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Freelance Immortals

Chapter 4: The Island of Doctor Destroyer

"What do you _mean,_ there's no cause for alarm?!" Defender roared.

Quantum stared. "Oh, man, if _Defender_ blows his top..." she whispered to Solitaire.

"shhh," Solitaire replied, gesturing placatingly. She smiled faintly; Roland was on a roll.

"Please," the beautiful robotic proxy of Iteration X said evenly, "remain calm, Order Knight. Look at the situation logically."

"I am," Defender hissed. "I'm beginning to think that I'm the only _one_ who's looking at it logically. Destroyer represents a threat beyond anything any of us have faced."

"Defender, everyone here respects the work you've done," High King David said courteously, pushing his crown back. "But how can any one being represent threat to the combined power of Aeon, Concordia, and the Nine Traditions?"

"Destroyer could pose a threat to you all even if you _were_ united," Defender sighed. "Or are you two prepared to deny the 'skirmish' in Miami last night?"

David had the grace to look embarrassed. "The initial conflict involved this 'Viper' organization. I'm sure the ensuing battle was...a misunderstanding."

Seker chuckled faintly; Iteration X did not change expression. But the glow in her eyes dimmed. "The Defender has a point. Many Kamrads are still infected with the 'ideals' of the Nephandi. Psions hate mages, changelings hate Enlightened, Enlightened hate Marauders, and shapeshifters seem to hate everyone."

"Many of my people still rage, Weaver," a silver-furred near-woman said, almost evenly. "With reason. We have recognized the enemy for a long time."

"Don't feel too proud of that, Eden," an _old_ man in flowing robes replied dryly, sipping from a crystal goblet. "They may have recognized the enemy, but they spent a great deal of time ignoring the Nephandi to fight anyone who annoyed them."

Eden flushed. "True. Nevertheless, at least the Garou didn't have a quarter of their own secretly working for the Wyrm."

The old man barely moved, but his beard shook visibly. "Young lady--"

"I believe they're making your point for you, dear," Solitaire said wryly.

Most of the others fell silent quickly. The old man, however, leveled a gaze that could flatten a mountain on Solitaire. "You may have been born before me, child, but I am _Porthos Fitz-Empress,_ and I have lived five hundred years, and I think I know a thing or two about the situation. While it is true that millennia of enmity cannot simply vanish, any one of our Traditions is more than enough to handle a single being, no matter how powerful."

"Five hundred years, eh?" Roland asked, his voice dry enough to make the Sahara seem moist. "Have you been soaking in hubris all that time?" Porthos spluttered while several other Tradition magi tried desperately not to chuckle.

^I'd really rather not be a widow, sweetheart,^ Morgan sent softly.

^Trust me,^ Roland replied. "Doctor Destroyer is far beyond anything any of you have faced. It isn't his raw power--you equal him in that, Master Porthos--" Porthos blinked at that, "--but Destroyer is a genius among geniuses, with technologies that were cutting edge in a time with sciences to dwarf the modern age. He has gathered a group of insanely powerful allies, all of whom obey him utterly. He could easily have an army of Destroids by now. And Paradox means nothing to him."

Porthos paled at the last comment. "I beg your pardon?" Several others started in their seats; one Master fainted.

"You heard me," Defender said tonelessly. "He's 'merely' a psion, like any from Aeon, but he outstrips, in every discipline, all but the best in each aptitude. His sciences are largely based on these principles, and thus not subject to the Paradox effect.

"And his power is growing.

"It is my belief," Defender said, now having their complete attention, "that Destroyer will search for his ancient strongholds. Mountain fortresses, buried caches, even an entire artificial island are waiting out there for Destroyer to reclaim them.

"I have gathered an elite force to stop them. Once, seven men and women gathered to defend Atlantis and oppose Destroyer. I have five. Solitaire, Quantum and Obsidian are all 'aspected' to the center, the Traditions. I am from Aeon; Jaguar, obviously, is of Concordia." David looked briefly pained. "Seker, Your Majesty, I would like to ask each of you to find a volunteer."

