by Dan Swanson, based on a concept by Tynnechris
Rand Tyler was telling his teammates about the warehouse.
“It’s weird. There is a relatively small square section right in the middle where the floor appears to be native rock — probably the floor of a cave leveled by hand tools. And the crates in that area look really primitive and ancient. I mean, the boards look like they were cut by hand, some of them still have bark on them, and they aren’t even all the same width or length. And the crates certainly aren’t square. One side might be a couple inches taller than the other; that kind of thing. And the wood is really old — so old it’s turned black. And everything on that rock floor is buried in inches of dust!
“Then there is a sort of square ring around that, where the floor is concrete, and the crates are much more uniform, and there is a lot less dust. And then a third ring, where the floor is plasticrete and the piles of crates are lower. They put the crate with my bag into this third ring. I think that a long time ago, somebody started storing dangerous stuff in a cave, and when the cave ran out of room, whoever was in charge decided to build an underground warehouse around the stuff that was already in the cave. But…” He paused, wanting to make sure his listeners got his point. “…they didn’t move the crates that were already there. And then, when they filled up the new space all the way to the walls, they expanded again.”
“So what’s in the crates?” Tommy Tamare asked eagerly.
Rand actually shuddered. “You don’t want to know, Tommy. Some of the stuff must be incredibly dangerous — so dangerous that whoever stored it here grew the warehouse around it rather than disturb it by moving it. Let’s just forget the crates and move on.”
Tommy was astonished to hear fear in Rand’s voice. Rand was the bravest person Tommy knew. If something scared Rand, Tommy would be happy to avoid it. But Rex Tyler wasn’t going to let them forget the crates and move on. His curiosity was aroused, and he had to know more.
“You didn’t figure that out right away when you found the warehouse. I’ll bet you looked into a bunch of those dangerous crates before you got scared off, and yet you survived. I, for one, want to know what you found. I’ll bet we can use a lot of the stuff that is stored there. If you’re not too scared to tell us, that is,” he taunted his brother.
“Damn it, Rex! I did look into a couple of them — and I’m not going to look in any more, orders or not.” His voice was flat — he wasn’t going to argue about this. Perhaps hoping to convince his teammates, he went on in a whisper.
“One of the oldest crates had a coffin in it — and inside the coffin is what looks like a man with wings and inch-long fangs — and a wooden stake through his heart. But other than the stake, he looks like he’s just asleep — like he could wake up and drink your blood at the slightest noise! Not too far away, there’s a crate with a bathtub in it. You know, the old iron kind with legs? And it’s coated with some kind of disgusting, crusty brown stuff. But the worst part is, there is an aura of absolute evil surrounding it — an aura so awful I couldn’t stand to be near it!”
Rex’s face must have showed what he thought about auras. “Damn you, Rex! This is not a joke or a ghost story. There is great evil connected to that tub, and in my phantom form I could feel it. It almost felt like… like… gross!” He was just now working it out. “The bathtub and the vampire felt sort of alike — the bathtub wanted my blood!” He turned his back on his teammates and doubled over, and they heard him retching. Finally, he said, weakly, “It was coated in dried blood… and it wanted more… and it was calling me!”
Rex hadn’t yet figured out just how awful this was for his brother. “Didn’t you see anything in any of the other crates that we could use?” He was incredulous.
“No!” Rand was emphatic, almost shouting. “We should stay away from those crates. There are dangerous and evil things in some of them, and we shouldn’t disturb them.”
“So, did you find anything elsewhere in that underground compound that might help us?” Miqui asked. She had to change the subject before Rand and Rex got into a fight. Rand was grateful to talk about something else — anything but the contents of those crates.
“There’s an underground facility attached to the warehouse. Apparently, the staff live there pretty much full-time, but they don’t go into the warehouse itself unless they have to crate something up. They’ve got living quarters, a recreation facility, labs, a big room full of file cabinets, a room with a big computer, and lots of terminals, a kitchen, everything they need. I think what we need could be found in the computer room, if we could get our computer genius in there and give him adequate time.” He looked at his brother, and there was a challenging tone in his voice.
“It seems logical that information about temporal physics would be stored in their computer databanks. I agree — that computer room should be our target,” Rex responded. Miqui sighed to herself in relief. She’d gotten the brothers to agree on something.
“Too bad we can’t just boom in and then boom out again,” Tommy sighed.
“Well, actually, we can,” Rex responded sarcastically. “We can now use the boom tube once a day. So we can boom in, as you put it, and then boom out again twenty-four hours later. I’m sure they’ll let us access their computers while we’re guests there!”
“Actually, Rex, hold that thought… I’m starting to get an idea,” Miqui interjected. “Good thinking, Tommy!” Tommy looked startled, then pleased, while Rex looked like he’d just bit a lemon. Damn it all, she’d just got him and his bother straightened out, and now he was harassing Tommy. Rex hadn’t been a very good teammate over the last few minutes. She made a mental note to talk to him later.
“I think, using our powers, we can do this. We’re going to have to gather some more information and make some preparations — but that’s what we do in the Stealth Squad, right?”
“Miqui, a lot of that stuff is way older than Amgov,” said Teleteen. “Do you think General Urbane had anything to do with it?”
“C’mon, Tommy, I don’t know everything!” said Chemique. “You should ask Cathy or Gina!” she joked; Gina seemed to think she knew everything, and with her power, Cathy almost did. “But I wouldn’t be the least surprised. Anyway, let’s talk about how we’re going to get in and out of there. I’ve broken the operation down into four phases: preparation, get in, gather the information we need, get out. You’ll see that the only really difficult phase is…”
Her teammates were skeptical when she started talking. As she began explaining, they started to accept her ideas, and in only a few minutes they were enthusiastically contributing their own suggestions. When the strategy session was over, they were convinced — they could do this.
