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Chapter 6

            Michael slowed his breathing, cracked his knuckles, his neck, and gripped the yoke of the Arachnos Flier. His muscles tensed wanting to immediately blast the mutated arachnoids to burning mounds of twisted flesh, but he held fire. Normans’ training in patience and calming techniques proved the stronger for the moment. Having been on patrol with Chris for a few hours in Grandville, he was looking to blow off some pent up steam. The flier had been reassembled in record time. He even managed to install new stealth components and calibrate the main weapons.

            “Ooo, they’re grouping together,” Chris said fingering the video monitor that displayed what was going on beneath them.

            The aircraft hovered silently, slowly circling the main tower webbed at the center of Grandville Isle. The early morning sun glinted off the vehicles black skin. The Arachnos Flier almost looked like an insect buzzing cautiously near a spider’s web. The arachnoids were attacking the main spire for some reason and the two Protectors were directing a squad of Rogue Isle Sentinels already deployed on the ground to put down the infestation. The human-sized eight-limbed creatures were a mystery to Michael, but they were considered pests. He assumed they had links to Arachnos because they looked like the shock troopers known as Crab Spider Slicers, and even a bit like Lord Recluse himself. Though no one ever saw his Lord’s true form hidden beneath his mask and armor. Obvious or not, Arachnos did not want them around and had left a standing order to eradicate them when found.

            Christopher cast Michael a sideways glance and caught a devious smile spreading across his face. Michael laughed aloud and Christopher braced himself by grabbing the console for he knew what was to follow. The flier dived, plummeting almost a hundred feet, its main blasters blazing. The pulsed energy struck the platform on which the arachnoids were assembling. Michael pulled back on the stick and banked, tumbling the flier to the right just missing the platform. He corkscrewed to the left and barreled-rolled before dodging the side of a building and almost over steering into another. Michael throttled the engines to max and the aircraft groaned in response, but instantly responded nonetheless.

            “Holy shit,” Chris gasped. “That was awesome!”

            Both Protectors burst out laughing.

            “If Veran saw that he’d ground you for sure,” Chris noted between laughs.

            Michael shrugged, for he did not care. He hated patrol duty and wanted to get out there in the real defense of the Rogue Isles, in the role of covert operations. He had so many schemes to try the anxiety was making him giddy, although he was having one hell of a time flying the aircraft.

            The communication console beeped and Chris stabbed the transmit button while Michael circled around to check on the Sentinels.

            “Damn it,” Norman chastised over the frequency, “crashing that thing it would have embarrassed the Protectors.”

            “Uh…” Michael searched for the words, “Sorry, Norm, I was testing… the… stabilizers. I had this thing in pieces earlier this morning.”

            Chris released the transmit button, and Michael continued to laugh from all the excitement. The nighttime patrol had really been relaxing up to this point ever since the sour attitude Veran put them in. He struggled to recover his bearing by letting out the chortles that followed. Recalling the mission Arbiter Veran assigned to them suddenly put a damper on things and ruined his mood. Michael had intended to talk to Chris about what he thought about everything, but had not had the chance yet.

            “Yes, very good,” Norman chided facetiously. “Fortunately they work, now come down on my location and pick me up. I got a rendezvous to make.”

            Michael zeroed in on Norman’s beacon, which took them to the landing pad next to the Rogue Isle ferry. Descending, Michael remotely opened the external hatch and looked back over his shoulder. He watched his mentor approach the flier with a large briefcase, but stop and look around like he thought he was being followed. Michael found that odd.

            “Is there a problem?” Michael asked not letting Norman get settled in the jump seats commandos and Sentinels sat in before deploying. “It looked like you thought you were being followed or something.”

            Norman secured the briefcase in the seat next to his, “No, nothing. Head for directly for Paragon City.”

            “Aye Aye, captain,” Michael mocked, lifting the aircraft off the pad.

            “What’s going on?” Chris asked from the co-pilots seat.

            “Business to take care of on the coast,” Norman replied securing his seat belt.

            Michael opened up the throttle and activated the cloaking circuit. All three of them had been in Faultline in Paragon City recently inspecting the new base.  Norman had snuck out to visit Thauma Guard again. Michael had spent time with her and PhoenixHawk before the hero’s death, even living in their apartment. PhoenixHawk had helped him get on his feet after his time in jail from his days with the Skulls. Michael felt guilty upon Aaron’s death and felt obligated to watch over Thauma.

            “Your going to see her again, aren’t you?” Michael asked pointedly. He hated beating a around the bush with touchy subjects. This rogue business Veran put in their heads bothered him. The Norman he knew would not go rogue.

            “I don’t see where anything I do is your business,” Norman coldly replied.

            Michael tried to read his emotions, but the blasted mystic helmets they were made to wear hid his demeanor.

            Michael saw Christopher purse his lips and look out the right window of the flier acting nonchalantly.

            “She has Aaron back now that he is alive,” Michael said.

