No Atheists in the Foxholes
by Stephen Tsai and Paul Cocker

Last Resort

The tanks and artillery at the beachhead along Dingle Bay did their best to fend off the Lancers, but the sleek machines were too nimble and their lasers too accurate.  The Lancers spiraled through the streamers and heavy gunfire, and then opened up.  Fine beams sent the harbor into pieces and the armored vehicles could do nothing but waste ammunition.  The missile launchers had similar fates; more Lancers strafed by, taking the battery of rockets out with machine precision.

Grounded pilots scrambled to the fighter planes, startled by the speed of the flying cyborgs.  Jets were being loaded, canopies lowering, and some already began to taxi.  But it was too late.  Lines and cadences of aircrafts disappeared in bursts of energy.  Infantry, boldly defending the base with rifles and pistols, were incinerated with the explosions.

Once the Lancers ran through, sending the base up in violent ruin, Banshees came in at low angles.  The mutants' screams drove even the bravest survivors to run in fear for their lives.  But even the survivors fell, as Harpies dropped out of the sky and reduced the fleeing officers to bloody ribbons.

******

Far across the bay, on the outskirts of Killarney, Red Ensign watched smoke corkscrew from the base.  It was certain now that Team Beta's attack on the Royal Elite's fronts only served as provocation, and that retribution had now reared its ugly head.  He could only guess what kind of mayhem was elsewhere.

On all sides of him the battle raged over the grounds of the marred theater.  Heroes and villains worked side by side, rumbling on and around and through the Irish landscape.  Fire and dust marked their wake.  A mountainous, Byzantine building loomed over the countless warriors, unspoilt and in stark counterpoint to ravages of their war.

"Those buggering Elitists!" Red Ensign yelled as he pounded futilely on the unearthly steel wall of the massive stronghold.

"Report, Loomis," said the voice of White Ensign in giant Englishman's comm-link. "Have you breached the fortress?"

Red Ensign shook his head. "No chance -- it must be some kind of super-alloy."

"Should have known things were going too well to last," White Ensign acknowledged.  "Any contact with the others?"

Blue Ensign's voice was next to come through the comm-link.  "I can sense some general anxiety and concerns, but nothing concrete.  Something's blocking my telepathic communication."

"More like someone I suspect, Elizabeth," White Ensign added.  "He has done it before."

"Quite," Blue Ensign agreed.  "Now what do we do?"

"We stick to the plan," White Ensign replied with determination.  "We keep knocking on the Elite's door until they let us in."

Hellfire and Fury

They coalesced from the tightening air, brigades of figures that appeared in the sky, on the ground, on ruined roofs and surfaces about the city of Cork.  They were renowned heroes.  They were urban legends.  Their features stood like works of art, the movement of their bodies like nothing less than poetry.  Like angels loosed from the gates of heaven, Team Beta fell upon the Royal Elite's southern military theater.

Trinity danced along the streets, her slung plasma rifle spewing forth rippling heat, and cleared a path for a band of metas.

"Alright, Brickyard and Jabberwock, you're supporting the other troops in crowd control," she hollered into her comm-link, her weapon at the same time burning a hole through the chest of a robotic Spartan.  "Dr. Stygia and Livewire, we're hitting the warehouse and freeing those prisoners.  If you have any last-minute questions -- it's too late to ask them.  Screw this up and we're dead."

"We get the idea, cutie-pie," retorted the heavily muscled Brickyard as he barreled into a Demon, sending the giant creature staggering back against the facade of the theater.  "So shut up."

Jabberwock hurtled over a hulking, body-armored assailant, side-stepping its volley of explosive gunfire, to charge into the fray.  His suede, sinewy arms allowed his clawed hands to rip through the metal of Spartans and the hardened flesh of Trolls.

"Riddle me this, Brickyard," piped up Jabberwock as he narrowly evaded the crushing blow of a massive cyborg.  "Where are your Brickwork Men?  On coffee break?  We're seriously outnumbered here."

"Tell me something I don't know," Brickyard replied.

Suddenly, someone or something stirred and roused the ruins of a neighboring brownstone, and out of it rose two makeshift figues composed of the building's very brick and mortar.  The figures towered over any human, and their bodies walked, fought and moved, like things alive.  From the remains of a storefront came four more brick layered brutes.  And two more formed out of the debris of the theater's destroyed facade.

Jabberwock smiled, revealing a serried line of needle-like teeth, as he swiped his vicious claws across the throat of an airborne mutant.  "Ah, that's much better," he said.

Nearby, a flying machine, a wedge-like discus with a humanoid upper body jutting out of it, unleashed a barrage of stilettos at a company of British soldiers.  A distant sniper immediately replied, his mounted cannon firing off its silver bullet -- a 20mm, uranium-depleted armor-killer.  The flying cyborg reeled from the impact of the gunshot and collided into a fellow cyborg.  The two sparked out and spiraled into the streets.

"I'm counting two to three hundred Bushidos in the air," Trinity noticed, "and they've got a mad-on for us."

"Stand back!" a soldier shouted above the din of chaos.  "Harpies!"

With three-times the strength, speed and agility of a woman of her athletic stature, Trinity spun to catch a bird-woman by the waist, lift the malformed creature, and fling her into a wall.  Then she had just enough time to drop onto her back to thrust up her feet and flip another strafing avian aside.  A visual check showed Trinity her anti-poison Duralon suit had taken no damage.

"Okay, I'm pissed off!" Livewire yelled.  He shot a Harpy with a jagged lance of electricity, jolting her feathery chest and throwing her spine-first through a pile of rubble, then charged towards the warehouse.

"I'm right behind you, Livewire," Dr. Stygia said, his crimson cape wavering about proudly as he ran, his otherwise meager frame protected beneath an elaborate suit of armor.

Stygia's supernatural ability to generate and cast fire, rumored to have been granted to him by demons and devils, was amplified by the armor he wore.  Whenever he demonstrated his power, be it a mere spark on one of his fingertips or a raging inferno unleashed from his entire body, very strange runes and glyphs shone through the metal that encased him.  The markings lit with an intensity proportionate to the power he demonstrated.  Right now, the markings shone like never before.

It was as if his armor housed the flames of hell itself.

The ground shook with every hit.  Mighty fists cracked open the asphalt and cement, and then the Earth moved.  Missiles exploded and the ground heaved.  A roar and a cry, a tremor and a quake.  Soon the ground roiled like liquid as the fight raged on.

Reap the Whirlwind

White Ensign nodded as he checked the next room and beckoned his teammates to come in.  Although the Ensigns were more than ready to dish out punishment, their mission was to cripple the Celestial Keep's ability to coordinate the Elite's ground forces in Ireland, so the less resistance they encountered, the better.

"How are we doing, Loomis?" White Ensign asked.

