Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Uplift Protocol: MFE B1 Issue 4

 

Issue 4: What Lies In-Between Tick and Tock

 

It’s a risk but if we are to get them back, we will need his help in the field, I will join him. You have my oath that I will keep him safe. –J’dax

Finally! I'll be able to show mom, dad, and even my sister that I can be an asset.-Zachary Murphy

Eddie still won't talk about some things that happened while he was under the care of the Cabal and the Keeper Scientist Ishtar. I know that feeling. Sometimes its best to let some things stay unspoken for a while. I have a strong suspicion he found more on that ship that anyone ever realized.—Sleeping In Starlight, A memoir of the 22nd century.

Keeper Null Ship

Designation: X'talia

October 22nd, 2103

            The Puzzler examined the small room they were housed in. It was plain and as nondescript as you could get. Even an insane asylum had more character than this place. Every few hours a sphere would open and deposit food and water. Shockingly it wasn’t laced with anything. Amazing Grace confirmed it. With added magical input from Sir Avalon. White Lily was sitting cross-legged in the center of the room. Her breathing slow and rhythmic. Ever so often she would stand up, start a series of high pitched whistling that would ring deep within Eddie’s chest, then sit back down again. A faint curl of her lips giving him an impression she had some sort of ace up her sleeve. No one uttered a single word.

            They figured they were being watched and didn’t want to give their captors a sense of anything vital. White Lily bit the inside of her cheek. She wished she could sing from the rooftops but knew she couldn’t give the magic trick away. Her grandson was sending pulses and signals. She had never realized that her demi abilities could be used in such a fashion. Within her white coat breast pocket was a white rose. Preserved with her powers. It was beating in time with her heart. To mask the message.

            We are coming.

            Eleanore Murphy promised herself: When she got home all the evil in the world wouldn’t keep her from her grandson and the absolute bear hug she’d bestow upon him. She kept whistling that same pitch over and over. Even if the Puzzler didn’t realize it, she was doing this to give her captors a false positive, in reality, she was keeping them all awake. With each whistle, sending her rejuvenating plant powers into each person. Pollen flooding their bloodstream. In the end, it might be the difference between life and death. The Cabal would not take the white rose. She prayed they would find her powers useless. In fact, she counted on it. Her husband was often the most obvious target on their team. Today these brutes would learn otherwise. No one backed a Murphy woman into a corner. Not if they wanted to keep their dashing good looks.

*****

Sir Avalon kept glancing about the room. Taking note of the frequency the serving orbs gave off every time they delivered food. There was more here than uniform white and gray walls. The servitors had a very unique power source that sent jolts up his spine. He wanted to see just how explosive the reaction would be if he hit one with a bolt of lightning. Many thought that his weapon was the source of his demi powers. He let people think that on purpose. The trident was merely a conduit. He would make sure the Cabal would receive the business end of his boots into Burnside Prison for the Demi-Dysfunctional.

They could keep Snake-Charmer company.

That thought alone brought a genuine smile to his lips.

Now all he had to find was a doorway. He was certain of its existence. He noticed the Puzzler tapping his foot on the floor. No obvious pattern. He thought back to the HeroNet profile on the young demi. He rolled his shoulders and went to the center of the room, wondering how to pull this escape off. The Cabal had to be watching them from somewhere.

The Puzzler sneezed. He was also thinking about everyone’s HeroNet profile. Most had basics on their power sets but he remembered something else vital about social media sites, most either downplayed what they could do or boasted. From what he knew of everyone else in this room, these demis didn’t play around. Teamwork was at the foundation of all their endeavors. Amazing Grace wasn’t leaning on anything. She was floating silently in the opposite corner. Her sheer lack of expression gave away all-encompassing terror.

A vague sense of disquiet filled his soul.

*****

Ishtar gazed into the observation floor. His black orbs fixated on one individual in particular. The Terran demis were milling about. In the past few hours, he had been quite disappointed by their lack of response stimuli. Most humans would be an absolute emotional puddle by now. Madame Mayhem’s golden-silver mask gleamed within the lighting from the “testing room.” The Keeper scientist still didn’t understand why the woman was so interested. It wasn’t like she believed in Unity. He could see it now, the way the pheromones came off her via his scanners. She wanted Chronos. But he had no use for mundane pleasures.

Ishtar took the most interest in the captive Muthra posing as a Demi. She gave off all the correct genetic markers to list her as one of Thoth’s former compatriots. He really should thank the crazy king later. Even if the genetic listing wasn’t up to date, it still gave them an edge over their adversaries. “Poor little muthra.” His breathing hitched at all the possibilities her code held. Imagine the enhancements to the children of chains if this one became a Seed Mother.

He turned as the hybrid entered the room. Brooke’s face was slack. Behind her, Chronos loomed. A tall whipcord frame filled with taunt flesh and bone. His human cloak long forgotten. “Take some more blood samples from her.” He pointed at Hilary. “See if anything changes with the testing projects. The All-Father wants more drones for his games against the Ayeer.” He paused, his dark eyes locked onto Madame Mayhem, “Maybe one day you can get that Ayeer woman’s blood. I so do want it.” He put an edge in his voice that caused Mayhem to bring her head up from the floor viewer. Her pupils dilated, she wanted to do anything for him. “Of course,” her voice was husky. The Keeper turned away.

*****

            The piece of Hilary Brookes that was still in control, still human, howled against the prison of her mind. She saw Ishtar strip her bare. She was one of the chosen! NOT CATTLE! Her face remained locked. Disinterested.

            His thin fingers swept across her body.

Putting various devices along her arms.

Legs.

Torso.

Ishtar held no interest beyond that of cold clinical logic. Karvax just snorted. “An evolved human? No, more like a genetic stepping stone for canon fodder. You know, even the All-Father uses Ishtar’s castoffs as distractions. Keeping the Typherian military distracted with some distant world invasion. All due to your blood. Seed Mother.” His voice was amused.