Later that evening, Rex sat alone in his tiny cabin aboard the Hot Rod, brooding. After the strategy session, he’d had a little chat with Chemique. It had been rather unsettling. She was a tough leader, as tough in her own way as Canary, though she’d never raised her voice and never called him anything worse than a spoiled brat.
“If you can’t act like part of the team, I’ll send you back to Knight Base tomorrow, now that we can use the boom tube once a day.”
“You can’t do that,” he said in a reasonable tone of voice. “You need a computer expert for Phase Three. And I’m indispensable for the success of Phase Four, too.”
“Like hell you are! I’ll bet Star Lass would do just as well as you, and if she couldn’t, we’d freepin’ well come up with some other plan.” Her voice was composed; she was using angry words, but there was no anger in her tone. He found that disconnect between her words and her tone to be very disconcerting.
“We have to work together flawlessly, trust each other implicitly. It’s tough to trust someone who is mocking you. Stop acting like a spoiled brat now, or I’ll replace you with Theresa.” He was about to say something, but she didn’t let him.
“I know it will waste time, sending you back and then waiting twenty-four hours more before we can use the boom tube again and bring her here, but I don’t care. Think about it; let me know first thing tomorrow. If you decide to stick around, you better do better!”
Nobody talked to him that way. Timepiece was the smartest Legionnaire by far and the oldest member of this team. He’d graciously agreed to let a younger teammate run the team, but she still couldn’t talk to him like that. He’d go back to Knight Base tomorrow, and when the rest of the team failed, he would very obviously not say, “I told you so!” They would all have to acknowledge his foresight and justifiable caution. With that settled in his mind, he went to bed.
But he couldn’t sleep; his mind kept running at top speed. When Rand had first told them about the security he’d discovered around the secret technology center, most of the Stealth Squad had given up — their mission was impossible, and Canary hadn’t sent them on a suicide mission. Yet Chemique had refused to give up, and she’d soon come up with the basics of a plan that had restored the confidence of her teammates. If he were to be removed from the team, her current plan would become useless. But wouldn’t she just refuse to quit and instead come up with yet another great plan? And then the rest of the Legion would see him as a quitter, rather than a prophet, as an interchangeable piece rather than a linchpin.
Spit — he sure wasn’t going to sleep tonight. He might as well do some work. He activated the subspace link to Gernsback. “Gernsy, I’m going to need to penetrate the security on some Amgov computers tomorrow. I need you to help me build some utility programs. Here’s what I have in mind — what do you think?”
Gernsback was a lot more intelligent now that his programming was implemented on the Knight Base mainframe supercomputer than he had been when he had lived in the much smaller, slower, less-advanced computer in Rex’s hover-chair — and millions of times faster. He lacked human intuition and insight, but in their team, Rex supplied those qualities. Gernsback knew computers and computer security — from the inside out, as it were. They worked through the night to develop the tools that Rex thought he would be needing soon. The next morning he didn’t say anything to Chemique. Nothing needed to be said.
The rest of the team wasn’t idle while Rex stayed up all night creating computer hacking tools — with the help of a supercomputer. Tommy, Rand, and Miqui stayed up late using the tools and facilities of the Hot Rod’s cramped workroom.
The next morning, Rex Tyler floated through the sky toward Springfield, Virginia. The holographic image projector built into the chair surrounded him with the appearance of a government-issued skycar, and his radio was sending out the matching I.D. code to anyone monitoring traffic. He didn’t want to overuse his powers. His special detection programs, written last night with assistance from Gernsback, probed the ether for traces of government computer communications. He homed in on the strongest signals and landed in a nearby lot. Protected inside the image of an empty car in an out-of-the-way corner of a parking garage, he set to work hacking into Amgov’s computer network.
Tommy Tamare and Miqui started their day in makeup. They needed to spend a lot of WildCat’s money to buy personal electronics gear that Rand would pull apart and use to build antipersonnel ordinance for their attack. But they couldn’t be recognized as missing Legionnaires.
Miqui was easily able to disguise them by altering some chemical processes in their skin. She made herself much darker, with red hair, and Tommy became quite fair. He wore a wig, and she was able to use her powers to make sure it was anchored securely.
“Wow! I look great!” he said enthusiastically as he looked into a mirror. He turned and asked wistfully, “Do you think your powers could help me grow real hair?”
She was stunned. Tommy had never indicated he missed having hair — and she’d never thought about how being bald would affect a fourteen-year-old boy. “Why, I don’t know, Tommy. If all it involves is encouraging a chemical process in your scalp, I probably can. Let’s have Rex investigate when we get back.” Was Tommy’s crippling shyness the result of being bald?
The two took a flying disk and concealed it not far from the nearest monorail station.
Now that he knew where the secret technology center was, Rand Tyler could get there on his own. He used a flying disk to approach as closely to the location as possible, then hid the disk and dived an hour into the past. At his top speed, he flashed through the ground and into the vast warehouse. This time his assignment was to get a floor plan of the office and living areas and learn more about the full-time staff they might have to deal with.
Getting assigned to the secret technology center must be a plum assignment. The quarters were like a fancy hotel with all the amenities — fancy dining, health club, reading room, even a theater. Working here would be way better than being a producer, and there was stuff here even the entitled didn’t have. But what was really stunning to Rand was who was currently assigned to this facility.
Coquette was part of the facility security team.