Red Ensign tapped on the terminal quickly, with a portable computer deck to his side.  "I think I've got it.  Two more levels down, and just adjacent to the main corridor running up the middle of the fortress."

"Assuming the data is accurate and not a trap," Blue Ensign muttered.

"That's hardly the mindset we need right now."  Christ, but things must be tense if Elizabeth was seeing the negative side of things.

"You're right, sorry.  I just keep expecting the other shoe to drop," Blue Ensign said.

White Ensign nodded.  "Okay, here's the lift."  The Ensigns tensed as the door open, then proceeded to enter the elevator and press the indicator for the main deck.  Just as the door closed however, there was an abrupt shuddering and without warning, the elevator began to drop like a stone.

"I think you just jinxed us Elizabeth!" Red Ensign shouted as he grabbed onto the railing.

"Hold on!" White Ensign warned as he concentrated.

Energy flared out from his head, and surrounded the elevator car with a powerful telekinetic field.  The car stopped abruptly as the field quivered from the shock.  As the car hovered between the guide rails, a powerful fist suddenly punched through the elevator door, grabbing Red Ensign, followed by the massive form of a powerful man, which shredded what was left of the door.

"Don't you British know anything?" the man sneered.  "Never take the elevator during an emergency!"

"Mastodon!" Red Ensign warned and cursed.  Inside this elevator, he couldn't get to full size and strength and without that, he'd be dead in seconds at the hands of this brute.

"Tactic Zed!" White Ensign called and his teammates looked away with anticipation.  A split second later, a powerful burst of white light exploded, blinding Mastodon and staggering him back.

"Deploy Formation Delta!" White Ensign ordered as he flew out of the now-opened door.  Behind him, Blue Ensign took his left flank while Red Ensign took his right.

We're in the throne room, White Ensign realized, comms was one more level down.

"Fancy tricks won't save you this time!" Mastodon snarled as he blinked his eyes clear.  "And you're not the only one who can use team tactics!"

As he said that, White Ensign watched as Mastodon's movements began to speed up in an all too familiar pattern.  Oh Christ, the Baroness was here too and watched as his guess was confirmed by her appearance flickering into view.  "So, you finally found us."

Baroness smiled wickedly.  "Hardly.  We've been following you for the last ten minutes to set that ambush up.  We were phased a microsecond out of sync with normal time, so you didn't even see it coming!"

Damn, White Ensign thought, and we walked right into it!  "Elizabeth, go!" he ordered.  "Find that comm station and take it down!  We'll hold these two here!"

"But...!" Blue Ensign protested.

"Go!  That an order!" White Ensign shouted as he unleashed the Ensigns' retaliation against the ambush.

Biting off her instincts, Blue Ensign turned and ran down the next corridor.  Arthur was right; even now, thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen were fighting to liberate the millions who had suffered under the Elite's conquest.  Robbing the mutant armies of their ability to coordinate would save thousands of lives.  She just hoped that, in doing so, she didn't just sign her teammates' epitaph.

Fog of War

Chaos reigned supreme in County Donegal.

Watch towers exploded.  Robotic troops and mutants ripped through the compound surrounding the warehouse that held so many prisoners.  Everywhere about the grounds, soldiers and metas erupted with guns and strange powers, only to be silenced moments later.

El Brazos spun to punch a monstrous Rock Troll hard on its square jaw.  With a roar, the monster slammed into the Mexican strongman, lifting him clear off his feet.  The mutant bearhugged El Brazos, forcing him to wince and helplessly pound on the mutant's back.

"I don't have time for this," El Brazos snarled.

Pugilism, to the thickly muscled wrestler, was an ingrained instinct, a way of living.  And so he dug in and fought back furiously.  His boots chewed up compacted earth as he struggled and strained.  It was power versus power, and animalistic rage pitted against hardened experience.  Then El Brazos hoisted the Rock Troll overhead, his heart racing, and smashed the monster to the ground.

Lioness pounced this way and that, a battle cry discharging from her lungs.  Her attacks were calculated, her reflexes unmatched, her face a granite scowl.  Chain's telekinetically charged fists made quick work of his assailants.  His haymakers exploded like bombs, his jabs impacted with the subtlety of pile drivers.  Recoil simply plowed her way into the fighting masses, taking the brunt of much assault.  Each hit she received, she returned the favor with exponential effect.  Soon the fight died down about them, but it would only be for a moment, and so they had to act fast.

"All right, we've got a camp to liberate," Lioness yelled.  "No time for second-guessing."

Taking point, the cat-like heroine led the band of metas along the perimeter of the internment camp, within the shadows cast by one of the bunkhouses.  They were virtually invisible against the inky darkness.  Lioness raised her head to sniff the air, her eyes narrowing in recognition.

"Something?" El Brazos asked.

"Familiar scent," Lioness replied.  "Can't pick it up too well--" she pointed a finger to her left, toward the massive stronghold in the center of the camp "--but I think it's over there."

Recoil and Chain looked at the stronghold, both grunting in surprise.  If what they beheld wasn't deceiving them, they just witnessed a Troll retreat into the massive fortress.

"Uhm, I know jack-shit about slave etiquette," Chain insisted.  "But aren't these mutants programmed to just fight?  What's with Shrek over there tip-toeing into that Elite castle?"

"Ahh, this is nuts," Recoil said.

Lioness sniffed the air again, her body tensing.  She immediately dropped into a defensive crouch.  "It's about to get worse."

Following the path of Lioness' hardened glare, the team of metas looked in time to see a squad of lumbering, well-armored enforcers, all with strange, double-snouted cannons mounted on their arms.

"Over there -- fire!" one armored trooper ordered.

Within the Belly of the Beast

Blue Ensign ran down the stairs and found the central corridor.  Above, she could hear the sounds of battle as the pacing picked up.  She didn't need to be a telepath to know that a war was going on up there and this time, there would be no retreat from within the bowels of the Celestial Keep.

Up ahead, she saw a series of doors leading to the command centers of the Keep.  Comm center, she thought.  According to the intelligence they got, that would be right over... there -- third door from the left.  She approached the door cautiously; no telling what traps would be protecting it.

She opened the door, not knowing quite what to expect, and froze in shock. The room was completely white and featureless.  She spun around and saw that the corridor was gone as well.  She had somehow been transported into a featureless void without any notice.  But that was impossible!

"Not quite, my dear Elizabeth," a cold familiar voice sneered.

Brainchild, Blue Ensign recognized.  Now it made sense.  She had been pulled onto the mindscape for one purpose.

"That's right, dear Elizabeth.  Here I am, ready to finish what I started in Ireland," the childlike Japanese proclaimed as he materialized in front of her.

"Then let's get started, shall we?" Blue Ensign nodded with grim determination.

