moved a bit.

      Blue Impact pulled an ammonia capsule from her utility pouch, crushed it and held it under his nose. Ike jerked, eyes flying open. As he rolled onto his side, coughing, Blue Impact used the capsule on Gadgetive. She was less responsive, but did mutter, stir, and make vague motions, as if pushing the odor away from her nose. Blue Impact turned back to Ike.

      "What..." he said, shaking his head.

      "Emergency," she said. "Energia is holding Schmale, somehow. She says what we've been interacting with is a projection, and that he's still in that dimensional pocket. She also said we need to hurry."

      "Right," said Ike, trying to stand and failing. Blue Impact pulled him up, and aided him in the direction he indicated. He shook his head again. "Okay. If he's still in there, he must want to stay in there. That's why the machine is still running at a low level."

      "You're not saying we should let him out?!"

      "As a last resort. He might simply disperse."

      He shook his head once more, then stared at the panel for a moment of intense focus. He reached for the controls.

      "Okay, increasing power. If only we'd had time to switch the transformers over."

      Blue Impact suddenly thought of something.

      "How did the power get reduced in the first place?"

      "Oh... when the Shilmek attacked... That means he can reach here from there at this power level, but it must not be easy. Look, we still have to turn the power up!"

      "Do it. I'll check on Energia."

      Ike nodded, and began twisting knobs.

      Blue Impact ran out of the room, as the huge machine began to make an odd, thrumming sound.

       * * *

      Back in the main hall, she found Energia walking slowly towards the smaller tunnel.


      "Not enough," said Energia, voice hoarse. "It's easier, now, but he's still fighting me. We need more power."

      "Hold on," said Blue Impact, moving to lift Energia into her arms.

      "Wait!" said Energia, too late, as Blue Impact took of again at full speed.

      Back in the chamber alarms were ringing. Ike was alternating between working the controls and talking to Gadgetive. The younger gadgeteer was sitting up against the base of one of the consoles. Blue Impact put Energia on her feet, and was startled when she had to catch the younger super.

      "What's wrong?"


      "She quit doing whatever she was doing," said Ike, frantically working the controls. "We need full power NOW!"

      "If you can get me to the power room," said Gadgetive, weakly, "I can do it."

      "Go!" yelled Ike.

      Blue Impact grabbed Gadgetive and headed out again. She was starting to feel like a taxi... not to mention unaccustomedly tired. It took a lot of energy to move her greater than normal mass that quickly. The passengers only added a bit of extra burden, but she still paid for it. With all three of her teammates acting very sub-par there wasn't much choice. She ran into the power room and put Gadgetive down near the switch panel.

      "Damn," said the gadgeteer, shaking her head. "No wonder Energia is out of it. That's some ride."

      "What do I do?" said the panting Blue Impact.

      "Just shove that breaker back in. Yeah. Now, pull that lever to the left there, by itself, all the way up."

      There was a jolt of sound and a scent of ozone, and a rising hum. That quickly stabilized.

      "Okay. That should do it. Get back and see if they need anything else. I'll watch here."


      All was not well in the confinement chamber when a breathless Blue Impact returned. Schmale was back - or had manifested a new projection - and Ike was frozen in place at the controls, obviously struggling to do something. Energia was sitting up on the floor, just as obviously trying to shove der Schmale back into his bottle. Schmale was not obviously doing anything, but given the situation Blue Impact assumed he was definitely straining. Else they'd all be dead by now.

      "I heard about your exploits, defending your nation!" said Schmale, in a taunting voice, to Energia. "Most of an entire fleet fell to you. Where is that might now? Has the suffering of your enemies so unnerved you that you no longer have the will to fight?"

      Blue Impact froze, not sure what to do.

      "I am far thicker than you," said Schmale, triumphantly. "Deeper. More substantial. Morally as well as physically! I stand outside your mundane level of awareness. My essence extends into multiple higher dimensions."

      "Get... Ike... Loose..." Energia gasped.

      What Blue Impact did not know was that Energia's bump of gravity was still not working. This was doing more than just not letting her fly. She was having to do without an innate sense, something she had been born with. She was trying to fight not only without her mobility, but severely disorientated. As well as demoralized. So much of what Schmale said in his taunts was true... Energia's biggest deficit in this situation was confidence.