Seker suddenly looked up, briefly surprised. Then he thought for a long time. Then he laughed. "My name is a play on words, you know. Once, long ago, I was known as 'Seeker.' It would please me to go by that name again, old friend."

David smiled sourly. "Showoff." The beautiful woman standing behind him grasped his shoulder almost desperately; he gave it a gentle squeeze in response. "Alas, I cannot do the same. But I have an idea. Ulf."

The blue-skinned warrior beside David started. "Your Majesty?"

"Would you like to serve with this man, Sir Ulf?" David asked.

The troll looked Defender over carefully. "That armor's concealing an iron rod, but...yes. Yes, I think I would." He smiled. "I guess, since we're all taking battle-names, you can call me Behemoth. Practically everyone does, in a fight."

Defender smiled. "We're ready." He held out his hand, palm down.

Solitaire placed her hand on Defender's, smiling confidently.

Seeker placed his hand on Solitaire's. "It has been too long. Let Oblivion beware--the eternal seven are united once more!"

Quantum looked at the three hands. "Maybe this outfit's not so bad after all." She placed her hand on Seeker's. "Let's go ring Destroyer's bell. I owe him one for shooting up my place anyway."

Jaguar placed his paw solemnly on Quantum's. "We shall choke the Wyrm with its own coils, and return Balance to Gaia."

Obsidian rested his hand lightly, and silently, on the massive paw.

Behemoth completed the ceremony with his own enormous hand. "Defender is right. We _are_ ready."

Solitaire looked at the gathered heroes. "Shall we, as they say...'go kick butt?'"

The others laughed. Then they cheered.

* * *

"What we have here," Defender said, pointing at the screen within the wryly-named 'Slingshot,' Quantum's donation to the team, "is an artificial island. That flies."

"Oh bloody swell," Seeker sighed, slipping into the Aussie accent he'd been using for the last several 'lives.' "He's got Destroyer Island back."

"'Fraid so, Seeker," Defender replied solemnly. "Destroyer Island is a fortress built by one of the greatest geniuses ever, armed to the teeth, staffed with Destroids, guarded by his fanatic elite, and probably filled with agents he's gotten from around the world. Believe it or not, Destroyer can be quite charismatic when he puts his megalomaniacal mind to it."

"Don't sugarcoat it, 'D,' give it to us straight," Quantum cracked. Some of the others chuckled.

"I'm not finished," Defender replied quietly. The chuckles died aborning. "He has sensors set for every imaginable type and frequency of energy, be it physical, psionic, or magickal. The island's power source cannot be cut off while it's in the Earth's atmosphere; it's powered by the same cosmic source he is, something called a 'Gate Key' that channels the Power Cosmic through the Earth itself. Destroyer is already back to his full strength. And last, but not least, he's expecting us."

The others stared at Defender for a long moment.

"And what are we going to do _after_ breakfast?" quipped Solitaire.

Even Defender laughed this time. "Fasten your seat belts, heroes. It's going to be a bumpy ride." He and Solitaire went to the cockpit.

^Morgan,^ he sent once they were seated, ^Quantum tricked this thing out with every sort of cloak she could come up with, but her paradigm is technological, and we've got some seriously heavy hitters magickally. Can you shield us?^

^I don't know, sweetheart, but I'll give it my best shot.^ Morgan concentrated on 'inverting' the magick patterns on board as Roland slowly brought the Slingshot into range of the island.

Then they saw it.

The Island of Doctor Destroyer. He hadn't even bothered with any physical cloaking of the island, despite the fact that a mile-diameter anomaly would have to show up pretty quickly on the screens of the defense forces of the world.

Then again, Destroyer had mastered the Digital Web in short order; the island might simply not show up on anyone's scanners. But Roland didn't think so.

[What's he up to?] Roland wondered. [He wants people to know something's up, that's for sure. But why advertise the island--unless--]

"CRASH POSITIONS!" Defender roared, and the Slingshot made a hard right. Destroids on patrol immediately began to head in the ship's general direction, though their badly-scattered fire indicated that they couldn't get an exact fix.

"SPROCK him anyway!" Defender snarled. "He knew we'd show up anyway, so he made sure it would be on _his_ terms! Well, that's not how it's going to go down, you cosmically-powered prune! QUANTUM!"