Raising Seige

The hoarse screams of soldiers and the screeches tortured metal filled the air.  Massive artillery punched into the walls of depots and bunkers.  Lasers set fire to everything inflammable and sent explosions rippling throughout the ruinous county of Dublin.

"Standfast, Marines!" wailed a company sergeant, before a merciless Berserker swept him up and took him out of the fight.

"Sonnuvabitch!" a marine lieutenant cried.  He frantically pumped shell after shell from his Spas-12 shotgun, filling the surrounding forest with lead slugs.  Shadows stirred, voices hissed, and smoke rose from deep within thick copse of mangled trees.

"Soldier!  Down!" came a woman's voice, followed by a jarring push.

Something detonated overhead, in the very spot the lieutenant had occupied mere heartbeats before.  Rolling in the mud into which he had been thrown, the solider slid to turn and face his savior.

"Trinity!" the lieutentant acknowledged.

But the Protectorate member was already elsewhere in the fray, her twin .50 caliber Desert Eagles gripped firmly and pointed ahead.  She dove forward, bounced off toppling cyborgs and ducked under the attack of looming mutants.  She tumbled, then sprang back onto her feet, her hand-cannons all the while thundered again and again and again.  Hollow points ripped through the foliage.  There was a dull thud of an impact, most likely a punctured chest plate.  A body crashed into the undergrowth.  Another thud -- and another crash.  Again and again she fired, making her way through the twisted branches of toppled trees.

Trinity soon found herself before the main yard of a warehouse.  She reloaded her pistols, then stepped into the clearing.  A tall woman wearing nothing other than a short, stonewashed toga and wraparound sandals stood nearby.  Three unconscious Spartans were sprawled out by her feet.

"It feels like the world is ripping at the seams," the woman said, kneading a forearm.

"Not if we can help it, Caryatid," Trinity replied.  "Where's Atlantid?"

Trinity suddenly had to duck to avoid a collision with a Centurion that whistled by her.  Its armor riddled with fist-sized dents, weapons systems malfunctioned, the cyborg soared across the grounds and crashed into a utility bunkhouse.  The structure collapsed on the downed high-tech squad leader.

"That would be my brother's doing," Caryatid answered.  She then looked around.  "Where are the others?"

"The Marines are drawing away the ground troops.  Trefoil, Wyvern, and Repertoire are covering us.  Look, we've got to get the prisoners out of that factory."

"I'm on it," replied Atlantid.  The powerful, Grecian-looking meta came into view.  He stood by one of the warehouse's walls and leaned on it, his great strength causing the brickwork to buckle and fall apart, rending a gaping wound in the structure.

"Move back from the wall," Trinity hollered within the breached building.  "We'll have you out shortly!"

The Wrath of Titans

Red Ensign staggered back as Mastodon surged forward with the speed of a rocket, with only White Ensign's force shield barely deflecting the full brunt of the charge.  Now free from the elevator, Red Ensign had grown to his full thirty feet; fortunately, the throne room of the Celestial Keep was tall enough to allow it.  Classic architecture; the Elite probably enjoyed the towering view of an arched ceiling.  Red Ensign shook his head, amazing what trivialities crept into one's head when one's life was on the line.

"British swine!" Mastodon snarled and charged.  Red Ensign tried to grab him but toppled over, as Mastodon's slammed into his lower torso.  The blue-blooded strongman tried to follow up by smashing the prone giant, but Red Ensign managed to swat Mastodon off his feet with an oversized hand.

"Get off!" Red Ensign shouted.  He tried to grab Mastodon, but the burly Elite was too fast.  Damn the Baroness for her time manipulation!

"Red, pull back," White Ensign called.  "I'll keep Mastodon at bay, you get the Baroness!"

"Easier said than done," Baroness smiled with wicked glee and made a gesture at Mastodon, whose expression indicated he knew what came next.  The Ensigns' eyes widened with shock as a second Mastodon appeared out of thin air.

"What the...!" Red Ensign exclaimed.

"Amazing what one can do by calling upon allies from the past," Baroness said.

"The better to crush you both!" the first Mastodon declared.

"At once," the second agreed.

White Ensign tensed for the dual charge; inwardly glad that Elizabeth wasn't here to watch the Ensigns go down for what looked like their final battle. So much I wanted to tell her, now she'd never know.  But if she could accomplish the mission, then it'd be all worth it.  And if that meant their lives, then we'll give them one for the ages.

Insurrection

Hector Kovacs heard the dull sound of a rotor, and his assumption was confirmed when he saw helicopter skimming over the horizon of Galway.  He never considered himself an army brat when he was a kid, but he new his aircrafts. It was a Russian Mi-17, a rescue chopper.

Somebody was getting out of this hell-hole.  He wished it was him.

Hector stayed to the back of the group as they moved forward. Projecting his mind outward, several hundred yards ahead, he "manifested" as his namesake, Wraith. He moved ahead of Trinity (he wasn't certain which one, but he got the willies just thinking about a woman who could split into three people) and Fist, a rather gifted martial artist who was here for the same reason he was: a pardon for any past misdeeds.  The Native American called Totem was around somewhere, but wasn't anywhere in sight.

Owing to the nature of his powers, Kovacs had agreed to act as "point" as they moved forward. Any weapons fire directed at the Wraith would be wasted and would alert the others. It wasn't long before the usefulness of that ability proved itself. The Wraith turned a corner and was met by a hail of plasma bolts. Back in the safety of the group, Kovacs reflexively ducked before realizing that he hadn't been hurt.

"There are several units awaiting our arrival. I count... forty Bush -- uh, Berzer... crap, there's about forty of whatever-the-hell-they-are up there. And it looks like there are a lot more coming."

Fist spoke up.

"I can handle five-to-one or even ten-to-one with a little effort. But forty-to-one? I didn't sign on for a suicide mission."

"That's good to hear," replied Trinity. "I've got no use for a corpse during a battle. But you aren't alone here and the odds won't be more than you can handle. The fact remains that there are a large number of troops between us and our destination and every minute we delay is one more soldier in Autocrat's employ."

The mission was to destroy one of several "flesh factories" and rescue it's victims.

"Uh, not to interrupt such an intriguing dialog, but the firing is getting heavy. I'm going to pull back a bit a--"

"Negative!" answered Trinity. "If you pull back, you'll lead them here. Are they hurting you at the moment?"

Kovacs shook his head no.

"Then have your wraith charge into the middle of them. Maybe they'll take out a few of their own. While they're busy trying to kill something that isn't there, we can attack from surprise."

Kovacs wasn't too keen on the idea but couldn't come up with a better one.

"All right, but don't take all day to do it. This isn't as easy as I make it look..."