      Schmale sensed weakness and indecision in the two women. Keeping a small part of his awareness focused on holding the black man unmoving, he sped time for himself. He floated casually to Energia and examined her left collar.

      "Ah. I wondered what that was. Some trivial award from your government, I see."

      Even as Energia stove fruitlessly to dodge away from what to her seemed like blindingly fast movements, he grabbed the lapel badge and attempted to yank it free. He was thwarted when the fabric proved tougher than he expected. This allowed Energia the opportunity to stop her futile attempts to physically catch up to his accelerated motion, and instead simply electrify her whole body. This high-voltage pulse was enough to partially disrupt the projection.

      Blue Impact took advantage of this and lunged forward, putting herself between Ike and Schmale.

      Der Schmale gestured at Blue Impact, intending to sweep her away. She barely moved. For just a moment, the smug expression wavered, along with his concentration. Energia slammed him with a general force bolt. Ike, suddenly free, reached the controls and began frantically working.

      "Keep him busy!" Energia screamed, as she fought to bend the structure of space against Schmale.

      Blue Impact darted forward and right, grabbing at an instrument of some sort left on one of the control counters decades earlier. It was a heavy piece of Forties tube technology. She grabbed it and swung it underhanded at Schmale. The heavy box - filled with iron and copper - swept through the projection before smashing against the wall, safely above all of the equipment. This distraction gave Energia a chance to get a better "grip" on the projection. Her store was low, but steady, thanks to the flood of power now entering the room. All she needed was the determination to do the job. Determination she now found.

      "You want to know what made fighting those Shilmek so difficult?" yelled Energia, glaring at the Nazi as she shoved the projection upstream, towards the confinement device. "So tragic? Those were just ordinary soldiers. Men and women trying to do their jobs under impossible circumstances, given no choice in the matter."

      Her expression hardened.

      "You, on the other hand, want to be here."

      Schmale screamed in outrage as the projection appeared to be sucked into the machine, the sound dwindling to a shriek of rage before abruptly cutting off.

      "Got it!" shouted Ike.

Part Eight

      "Looks like your weight problem," said Ike, a bit out of breath and leaning on the console, "saved the day again."

      "Oh, shut up," panted Blue Impact.

      "Oh, God..." said Energia, her voice a hoarse groan. She sat up, carefully. "It's slowly coming back. My bump of gravity."

      She shook her head, then grimaced in regret of making that motion.

      "Falling was never one of my fears," she said, wryly. "It might just be one now."

       * * *

      Ike spent half an hour confirming that the machine holding Schmale was stable. Then they started cleanup. First by checking on the power room and Gadgetive.

      "Okay," said Gadgetive, once she'd been briefed, "Why did Schmidt turn against Schmale?"

      "We can ask him," said Blue Impact. "Dampf was putting a stopper patch on him when we came inside. He should make it."

      "What's up with her, anyway?" said Gadgetive, beyond annoyed. "Was she helping Schmale or just too terrified of him to do anything?"

      "Again, let's ask her," said Blue Impact.

      "Oh," said Energia, suddenly thinking of something. She turned to Blue Impact. "We really need to contact Brade."

      "We'll need to go outside for that," said Gadgetive. "We can relay our personal com signals through the more powerful unit in the flyer."

      They checked in the containment chamber once more, then headed for the exit. They found Dampf sitting in the cleared area around the massive doors. Schmidt was lying with his head in her lap.

      "Is he alive?" said Blue Impact, when the German super looked up at them.

      "Yes, but weak. He needs expert treatment."

      "Did you call for it?" asked Gadgetive, pointedly.

      "No. All our personal coms are short range, and I didn't want to leave him to use one of the larger ones in a car."

      "Right," said Blue Impact, moving away a bit to call Brade.

      "We caught Schmale, in case you are curious," said Gadgetive, tone acidic.

      "I understood that, when he did not return and you did."

      "There will be repercussions," said Dr. Device, sternly. "We don't understand everything which happened here, but there will be an investigation and the truth will be uncovered."

