as narrated by: Gerald “Fire Forge” Daniels
Some people pray all their lives wishing that just once they could hear an answer to their prayers. Those people are clearly not the chosen champion of an Olympian god.
It’s not that I don’t like talking to Hephaestus. He’s a really great guy. It just he can really talk your ear off. Hours of conversation and yet I somehow come out of it without getting the answers to the questions I really want to ask. Every single time.
“Four hours to figure out how to work a single sensor? Are you sure you can’t just ask Hephaestus for a hand?” Borderskipper asked. She sounded as aggravated as I felt.
“I could, but then it’s be eight hours. I just need some time to focus.” I told her.
“While you’re focusing, Doctor Wyrd is doing Olympus-knows-what with Aegis and Thundercrash!” Borderskipper yelled.
“I know! If I try to hurry though, I could fry this gear and then we’d have no way to figure out where they went at all!” I shot back. The loss of two of our teammates had left all of the remaining Champions of Olympus edgy and irritable. Most were out pursuing leads. I was stuck with the two who couldn’t think of a place to look on their own.
“We could just let the Professor go.” Lux suggested. “He said he’d lead us right to Wyrd.”
Lux was brilliant in appearance (he had to be as a Aphrodite’s champion) but I sometimes had to wonder if he was a little bit dim otherwise.
“He promised that after I’d disabled his power armor and had him locked down.” I said.
“And he’s not our prisoner to let go.” Borderskipper added.
“Just saying, the people approach can be lot simpler than dealing with a machine sometimes.” Lux offered before returning to his magazine.
I glanced at him, lazily sprawled over the side of one of the couches in our base, and then at Borderskipper as she paced back and forth fast enough to wear a hole in the carpeting. If there was some way I could drain off half of her energy and pour it into Lux, I was pretty sure I’d be left with two sane teammates, or at least two teammates who wouldn’t be driving me crazy.
“I have an idea. How about you two go beat up some crooks and find some leads on where James and Maggie are being kept that way?” I said.
“Some ‘crooks’. And where would we find these ‘crooks’? Should we go to ‘the bar’? Maybe in the ‘bad side of town’?” Borderskipper asked, sarcasm dripping off every word.
I rolled my eyes.
“Don’t you get any leads from your patrons? Hephaestus sends me a list of groups to check out at least once a week. Everything from managers with poor factory safety ratings to weapons smugglers.” I said.
“Aphrodite’s not a ‘list making’ kind of goddess. Unless you get on her bad side, and you don’t want to be on that list.” Lux said.
“What about Hermes? Isn’t he the god of thieves?” I asked, not hiding my irritation at their continuing interruption as much as I wanted to.
“Where did you hear that?” Borderskipper asked.
“Dungeons and Dragon.” I admitted.
“Dude, you gotta run a game for us sometime!” Lux said, looking up from his magazine.
“Focus Lux! Missing teammates remember? Gah! I’ve got to do something. This waiting around is killing me!” Borderskipper complained, tearing at her hair.
“That sounds great, just do it somewhere else ok? And take him with you!” I pleaded.
“Come on B, let’s give poor Forge some peace and quiet. Looks like he’s gonna blow a blood vessel if we keep distracting him.” Lux said.
Once the two of them were out of the room I marched resolutely over to the door, locked it and slid a chair in front of it. I loved my teammates. Really I did. That’s why it would be such a tragedy if I had to kill them for interrupting me again.
Back at my lab bench, I waited for the inevitable “other shoe” to drop. One last little interruption.
A minute passed in silence.
Sighing contentedly, I let my shoulders relax and turned to the sensor suite that I’d salvaged from Professor Daft’s giant armor.
“I must say, I’m amazed that you can get any work done at all with distractions like those two flitting about all the time.”
I literally fell out of my chair.
“Professor Daft?” I said as I picked myself up. “Let me guess, you’ve got a subcutaneous link to the sensor suite and you can hear everything it records?”