Within she reeled. They had done this to her before. Why was she aware of this now? Almost as if Chronos could perceive her thoughts: Because I can my dear. I control your every action, my daughter. Never forget that.

You will do my will. Always.

Ishtar continued to record responses and she was helpless to do anything. Endless rows of testing tubes held infants at all stages of development. Future investments to an uncaring universe. Hilary snarled. She would kill them all. Thoth, Ishtar, The Cabal. Everyone. The only thing that mattered now was freedom. She would not be used.

The situation was not lost on her. Everything she ever wanted was taken.

No choice but to endure.

Shape this pathetic world into one she could dominate.

Make her father and his precious UNITY kowtow to her for once.

*****

Chronos heard the thoughts of his experiment. Useless. At least she would be decent enough stock to distract the Uplifted fools for a while longer. Basic human rage and a quest for vengeance. Trite matters. Tied to morality he had no use for. If he was so inclined, he would have smirked at his daughter’s thoughts. But it would have been just as if a bug was due consideration from the Sun. Everything that got in his way would burn.

He would have that Ayeer woman’s blood.

Within it would unlock the tapestry of the Universe.

The Scholars wouldn’t be able to protect her forever.

Area 51, Uplifted Complex Level 3

Earth (US Facility, Groom Lake Docking Bay)

October 23rd, 2103

            I paced from one side of the bay to the other. Sometimes my feet leaving the floor as I hovered there. Zachary had been able to confirm, he was in direct contact with grandma. J’dax and the others were in a deep conversation. I could tell by the inclination of their heads. Lady Sul’sandra was with them as well. Still undercover with her human guise. I had a feeling all of us that went on that Emris adventure were the only ones who knew she wasn’t just Atlantian. Mom and Lorain came over. Zach between them. “Hey Star!” His young voice was pitched so everyone could hear him. Even though Sul had offered me a Muthra uniform, I wanted to go in as the Banner. Now the wild debate was how far to let me into the Uplifted side of the facility. Told them they could put a bucket on my head.

            That had gotten a reaction out of my uncle. He snorted. Failing to hide his amusement.

Some of the stuffier Typherians didn’t quite roll their eyes. I realized they had a lot on their plates defending the multiverse but it wasn’t time for placing blame. We needed to act. Lorain was already in her Doc Impossible getup. Her dynamo mask all prim and proper. My mother’s face transformed. A slight tick formed at the edge of her mouth as X’mil entered. He took one look at me and exclaimed, “She might have Atlantian origins but she isn’t supposed to be here!” He folded his arms like Heaven would come down and do his bidding. I put on a big texas grin, “Want some peach ice tea? You look like you need some refreshment councilman.”

His glare was piercing. I smiled even more. Kill them with kindness. That’s what Grandma Murphy would say. “I may be a demi from Earth but I have seen the wider universe. Very delightful. Besides the pirates. Along with the things the Defenders deal with. Your Y’lansa is quite enjoyable to work with.” That got his attention. Mom kept her cool but I could tell she was saying something to him.

He whirled. Pivoting and nearly tripping on his ostentatious robes. As he exited, he ordered J’dax, “We are not authorized to help. This is on Atlantis and the locals.” He said the last part like it was something filthy. I put my hand out to greet my mother. She took it. Her relief and usual good cheer coming to the fore. “Well, he said you couldn’t officially help.” I winked. She patted my other shoulder. Almost as if to say, “That’s my girl.”

Doc had a thoughtful expression. “I'll take a page from your book Star, Mr. J’dax, what if your lovely brigade of volunteers went with some of the Lady’s forces, dressed like the locals? We are all Muthra here.” Her voice was laced with polite overtones. Zach let out a peal of laughter. “YES! BRILLIANT!” That was about as unofficial as you could get. I couldn’t help it. Tears were rolling down my face. I managed between bursts, “Let’s go all out then. What kinda fireworks you want me to pull off?”

J’dax planted his feet, “Alllllright! Listen up. Unofficially….” His eyes gleamed with a shared sense of mischievousness. He would follow orders.

To the letter.

*****

J’ino went over the tech shields and other Muthra settings. She remarked once more, “Stay with J’dax. Understand?” Zach’s eyes were solemn. “I understand Mother.” For once the usual mirth was absent. He was taking this as seriously as someone his age could. Eliza was at the other end of the room, getting some basic instructions from Arthon on more interesting aspects of Muthra symbology. J’ino’s face took on a stony glint.

To use a favorite curse of Earth: Stupid fucking git.

She couldn’t help it. X’mil was the standard of his House. Reveling in their station. He wanted to be the Ambassador. J’ino wouldn’t have it. He was too aloof. Too self-centered and an ass to boot. Everyone else exited the staging area. Boarding the Muthra TAC spheres. Transversal Acquisition Carriers. Getting ready for the insert into Weave territory. Eliza didn’t even miss a beat, she went over and double-checked her brother’s seals as well. Even saying, “Metal like this should have more insurance right?” She stressed the word metal slightly. Zach’s eyes got huge. “RIGHT!” He concentrated. Reinforcing the material with his demi powers received by his grandfather. His attunement with any kind of metal was even more potent then the standard matter manipulation favored by his people.

Horus chimed in with, <<The area is secure ma’am.>> His voice patched in via Jupiter’s tripled coded mainframe. She didn’t hesitate. She wrapped her arms around her children, “Bring everyone home.” Eliza, her eyes burning with the will of the cosmos, nodded. “You got it, Space Lady.” Her grin was that same easygoing feature J’ino adored. Added with the fact that most of her shrouded memories were at the fore now, made the Ayeer woman realize just how much she wanted her child properly recognized.

*****

Mom held us both in place. Taking in everything. Like any good parent she wanted us to stay but we had to do this. Find grandma and the rest. I realized then that I would never just be the Star-Spangled Banner to my mother. A part of me would always be that little girl who made unusual friends. Chocolate cake going everywhere as Ritark demolished his favorite Earth snack. Like Cooper, he also enjoyed mixing bacon in with the chocolate. The Bardaxian even insisted on adding bacon to everything now. As plans went that wasn’t too bad of an option. Mom froze, thinking that the jig was up but it was General Murphy who shadowed the entryway.

