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Chapter 11

            Mickey slurped down the Chinese noodles soaked in cheap soy sauce while tipping precariously back on the legs of a folding chair. He sat in the back door of Fixit Autobody much calmer after having ranted and raved on how screwed the all were. If it were not for their boss showing up with take-out food, he still would be complaining about their dire circumstances.

            “Aliens in ‘da ‘Fif,” he mumbled under his breath trying to work out a way they could all survive. He could not figure out how their boss got them wrapped up in body-stealing Roman-Nazi aliens living on the moon.

            “Laughs at meh does ‘ye,” he repeated quietly to himself glancing back at his team members. “Meh’s be gotten ‘da last laugh. Meh’s no joke now.”

            He swallowed two more bites of noodles while fumbling with his chopsticks. Washing it all down with a nice cold beer, he smiled. Even under dire hopeless circumstances, his boss knew how to reward employees. Not that it mattered; this was their last meal. Doubting on whether they would see tomorrow he could not think of a better bunch of guys to die next to. He had enjoyed the last couple of years together, even with the eye rolling. They would be greatly missed. Maybe… just maybe… he could find a way clear of this before the supposed delivery. Weighing when would be the best time to bail unfortunately soured the next few bites of food.

            Mickey using his chopsticks began playing with his egg-fried rice listening to his comrades discuss the documents they carried. The Out Sourcer was concerned that the case was acting like a beacon, both literally and figuratively. With the briefcase broadcasting, it was only a matter of time before the Longbow, Malta, Arachnos, or whoever, tracked the mysterious signal. TT was taking a wrench to the motorcycle they found left in the building and tweaked it here and there between the bites of a combo beef and sausage sandwich. Mickey could tell the bruiser was only half listening to the conversation, only occasionally glancing back at whoever was speaking. The Out Sourcer, Crazy Jack, and Cecil held an open forum debating the contents of the report. Keith and Jimmy sat around a workbench listening intently. It was obvious Jimmy was spooked, because he sat quiet barely nibbling his chow. Mickey knew he had history with the Malta group, and the knowledge they could be facing them shook the Fish.

            Mickey paused at a tingling tickling at the back of his neck and swatted at whatever was bugging him. His epiphany forced him out his chair, letting it fall to the ground with a dead metallic clunk. He felt like he was being watched. Absentmindly munching on an egg roll, bits of it falling to the broken and dirty tarmac, he slowly surveyed the building next door. If there were Hellions or Skulls nearby, they would end up joining their buddies in the janitor’s closet. He walked around the corner slogging his beer with him. The arsonists mind filled the conspiracy of aliens, time travel, and lake monsters danced through his brain.

            Mickey spun around hearing his name called from inside.

            “Mickey?” the Out Sourcer repeated extending his hand. “I brought your favorites.”

            At the sight of a carton of Jamaican cigarettes Mickey gulped down what remained of the egg roll with one swallow, “Aw, boos, you’s ‘da best.”

            “We’ll probably need your talents tonight,” the Out Sourcer added passing Mickey a fresh beer.

            The arsonist chugged what remained from his first barely pop and gladly accepted the other. He did not think he could feel guiltier now, thinking about leaving the team to their fate. Maybe his skills could help turn the tied. He doubted it. Nonetheless, remorse smoldered in his soul.

            With a sighing burp and a nod of thanks to his boss, Mickey quickly ripped the carton, removed a pack, and tore the cellophane from it. The Out Sourcer walked back inside to continue the previous discussion leaving Mickey to savor the aroma of tobacco from his homeland. The professional arsonist instantly produced a flame and sucked in the invigorating smoke, chasing it with a swig of beer. He was now in such a good mood he even started to convince himself that he was being paranoid and there was nothing out their when again the tingling returned. A low hum accompanied by a warm breeze seemed to pass overhead.

            Mickey stepped out in the alley and stared at the ground while sucking on the cigarette’s filter. He listened intently to his surrounding, catching the whooshing sound of the occasional passing car. Birds sang a song of six pence and some neighborhood kids had a stick ball game down the block. The noise from Paragon City arose from beyond even the energetic buzz of the war walls. Hearing the hum from above he glanced up at the sun using the hand that held his beer to shield its light.

            “Aliens,” he muttered, “probably scouting the area before a Second campaign of bombing.

            He convinced himself he felt the air pressure around him fluctuate and realized they were indeed being watched. In one large swallow, he finished his beer and tossed it at the building letting it shatter. His instincts were telling him to run and disappear. Forcing a calm walk toward the backdoor was all he could to stop from screaming at the top of his lungs. A sudden whistling pop filled the air from above and the hum shifted in frequency.

            Mickey inhaled a deep breath of air smelling the area. He could recognize most explosives by scent and he applied that to other applications too. Ignoring the tobacco smoke, the ozone permeated his nostrils. Like the kind caused from ion engines. He yelped reflexively rushing to the safety of the interior. It was too late to run from his friends now.

            “Dey’s here!”




            “I think he see’s us,” Michael said adjusting the position of the flyer to prevent it from hitting the roof.