“You are a most perceptive lad.”
“And you can speak through it by sub-vocalizing?”
“How come that didn’t show up on our scans? You can’t have something that small shielded can you?” I asked.
“I can, but in this case the answer is simpler.” he said.
“Ah! Plastics right? But how did you hide the power source? No…wait, that’s not important. What important is getting this sensor suit working so that we track where Doctor Wyrd took Aegis and Thundercrash.” I said, tearing myself free of yet another distraction.
“My original offer still stands.” Professor Daft suggested.
“Not an option. We work with the Feds, but they don’t answer to us any more than we answer to them.” I said.
“How unfortunate. Without the promise of my freedom I have no incentive to disarm the security on the signal processors.” Professor Daft lamented over-dramatically.
“Pretty unfortunate that I was able to remove the overload capacitors before your communications link rebooted too right?” I’d noticed that feature of the armor’s circuitry quickly enough to prevent the electronics from self-destructing the moment they were returned to their normal operating state.
“That is a design defect I will need to see to in the next model.” Professor Daft agreed.
“So if you can’t help me, is there a reason I should leave the speaker you’re talking through connected?” I asked him.
“It’s not that I can’t help you. It’s that I won’t and as your friend said, it would be much faster to change my mind than to attempt to override my security.” Professor Daft said.
Hephaestus didn’t give me any special senses to help read people. He didn’t give me wisdom like Athena did for Aegis, or cleverness like Hermes did for Borderskipper. I don’t have any magic powers that could help me figure out Professor Daft or influence him. All I had was my regular old human brain.
So I asked myself what the Professor really wanted.
If he was working with Doctor Wyrd, he’d want to keep Aegis and Thundercrash’s location hidden, but the easiest way to do that would have been to just keep silent. The only reason to talk to me was to get something else he wanted.
I couldn’t offer him freedom and he had to know I wasn’t going to do anything illegal or immoral. In fact, if it looked like what he was asking for would help him too much, I’d probably back away from it. The last thing the world needed was a mad scientist with even more resources or information.
So not something for himself then. Something against someone else.
Again, he’d know I wouldn’t harm an innocent so that ruled out most of the city. Of the bad guys that were out there one obvious candidate stood out as a likely targeted for the Professor’s ire.
But what did the Professor care about? What could Doctor Wyrd have done that would have driven the normally very conservative Professor out into the field. I pondered that for a moment before inspiration hit. A quick web search of the national patent database confirmed my guess.
“Those capture spheres that Doctor Wyrd used were pretty amazing tech. I’m surprised he didn’t take them to a legit business. I suppose he would have needed the original plans for them though, not just a set of working prototypes.” I said.
“Yes. Yes he would have needed that.” Professor Daft agreed, his anger only barely hidden.
“You wouldn’t be familiar with their design at all would you?” I asked.
“I believe you mentioned that time was of the essence did you not? Let us dispense with these charades.” Professor Daft said.
“So Wyrd stole the containment sphere’s from you and you’d like to get some revenge on him.” I said.
“Revenge would be nice, but it’s the sphere’s which concern me more.”
“Can’t you just make new ones? I mean once you’re out of jail.” For one reason or another, people like Professor Daft rarely spent much time behind bars.
“I don’t care about the devices themselves. I want the intellectual property back.” he said.
“Why?” I asked. If he could invent them once, doing so again would be child’s play.
“Because as you say there are a great many legitimate uses for them.”
“Uses which will make you a ton of money.” I guessed.
“Yes, although the money is secondary. What’s important is the Science! Mankind must have the fruit of my genius!”
“Hmm, assuming we can catch Doctor Wyrd, that might be something I can help you with. Not the money part. I’m not adding to your warchest. If you’ve got the original plans though I think I can get them released under a free-license before the trial wraps them up in litigation for the next twenty years.”
“You would give everyone access to an invention this dangerous?” Professor Daft asked.