Trinity and Fist made their way forward and peered over the rubble of what used to be a municipal building of some sort. The scene was chaos. Wraith was wading into the middle of the attacking mutants, lashing about at the Elite's troops in seemingly random ways. Trinity noted that Wraith's attacks were more to infuriate than to kill -- and were succeeding admirably.

The mutants, not fully realizing that their attacks caused no harm, were indeed taking out more of their own -- something Trinity had not really expected to happen. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

As if the cyborgs suddenly all noticed at once, they stopped firing at Wraith and began moving forward again, largely ignoring Wraith and it's telekinetic attacks.

"Damn. There has to be a Centurion around here somewhere feeding them instructions. Can you spot it?"

Fist looked quickly over the top of the rubble, ducked down again and looked a little pale.

"Uh, yeah," said the martial artist. "About three hundred and fifty meters down the street... behind another two hundred and fifty Bushido troops. Not exactly my idea of best-laid plans, Trixie."

"Maybe, but we still have a little back up." Activating her comm-unit, Trinity radioed in. "Pitcher to Dugout, Pitcher to Dugout, Come in. Over."

"This is Dugout, Pitcher, Go ahead," replied a male voice.

"We need a Grand Slam in our immediate vicinity. Can you assist?"

"Roger, that. Hang tight and we'll clear the field for you."

"Thanks, Dugout. Pitcher out."

Fist looked at her with a look of disbelief. "Wo, Trixie. Am I losing it or did I just hear you order an air strike on our current location?"

"The two aren't necessarily mutually exclusive," Trinity said matter-of-factly. "Oh, and unless you want me to start calling you Foot, you better stop referring to me as Trixie."

Any reply Fist might have made was cut short by the bellow of a Neo-Formori. In one smooth motion, Fist aimed a kick at the thing's groin area and connected hard -- and with devastating effect. The giant dropped slowly to the ground. The rest of the mutant troops responded by opening fire...

Brainstorm

Blue Ensign staggered as chains wrapped around her body.  Swinging a classic British long sword, she sliced her way free, but tensed up as the next attack came.  She was attired in classic European armor, just as Brainchild wore the armor of the Samurai.  None of this was real though, she frantically reminded herself.  All of this was imposed by the will of the combatants.  But right now, Brainchild was calling the shots; she had to seize the initiative.

"Getting tired so soon?" Brainchild mocked.  "Too bad, I'm just getting started."

"I won't be beaten!" Blue Ensign declared, as her sword morphed into an English longbow and fired a volley of arrows.

"Oh really," Brainchild smiled as the arrows glanced off a Japanese round shield.  "Well, I have news for you my dear.  I was just toying with you back in Ireland.  This fight's for real."

"Damn straight it is," Blue Ensign snarled, doing her best to hide the acid splash of fear in her heart.  It had to be a bluff, she thought between breaths.  Just something to rattle her confidence.  She had to keep that belief strong in her mind -- confidence was everything here.  If she believed that statement even for a moment, even if it wasn't true, then it'd be all over.

Onslaught

Chain and Recoil fought back to back, repelling a squad of mutants and cyborgs into walls, into the air, into one another. Oddly enough, though it was their primary motivation, they weren't just trying to keep their own skins intact.

On the edge of their awareness, the pair could see the heavily muscled form of El Brazos moving through the haze of the battle. Over each shoulder was slung the body of an unconscious soldier. He was also dragging two more.

Rather than the expected complaints, Chain and Recoil continued to smash the attackers, trying to buy the hero enough time to get the men to safety.

Lioness, accompanied by a couple of squads as well as some metahumans, continued to make her way toward the flesh factory. Vaulting over rubble and cyborgs alike, she continued to attack -- snapping a neck here, or acting as a stalking horse as necessary to create openings in the defenses of the attacking Trolls.

There was a sudden, brilliant flash of light that blinded friend and foe alike. When her eyes cleared, she was presented with the view of several smoldering bodies A few of them were still adorned with scraps of their bright, still smoldering costumes. It bothered her that she could not recall their names.

A snarl erupting from her throat, she charged a gun emplacement, dancing out of the way of the incoming plasma bolts with feline grace. She reached down to a pouch at her belt and found it empty.

"Grenade!" she roared, holding out her hand.

One of the nearby squad members quickly lobbed a plasma grenade to her. Plucking it out of the air, she set it for a short delay and tossed it through a small opening.

"Take Cover!"

Everyone in the immediate area dropped to the ground, taking cover behind any rubble they could find. A moment and a loud explosion later, there was a large hole in the wall to the facility. The area immediately inside of it was littered with debris and body parts.

"Let's move!" growled Lioness, trying to ignore the smell of burned flesh.

When All Hope is Lost

We're losing, White Ensign thought as he wiped the blood from his mouth. One Mastodon was tough enough; two or more would finish them if they kept this pace up.  And while they were busy with him, Baroness was free to alter time as she saw fit.  It was only her sheer arrogance that she hadn't aged or time-displaced either of their metabolisms yet like she had done to him back in Ireland.

"Well, Arthur," Red Ensign panted next to him as the two Mastodon's spent a few seconds to leer with evil expressions, anticipating the next attack, "I'm open to suggestions."

"We can't let them dictate the pace this way," White Ensign muttered almost to himself.  "We've got to change the battlefield."

"Don't even think about it," the Mastodon on the left snarled as he held back, wanting to savor the moment.

"That's right, you're no match for me!" the Mastodon on the right nodded. "I'm going to smash the both of you into meat!"

White Ensign's ears perked up on hearing that.  Why was he referring to himself as a single person?  Oh wait a minute, he thought.  Did the Baroness say he came from the past?  But that would mean...  "Red, Double Blind Alpha, three shots..."

Red Ensign nodded, tensed up and charged the Mastodon on the left, as White Ensign pushed his powers to their highest extent and fired to the Mastodon on the right.

"So you have spirit after all," the Mastodon on the left smiled.  "I'm not entirely without mercy.  I'll see to it your remains are mailed to your embassy."

"Sloppy," the Mastodon on the right sneered as he easily ducked White Ensign's blast.  "A worthy effort for a rival member of the upper class of society, but ultimately wasted."

Red Ensign pulled up and got into a ready braced stance for Mastodon's charge.  Timing had to be perfect, he thought as he watched White Ensign's futile shot bounce off the wall behind Baroness.  "One..."

"Careful, you big oaf," Baroness warned, as she ducked White Ensign's missed bolt.  "Autocrat says they must be destroyed this time."

White Ensign ignored Baroness' statement and continued to pour power into the bolt as he watched its second ricochet bounce off the ceiling.  "Two..."

"Bravery is no match for power, you fool!"  Mastodon declared as he closed in on Red Ensign's stationary form.  "Say farewell to this world!"