Emris’ alerts cascaded through my brain. I muttered, “OK! Loud and clear in Huston.” Before dad could react I picked him up. His eyes were alight with curiosity and he titled his head, “What’s this all about?” He inquired. His black brows shot up as a particular set of nanites entered his system. I put a finger to my lips as I set him down. “An insurance policy.” I winked.  “Keep an eye out on the homefront.” I saw mom shake her head with maternal exasperation.

He knew via various Emris updates what had transpired. He gave us all a very critical glance. “Good Hunting.”

Then her Ambassador's face came down. It was pretty astonishing to see the difference. She directed us all to the awaiting Muthra spheres. Zach and I entered. Everyone else was already hooked into the wall restraints. We joined them. Our parents gazed out until we warped into the Weave. Leaving behind a spectrum of colors.

*****

 Thomas Murphy met his wife’s eyes. “Knowing them, they will do just fine. Sul’sandra sent some of her best. Even Nuul.” J’ino stared at the floor for a moment. Her boots needed shining. To be so close yet she couldn’t even address Thomas properly. There were days she loathed her job. But it was necessary. “Rulers keep them all safe. Returned from the Stars and the Seas of Time.” It was an old Typherian blessing from their earliest days of spaceflight. General Murphy indicated the grav elevator. “Sul is waiting for us. Unofficially you have a seat with watching the mission as it unfolds. To offer advice. Her words of course.”

J’ino took a moment to consider this. “Of course. I’d be happy to offer very unofficial observations.”

X’mil be damned. That was her family out there. She felt her husband’s gaze upon her. A short message across the shared Emris node: ///Star has a tendency to live up to her other name.///

Her breath caught in her throat. She blinked back an errant tear.

She hugged herself since she couldn’t do what she wanted publically. Snoopy bolted in. Leaping into J’ino’s arms. <<Glaive said you wanted company.>> His tail thumped energetically against J’ino’s side. His bright cheerful beagle face open and trusting. <<Star will win. She’s good at finding lost things.>>

Keeper Null Ship

Designation: X'talia

October 23rd, 2103

            Eddie found the door. It would periodically shift every few minutes. By now he and Sir Avalon had worked out a code of sorts. Right now it was to the left of Eddie. Its circular outline glowing a bright crimson to his eyes. He blinked three times. Sir Avalon raised his arms over his head. Popping his back. He pointed an index finger, aiming it right at the area Eddie indicated with the number of blinks, ozone filled the area as a bolt struck the door. White Lily sprang forward. Summoning vines via her hidden rose. They latched onto the door with a thundering crack. She wrapped additional vines around Amazing Grace. Sir Avalon fired more bolts at the serving spheres that appeared from the ceiling. Their darts firing away. Dull thuds peppered his magnetic shielding. Puzzler sprinted forward. Using the vines and Sir Avalon’s electrical charges as a cover against the weaponry of their captors.

            In the hallway, from end to end, it curved inward. No weapons or other people within view. A circular pad shone purple in the semi-darkness to the Puzzler. Once everyone else was in the corridor, he touched it. Finding the fingerprints of an elongated hand on the hidden panel. Their prison doorway slammed shut. An eerie warbling filled the air. Sir Avalon pointed, “Let’s move. Puzzler take point. Lily watch our six. Grace, stay on me.” They fled into the endless corridors.

*****

            Ishtar looked up as the sensor array within the main research chambers blared to life. The monotone voice echoing out from the walls around him, “Muthra vessels breaching the outer hull. Serivator drones in attendance. Earther presence detected.” His colossal black orbs spotted the emergency flush protocols. He walked towards it. No one would have his experiments. Not even the foolish Muthra.

*****

            Eddie and the others reached an intersection. His eyes glued on some sort of pulsating outline on the other end. It was enormous. He saw a set of 4 doors with his demi powers. One in particular hitting his senses like a battering ram. He reached for it. Those same elongated prints giving him the proper code. They all stepped inside. White Lily went pale. Endless rows of slumbering forms greeted them. Like bugs trapped in amber. At the center was a human man. His expression twisted with rage. Eddie gasped with shock. He had seen him before. In some old pictures from the Accord War. But that shouldn’t be possible. Unless he had a twin.

            Following some hidden urge, he pressed various displays as they formed before certain sleepers. The man gave a shuddering gasp. His eyes locked onto the Demis before him. A white duck waddled over. Its eyes glowing with an inner orange radiance. It quacked softly. The man had a slight frown. His voice was a shadow of his former self. Usually a deep baritone. “We have to get out of here or Dr. Frankenstien will kill us all.” Sir Avalon hoisted the man over his shoulder. To keep one arm free for firing. Amazing Grace waved over to another hallway. The Puzzler nodded, seeing the footprints on the floor. Wherever this went, it would be far from here, he crouched down and grabbed the duck. It was practically vibrating. His powers were going haywire. This was not a normal duck. He wasn’t even sure it was Terran in origin. It gave off the same cloaking sensation he got when he was around Eliza’s mother.

            They fled deeper into the complex. Hoping to find a way out.

The duck quacked softly. Its feathers rippling.

*****

            I scanned the corridor. Firing away at the silver spheres. The inferno of the cosmos melting them to the deck in many places. My hands shook with the effort. It had been a while since I fired off so many shots from them. Zach formed metallic balls of his own. Throwing them with the added punch of our Grandfather’s speed behind it. Another one went down in a shower of sparks. I heard the oddest thing then. A soft quacking. Zach tilted his head as well. Indicating another set of hallways. “That way!” J’dax gave some signals and we traveled further into the deep. My heart was thudding rapidly.