“With the kind of dangers that are already in the world? In a heartbeat!” I said.
“We see eye-to-eye then my boy. Perhaps there’s hope for the younger generation yet.”
“So how do I get past the security on these sensors?” I asked.
“Before we get to that, what guarantee do I have that you’ll uphold your end of our bargain.” Professor Daft asked.
“As much guarantee as I have that you’re not working with Doctor Wyrd and this is all a setup to lead me into a trap.” I said.
“Of course this will lead you into a trap.” Professor Daft said.
“It’s easy for you to say that…wait, what?” I asked, confused at his honesty.
“Wyrd is an idiot, but he’s not a completely brainless one. Even a child would realize that his helicopters would eventually be tracked down.” Daft explained.
“So he’ll have a trap set wherever he brought the helicopters to.”
“Yes. He’s a very predictable foe.” Professor Daft agreed.
* * *
The doors to the warehouse disintegrated under the plasma barrage that I leveled at them. Beyond them the three helicopters that had captured Aegis and Thundercrash lay in pieces. The interesting weapons systems had all been removed in great haste it looked like.
“I found the helicopters.” I reported. “Heading in to look for clues on where Wyrd took the captives from here.”
“Copy that Fire Forge. We have a SWAT team inbound and I’m scrambling a Life Star helicopter to your position.” the police dispatcher replied.
“Keep them at a two block radius until I’ve cleared the facility. Wyrd may have left some surprises for us.” I said.
“Are they really so surprising?” Doctor Wyrd’s voice called out from within the warehouse as a two suits of power armor like the one that had assault Aegis rose from concealed spaces under the floor of the warehouse.
“More insulting really. You only sent two?” I said.
“One was enough to defeat your vaunted leader Aegis.” Doctor Wyrd said in stereo, his voice coming from speakers on each of the automatons.
“You have a different recollection of events than what was captured on film. It looked a whole lot like you couldn’t do diddly to him and then Thundercrash kicked your butt.” I taunted him.
“And yet, I wound up with both of them in my collection!” His automatons opened up on me with pulsed laser blasts which my armor absorbed instantly.
“Is it your collection if you use someone else toys to put it together. I mean you’d really have to say that it was Professor Daft who captured them wouldn’t you?” I asked. I fired a missile barrage at the two armored suits and watched the missiles disintegrate against a force bubble that shield them both.
“Finders keepers and all that.” The automatons fired again, this time a Neural Disruption beam that I managed to dodge by leaping behind one of the helicopter bodies.
“Once I find you we’re going to keep you in a maximum security cell for a good long time.” I said.
“We can’t very well have that can we.” Wyrd said. His automatons cast out a three of the capture spheres. The first swallowed the helicopter that I was hiding behind. I blasted the second one before it had a chance to open but the third one split in two and began pulling “me” in.
“What’s this?” Wyrd said, sounding genuinely surprised. “Well, it’s a bit of a waste capturing an empty suit of armor isn’t it? That must mean company is coming. I guess I’ll have to clean up a bit.”
* * *
The “explosion” that followed blew the building to ash faster than I could follow. Even reviewing the high speed camera logs I couldn’t see where it had come from.
“Good thing you sent your suit in on remote control I guess.” Lux said.
“Good thing he didn’t use a bigger bomb you mean.” Borderskipper corrected him.
“I don’t know if that was a bomb.” I said. “My backup probe is arriving on the scene now. Everything there is gone.”
“What do you mean, like blown to bits?” Borderskipper asked.
“No, I mean like disintegrated.” I showed them the aerial camera’s view of the scene that was feeding into my monitor. Where the warehouses had stood there was an empty lot. None of the building beside it were damaged. It was eerie.
“What would have happened if you’d been there?” Borderskipper asked.
“My armor didn’t survive the explosion either. The logs just stop.” I said.
“Who could do that?” Lux asked.
“Someone very dangerous.” was the only answer I could come up with.