"Three!" Red Ensign shouted as he lunged forward and drove his fist into Mastodon's face with all his power just as White Ensign's bolt rebounded off the floor and connected with the Mastodon on the right, blasting him into his counterpart on the left.  The two Mastodons collided and screamed with pain.  "Aiieegh...!"

"Thought that'd work," White Ensign spat with determination.  "Matter can't occupy two places at once without consequences!"

"You stupid, big-mouthed oaf!" Baroness snarled at Mastodon.  "We had them at our mercy!"

"D-don't you start...!" Mastodon staggered as the two forms merged back into one.

"And as for your offer, let me make you one," Red Ensign declared. "Surrender now, and maybe the World Court won't execute you for crimes against humanity!  But one way or another, we are going to bring you to justice!"

Mastodon spat a wad of blood from his mouth, and wrenched Autocrat's throne from its mountings and surged forward.  Red Ensign stood ready, only to freeze in place.  Oh crap, he thought, I'm stuck!  That damned Baroness...!

"Hang on Loomis, I'll stop him!" White Ensign declared as he projected a telekinetic shield to protect the time-frozen Red Ensign from Mastodon.

"Not this time, boy!" Mastodon snarled as he abruptly changed directions and smashed the chair into White Ensign's unprotected head.

"Argh...!" White Ensign staggered as he went down sprawling.

"You're not the only one who can adapt and change tactics, you fools!  Take comfort in your smug sense of justice," Mastodon snarled as he raised the throne above White Ensign's head one more time, "for the few seconds of life you have left!"

Salvation

Where before, they had barely made any headway, now the metahumans and support troops in Cork were advancing rapidly. Livewire and Dr. Stygia were effectively handling the more dangerous air attacks and Jabberwock and Brickyard were harassing the retreating mutant ground troops. Trinity could see the Flesh Factory now and was trying to determine the best approach.

Everything was going better than expected until Livewire went down.

A mutant, operating another of the wedge-like flying machines, had managed to avoid a barrage of fire and lighting and had unleashed a volley of stilettos. The attack caught the electrically powered metahuman by surprise and he went down, looking very much like an oversized pin-cushion.

Dr. Stygia rewarded the tenacity of the mutant with a searing stream of hellfire, the glyphs on his armor glowing brightly.

Rallied by the sight of Livewire lying motionless on the ground, the Elite troops began another push to wipe out the approaching Allies. Jabberwock, rather than taking cover from the incoming enemy fire, leapt out into the fray with something bordering on glee.

Dodging one mutant, rending another with his claws, Jabberwock bounded into the open, using the Elite troops like stepping stones in a pond. He snatched up Livewire, and headed back. This time, due to his burden, he was not quite as quick as he had been and the shots fired at him began to miss by a much closer margin.

As he neared the relative safety of a shell crater, he was very nearly struck by a lethal beam of energy. In fact, his life would have ended as a scorched mass of flesh had it not been for several of Brickyard's Brickwork Men piling on top of each other behind him to form a barrier.

"We need to clear the field!" yelled Trinity. "How much have you got left, Doc?"

"All the Fires of Hell are mine to command," replied Dr. Stygia. "How much do you want?"

"Hold that thought."

Speaking into her comm-link, Trinity quickly arranged for a mortar barrage from the British soldiers. Turning back to Dr. Stygia, she said, "When the shelling starts, I need you to torch the area. Time is running out and we need to break through."

"Then try to stay out of my way..."

A few moments later, the shelling began. Dr. Stygia moved forward, arms spread, the runes on the armor glowing brightly. He gestured and flames erupted from him and were answered by great gouts of flame belching from the earth itself. A few minutes later, the few mutant troops that were not engulfed in flame or scattered in pieces fled the field at top speed.

Turning to face Trinity, the armored figure spoke, "I believe the way is now clear..."

Trinity arranged for medical attention for Livewire and then went to free the captives.

Mind Over Matter

Blue Ensign was now panting as she strove desperately to keep up with the morphing landscape.  She had never before been in a mind duel of this scope and belated realized that she was way out of her league.

"That's right, you are," Brainchild smiled.

"Get...out...of my head," Blue Ensign ordered as she tried to force Brainchild's presence from her mind.

"Privacy is earned here, my lady," Brainchild taunted.  "If you can't keep your secrets, then don't blame me for walking into open doors."

The landscape around them had changed almost with the rhythm of their pulses.  For the moment, Elizabeth was standing in an ice rink as a team of hockey players armed with razor sharp sticks and padding.  Behind their masks, demonic faces leered with hunger as Brainchild watched from an announcer's booth.

They couldn't be real, Elizabeth thought, but again, shook her head.  Quit trying to justify everything!  The scenes don't have to make sense; they're plenty real if I don't counter them with something!

But Elizabeth never was much of an ice skater.  To hell with it, she thought and pulled out two MP-5N submachine guns.  Normally these were fired with two hands, except in cheap action movies, of course.  But in the mindscape, firing them one-handed was just a matter of wanting it bad enough.  Right now, Elizabeth wanted firepower pretty damned bad.

"Bravo, Elizabeth, an inspired move," Brainchild clapped and announced over the intercom.  "How about we get ready for the second period?"

"How about we don't, you bastard?" Elizabeth snarled and fired a burst of imaginary bullets at her tormentor.

"Temper, temper, Elizabeth," Brainchild chided as the bullets bounced off the bulletproof shield.  "You'll lose your reputation as being a lady of noble birth if you keep talking like a kitchen wench.  And I thought you Brits were all civilized and cultured in the arts of war."

"We are," Blue Ensign declared.  "We don't resort to sneak attacks like Pearl Harbor to win our wars!"

"Pearl Harbor..." Brainchild considered before smiling and nodding with approval.  "Why not; an inspired choice, Elizabeth."

Oh Christ, Blue Ensign thought as the scent of the Pacific Ocean filtered into her mind and she found herself standing on a Naval dock facing a beautiful dawn sunrise.  She mustered her reserves as best she could as the waves of Japanese Zeroes came towards her in the horizon.

Extreme Measures

With the aid of the twins, Caryatid and Atlantid, Trinity made her way to the "holding pens." When they deactivated the force fields that prevented the escape of the captives, the odor was nearly enough to give Trinity the dry heaves. The cramped and unsanitary conditions they'd been forced to endure would be one more item to the impossibly long list of crimes for which Autocrat would answer.

"Quickly, people," she said to the captives. "Time is short but we have transportation waiting just outside. Those of you who can walk need to help those who can't."

Surprisingly, the people moved quickly and orderly without any sign of panic. Perhaps they were merely numb from what they'd had to endure or perhaps they were stronger than she'd thought possible. Trinity hoped it were the latter.

The freed captives quickly made their way to the transports that were waiting outside the building. So intent were Trinity and the twins on getting their charges to safety, they failed to see a cyborg, half destroyed, reach for a grenade-like device at it's belt. It was the high-pitched whine of the device that alerted them to its presence.