            Arbiter Leery leaned forward staring out the cockpit, “Doubtful.”

            Michael checked to make sure the stealth circuit was engaged and their altitude from the building was sufficient. They had to check the rooftop after Michael spotted what appeared to be a Longbow uniform laying on it. Sure enough, it was a uniform. What happened to the person wearing it was another matter. That piece of evidence alone was enough to convince him Norman was here. Ignoring the fact Norman, Thauma, and Aaron just emerged from the adjacent apartment building rooftop.

            Arbiter Leery clicked a switch amplifying external microphones to catch the audio outside.

            “Why Croatoa?” Thauma asked Norman who paused glancing toward where the Flier was cloaked.

            Norman remained silent and walked away from the couple and continued to stare right at the cloaked Flier, not thru them, at them.

            “He sees us,” Michael repeated.

            Nothing, I think, Norman responded.

            Both Thauma and Aaron looked towards where the aircraft was and Michael was losing his nerve. There was a difference in Aaron’s and Thauma’s staring. They were indeed looking thru them.

            Let’s go,” Norman said turning slowly and appearing to grab his wrist.

            Leery looked at the video feed that showed the roof directly below them. He paid particular attention at what was apparently a Longbow Eagle’s jet pack and realized what was about to happen.

            “Shit! Fly off! Fly off!”

            Michael paused for a moment as the tone of Leery’s voice registered in his mind.

            With protective shield down the explosion rocked the airship hard, and sent warning klaxons off inside the aircraft. Michael cursed seeing the stealth-circuit indicator blink out and struggled to keep the damaged Flier airborne.

            “Damn it,” Michael cursed. “How’d he know we would be right at this spot?”

            Leery feverishly brought up the GPS map of Paragon noting their position, “Head northeast to Eden. We can land there.”

            Michael dodged two buildings while coaxing the controls to respond to any input. Smoke started filling the cockpit and Leery released his safety harness rushing into the deployment bay with an extinguisher. Michael just barely cleared the energy curtained war walls and floated above the part of the city known as Eden. Whether it was for the better remained to be seen.

            The area known as Eden was originally known as Woodvale. That was until creatures known now as the Devouring Earth took it over. It was as if Nature herself started creating warriors to fight the virus of humans destroying the planet. Of course, that was public speculation, one of many conspiracy theories actually. The truth was far bigger than any could imagine. It was soon after giant spires of earth rose into the air like buildings, somewhat similar to gigantic anthills. The fact was this zone was probably the best and the worst place where they could crash.

            Finding a clearing in the forest away from the spires Michael slammed the ailing flyer to the ground. He sighed heavily relived they crashed safely, but mostly he sighed from the onslaught of mixed emotions. Everything was pointing to Norman going rogue, especially this last incident. Why the hell would he strike against the Protectors? Michael felt cold, like being exposed to perilous winter winds. He did not know what to feel anymore. Leery was right they needed to confront Norman. Specifically, he needed to confront Norman.

            “Stealth circuit gets top priority,” Arbiter Leery said dragging out the spare part kits from stowed containers. “Then I want the engines back up. We have no time.”

            Michael displayed the damage report from a computer monitor in the cockpit. Communications, radar, stealth, weapons, and one of the ion engines were damaged. Michael joined Leery in the main bay and began working on repairs. The stealth circuit suffered from internal damage. It was repaired easily by swapping out the circuit boards. Communications was completely hosed, but the communication antennas actually survived the explosion. The radar had some equipment damage, but its antenna was damaged beyond repair. Weapons and the ion engine suffered power disruption, and part of their power plant had been damaged.

            “We’ll have to re-route some power conduits Michael said. That would take a few hours.”

            “Do whatever it takes to restore one engine,” Leery responded. “I want to be off in minutes. Not hours.” He had checked the Arachnos drones and the six where still functionally, along with fifteen of the spiderlings, and five of the six arachnobots. Programming the drones for perimeter defense, their early warning sensors would provide security. He sent then one their way to patrol the immediate area. The creatures from this zone, known, the Devouring Earth, were prolific here. IT was without a doubt they would cause them problems if they were not fast in the repairs. Leery would rather face them then Longbow or other super group teams coming at them if they crashed anywhere else in the city. Those annoying mosquitoes would only slow them down and draw more attention. It was only a matter of time before they would show up too.

            Michael kept unusually quiet as he worked on the damaged power conduits. His mind ran through the several different scenarios to what he would say when they finally caught up to Norman. The outcomes all had bad endings. The biggest problem that nagged him was what would happen if Leery ordered him to retire Norman. Could he kill him after all that has happened between them? Did death even mean anything to his mentor anymore?

            Throwing the burnt cables down he realized there was no way the repairs could be made quickly. He walked over to the outer hatch to catch some fresh air. The scent of burnt electronics had overwhelmed him and he needed the fresh air. If only they could move the power generator closer to the damaged section, he could connect the shorter trimmed cables. He cracked his neck stretching his muscles. Then it came to him. Snapping his fingers and watching a reddish electric spark to pop he knew would work.

            “Arbiter Leery,” he ordered. “It’s time to go.”


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