            “I believe you heard what I just said,” Norman responded raising his voice.

            “Well, I thought our identities were to remain unknown?” Michael shot back, beginning to get perturbed with his mentor’s hypocritical moodiness.

            “What did I say? Do I need to teach you further lessons? I have private matters to attend too.”

            Ah, ha, Michael thought. Now it comes out, it’s not Arachnos related.

            “Thauma is no longer your concern,” Michael said pushing the limits of civil conversation.

            “Don’t worry about Thauma. You don’t know when to keep your mouth shut.”

            Michael’s blood raced. Calming techniques taught to him came to mind and he tried to abate the rising fury, saving it for a time and place of his choosing. Remembering who taught it to him made him only waver in that training. Norman had been acting rather odd lately and he never understood his infatuation with Thauma. He was not her type because she had more class and would have gone for someone like himself.

            That’s it, Michael thought. If Norman hadn’t been around she would have fallen for me. He paused. Whether it was the fury talking or how he really felt, Michael did not know, nor did he care to figure it out. Stewing in his anger, he piloted the ship toward Paragon City in silence.

            It was almost twenty minutes later did he feel like he was being watched. Michael was sure it was not from the daggers he expected Norman to be sending at him, but something else. Remembering what Arbiter Veran told him he shifted his helmets vision into the infrared spectrum. Looking over his should he did not immediately notice anything, but eventually discovered two distinct sets of foot prints on the fliers deck in the passenger compartment. Norman’s were almost faded, as they should for a booted foot. What stood out more where the hotter barefooted footprints of somewhere in bare feet. He knew the hero, Occam’s Razar, only wore a kilt, as was the tradition of drakes of his time, so did his clone, Ockham’s Claw. In addition, he remembered the bulletin Arachnos issued a while back about the rogue drake including its uncanny ability to blend into the surrounding environment- through unknown means.

            Michael had trouble accepting what appeared to be the truth, Arbiter Veran was right. Norman was in collusion with the drake. He tried coming up with other reasons, like the half-dragon was following Norman to infiltrate deeper into the Protectors or anything, but they all seemed weak. Left with no other answers Michael did not know what to do or even say. It was quite the rare event.

            “Hold here,” Norman commanded snapping a sensor instrument shut and tucking it under his wide belt.

            “What… in the middle of the ocean?” Michael asked seeing Norman with briefcase in hand already at the hatch lever. “Do you want me to go lower then?”

            Norman still said nothing. There was a slight jolt as the pressure blew out the flier’s atmosphere for a moment sending the environmental scrubbers into over drive. He leapt out without so much a word to say. No pearls of wisdom left or even a thanks for that matter.

            Michael watched the ghostly warm footprints of the drake follow Norman. Chris removed his seats harness, ran over to the door, and peered out seeing no sign of the Protector.

            “No sign of him,” Christopher said securing the hatch, “He must have caught a mediport signal. We are close enough.”

            “Good riddance,” Michael said, “him and that drake.”

            “Huh?”

            “Check the floor with your infrared vision.”

            Christopher switched on his vision and confirmed the footprints. Before he could speak Arbiter Veran’s voice erupted over the radio.

            “Protectors, I have an urgent mission for you.”

            “Another one,” Michael mumbled under his breath. “How many times can we save Arachnos today?”

            “Longbow has stopped a freighter from entering the coastal waters of the United States. My spies in Longbow seem to think something valuable is on that ship. Something Out Source Incorporated was transporting. I want you to travel to the area ensure the ship is in international waters and if so, conduct your own investigation. If Longbow resists use whatever means at your disposal. Be forewarned, my sources also mention the fact that they were being followed by Malta and other agencies. ID them if able.”

            Christopher depressed the transmit button, “Ten-Four. Um… Send coordinates.”

            Michael checked the waypoint on the 3-D map and realized they were only three miles from the ship.

            “I am sending a flier of commandos and two patrol boats to assist in your investigation,” Arbiter Veran added. “Protector Claire will also be enroute.”

            “Uh, Veran,” Michael stammered wincing in what was sure to be bad news. “We are near that location presently. Protector Norman caught a ride to the coast for business.”

            The radio frequency was strangely quiet.

            “That sum’a bitch,” Veran yelled. “Obviously he is rendezvousing with his splinter organization. Find out what their fate was aboard the ship and recover what they were delivering. Then, on the bounce, high tail it back here immediately. If not then apprehend Protector Norman and bring him in as well. It may already be too late.  If he resists… terminate him. On the bounce!”

            Reality came crashing down on Michael. There it was plain as day, the order to bring his mentor in, even though it made no sense.  Terminate? Michael thought, like when did that stop Norman in the past? His Mu heritage and drake abilities set him apart from humans. He could return from the dead just as Aaron did. Although, Norman seemed better at the feat having done it a couples times that he knew about. With three miles to the target, he had little time to ask Christopher about his take on the events. He had to be sure how his peer felt. More importantly, he had to figure out where his own loyalties lay.






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