"For the Glory of Autocr--" was all it was able to shout before the explosion.

Trinity managed to dive forward and escape the brunt of the blast. Caryatid and Atlantid were not quite so fortunate. While the blast failed to do them much harm, it was more than sufficient to weaken the structure. Trinity looked back and saw them both standing much like their namesakes, each holding one end of a massive beam that was now the only thing keeping the entire building from dropping on the last few captives.

"Hang on! Everyone is almost out! How are you two doing back there?!" she shouted.

"Been... better! Don't take... too long!" replied Caryatid.

Atlantid added," Yeah, this isn't as easy... as it looks!"

The twins stood bolt upright, their every muscle straining, the crushing weight of the structure overhead. Trinity helped the last few captives into the transport and headed back toward the building. Just before she reached the breach in the wall, she heard a shout.

"Incoming!"

Trinity whirled about just in time to see several Demons diving the area, strafing the ground as they came. The attack run ended with a massive strike on the mutant processing facility. The resulting explosions completely engulfed the building, and the twins, in a white-hot ball of flame. The explosion seemed to last an unnaturally long time. The twins did not appear out of the rubble.

Trinity's mind reeled. If there are Demons here then that means...

"We've got ground troops advancing! Looks like Bushido and Berzerkers! Retreat!" yelled Repertoire, a Parisian heroine wearing a bodysuit studded with holsters, clips and pockets for a variety of weapons. Currently, she was quickly assembling a very large and powerful looking rifle.

"There's nowhere to retreat to! We're cut off!" answered Trinity.

And outnumbered, added Trinity silently.

"Get back behind that wall and get ready! Where the hell are Wyvern and Trefoil?!..."

And then chaos erupted.

The cyborgs advanced and Trinity began firing. As the enemy drew closer, she could see Wyvern flying up to engage one of the Demons. His large, leathery wings carried him swiftly toward the mutant and he slammed into it, claws and fangs ripping into the Demon's hide. As the Demon tried to disengage, Wyvern let loose a gout of flame that caught it full in the face. Wyvern's victory shout was cut short as a flight of Harpies attacked him in unison. Despite the fury with which he retaliated, the poison from the Harpies proved too much for him to withstand. The sound of his body striking the ground was lost in the general din of the battle.

Repertoire, having completed the assembly of her weapon, began to fire into the midst of the advancing mutants. Each shot resulted in a large explosion that did much to disperse the enemy as well as damage them. Still, the number of opponents seemed to be growing exponentially.

Damn! Where are they all coming from? she thought. "Get back! There are too many of them!"

Repertoire ducked down behind some cover to piece together a new armament. Instinctively she reached into various compartments about her bodysuit, all the while keeping her eyes on the attacking hordes, and in a few simple motions she assembled a strange triple-barreled rifle. Just as Repertoire snapped a drum-clip into the weapon, the area erupted in a blast of light and thunder. Trinity shot a questioning glance at the other woman.

"Not my doing," Repertoire said. "Sounds like Trefoil."

Another French hero moved slowly away from a building he had used for cover. Displaying a tattoo of a biohazard symbol on his chest, the nearly naked, hairless man gazed at the army of mutants with opaque, milky white eyes. He gave the hordes a relaxed smile, raised an open hand, and blasted them with plasmatic fire. Trinity knew that the radiation levels he produced could fry a Geiger counter.

Several Elite units concentrated heavy weapons fire on the nuclear man, even as his ionized assault devoured great numbers of them. Then Trinity saw Trefoil go down with a large, glowing rupture in his chest.

"Hors de combat!" Repertoire stood up once again to fire at the enemy, and pulled the trigger for what would be the final time. For a brief moment, the heroine attacked her gnarled, grotesque opponents, dropping them with a hail of gunfire. Then a pulse of emerald energy flew from a Spartan's shoulder-cannon and dissolved her chest.

"No!" Trinity cried.

She watched the charred remains of her ally hit the ground as the Spartan advanced towards her. The mechanical killer loomed over Trinity, but just as it was about to unleash its lethal energies on her, it felt a prick in its armored back--

--and Trinity saw the sparking point of a spearhead pierce its chestplate, a shaft jutting from behind the cyborg like a stray and petrified limb. A tall, mythic woman withdrew the weapon, and the Spartan collapsed in a heap of metal and damaged circuits.

"Macha?" Trinity said in horror and awe.

The Celtic war-maiden didn't even look at Trinity. "The Royal Elite left me no choice. They began this war on my homeland. I will finish it."

"Then wh--"

"Less talk! Unless, of course, you would rather I just killed you now instead of later..."

Trinity glanced about and saw other members of Black Mass. Misfit danced and tumbled along the battlefield, laughing at the cyborgs as they haplessly tripped over themselves or crumbled from a volley of well-placed daggers in their control modules. Doppleganger assumed the form of one of the flying Demons and began strafing a unit of approaching Bushidos. Even Sandstone had risen out of the earth and smashed any cyborg troops within reach.

"Then if you're going to help, we need a hole to get these transports through..."

Macha raised her spear as if about to strike, then whirled about and launched herself into Autocrat's forces. Trinity could almost swear she heard the other woman laughing.

Eventually, after a great deal of frenzied fighting, the attacking cyborgs were repelled. An opening was created, allowing the transports full of captives through. When Trinity turned to find Macha and the rest of the Black Mass, they were nowhere to be seen.

The only evidence that they had been there at all was a whiff of brimstone and a single question...

Why?

Within the Shadows

Poor Blue Ensign, Mindshadow thought, as she watched the duel hovering invisibly from the ceiling.  She was taking this whole fight too literally -- a common mistake for beginners at psionics, and those who didn't dedicate themselves to mental combat.  Blue Ensign had made the mistake of thinking like a martial artist; an asset in the real world perhaps, but somewhat a liability here, since that thinking tended to skew one's mental tactics and patterns.  True psi masters knew that all this visual special effects were just to distract the opponent.  Brainchild was one; he was spending as little real energy as he had to, waiting for Blue Ensign to exhaust herself on phantoms, then he'd move in for the kill.

Well, she would have to see about that.  Mindshadow concentrated.  After watching Blue Ensign blunder around, she had every confidence she could wrap this weak-willed Brit around her fingers anytime she chose to.  Brainchild, however, was another matter.  He was actually dangerous and although she could tell that his powers weren't quite as powerful as her own, his versatility and mental agility was something to be concerned about -- a product of Autocrat's advanced training, no doubt.

So, if there was to be battle in the future against one of these two, then let it be one of Mindshadow's choosing.  With practiced skill, she began bolstering Blue Ensign's faltering mental strength, while at the same time, draining away Brainchild's strength.  Only a trickle for now, she thought.  With all the power they were throwing at each other, it was almost unnoticeable.  And by the time either one did notice, it'd be all over.

