Fantastic Tales – Ch 18: “Hunting the Hunters”


as narrated by Stephanie “Moonbow” Park

    There are people who are lost who desperately want to be found. There are people who are lost who desperately need to stay hidden. I think I hide behind a mask and dress in a costume of brilliant greens and dark browns because I can’t tell which of those I am.

    “Moonbow have you found an opening yet?” Helios, the Champion of Apollo and the teammate I had the closest connection to asked on our communicator.

    “No. I’ve been through half the storm tunnels around the college so far. It looks like it’s a single field, no openings.” I said.

    I was on my own, which was the way I liked to work. My teammates were great people, heroes and inspirations every last one of them. I liked them all. I just didn’t deal with them too well. To be honest, I don’t deal with anyone all that well.

    When Artemis asked me to be her champion in the mortal world I almost said no. Being a Champion of Olympus meant being a public figure. I could fight mutant animals for hours and feel less drained than I did by talking to a crowd for five minutes.

    I’d dithered over the choice for days and it was a pony, believe it or not, that won me over in the end. Artemis hadn’t put the pegasus foal in danger or allowed her to be stolen by the thieves that took her. All Artemis had to do was point me in the right direction and then show me what I was up against.

    Some people I’ve told that story to think that I should be mad at Artemis for manipulating me. From what I can see though, everyone tries to manipulate each other all the time. The only difference with Artemis was that she actually understood me. She knew that for as withdrawn and antisocial as I am, I still love helping people. Even when those people have four legs and can’t talk.

    The gifts she gave showed that same understanding too. Someone who didn’t get who I was might have given me dazzling good looks and other abilities to help “overcome my shyness”. That would have made “Moonbow”, my alter ego, into someone that I had nothing in common with. Gifts like that say “you’re broken and wrong the way you are, but I can make you better.”

    Instead of that, Artemis gave me strength and toughness and speed. I’m not the speedster that Borderskipper is but I have a lot more endurance that she does. Sharper senses, faster healing, quicker reflexes. Basically Artemis took what I had and gave me more of it.

    She also gave me a gift unlike anything the other champions received. The Moonbow that I took my name from. I don’t know how much of her divine power Artemis bound up in it but no armor, no defense, no barrier anywhere has been able to withstand the silver arrows I can loose from it.

    As patrons go, Artemis kind of rocks.

    “We think we have a line on how to find the source of the force fields.” Helios said. I liked that he was on overwatch for us and coordinating our efforts. Lux was handsomer, but I felt like Helios was the warmer of the two. Not that Lux was mean or anything, he was just kind of overwhelmingly…I don’t know, overwhelming Lux I guess. Bigger than life, and hotter than the sun. Which made comparing him to Helios sort of funny I guess.

    “Feed me the data and I’ll track it down then.” I told him. I couldn’t be the cheerful, bubbly sort of heroine that some people expected and I couldn’t even be the warm and sociable friend that my teammates seemed to want me to be. What I could be though was dependable. Helios and the rest knew that if they assigned something to me, it was going to get done. I’d racked up more than my fair share of bruises that way but it was worth it. Even if the others never complained about how quiet I was, it made me feel better to know that I was giving them something for keeping me on the team.

    “I wish I could, but I don’t have the data.” Helios said.

    “What do you have?” I asked.

    “A supervillain.” he said.

    “Copy that again? I don’t think I heard you right there.” I said.

    “No you heard me. Doctor Nightshade has returned to the land of the living and is interested in helping us out on this one.” Helios explained.

    “Who’s Doctor Nightshade?” I asked. I made it a point to keep up to date on all active super villains, not just in the United States but around the world. The Champions of Olympus were based out of Brassport but that was primarily because the Avatar of Gaia lived there, so we stayed close by as an extra line of defense for her. Not that she needed it – for a lady who was in her mid forties, she looked like she was twenty five and she was stronger than any two mountains put together. It was good that she was that strong too because it freed us up to work anywhere in the world that trouble was brewing. Which is why I really should have heard of Doctor Nightshade before.

    “He was active well before our time. Heavy weight gadgeteer from the reports. He went up against some of the best back in the day. Heroes and villains.” Helios explained.