A part of me fearing what I would find in here. A faint aroma hit my nostrils. Something wet and sticky was sliding across the floor ahead. A mixture of pain and exultation echoing outward. It wanted blood and it was coming for us. I grabbed J’dax and my brother, pulling them back just in time as a gargantuan figure filled the hallway. Its massive frame barely fitting. A multitude of black and red eyes stared out at us all along its body. I could hear one of the other muthra exhale, his voice hardening, “Seed Brood! OPEN FIRE!”

J’dax pulled me and Zach behind him. His rifle made a crackling sound and the monster bellowed. Many of its eyes disintegrating on the spot. He pulled a handful of metallic flakes from his belt. His voice rang out, “Down!” He threw them, aiming for the creature’s torso and head. White billowing smoke erupted and it collapsed. Blue and purple goop littering the deck. I could feel Zach’s disquiet. I held him next to me. Making it look like I was giving him a better vantage point to throw more of his spheres at the enemy. His gratitude hit. I set him on my shoulders. “Watch my six will you?” I winked at him. His chest puffed out a bit. He nodded, his battle helm awash with a golden hue as his battle HUD kicked in. For some reason, the Muthra enjoyed that black and gold motif. No wonder Arthon’s old suit had been built that way.

The remains of the seed brood liquefied as we all ran past. Boots thudding on the floor plating. Many were prepped for sudden weightlessness. It wasn’t an uncommon tactic for the Keepers according to J’dax.

*****

White Lily called out for them to stop. Everyone turned to face her. “We have to go two levels up. A gut feeling.” They didn’t ask, not knowing if the enemy was still monitoring. Sir Avalon found a shaft. The Puzzler ran his hands across the console. His smile was a taunt set of the jaw and he said, “Going up!” The doors closed with a soft click.

            The walls of the lift cleared. They could see a swirl of orange, black and red all around them. It wasn’t the same as going through hyperspace. Eddie’s jaw clenched as he saw various bodies flying outwards. Along with sleeping chambers. The man called Micheal Brookes grimaced as well. “Damn. May God grant you enteral rest.” He crossed himself. “Gray bastards. Once we get back to Earth I have to warn the FBI, the Pentagon. I think these things are working with Dr. Junger Strakenburg, the Iron Hammer of Berlin. He says men from Unity give him special powers.” They all shared a grim look. Sir Avalon turned to regard  Brookes, “We shall get you there with all the speed on Earth. That is what is promised by my Code and Creed.”

            The former agent nodded.

His expression clouded by fury and terror.

What had these things done to Earth while he was asleep?

*****

Chonos pulled his daughter’s chin upward.

His voice was an ominous thunderhead of echoes.

            You will obey Thoth in all things.

            He threw her into one of the transporters. Setting it for one of Thoth’s secondary sites. She glared daggers back at him. Her eyes were nearly as dark as his own. His thin lips pulled back. A cold reflection of a smirk that sent chills up Hilary’s spine.

Be thankful I didn’t send you back in your Birthday suit.

            Her clothing was as impeccable as ever. She shuddered. Remembering where her blood and DNA went into. The memory of the entities that were growing in those vats was going to keep her awake for an eternity. Whatever Ishtar had planned didn’t involve Earth for a while. She got the feeling that her father wanted Thoth to take the brunt of things for once. That wouldn’t do at all. Perhaps she could use all her enemies against one another. Chronos hissed. His laughter was as mechanical as the rest of him.

            Dear daughter. Thoth will create an Earth primed for Seeding. Unity will cover all in its light. What he does now will only accelerate what I have in mind. Even the All-Father doesn’t expect it.

            Her eyes rolled back in her head as her father planted an arctic kiss upon her forehead.

            Chonos withdrew. Watching as his daughter dematerialized. She would serve her purpose. Willing or not. It didn’t matter much to the Director. He set the coordinates. His raspy voice intoned, “Set course for our primary stage point. Flush the environmental habitats. Ishtar!”

            The keeper scientist’s visage appeared in one of the holo alcoves. “Yes, Director?”

            “I know you have fresh troops for the All-Father. Interbreed them with my daughter’s Seed code. It will prove enlightening!”

He directed the Cabal to another transporter pad. Leaving instructions with Madame Mayhem. Her face was unreadable behind that strange mask. He found the control words, “For Unity my dear one.” Her body went slack as the secondary instructions activated. He held her very carefully in his arms. Letting the physical intimacy she so craved to seep into her very bloodstream. In this war, one must have disposable resources. If something as simple as an embrace kept her on a proper string, so be it.

Karvax didn’t appreciate the twisted look Madame Mayhem’s eyes. While the destruction factor of his job was entertaining he rather keep his head. One of these days he would silently slip away. He didn’t even want to know what kind of insane plan Medusa had for getting her brother out of prison either. Just as long as he could crush some heads. Bright Eyes cooed at him as they faded. He always hated this part.

In his estimation, the crazy Keeper overlords could remain in this funhouse of horrors. He wanted to feel the dirt beneath his feet once more. The fresh salt incrusted breeze brought a feeling of relief in the huge demi. His eyes snapped open. Madame Mayhem pointed. A pyramid made of jade rose from the jungled area like a rising tide. Thoth’s emblem was etched upon its bejeweled surface.   The man didn’t do anything by halves. Karvax saw Agent Brookes in a frozen heap alongside the shoreline. This island home was cloaked of course. He could see the faint outline of symbology traced along the skyline. In a perfect bubble. Medusa hissed with pleasure. Scooping the FBI agent up. “Special Delivery. Damaged goods. My Thoth would never throw me away.” Her golden eyes shifted as she took in Brookes’ despair and rage like a fine wine.

Thoth greeted his companions. “We have much work to do. Put the human over on the table. It will take some time before Chronos’ love wears off.”

Medusa dumped Brookes on the table. Throwing a rug over her for good measure. “An improvement,” she laughed.