Lion's Share

Lioness was the first through the breach in the wall -- and the first to come under enemy fire. While the grenade had incapacitated those in the immediate area and provided them access into the facility, it had not been enough to totally clear the area.

She leaped forward in a long, low arc diving for the floor and rolling out in a smooth, well practiced motion. She came to her feet in front of one of the mutants but under its weapon. Using her momentum, she shoved the barrel of the weapon toward the ceiling at the same time she whirled the mutant around. She used the creature as a shield while she aimed its weapon down the corridor.

She heard a blast nearby and realized that she had almost been skewered by another mutant that had escaped her notice. Glancing back, she caught sight of a sergeant who flashed her a quick grin then nodded back down the corridor.

Turning back, she caught sight of a Centurion ordering a retreat.

Ordering it from the back ranks, she noted to herself.

"Do we know what's behind those doors?" she asked.

"If the reports were correct, it's likely to be uh... the main processing room," he said consulting a small map. "I wouldn't cash in all my chips on that bet though."

"What's the fighting like outside?" she asked again. It was a needless question. She could hear the absence of combat sounds even as she heard the approach of...

"There is no more resistance outside," said El Brazos in an accented baritone. "The enemy has begun a full retreat... such as is left of them. Chain and Recoil are covering the -- entrance -- you created, just in case they return."

"I'm not sure that's an improvement," growled Lioness.

"They could have fled the field many times today. The stayed and fought," said the Mexican hero. Lioness snarled in response and turned back to the door at the end of the corridor.

"They've likely got that thing barricaded by now," she observed.

"No problem," answered the corporal. "Hey, Lopez! Care to do the honors?"

"Love to, Sarge," came a laconic reply. A corporal moved to the front with a LAW rocket and took careful aim at the doors.

"Fire in the hole," he said, almost conversationally.

Everyone covered their ears and hunkered down as the rocket tore down the corridor. The explosion removed the doors, and the two Trolls who were standing behind it. Lioness and El Brazos immediately headed into the room, followed closely by the military personnel.

The fighting was fierce but brief. A couple of men were lost, but when the smoke cleared, the Allies were standing.

The room turned out to be more of a warehouse. Several rows of transparent tanks glowed with strange chemical solutions, and immersed in the tanks were grotesque human specimens in various stages of the transformation into mutants. This crop seemed to be Harpies.

There were also several "holding pens" that contained humans awaiting their turn at the process. Lioness' disgust threatened to turn to nausea.

"Call in the Medics, Sergeant," said Lioness. "Let's get these people to safety."

Overthrown

"No, stop!" Red Ensign shouted.  He lunged forward to protect White Ensign, but his body reacted too ponderously, moving much like cold molasses.  Damn the Baroness' time trap!

"I don't think so," Mastodon snarled as he got ready to smash White Ensign into a bloody pulp.  On the ground, he was groaning; given another few seconds, he would be able to defend himself.  But Mastodon would deny those seconds.

No way, Red Ensign realized to himself with desperation.  At his current time relativity, it would take him another ten seconds to cross the room, something he'd normally be able to accomplish in only two.  Wait, he suddenly thought; he didn't have to cross the room!  Pushing his strength and will for all they were worth, he came to a stop and pounded the deck with all his might.  The unearthly alloy held intact, but quivered with vibrations that shook the entire room.  Mastodon cursed as the shaking floor threw off his timing, causing him to stagger for a few brief seconds.

"G-good thinking, Loomis," White Ensign managed as the telekinetic force field sprung up around him, throwing Mastodon back.  "That's one I owe you."

"That only buys you a few extra seconds," Mastodon snarled.

"No, I don't think so!" Baroness ordered.  "Too much as gone wrong as it is! We'll regroup and take these fools another day!"

"No...!" Mastodon screamed as the two of them disappeared into the ether of time.

"Can't say I'm sorry to see them go," Red Ensign breathed.

"Wish we could have captured them, but I suppose we should be happy with a draw," White Ensign admitted.  "Right now, we have to check on Elizabeth."

Raging Calm

The hail of weapons fire aimed in the direction of Fist and Trinity was intense. They had initially thought to make a break for it and hope that the air strike arrived soon but there was too much open ground to cover. Suddenly, the Earth erupted in front of them sending a large amount of dirt and rocks up to form a large barrier.

"Are you going to lounge there all day," asked Totem, "or would you like to join Kovacs in the relative safety of the basement over there."

Trinity and Fist sprinted toward the building that the Indian had pointed out. Totem covered their retreat with a few well placed blasts of fire and rejoined them just as the sound of jet engines intensified in the area. The whining engines were joined by bursts of machine-gun fire and exploding bombs.

Moments later, the attacking mutants were gone. Scattered fire, rubble and scattered body parts being all that was left. Ten minutes (and some light fighting) later. They stood outside of the flesh factory.

"I think it's time that we closed this place down," said Trinity. "Mr. Kovacs. Would you be so kind as to open the doors?"

"I'd be happy to," he answered.

Less than an twenty minutes later, the medics were helping the freed captives into waiting transports...

Mindwarp

Blue Ensign clenched her fists as she redoubled her efforts.  The fatigue was gone; somehow; she had gotten her second wind, and she meant to use it. In the skies of an imaginary naval base, the squadrons of Japanese planes exploded against an ever-increasing bubble of force.

"I-impossible...!" Brainchild exclaimed.  "You can't have that kind of strength left!"

"I'm fighting for truth and justice!" Blue Ensign shouted.  "I told you that last time, and you wouldn't listen!  This time, you will hear those words if I have to cram them down your ungrateful throat!"

Mindshadow snorted with derision.  What sentimental nonsense -- truth and justice didn't mean squat.  Only power truly meant anything.  While Brainchild's power was considerable, his power was quickly becoming hers .  And with Blue Ensign acting as her stalking horse, he didn't have the ability to defend against both of them.

Brainchild stole a quick glance up to the ceiling.  He couldn't see anything, but somehow he could...feel someone.  "Who...?" he whispered.

Oops, Mindshadow thought.  Careless of me; I should have kept quiet.  Oh well, she dismissed the matter.  It didn't matter now.  Brainchild's power was too far gone to do anything about it now.

Brainchild gasped as he managed to erect a shield just in time to block a wave of missiles from Blue Ensign that threatened his mental image.  But his greater concern was the mocking shadow above him.  She...yes, it was a girl...was draining his powers!  Sapping his will.  He clenched his fists and tried to push, but Blue Ensign's attacks didn't allow him to redirect his defenses appropriately and this other girl was way too powerful.  Even if he had been at full strength, he would have been hard pressed to challenge her.  Damn her!  Damn them both!

