"Tell me again, brother.." Ace boomed over the low-key noises in the laboratory. His huge frame and obvious cybernetic enhancements kept all the scientists and technicians well outside his personal space. "What are a bunch of heavy hitters like us doing hangin' here with these pencil necked geeks?"
Ace was a blonde giant of a man originally from California. He was forced to leave California when it gained its independence. Ace liked to point out that his advanced muscle grafts gave him 'the largest arms in the world, brother'.
The four members of Joe's special ops team were on a job at a place known to them as the V23 Compound. It was located deep underground in northern Ontario, beneath some 400m of shield material. They were there to make sure there was no interference with a bizarre experiment that was being conducted. They were the last line of defense inside an impenetrable compound so the probability of hostile contact was slim to none.
"Shut up, Ace." Betty gave Ace a friendly backhand in the stomach without raising her data visor. "Payment has been confirmed so act like a professional. Look, no one is shooting at us, isn't that nice for a change?"
Betty used to be a corporate data thief working in an office tower in Chicago. Early in her career, she found she didn't have the temperament for a desk job and signed on with the CIA and later with the UNA's special ops unit. Her on-again off-again relationship with Joe was currently off.
The laboratory was dominated by a massive apparatus that mainly consisted of three parallel circular bands, each over 40m in diameter. There was an array of superconducting electromagnets around each band. All this was supported by a superstructure with more electromagnets placed at carefully measured positions. Sensor drones were taking position around the outside of the apparatus and along its vertical axis.
Ray Benoit nudged Joe with his elbow, "'Eh, Joe... you see dat guy wit de clipboard? Iz 'e wearing a fake mustache?"
Ray Benoit was a sniper of the first order as well as having a reputation for having astounding natural eye sight complemented by an astounding eye prosthesis that made sure nothing escaped his notice. Joe had known Ray since they were rookies in the Canadian government's special ops unit.
The exact nature of the experiment and any theories about who might attempt to intrude on it were not known to Joe's group. Joe had long ago learned that when working for the UNA military, requests for additional information are generally denied.
"Just relax, Ray..." replied Joe, "... he must work here or the other techs would have noticed him... wait a minute... he's got a positive PK signature."
Dr. Amanda Hugenkis, the project's lead engineer came over the PA, "We're just about ready to go... everything looks five by five on the main console... this is the two minute warning for all unnecessary personnel." Several people scurried through the heavy blast doors as they began to slowly close. A loud hum began to fill the room as the apparatus' orbital bands began to rotate.
The man that Ray had noticed began moving towards Dr. Hugenkis at the main console. Joe stood up to follow him. He looked at Ace and nodded towards the blast doors. Ace smiled and moved into position. Joe paused near a technician monitoring his display, "Hey buddy, who's that guy with the clipboard? Do you know him?"
The technician glanced towards the main console, "Sure, that's Dr. Traan from Jakarta. He came in to consult last week." The technician leaned into his microphone, "Turbines to speed." The roar of the apparatus had stabilized at an uncomfortable whine.
"Thanks," mumbled Joe as he moved closer to Dr. Hugenkis. When Dr. Traan was within a few feet of Dr. Hugenkis, Joe stepped in front of him, "Dr. Traan is it?"
"Yes," replied Dr. Traan, obviously surprised at being intercepted by Joe, "Can this wait, I'm very busy."
"Of course," said Joe, "My team is calibrating its instruments and I just wanted to know whether you'll be using your esper abilities during the experiment."
Dr. Traan's mouth went slack for a moment. Without looking over her shoulder Dr. Hugenkis said, "Dr. Traan, you know these instruments are very sensitive to PK fields. You should have told me about your PK status before today, I need you to go ahead and wait outside the blast doors for this one."
Dr. Traan's eyes narrowed, "I'm afraid that's not going to be possible, Doctor." Dr. Traan's fake mustache fluttered to the ground as his eyes began to glow. "You see, I'm conducting an experiment of my own." Green PK energies crackled across Dr. Traan's skin and a bubble of PK energy sprang to life and surrounded him. Suddenly, a length of heavy cable broke free of its coupling and whipped itself around Dr. Hugenkis' neck, squeezing mercilessly.
