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To the Victor…
Chapter 8: Refuge from the Storm
by Tog

“Everyone gather ‘round,” called Tog from the main room in the abandoned old school they called home.

Once everyone was present, he continued.  “Since Jyn and Tonix left, it’s been pretty dull around here.  It’s almost like we slipped under some threshold that changed us from a group to a team that just never parts ways.  Combine that with the coming winter, and well…  I’ve been looking around for a bigger group that could take us all in, and I’m glad to say that I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I found us a group that is willing to take us all in.  It’s pretty small at the moment, but it’s growing fast.  That brings us to the bad news.  Technically, we will be in different groups, but under the same roof.  A heated roof, I hasten to add.”

Mourning was the first to speak.  “They take dogs right?”

“Yes.  That won’t be an issue.”

Lista asked, “And their standards of behavior are something I can live with?”

“Ah…  There we do run into a problem.  No.  You’ll have to behave a bit better when representing the group.  Inside the base, I think you’ll be okay, and outside, but not in their colors, they don’t really care, but if anything you do reflects badly on the group, and gets back to the leaders, I’m pretty sure you’ll get tossed out.”

Lista sat back, arms folded across her chest, and glared at a spot on the wall.

Tog continued, “It’s not that big of a deal.  You’ll run with us most of the time, and there are a few people there that even you can’t shock.  It’s just that you have to live by the same rules as Mourning’s dogs.  No jumping on visitors and keep the crotch sniffing to a minimum.”

“Fine.  When do we move in?”

“We can start today.  Get packed up.  We’ve got to meet their representative at the IP tram platform for a tour at 5 PM.”

*     *    *

Little Eagle was already on the platform when Tog and the others arrived.  She was quite small, especially next to Tog, but there was an obvious power contained within her.

“Hello everyone.  Welcome to Safe Harbor.  I’m here to introduce you to the base, and help you get settled in.”

Greetings were exchanged, and they were off to the mouth of a small cave on the shore.  “This is the main member’s entrance.  We have a guest entrance as well, but it can get a little crowded at times.”

She stepped up to a small platform and said, “Little Eagle.  Five new members, and 3 pets, authorized to enter.” 

A brief flash of light appeared from the platform and a voice called out, “Please stand on the platform and state your name for authorization purposes.”

Each new member did as instructed, and each was whisked inside the base by the teleporter in turn.

The entry point was a large room, done in mostly white and navy blue.  There were several couches and chairs, and a large TV monitor, as well as various halls leading off in different directions.  Right in front of them stood a hologram of a beautiful woman with a vaguely Greek look about her.  “Welcome to Safe Harbor.  I am Athena, the base control computer.  Feel free to ask me for anything you might need.”

The group thanked her and the hologram flickered away.

Little Eagle turned back to them and said, “Okay, let’s get you settled in.  You’ll be on level 4.  Oh, here comes Bert.  You should meet him.  He’s the main person in charge around here.  Bert!  Over here!  We have some new members.”

Bert was big.  Not as tall as Tog, but quite a bit wider.  From the looks of things he carried an axe as well, and had the look of a Viking about him.  His voice was a different story.  “Hey, y’all.  Nice to meetcha, but I’m afraid I can’t chat.  We’re still getting some of the rooms finished in this place and I’m having a really hard time getting the paint to dry even.  L.E., if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the game room sanding down the walls.  Again.”  With that, he was off.

As the tour of the base reached an end, the group was shown to their rooms and the proper access passes were given to each one.  They learned that Athena was much more than just the base computer.  She was the receptionist, security, and even did much of the analysis work that would otherwise be handled by labs in the city.  She was designed and built by a very large man that went by the name 10.5.

The group settled into their assigned rooms in short order.  Getting to the rooms meant accessing another telepad; this one going even deeper into the base.  Each level of rooms was split into three wings.  Each wing had a small common room, with a larger one located central to each of the three.  Each of the smaller rooms had a small kitchen, a few video monitors and plenty of room to stretch out and relax.  The larger one was for more active socializing.

The following morning, Tog awoke before the others.  Their wing had few people in it yet, and the only one up was Mourning.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked.

“I like it here.  It’s definitely a step up for us.  The dogs seem to like it too.  I really like the ‘no strings’ attitude.  It’s like we’re welcome to stay as long as we want, but if I were to leave tomorrow, they’d wish me well, and mean it.”