"You don't have to shout," Quantum said mildly. "You want Destroids blown up, right? Don't sweat it. Raisin-puss isn't the _only_ one who can wield smart energy." Her fists glowed. Energy beams laced out from turrets atop and below the Slingshot, and Destroids were torn apart by their own chaotic energies.

"Yes! Way to go, Quantum! Fasten your seat belts and return your trays to their upright position. We are coming in for a landing before Destroyer can throw something _else_ at us." In moments, the Slingshot was on the ground and the Champions had been 'ported out by Roland and Seeker. Jaguar spirit-walked.

"At least the cloak worked somewhat," Obsidian noted. "We'd better hurry. I will cloak our presence as best I can." Obsidian concentrated, and a slight chill fell over the seven. "That should shield us from his more human agents."

"Then let's book while we can," Defender said, and they raced to a fortification, the Slingshot invisible behind them. "Obsidian."

Obsidian looked up, surprised. "Yes, Order Knight?"

Defender scowled. "Please don't call me that. I put up with it from ItX because she doesn't listen to me." His scowl vanished as they reached the door; Defender placed his gauntlet against it as the agents of Destroyer began a puzzled search of the area. "Everyone else in this lot, I understand why they joined. Your reasons are still something of a mystery to me."

Obsidian was silent for a long moment. Finally, as the door clicked open, he looked at Defender. "Like Jaguar, I have fought a long, lonely war to preserve my people, as well as people in general. I failed in the former when Gehenna came. Though some survive as your kind, our...way of life...is gone. Like the Old South or Medieval England, much of it was based on the suffering of others, and the end of that suffering is good. But...I wonder, sometimes...if the suffering could have been ended while preserving its dark beauty." Obsidian's eyes narrowed. "I have lost one world. I will not lose another."

Defender nodded. "That, I understand." Jaguar closed the door behind him. "Okay, team, Plan A is obviously toast. They know we're here. So, of course, we go in anyway. We trash Destroyer's plan if possible, warn the others if necessary. No matter what, though, we stick together; if you get separated from the group, your top priority is to find the rest of the team. If we split up Destroyer's elite will play 'divide and slaughter' with us. Keep your eyes and other sensory abilities peeled." Defender peered down a corridor. "I think the control room is this way."

Seeker nodded. "That is how I remember it as well."

"Do you really think he's going to make it that easy?" Solitaire asked.

Defender groaned. "I am _so_ rusty at this."

Quantum placed her hand on his shoulder. "We have faith in you, 'D.' If we didn't, we wouldn't be here."

Defender smiled back. "Thanks, Quantum. I needed that." He jerked his head to one side. "This way. I'm not getting any traps from this direction, so--"

"So obviously," Menton's echoing baritone mocked, "the Ultimates await you here!"

"Nass," Defender snarled, and the corridor exploded around them.

Gremlin slammed into Jaguar, and fur, scales and claws started flying in all directions. Seeker leaped at Menton, 'porting on top of the diabolic mentalist before he could evade. Charger flew at Defender, only to get a facefull of 'internuclear force' courtesy of Quantum. Stormwatch melted out of the shadows, and saluted Solitaire with his bo staff, shifting fluidly to a 'ready' position.

[I'm _so_ tempted to just draw a blaster,] Solitaire thought as she drew Aramegil. She returned his salute, and they began a beautiful, intricate duel. ^Watch my back, love," Solitaire sent to Defender.

^I intend to do more than that, my heart,^ Defender replied, shattering Destroids left and right with the frequency Quantum had discovered. Obsidian leapt away from a charging Blackstar as Behemoth waded through a few more Destroids toward that fight. ^But you can count on me.^ "Team! They're trying to separate us! Use group tac--GN!"

"Tactics will not avail you," Destroyer intoned, smiling, as Defender clutched the side where the blast had struck home. "You are as worthy an enemy as ever, my old foe. But this time, you are too late."

The entire island began to shake.

"This time...the world is MINE!"

"Oh grife," Defender gasped, as the island began to fly...

Need you ask? TBC!

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