      "I only know some of it," said Dampf. She bit her lip and looked down at Schmidt. "I didn't want to know more."

      "Who are these people?" said Gadgetive, gesturing at the still zip-tied and unconscious ambushers. They had been zapped by the same whatever it was which had felled her and Ike, and so far no-one had bothered reviving them. "Who was Schmidt?"

      "The others I don't know, beyond the fact that they are from a group of Nazis from somewhere in South America. Karl is my grandson."

      "Your what the what?" said Gadgetive, startled.

      "Why so surprised? Many supers look younger than they are," said Energia, with a shrug.

      "I did not realize Karl had fallen in with this group," said Dampf. "I agreed to participate in this exercise, then when I got here and saw Karl at first thought that was just coincidence. However, I quickly realized the others were not native Germans."

      She looked at the trio of US supers.

      "Karl told me they were blackmailing him into cooperating, and I joined in, thinking I would protect him. However, once we found Schmale and Karl began talking to him, I realized he was a willing participant."

      "But why? Why do all this?" said Gadgetive, angrily.

      Dampf looked into the distance.

      "I did not want to know. That did not protect me, nor make me innocent. I was caught in something I could not escape, and too much of a coward to stand up and help you... or even warn you. Even after I escaped prison to come here and try to make things right. I am very glad you succeeded."

      "Your grandson," said Ike, doing the math. "You're native-born German. You were active during the War. On the losing side."

      Dampf grimaced, then stared up desperately at him.

      "I was known as Fluss-Mädchen... River Maiden. I even worked with Albrecht a couple of times. He was... unstable even then, though far worse now. As the War went against us I deserted. Went back to my family and did what I could to keep them safe. Things were so confused the authorities never came after me."

      "So, I wasn't imagining there was some recognition between you two," said Ike, nodding.

      "He knew my voice, despite my change of costume."

      "I have no idea what's going to happen to you two," said Gadgetive, her voice low and full of anger. "I just hope it's serious."

       * * *

      A short time later, the four stood watching the helicopter ambulance leave. The medics thought there was actually a good chance of reattaching Schmidt's hand. Once the disturbance from the liftoff faded Hans Dornig - the Criminal Police Officer from the Division of State Security of the Bundeskriminalamt who had arrived to clean up the mess - walked over to them.

      "Thank you," said Dornig, his English so heavily accented as to be barely understandable. He now appeared a bit embarrassed. "My superiors ask, please, that you not let this be public. We will ask through official channels of your Director and President, but also ask in person of you."

      "We'll keep quiet," said Blue Impact.

       * * *

      "Well, that was a hectic few hours," said Energia, as she exited the flyer outside her Ramsey dorm. Despite all which had occurred, this was still the same day.

      Blue Impact surprised the younger super by giving her a firm hug.

      "You all right?"

      "Yeah. Well, better than I was, and I'll probably keep improving."

      "Good," said Blue Impact.

      "Here you go," said Ike, handing Energia her unneeded overnight bag from the trunk.


      She stood back and waved as they lifted off. Then turned to find Alex, Vic and several others she knew watching.

      "What happened?"

      Energia opened her mouth, then winced.

      "Sorry," she said, with a shrug. "We've been asked to keep mum until they make an official release."

      There were the expected reactions, but those faded quickly.

      "I guess we can wait," said Alex, displaying an unexpectedly mature attitude. Then she grinned and began bouncing up and down. "Just wait until you hear what happened here today!"

      "Don't tell me you folks had an adventure of your own?" said Energia, unable to keep from smiling at the eccentric young genius.

      "Not so much an adventure as an unsold sitcom pilot," said Vic, with a sour expression.

      "Do tell..."

      "Yeah," gushed Alex. "First, a horse got loose on campus. Only it wasn't a horse! One of the new students is an animal shapeshifter!"

      "Those are rare," said Energia.

      "Yeah, and she was stuck!"

      "How does a shapeshifter get stuck?!"

      "From what I understand, it's not easy," said Vic.

      The story was related - mostly by Alex, but with multiple interjections and inquiries from others - as the group entered the building.


      This document is Copyright 2014 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reproduce it must obtain permission from the author, who can be contacted at: stickmaker@usa.net