“Yeah.  I get that feeling too.  Did you meet any of the others yet?”

“A few.  I got invited to run with a group later today.  Actually Ep, Lis, and I will be heading out.  Sort of a girls only thing from what I can see.”

“You’re not taking Ent?”

“Nah.  She’s been up all night spinning a new nest.  She’s not going to do anything but eat and sleep for the next couple of days.”

“Ahh.  Yeah.  I remember that from last time too.  Well, then.  I think I’m gonna go see if anything happened overnight that I might be able to deal with.  Catch you later.”

“Okay.  Be careful.”

*     *     *

The trip to the security gate was long, but it went by quickly enough.  Tog had spoken to a contact and was informed that a few people had gone missing overnight.  All 5 worked in Galaxy City but lived in Atlas Park.  One witness said he saw one of the women heading for the gate to Perez Park.  The gate guard confirmed that she did pass through the gate at 1817 hours, and that she was one of several that had a special pass to allow her to enter the zone that had actually used it the night before.  All said something about the trains not being accessible.  A check of the missing people against the names on his list showed they had all passed through that gate, but had not come out the other side.

Based on visions his contact had managed to see, he found an area where the leaves had been recently brushed away; perhaps by many figures in long robes.  This trail led to a sewer grate.  Outside the grate was a woman’s shoe.  He felt sure that this was the right spot.

Stepping inside the sewer, he paused to let his eyes adjust to the light, and to listen for anything concealed in the darkness that might mean him harm.  Once he felt his eyes were sufficiently adjusted, he began down the corridor.  The few pairs of guards he encountered gave him little trouble, and soon he reached the first hostage.  Here, suspended above the floor, and held rigid in the air, was a man dressed in a suit.  Around him stood three guards and one senior mage.

Doug looked over the scene, then drew his axe and walked in slowly.  The mage cast a spell of some sort, but whatever it did wasn’t worth noticing.  The guards were equally ineffective in the long run, and before long the man awoke from his stupor, checked his watch, and called out his thanks as he ran off toward the entrance.

One by one, the remaining hostages were freed from the Circle mages, until only one was left.  It was in the last room that he found her.  She was far from alone.

The room itself was large with two big agitators spinning in the muck in front of a large control machine.  Around the left side of the room was a cat walk.  Aside from the equipment and the hostage, there were close to two dozen members of the Circle of Thorns.

“Turds,” said Tog.

“Yeah.  You’re in it deep this time,” said a voice in his head.  It was the voice of The Other Guy, or TOG, as Doug called him.

Until recently, Doug had assumed that he was tapping into the powers of TOG as he needed them.  Twice he thought he had tapped in so completely that he actually lost himself in the process.  Just under two months ago he learned the truth.  He was not tapping into TOG, TOG was pushing up to Doug.  As long as Doug let him up, they worked very well together.  Those times Doug didn’t know to step aside, or refused to, TOG pushed his way up so completely that Doug was actually cast out of his own mind, into his subconscious.  They had been working on fixing that.

“Well,” Doug said.  “We have to save her.  If I try it alone, you’ll have to pop out to save me, so I figure we’ll just let you in at the start and call it good.  How ‘bout it?”

“Okay, but I want to try that thing you do, where you draw in a few at a time.  Any tips on that?”

“Just get close enough to make them curious then back up.”

“Okay.  Here goes”

Tog approached the first group and splashed in the water in a darkened corner.  A few of the guards came to investigate.  The fight was over quickly enough, and the machinery helped to mask the noise.  Over the next several minutes, more Thorns were drawn in and defeated until there were only two groups left.  One was the group holding the hostage, and the other was the group with the leader in it.

“I think they’re too close together to pull any out,” said Doug.  We’ll need to rush in and take out the weak ones first.”

“Agreed.”

Tog rushed in.  A short gasp escaped the mouth of one of the guards, while the leader issued a short curse.  A clash of metal and magic filled the chamber and echoed off of the walls.  One by one the guards fell, and in so doing, broke the link needed to maintain control of the woman being held by them.