Hilary raged within. Her eyes blinking slowly as her father’s compulsions and mental paralysis began to wane. An ugly light gleamed. They would dismiss her but in the end, she would win, bringing these pretenders down. Along with Unity. She would claim it for her own. Forcing everyone to bow. Beginning with her Father. A sweet thrill shot through her. At least she had been able to leave a present for the Banner. She had seen her hated enemy on the viewscreens before Ishtar had transported her from the Research Dome. Yes, that metal would cut through all of them.

*****

            The duck let out a series of belligerent quacks. Its orange bill opened as if to test the wind. The Puzzler paused. His eyes fixated on a screen on the wall. A beautiful woman was pictured there. Her eyes were black. With emerald green irises. Under it was some language he didn’t recognize. His fingers plucked at the side viewer. Data flowed outward. Linking with his suit. The duck pecked at the wall. A small triangle popped out. It was warm to the touch. He pocked it within his utility belt. The bird continued to peck at the wall until the screen exploded. It let out a satisfied quack. Eddie peered down at the white-feathered fiend. “Who the heck are you?” It gazed back up at him innocently.

            “Quack! Quack?” It flapped wildly. Its neck stretching out. White Lily gave a joyous shout as a very familiar red white and blue blur dashed around the corner. A young boy in some sort of high tech gear clung to her shoulders. “No time to chat, we gotta move, they’ve already started purging the outer rooms. This way!” She scooped them all up in a daisy chain of sorts as the gravity pull gave out. J’dax was bringing up the rear. His HUD flashed orange. He motioned to Star, “Get to the spheres now! This place is flushing all its atmosphere.” The Puzzler threw an arm outward, “THERE!” He indicated a hidden pathway. “It will take us where we need to go.”

*****

            White Lily and the others boarded the Muthra TAC spheres. The only ones still outside were J’dax and me. He threw a series of darts into the wall. “A small parting gift.” I had no idea of the overall layout of a Keeper Null ship. Maybe I’d ask interested parties later on. I didn’t even want to give voice to that angle now. Even though the Ur stone protected me I didn’t want to endanger them. With one final look, we boarded, as the ships phased back to the Uplifted Side of Area 51 I felt a slight tremor run up my spine.

            Emris gave a low key trill within. His voice was clipped and taunt, <<Keeper imbued explosives detected.>> As the TACs re-materialized in the docking bay, I whirled, aiming right for the corrupted tech. My father’s voice came over the coms as well, “Echo team advance. Evacuate civilian personnel.”

            Sul’sandra and the others had seen everything.

            The Muthra divisions aboard the other TAC spheres spilled out, taking up defensive positions. This was also a common tactic of most Keeper allies and forces: Leave presents everywhere.

J’dax was moving as well, sending out signals to bring various shielding up. He managed to disable 3 of the 4 devices. I hurled myself on the remaining one. It wasn’t the most impressive looking mock explosive but I felt it dig into my chest anyway. My brother and Doc were by my side instantly. Zach reaching out to diffuse the rest of the shrapnel that got past my body. Turning it inert. While Doc’s powers pulsated. Keeping the Void Walker metals from slicing my heart into pieces. J’dax bellowed orders. Something had followed us through. Another behemoth. This one even taller than the hulking black and red-eyed monster from before. I found that my suit had blocked some of the residues as well. I’d thank Sul later.

Its hideous face materialized in the docking bay. Baleful milky white eyes locked onto J’dax, who was peppering it with what should be lethal shots. He dived to the side as a great claw came through. Lorain yelled something at me but I strode forward. Bits of the metal still going for my heart. I flashed back to the incident with the Dark Matter pirates. I still had that within me. I pulled it into my left hand. I whistled sharply. The great beast turned. It's half shaped form already taking up half the docking bay. Beams of light pierced it but that only made it bellow with irritation. What was it made of? I said a quick prayer and hoped for the best. A small swirl of black emerged out from my index finger as I aimed. Beyond the creature.

To the portal it was rising from.

“Not on my watch.” I fired. Lighting shot through my arm. My hand felt like it was coming apart but it did the job. The behemoth coming through the gates vanished. That tiny speck of dark matter sucked in everything like it never existed. The monster’s head hit the deck in slow motion. Everything had a surreal floating quality. I could hear J’dax barking orders.

            The portal vanished. My ears were ringing. Blood flowing from the wound around my heart. I would have to ask Sul for another chest piece at this rate. The Golden Bulleteer appeared. Cradling me to his chest as darkness took me.

*****

            Doctor Impossible’s voice thundered, “Bulleteer, keep those shards stable. I need to concentrate.” The speedster nodded. He moved his hands across Star’s chest. Holding the metal in place. Doc’s power shimmered brightly across the vast space of the docking bay. Zachary Murphy saw his parents at the edge of the landing area. Their faces like masks. He put a hand on the Bulleteer’s shoulder, “Sir…I can help.” He saw the flow of his grandfather’s powers as they stabilized the shards. Preventing them from tearing through Star even more. He reached out and slowly changed the property of the metal.

Drawing the Keeper corruption from its very makeup. Golden Bulleteer smiled tautly. “Good job. Keep converting the pieces. I'll keep them immobile. Should help Doc tremendously.”

            His mother reached out, >>Ill stall X’mil. J’dax with me. Sul, please give Bulleteer temporary access to your embassy. Take Star there once Doc has her stabilized.” The ancient muthra matriarch nodded. “Mr. Bulleteer. As of right now, I am giving you temporary access to Atlantian quarters within this facility. Get ready to move Star when she is stabilized.” White Lily and the others remained silent. Sul regarded them for a moment. “Add these as well. Nuul, take them to my quarters. We will need to get a report from them all. Do nothing else until I give the word. They are personally under the jurisdiction of Atlantis for the rest of these proceedings.”

            That would protect them from memory wipe. She knew that X’mil would be livid when he heard of this but as far as she was concerned, they were vital witnesses. Even based on what she could see of the Muthra feeds from the mission.