    “What’s he doing now?” I asked, deciding that I had a new hobby for the next few weeks – studying up on historical supervillains. And heroes I guess.

    “Apart from helping us? I have no idea. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for someone who’s been hiding out for twenty years to decide to turn himself in.” Helios said.

    “Think he’s going to try to backstab us?” I asked.

    “The odds say ‘almost certainly’, but I don’t know. I talked to him and he actually seemed sincere. That said, I’m not sending him to you alone. There’s another hero here, a new one named Groundstrike. They’ll both be joining you.”

    “Don’t think I can handle one old guy on my own?” I asked him. I wasn’t offended, what Helios suggested was just good sense, but of all the team he was the only one I felt comfortable joking with.

    “Groundstrike will be there for his technical expertise. He only has an emergency certification as a combatant though so kicking the old man’s butt, should that be necessary, will be a responsibility for your more than capable hands.” Helios assured me warmly.

    “That sounds fine then.” I told him.

    “Sorry to saddle you with this by the way. I know it’s not your favorite way to work.”

    “It’s not but I’ll be ok. Where should I meet them?” I asked.

    “Ghost Step is tied up with an evacuation effort at the moment. If you can get street side at the corner of Lee and Main street though I think they can meet you there in about five minutes.” Helios said.

    “I’ll be there” I promised him.

    I closed my eyes and called a map of the storm tunnels to mind. They’d been designed by a literal mad genius. As a result they’d stood for over fifty years through the ravages of various weather manipulators and super powered brawls in the streets above. The downside was that they made the Labyrinth of Crete look like a hedge maze for children.

    My fingers felt the join between the rough concrete piping that I was standing in and the smooth tile of the connector room beyond. The tiles were dry which told me I was in one of the upper overflow rooms that was rarely used these days.

    The was faintly musty from the tunnel itself that was overlayed with a hint of spices and cooked meat. My mind filled with images of Tandoori chicken and Bolivian Bar-B-Q. I was close enough to the surface that the breeze was able to carry scents from the restaurants above down to me. Apart from making me hungry that also told me I was just south of the campus.

    I slung the Moonbow and started running through the tunnels. My memory was another thing that Artemis had improved and like all of the rest of her gifts it had come in handy more times than I could count.

    “We’re here early we’ll have to wait for Moonbow to show up.” a figure in red armor said as I eased my way out of storm drain. I recognized him as Groundstrike from the report that Helios had transmitted to me. His companion was an older man, bent a bit with age but surrounded by a blue radiance which I saw emanated from a gauntlet that he wore.

    “No you won’t.” I told them after I dusted myself off.

    The two of them jumped like startled cats.

    “Oh you would have not been fun to fight.” the old man, Doctor Nightshade, said.

    “I try not to be.” I assured him.

    “It’s a surprisingly comforting thing from this vantage point though. I almost hope someone does try to attack us.” Nightshade said.

    “Helios said you had information on the force fields?” I said, bringing the conversation back on topic.

    “Yes. I believe I can help discern the location of the generators that are producing them.” Nightshade said.

    “It all seems to be one forcefield.” I told him.

    “In a sense it is. That’s the part of the design I was most pleased with. There are multiple generation nodes though. If we can locate one I may be able to come up with a way to disable it.”

    “You created the generators?” I asked.

    “Yes. Part of scheme from long before you were born. This Doctor Wyrd is even following my plan to a degree. Cause a large disturbance in the city, get everyone into the shelters and then cut them off. With the city held hostage you can up to all kinds of mischief.” Nightshade explained.

    “Doctor Wyrd hasn’t made any ransom demands yet though.” I pointed out.

    “Yes, and that bothers me. There’s no point to taking a city hostage if you’re not going to get anything out of it.” Nightshade said.

    “Some people are just crazy.” I said.

    “Yes, but crazy people who can pull off something on this scale usually have a plan, something bigger than what’s obviously happening and at the moment I can’t see what that is.” Nightshade said.

    “Where do you want to look for the first generator?” I asked. He had a good point but it seemed fruitless to speculate on what Wyrd’s ultimate goal might be until we had more information.

    “It will need to be in a location with the following characteristics.” he said and proceeded to provide a detailed description of the geometry and composition of the rooms that could hold a generator node.