"Take this clown out, "shouted Joe as he sent a bolt of his own PK energy slicing through the cable that was constricting around Dr. Hugenkis.
"I'm on it, brother!" yelled Ace as he raised his Gauss. Ace liked the Gaussian rail gun with ceramic rounds when he needed to penetrate defensive energy fields. Nine times out of ten, the ceramic needles sailed right through the force field without even slowing down. This was the tenth time. With a gesture of his hand, Dr. Traan stopped the needle, reversed its direction and drove it into Ace's eye. Only the dermal plating on the back of Ace's head prevented an exit wound.
Ace hit the ground like a leaky bag of wet meat.
"ACE!! Betty grabbed a stim shot from her bag and sprinted across the lab towards Ace. The laboratory broke into a panic. Everywhere scientists and technicians were diving under consoles and seeking cover.
Ray eased his finger off the trigger of his rifle. He decided to wait until Dr. Traan's attention was focused elsewhere.
Joe raised his own PK shields, "Dr. Traan, I don't know what you want but if you don't surrender right now..."
"Dr. Traan is dead, Mr. Togoloa..." the unknown PK screamed over the din of the apparatus, "...and the Python never surrenders."
"Good." said Joe, as he raised his hand and projected a PK bolt at the mysterious esper called the Python. The bolt punched through the Python's shields and into his shoulder, ripping muscle and smashing bone.
Meanwhile, a lone technician made a break for the emergency shutoff button on the main console.
"It's too late for that," yelled the Python as he gazed at the technician, blasting him backwards and into another console and rendering the man unconscious.
Benoit took his shot but the Python's shields were too strong and the depleted uranium round stopped cold against the PK shield. Ray wondered why the mysterious apparatus seemed to be louder than it had been before, "'Eh! Joe, I tink 'e's speeding up de big ting dere," he shouted pointing at the spinning apparatus.
"That's right, you fools! You are all too simplistic to understand the real energies at work here!" The Python's shields were glowing more brightly than before and almost entirely obscuring him. It was obvious now that the apparatus was accelerating. A visible stream was forming as green esper energy was arching from the immense apparatus to the Python.
Joe turned and gave brought his PK forces to bear against the bottom of the apparatus' axis, pushing it off its moorings and taking away all means of support for the apparatus. Now it hung there in space, still spinning faster and faster. His ears were beginning to hurt from the incredible noise of the spinning structure. He looked across the room at Betty desperately pounding on Ace's chest with tears streaming down her face. She was screaming but he couldn't hear her.
Seeing that direct attack was useless, Joe reached out with his most subtle PK technique. It lacked the strength or punch of his more overt techniques but he could always slip through the heaviest defenses with it. When he could feel it against the soft throat of the Python, he began to squeeze.
The Python's eyes grew wide when he realized what was happening. He struggled to maintain consciousness but seemed unwilling to release the apparatus from its insane spinning. Several long seconds ticked by in this contest of wills.
Suddenly, the Python reached his hand upwards. The spinning apparatus began to rise further into the air. It continued to rise until it's spinning bands seemed to be slicing through the roof of the underground compound. Before anyone could react, the apparatus accelerated upwards, adding the sound of tearing rock to its own bizarre noise. "Joe!" called Ray, "Dere's no rocks falling!" He gave his shoulders an exaggerated shrug to indicate that he didn't understand what was happening.
The Python began to levitate into the air, following the spinning structure up through the huge, smooth hole in the roof. Joe pointed between his eyes and then up at the Python. Ray took his shot but it was too late. The Python was gone.
Joe jumped over the smashed console and stood under the immense whole. Staring up, he could now see daylight.
The apparatus had been stolen. Ace was dead. The Python was gone but this was all a long way from being over.
[To be continued]
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