*****

            Eddie paced along the side of the stateroom. Many of the display screens were inert. Proclaiming access denied every time he tried. Sir Avalon and White Lily drank some coffee in the corner while Micheal Brookes was snoring softly on one of the couches. General Murphy was there as well. Alongside someone he knew. She no longer gave off the strange signals that the duck did but that was Eliza’s mother. The same person from the Keeper database.  Was she a sleeper agent? He frowned. Troubled by his thoughts. No, it shouldn’t be possible. Amazing Grace was nowhere to be found. She had been taken away by a large man they called Nuul. He hoped she wasn’t in trouble. The doorway hissed open. A petite Asian woman named Sul’sandra walked through.

            At least that’s what Eddie remembered. She gave them all a very serious look, “Star will no longer be able to summon cosmic fire from her hands.  It took Doc Impossible cloning the right side nerves of Star’s fingers and palm to the ruined left side.” Eddie saw Mrs. Murphy blanch. Her knees gave out as she sat heavily on the couch. The Duck waddled over to the Murphys and quacked softly. She picked the bird up and held him to her chest.

The Puzzler spoke, his voice sounding like sandpaper, “Why would she do that? I bet we could have…”

Everyone awake gave him a look. Even Sir Avalon, who replied, “No lad. That was an even greater abomination. Even the crack shot with his much more advanced tech wasn’t able to make a dent in that creature.  I even tried to channel my lighting to it via the floor. It shrugged that off like I was a mere pest.”

Lily added, “Golden Bulleteer wasn’t even able to approach that portal, so he went after Star instead. What could have the gravitational pull to keep the fastest man alive stuck?” Eddie grimaced, “But why does it have to be Star constantly getting hurt?!” The sharp complaint woke Micheal Brookes. He muttered, “Because those gray bastards have tech that outclasses anything this universe has. They just need more cannon fodder for Unity.” He said this as a curse.

Everyone gave Brookes even more attention now. The former FBI spook continued, “I was awake in that amber the whole time. Heard lots of things. Prayers in other languages. But it was one constant. They are distracting the Typherians through something called the All-Father. But their true purpose makes this Thoth fellow they talked about seeming like child’s play.” Sul’sandra paled for a moment. “Nuul, induct this man to our ranks immediately. No memory swipes for anyone in this room. Period. That includes the Bulleteer as well. We need more allies. The Uplift Protocol will be maintained. Officially.”

She put special ironic emphasis on the last word.

After a few more moments another person entered the room.

*****

            I peeked inside. Putting the best smile I could muster on my face.

Still clothed in the white operating shirt and pants. My slippered feet carrying me over to Lily and everyone else. My hands were still bandaged. Lorain came in behind me and secured the door. The others that needed access would have it. She glared at me for a moment longer.

She arched an eyebrow, “Star. Sit. Down.”

I found the nicest piece of floor and complied.

My parents’ faces were masks but the waves relief came off them in droves.

J’dax, Zach, and Bulleteer came in after a few more minutes.

Dad took a position by the door. J’dax moved to cover his Ambassador. I could tell Eddie was going to let loose a barrage of questions so I motioned to him. Sending a message:///I’ll tell you later. Don’t say anything for now. Please!///

            He nodded with some reluctance.

Sul’sandra began, “Star is of Atlantian origin, as such, please keep her mother out of it. It may be possible that it comes from her father’s line.” Bulleteer and Lily paused. Still holding each other. Lily blurted out, “Do you mean to say that crazy ladies’ theories were true? You have some crazy alien DNA in you somewhere.” I nodded, a loopy grin on my face, “But half of me is still made in America.” Dad held back a snort at that. Mom had to keep herself professional but I caught a spark of gallows humor in her. Eddie bit his lip. He had seen the stuff within the Emris, knew this was a cover story. I gave him a pleading look. He nodded once more. A light forming on his features as he connected the dots. This place wasn’t completely secure. His realization hit me like a block of ice. Yes, my friend, even this side had its issues.

One last person entered the room.

A mixture of sadness and welcoming came over me. Admiral Y’lansa strode over to me, picked me up off the floor, forming some sort of seat underneath. She placed some sort of neural com unit by my right eye. It faded. Concealing itself by mimicking my skin color. Her voice was clipped and steadfast.

“As of this moment, you are a part of my intelligence-gathering unit, A’to Star-Spangled Banner, known to the Uplifted as the Demi Protector of Earth and Atlantis.” She grinned as Eliza looked five shades of worried and hopeful all at once. “Well, very few officials know of your civilian calling card in Uplifted Territories. But I’d stick with the Star setup. Much safer that way.”

I sighed with relief. It was hard enough to deny my maternal heritage at this time. It was another thing altogether to hide dad’s marriage. What a world. Zach was embraced maternally but denied his father in the public arena while the opposite was in my neck of the woods.

*****

            J’ino gave her daughter a very old fashioned look, “So she’s the first Atlantian inducted to that sort of service?” Y’lansa nodded. Her deep blue eyes, even more heavily contrasted by the black, never waivered from Star. “I will debrief you further.” She winked. Opening a channel. Making sure everyone stayed quiet with a sharp chop of her hand. We all listened.

Hall of Ages, Typhos

A’rgax Central City (Typha, Heart of the Typherian Ascendency)

(LIVE FEED) To Y’lansa of House Odessen, Please Be Advised! Top Secret!

            V’alkor Ayeer gave X’mil a rather concerned glance. Making sure to sit forward in his seat. “And this concerns you how?” X’mil’s image sparked at the edges. Eddie went to stand beside Y’lansa. If only to get a better look. The area around this very tall man was something out of a storybook. High tech but had a sense of weight to it. Like a cathedral. He must have been at least 8ft tall. The Puzzler’s eyes moved to Eliza’s mother. More things were clicking into place. It was vital that even these people wouldn’t make the family connection. From what he saw of X’mil already the man appeared to be a wet paper bag. But dangerous. He listened as the one called V’alkor continued:

            “Again, X’mil. Why does this bother you? It shouldn’t be unexpected! Atlantis was originally Markav. This has been know to the Ascendancy since before Men claimed dominion over their pale blue dot. It is why they are on the Council of Five.”