    I thought for a moment, mulling over his description with the locations that I had visited or gotten near.

    “This way. There’s a possibility three levels below us.” I said.

    Groundstrike and Doctor Nightshade fell into step behind me, and Doctor Nightshade continued talking. I guessed that in his day super villains tended to be chatty.

    “There’s another thing that bothers me. The Muta-Morphs are not attacking the citizenry.” Nightshade said as we entered the storm tunnels.

    “That’s probably not going to win you any points with the hero crowd Doc.” Groundstrike said.

    “My apologizes, that was poorly phrased. What I meant is that the Muta-Morphs are choosing their targets specifically and working in groups. Uplifted animals should be more random than that, and there should be no ‘bonds of fellowship’ that would get them to cooperate across species lines.” Nightshade said.

    “More evidence of there being a greater agenda. Have you observed any pattern to their attacks?” I asked.

    “No. Not a definitive one. I had thought the assault I suffered was random, but in hindsight I believe I was targeted specifically.”

    “What evidence do you have for that?”

    “I was assaulted by mutant beetles in my home. I didn’t question it at the time because I was unaware of the mutagenic rain that fell. Given that there was evidence that the beetles transformed within my home though, the question becomes, why did they move indoors after being rained upon. That is not standard beetle behavior.”

    “Something had control of them and moved them in after the storm? That would fit with the general attack patterns we’ve seen.” I said and we climbed down another ladder and pushed deeper into the storm tunnels.

    “Additionally while many of the animals were affected, from the reports I was allowed to see the total population of Muta-Morphs seems low.” he said.

    “We were seeing hundreds of them.” Groundstrike said.

    “Consider how many insects there are in a city the size of Brassport. I would imagine the numbers you saw were several orders of magnitude too small to account for them all being transformed.” Nightshade replied.

    “That suggests there is something beyond the rain which triggered the transformation.” I said. It made sense with the Muta-Morphs behaving as strangely as they were.

    “You are delightfully perceptive. I would have been honored to have you as a foe when I was younger.” Doctor Nightshade said. It was an odd form of flattery but he sounded sincere about it.

    “Here is the location that matches the description you provided.” I told him as we arrived at the spot.

    “Excellent. And there’s an opaque section of  force field here too which is good sign. One moment while I adjust this…as…so.” the aged super villain said. He was fiddling with his gauntlet as he spoke. He pressed a button on it and the blue radiance faded from him and was projected against the force field.

    The radiance turned the section it shined on transparent and beyond the force field we could see that an elaborate mechanism was set up.

    “That’s my design, but he’s embellished it.” Doctor Nightshade said.

    “Embellished? Which are the parts that he added on?” Groundstrike asked.

    What followed was a lengthy technical discussion between two experts who were both deeply familiar with the subject they were speaking about. Had they been speaking in Ancient Greek it literally would have been easier for me to understand.

    “Can we disable the device?” I asked them once it sounded like they were drifting off into a general discussion of scientific principles.

    “Not from this side of the force field yet. I will need to construct a special pulse pistol to pierce the barrier.” Doctor Nightshade said.

    “That won’t be necessary. If we destroy the device will that remove the force field?” I asked.

    “Yes, briefly. The other generators will compensate for the loss but this will remain a weak spot in the protection.” Nightshade said.

    “Do you concur?” I asked Groundstrike.

    “Yes. There is some risk in terms of unknown which the ‘embellishments’ represent but I believe we know which part of the device can be disabled without causing the force field to overload.” Groundstrike replied.

    I drew the Moonbow and called forth an arrow of sparkling silver light.

    “Please indicate the appropriate target then.” I said.

    “It is the small panel on the far upper left of the device. Edged in green.” Doctor Nightshade said.

    “Helios, do you copy that? We are going to disable part of the force field. Let the others know to watch for any changes.” I said.

    “Will do, and be careful Moonbow” Helios said, his voice touched with concern.

    “You can count on me.” I said as I released the shaft of light.

    It flew through the force field like the barrier wasn’t there and collided with the exact spot I’d aimed it at. We watched as the machine sparked, fizzled and then powered off gently. With it’s demise the barrier before us faded.

    One of the “embellishments” gave a high pitched whine though and less than a second later I was engulfed in darkness and terror.

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