"Feel that fear Brainchild?" Blue Ensign declared.  "You should!  You've inflicted it on more people than the worst murderers of the ages!  Not so pleasant when the shoe is on the other foot!"

"No...!  It... won't... end... like... this...!" Brainchild threatened between gasps as he felt the last of his strength draining away.  He gathered as much of his faltering power as he could; it wouldn't be much.  He was so weak; the effort might kill him.  But if he had to go, he was going to take someone with him!

Blue Ensign's eyes widened with alarm as she sensed a sudden surge of power. Uh oh, Brainchild wasn't finished.  His power was building up to critical mass; this was going to be big.  Withdrawing from the mind plane as quickly as she could, she marshaled her mental defense and braced herself.  Then without warning, the excess energies erupted with a wave of power.  Blue Ensign screamed with pain as the psionic power rippled through her head, her mental defenses barely holding her mind intact.  Two more levels down, a squadron of Lancers who were prepped to deploy screamed and gripped their heads in a futile attempt to hold their minds together, only to gurgle as their lives drained away.  The equipment on the deck shattered and exploded.

Back in the comm station, Mindshadow winced slightly; having far stronger mental defenses, she was spared the brunt of the explosion.  With that taken care of, she turned attentions back to Blue Ensign and Brainchild.  It was time for the final game to commence.

Blue Ensign looked down on Brainchild as the last remnants of psionic power faded away.  A surge of power was coursing through her; she never felt so in control before.  So, this was probably what Brainchild usually felt like as he looked down on his helpless opponents.  He was helpless now; she was sure of it.  She didn't know how this was happening, but a tiny voice in her mind was beginning to bother her.  Finish him, she thought.  End the suffering! Avenge his victims!  The heroic council had discussed this before they invaded the Celestial Keep; total victory was the only option.

So why couldn't she do it?  If he had fell in battle, she wouldn't have shed a single tear.  Brainchild was a ruthless sadist who had used his powers to terrorize and destroy lives like scraps of paper.  But like this?  Would she really crush him like this while he was helpless?  And end up just like him?

That last thought was the deciding factor; causing her to recoil at what she was seeing.  Let justice be decided in the World Court; she wouldn't be the party of killing people in their sleep, even scum like this.  As she pulled back, the energies of her mind died down and drained away, along with the rest of her energies.  She had never felt so exhausted.  She felt like she could sleep for a week.  So tired, she thought.

"Yes, Elizabeth, you are very tired," Mindshadow intoned.

"Who?" Blue Ensign asked weakly.

"Sleep now, Elizabeth, and forget...," Mindshadow commanded.

Mindshadow watched with satisfaction as Blue Ensign dropped into soundless sleep.  Ordinarily, it would have taken a little more effort than that to completely dominate another ESPer's mind, but after going the distance against Brainchild, her mind was only a shadow of its normal self.  That, and Mindshadow had taken time to find all the nodes in Elizabeth's mental defenses -- something that might prove useful in the future.

But for now, she had another matter to settle.  Brainchild was unconscious at her feet, a result of her expert manipulations.  He was helpless; with a single thought, Mindshadow could kill him in an instant.  Or perhaps reduce his mind into an irreversible coma.  That would be the safe thing, she admitted.  Why take chances?  Doing so would ensure that she would become the de facto single most powerful telepath on Earth, which would pave her way to world domination.

But a tiny part of her objected; it just wasn't...satisfying to kill him in his sleep.  Yes, she wanted to conquer the world, but she wanted to have fun too.  And despite everything she thought about her own superiority, the fact was she acknowledged that Brainchild was probably her greatest rival.  Would it be acceptable to end it here?  And never know who was really the better mind?  The stronger mind?  Wouldn't that question plague her for the rest of her years?  Perhaps, she thought.

After taking a moment to think about it, she smiled cruelly.  Yes, she thought; that was perfect!  With renewed satisfaction, Mindshadow willed herself into the fractured remains of Brainchild's mind.  Deep inside... she sifted through his basic personality and memories.  Yes, there.  She reached in and reassembled a key part of his mind into a different pattern; one that would likely drive him insane were he to realize the full ramifications of what she had done.  Yes, she thought with a cruel smile; this was so much better...

Falling Back

In a geostationary orbid some 23 thousand miles above the United Kingdom, the Monolith pulsed wth life.

A surreal landscape had been created in its Nerve Center.  High-arching ganglions and capillary beds, with clusters that resembled overriped grapes, of all things, gathered around an immaterial glow.

Far, far below the Monolith's quanta and sentient systemry, lights poured over the Irish counties of Cork, Galway, Donegal and Dublin.  It illuminated companies of soldiers, metas and prisoners of war where they stood and, seemingly locked in mid-action, the masses vanished in a stream of energy.  A baleful glow instantly touched areas of Great Britain and the masses rematerialized.

Trinity and her team touched down in Glasgow, escorting thousands of Irish citizens into the genetics labs that had been assembled there.  The same went with Lioness and her team in Blackpool, and Trinity's two other counterparts in Holyhead and the Isle of Man.

Cause and Effect

"Elizabeth!" White Ensign called as he shook Blue Ensign from the floor.

"N-not so loud, Arthur," Blue Ensign gasped as she returned painfully to consciousness.  "I've got a bugger of a headache."

"I've got Brainchild secured," Red Ensign declared as he wrapped the unconscious Japanese Elite with a prepared set of bonds that would hold until they got him into a specialized cell in Purgatory Prime.

"Secure the comm unit," White Ensign called as he turned his attentions back to Blue Ensign.  "We got Brainchild, Elizabeth.  Score one for the good guys; it looks like you did it," he said proudly.

"Yes, it does..." Blue Ensign said uncertainly.

"Okay, the unit's down," Red Ensign declared as he pulled out several key components out of the main console.  "Without these encryption boards, they can't match up the encryption keys to their operatives in the field without a complete reissue of their equipment."

"Something wrong, Elizabeth?" White Ensign asked as he noted Blue Ensign's lack of confidence.

"I hope not," Blue Ensign said.  "But I just can't shake this feeling... Brainchild had me dead to rights.  Nothing I did beat him, Arthur, I'm sure of it."

"That's crazy talk," White Ensign dismissed.  "You're alive, he's down, what else could it be?"

What else indeed.  Mindshadow smiled as she hovered in front of the pompous fools, willing them not to see her.  She had other things to attend to, and the Celestial Keep was an opportunity of a lifetime to observe and copy ideas for her future base, already in the planning stages.  As for Blue Ensign, well, it takes a wise woman not to let ego blind her to the truth Elizabeth.  Perhaps you're not as stupid as I originally thought; not that that will help you one day when I finish what Brainchild started.  And on that day, you'll find the answer to your questions.
 

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