            X’mil grated, “That shouldn’t mean that this Star-Spangled Banner or even that Murphy individual should be given special privileges!” V’alkor leaned over to his wife. The Queen Consort was stone-faced, her musical voice lifted to address X’mil, “I commanded Y’lansa to offer the Banner a place among our Survey Corps. She has protected more than Earth for years. Even without knowing her duel heritage. Accepting all memory restrictions. Alongside the Captain of the Jupiter Rising.” Her gaze hardened. White Lily could see the resemblance in the white-blonde haired woman sitting on the couch. This queen had lighter eyes though, grayer than the green within them. She was still reeling from the fact that her son and husband might have alien DNA in them. Or even Jennifer.

            V’alkor waved a hand. His voice taking on a hard edge, “My will in this is absolute. I agree with my daughter’s assessment. Eliza Murphy will be granted certain access to Uplifted territories to help us combat the All-Father. Heaven knows that crew responded to enough distress calls from civilians harassed by pirates. Even most human tech is better than what they have now. We cannot chain humanity forever in their galatic back yard.”

            X’mil growled, “The Keepers hold sway! THOTH is a menace! Not to mention the Hidden House.” M’taris  Ayeer plucked a gem resting at the hollow of her throat. “With the Atlantians to help, they will drive Thoth and the Keeper influence from Earth. I bet all my life force on it.” He paled, his lips drawing back in an almost sneer, “Fine. I withdraw my complaint. I still think your daughter’s position is unwarranted….”

            V’alkor let out a bark of laughter.

His eyes locked onto X’mil like a pair of silver lanterns.

It was edged with scorn, “Says the keeper of the royal gilded cage.”

Eliza realized then that these words were not spoken audibly yet they all understood what was being said. She dared not to breathe. Grateful that Eddie was enraptured by the maneuvering on display. She noticed Y’lansa glance her way. The Typherian woman was holding an orb within her outstretched hands. It was the source of the live message and translation.

Her mother was seething.

*****

            A memory came back to me. Of that promise, I made to V’alkor and his Queen. When I was growing up I always wondered who I took after. In the looks department. Because I had always wanted a physical link to my parents that was more obvious. It was a good thing that many people in the general tapestry never saw the King’s face. Only that elaborate helm he wore. Engraved with various symbols of Typha’s history. Diamonds, what I called her upon first meeting, was the face and voice of the King. To maintain the Throne of the Multiverse, one couldn’t be more than a system’s length away.

            I hadn’t been much older than 16 at the time I met them. But the memory had been locked away like so many others. Until now. When I needed it.

The Dweller Gate

The Orbit of Deimos (Mars)

October 8th, 2089

            I watched as the rusted surface of Mars swirled between my boots.

The Dweller Gate was singing.

I drifted towards the structure. It was shaped like a Y. Its surface dotted with symbols that glowed as I approached. Everything became white-hot. A distant part of me wondered why I so enjoyed poking ancient things.

Something alien reached out, burrowing deep within my subconscious, the life-song merging with the blood flowing through my heart. As I peered upward, binary suns reflected reddish gold and blue light, the landscape below filled with marvels I could barely comprehend. Vast stretches of forests gave way to various ports and cities easily the size of the North American continent in some instances.

The curvature was odd. A realization struck me. Leaving me breathless and stunned.

Dyson Sphere.   

Two who must become whole. Only then will you understand.  

Mr. Apple glided over to me, Your grandmother wishes an audience.

His mind's voice was laced with excitement.

I turned away from the dazzling sight. A tug on my consciousness led me to a planetary body circling those binary stars. The outer layers of the Dyson matched the vacuum around it. Hiding it from casual observation would be impossible. Just how vast was this alien system? Trillions upon trillions must live upon that megastructure. Meanwhile, the planet below me came into focus. It was twice as big as Earth, with various space stations, habitat rings,  and other structures I couldn’t even begin to fathom circling it.

Spaceports glinted in the dark. Big hulking freighters docked alongside. I reached out, wanting to see these places for myself, would this be Earth one day?

A burst of amusement hit my senses. <<Come along granddaughter, I wish to speak with you. What is that one Earth saying, “Late for an important date?” Besides I wish to have a good look at you.>>

Hall of Ages, Typhos

A’rgax Central City (Typha)

October 8th, 2089 (Time Nullification)

All around me, the scenery changed, no longer in the long dark of space but sitting in a chair. Its metal was supple somehow. Plus it was hovering. The sky was a bright shade of purple. I tried to extend my senses outward but couldn’t pick up anything. The rustle of wind, call of animals, absolutely nothing. A rather stately looking woman sat in another chair beside me. Stark white or silver hair. Gray eyes flecked with green. Black where it should be white. She looked to be in her early 30s. While her hairstyle was practical for outdoor work, her outfit was another matter. Intricate and elegant. Crisscrossed with what looked like silk and diamonds to my eyes. She cocked her head to the side. Just taking it all in. If I didn’t know any better this almost felt like a visit to Grandma Murphy. Tea and honey cakes.

Another burst of glee from her. I racked my memory.

My thoughts were scattered to the four winds.

Mr. Apple bowed politely.  As Requested.

I cleared my throat, “Just how much trouble am I in right now?”

She quirked an eyebrow, then deadpanned, “Earth Ending amounts. Just terrible!”

I snorted and clasped my hands over my mouth, giggling. Why didn’t mom ever talk about her family? This was amazing! They lived surrounded by marvels that Earth was still talking about in Holo-vids as theory.

My eyes widened as she formed various treats on a plate. From the very air itself.

I sheepishly scratched the back of my neck. “Why doesn’t mom mention you guys? This is amazing! Plus DYSON SPHERES! Just like Captain Cosmos!” She leaned toward me, as if to part with some great secret, “Because Earth will save us all. But you aren’t ready yet.” Her gaze softened at my stricken look.

“One day we will need your strength but you must promise your grandmother something very special!”