She hit the ground with a jarring thud.  As her disorientation wore off, she could make out the back of a hulking figure standing between her and the lead mage.  She sat for a moment, transfixed by this image of a man she did not know fighting to defend her from this assault.  He was yelling at her now.  It seemed important.  The haze in her head was now finally clear enough for her to understand.  He was telling her to run.  The path was clear, and he would be behind her shortly.

She ran for the hallway, only turning back once she had reached it.  He was still fighting.  Still swinging away at the mage.  He looked tired, and near collapse, but he continued the fight.  She realized it was all to buy her time, and that it was that very time she was wasting by standing here watching him.  She turned and ran.

 

Finally, the last mage fell.  Tog was near beaten, and exhausted.  He looked around to be sure he was in the clear, then sat down on the steps of the catwalk to rest.  TOG retreated back into his mind and allowed Doug to come up front again.  In the large stone room, the sounds of the machines seemed to pulse like a heartbeat.  He closed his eyes for a moment to listen and soak it in.

FRUMM—FRUMM, FRUMM—FRUMM, FRUMM—FRUMM

It was sort of soothing.

FRUMM—FRUMM, FRUMM—FRUMM, FRUMM—FRUMM skwip skwip skwip

His eyes popped open at the new sound.  There, at the base of the control box, was a small green lizard that was munching on a large roach.

“Hey, little guy,” he said as he knelt down to get a closer look at it.

The lizard froze.

“It must be pretty miserable down here for you.  You want to come home with me?”

The lizard lowered its head then rapidly popped it up, only to repeat the motion several more times.

“There is no way you just nodded to my question,” he said with a mix of confusion and awe.

Tog reached down and grabbed the little lizard, then scavenged the most in-tact container he could find.  He put the lizard and a few of the roaches it seemed to like in the cup and headed off to meet the others with his new pet.

On arriving at the base, he found a proper cage for the lizard and sat with it in the day room.

“Hey, what’cha got there?”  It was one of the younger heroes.  A boy Tog guessed to be about 16.

“Found the little guy in the sewers.  Turns out the Thorns had a hostage even they didn’t know about.”

“Heh, he’s well fed.  Doesn’t seem too stressed, either.  That’s a good sign.”

“You know much about lizards?”

“Yeah.  I’ve had a few over the years.  This one’s a Chinese water dragon.  They get about 2 to 3 feet long, but over half of that is usually tail.  I’d say that one’s just a baby.”

“When I asked him if he wanted to come home with me he kind of nodded, but backwards.  Does that make any sense to you?”

“HA!  No.  It bobbed it’s head right?  They do that to try to scare you away.  It’s their way of establishing territory.  These usually follow that up with a slow circle with one front foot too.

“He didn’t seem too scared of me when I grabbed him.”

“Well it was probably cold.  These also have the worst attention span on earth too.  Mine used to decide he was in danger and jump out of my hand, only to forget he was running for his life by the time he hit the ground.  I’d just reach down and pick him up again.  I’ll see if I can get you a book on them.”

“Great!  Thanks.”

*     *    *

The following week, Tog and Epim found themselves awaiting news of 10.5’s findings.  The lizard had actually grown to over three feet in the span of a few days, but little of this was tail.  It had begun to be more humanoid, and perhaps even more disturbingly, it had shown signs of having powers.

The big man came out of his lab.  His voice was gravelly and deep, but had a kindness to it that seemed both out of place, and perfectly natural.  “I’ve got the results,” he said.

Tog and Epim exchanged a quick glace.

“He’s definitely mutating into a humanoid form.  I’m working on a way to stabilize his growth, but he may end up quite large by the time we can get it to him.  He’s also showing signs of having powers.  Specifically, he’s showing signs of having the same powers as the Eidolons that control the Vahzilok.  I ran some tests on the two roaches that were left, and my guess for now is that they fed on some of the waste of the process that created the Eidolons, then your little guy here fed on them.”

“Is there any chance he might be sentient enough to control those powers?” asked Epim?

“It’s far too early to tell.  Right now, he’s not much smarter than a normal lizard of comparable mass.  The only thing we can do right now is watch and see what develops.”

Tog had been watching the floor for throughout the explanation, and without looking up said, “Thanks, Doc.”  Suddenly feeling that was wrong, he looked up to meet the other’s eyes.  “Is it ‘Doc’?  I feel odd calling you 10.5.”

“Actually, ‘Zach’ will do well enough,” he said with a broad smile.





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