I must have looked distressed because she continued, “What grandparent doesn’t look into the antics of their grandbabies? Especially if that child in question was a miracle in and of itself. Besides, you are a rather adventurous, kind, and curious sort. What’s not to love in that?”

Bashfully, I looked back at her. Working up the courage to voice my biggest concern of the moment. “Why is mama so scared? She keeps thinking I won’t love her. All because of some past event? I get that they both want to protect me but I just want to help.”

When I was very young, I caught a word passed between my parents.

Brother.

It made me wonder if they ever would have other children.

She stared long and hard at me for a moment, collecting her thoughts then replied: “For the very same reason I must keep things from my daughter. The path is set and to see everything through to its end, we all must play our parts.” Sadness and an underlying sense of resolve colored her entire profile. It struck me like a ton of bricks. Not caring if this was against protocol or not I shot up out of the chair and do what I know I can do best: Hug the ever-living junk out of people. She gave me a watery chuckle as I wrapped my cape around another family member. 

I didn’t have an official uniform yet. So I made use of my home’s flag. Old Glory herself. I was an odd assortment of working boots, jeans, and a white t-shirt for now but I knew I wanted the stars and stripes on my back. Always.

 “Eliza, there is one thing I want you to promise when you officially come back here.”

My interest was piqued.

“What’s that Diamonds?”

“Next time your grandfather will be in attendance too. First thing, when you touch down, do what your heart tells you to do. Just like now.”

“I promise!”

She held onto me until the very last moment. Another individual appeared at the other end of the terrace. His serious mien broke when he saw us. Grey within black eyes locked onto mine. He nodded with satisfaction. I gulped. This mountain of a man was even taller than me. I was 5ft 10 already. No wonder people said I ate half the herd of milk and cattle. Grandpa Wolf must be pushing 8 ft.

Then grandmother retreated from my embrace as I was pulled back to Mars once more. 

The Dweller Gate was silent.

I floated around with considerable confusion.

What had I been doing?

Mars looked as rusted out as ever. A rusted jewel circling the dark of space.

Sul’sandra’s Quarters

Atlantian Embassy (Uplifted Complex /A51)

October 23rd, 2103

                Lorain put a hand on my cheek. Mom shot a very concerned glance in my direction. Doc lifted my chin, shining a medical light into my pupils. Making sure I didn’t have another injury of some kind. I gave Doc’s hand a gentle squeeze. Focusing back on the current conversation. X’mil was still carrying on about Earth’s Uplift level. How what they were allowing me and my civilian self to do was more for stage 3 acceptance or protocol.

            His voice was shrill now, “We have given you Ayeers far too much credit I think. This monarchy is a democratic one.”

            Diamonds had a look of incredulity on her face. I looked at my mom briefly. Mouthing, “RIP” to her. She narrowed her eyes slightly. I gave her a thumbs up. My Typherian grandmother’s snarl filled the entire viewing sphere. “Ahh yes, the monarchy of the Leash. Brilliant and gold. It might be time to find another shackle for the throne. From your House. With all that arranged inbreeding it must be more worthy than we are.”

            Lorain put a hand over her mouth. Her eyes glued to the proceedings.

            V’alkor deactivated the link to X’mil. He rubbed his chin. The only thing visible within the helmet he wore. His voice took on a rather amused tone, “Well my dear, you could always unleash all the Royal Ummatosh upon them!” He turned to look at Y’lansa directly. “Now that all that is out of the way. What updates do you have for me Guardian of Utasa Sector?” He didn’t quite look at his daughter. Just titled his head with a huge smile on his face. Tea Lady, as I dubbed her, remembering our past interactions just replied simply, “Officially we are still on course for that dear meeting my king.” Diamonds stood next to Grandpa Wolf. Her lips curved slightly, “ With your permission my dear husband, I do believe I'll go on my daily hunting.”

            The Admiral nodded, as if all this made perfect sense, “I’ll supply you with the usual preferences.” The sphere winked out. No one moved. My mother stood, her duck passenger even more peaceful than ever, then passed him to me. His white feathers and innocent eyes shined with promise. This was most certainly not a duck. He quacked once. As if to agree with me.

            She turned, giving her brother a myriad of looks, based on that I could tell they were talking again. Mind wise. J’dax spoke up after a moment, “Well it looks like we will have to get ready for a party.”

            Oh boy. I wished I could have spilled the memory beans right then and there but that would have to wait. We had a royal fest to host. Lorain cut in with a rather keen observation, “So who wants to record Pepto X’mil’s reaction when that lady arrives?”

            Surprising everyone, my father let out a burst of hilarity that filled the entire room, “I vote that we let General Whitehouse break the news to him. Or even better yet. The President just told me Paxton has certain clearances now. Let's sic the Truth Sayer on him.”

            Golden Bulleteer joined him, “Why not? That fellow needs a good kick in the rump.”

*****

From outside the doorway, a shadow flitted from side to side, peering intently through the tiny cracks. Arthon nudged his friend. <<Anything amiss?>> Ritark hummed to himself. He didn’t sense anything else besides the allowed occupants. Even the “duck” gave off normal brainwave patterns. <<Nothing unusual for now. Where is Amazing Grace? Wasn’t she supposed to be guarding this section as well?>>

That worried him. He knew she had been terrified to be a guest aboard a Keeper Null ship but usually, that possibility came with the territory of the Muthra. They were the swords of At’lan. His father, Nuul walked over to him, beaming. “We are going to have quite the guest list soon. The Queen Consort herself is coming to our facility. To congratulate our newest Muthra divisions on a job well done.”

His black beard was shot through with some gray now. Arthon saw it and worried. Even his father hadn’t been getting enough sleep. He found himself grinning. If only to bolster his father’s good cheer. “That will be an event in and of itself.”

Ritark understood his friend’s worry.

There was still the matter of the sleeper agents.

He prayed that Arthon’s family wasn’t among those numbers.

Issue 3: Here

Issue 5: Here

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