A few hours later, the Vagabond was approaching a large mansion on the outskirts of Albany, New York. Dave called ahead on the radio and identified himself as "David Hunter, Commander in Chief of the Vagabond and Assistant Team Leader of Wildside," and an amused male voice came back, "Go ahead and land, Captain Hunter. I see your reputation is well deserved."
Dave landed on top of the roof, right next to a heavily modified Lear Jet. It was painted black, and had two sets of extra engines welded onto the wings. There was a fully stocked mechanic's shop on the other side of the roof and two other runways.
"See, Dragon," Dave said, "why didn't all our bases have this?"
"Budget cuts," Dragon responded, getting up to leave. Kim stood up too, holding Mary, and the Teacher followed them both out onto the roof. Dave trailed along behind, looking at the Lear jet. He looked back at Schizo, who seemed to have fallen into some sort of trance, shrugged, and locked him in the plane.
They were greeted by a black man in his early forties. He wore his hair short, and was dressed in an incredibly expensive gray suit. He reached out his hand to Dragon and smiled. Dragon shook his hand and said, "Memoir, I presume?"
"You can call me Garrison, or Gary, whichever's easier," he said. He looked at Kim and Mary and smiled at them, and gave a curious glance at the Teacher. The Teacher bowed slightly.
Garrison's eyes widened as he saw Dave heading merrily towards the Lear jet. He winced as Dave knocked on the wing.
"Nice plane," Dave called out. Garrison slapped a hand on his forehead.
From inside the plane came a booming female voice. "Mortal! You dare to touch Athena's plane!"
A woman stepped out from the Lear jet, dressed in golden armor reminiscent of Ancient Greece, complete with a red plumed helmet and metal skirt. Her long black hair flowed down her back, and the parts of her that would have been exposed in normal Greek armor were covered by silver circuitry sewn into white cloth. On her arms and legs she wore small brown metal boxes.
"Athena!" Garrison called out, "we have guests! The Golden Dragon, a god from the Eastern Realms."
Garrison nudged Dragon, "Play along. She's brilliant, but her mind is...unstable."
"Been there, seen that," Dragon mumbled. Dave, meanwhile, was raising his hands as if offended.
"Oh, sorry, goddess, I didn't know this wasn't a mortal plane! Now that," he said, pointing to the Vagabond, "is the plane of the gods. Want to take a ride?"
Garrison and Dragon both winced, but Kim smiled when she caught the glint in Athena's eye. "Perhaps later, handsome mortal," she replied, "I have business with your god."
Athena strode towards Dragon before Dave could respond, and Kim, Dragon and Garrison breathed a sigh of relief.
After introductions were made, Garrison lead them all into the mansion and showed Kim and Mary to an empty bedroom. "If you want to relax," Garrison said, "this mansion is quite safe."
Kim shook his hand and took Mary into the room, closing the door behind her. Garrison turned to Dragon, "She's very beautiful. As is your daughter."
Dragon looked surprised, but Garrison said, "I am not so blind as most others, Dragon. Your daughter has a glow within her that I can see."
Athena was talking with Dave, regaling him of stories from when she slew this god's offspring or stormed the gates of Hades. Dave responded with the story of how he had faced down a Minuteman single-handedly with only his pistol for defense.
As always, the Teacher remained silent, walking at the rear of the procession and taking in everything.
When they reached an elevator at the end of the hall, Dragon laughed and said, "Just how big is this place?"
Garrison simply smiled and took them down to the kitchen. There, a younger black man in a tuxedo was cooking something that smelled of garlic and cayenne pepper in a skillet.
"Ah, good afternoon, Walter. Will there be enough for some guests?"
Walter shrugged and reached for a bag of sausage on the counter, throwing another handful into the skillet, "There will be now." He took a look at Dragon and threw in another handful of sausage, winking.
Another young man, this one Hispanic, walked into the room carrying a massive brown bag. He was well muscled and wore a skin tight gray uniform with the same brown boxes that Athena wore. His head was exposed, showing slick black hair combed back into a small ponytail. He saw Dragon and Dave and dropped the bag, letting chopped vegetables slide all over the kitchen tile.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, moving awkwardly to pick it up. Dragon helped him put the rest of the vegetables in the sack and touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Relax, it's okay. No harm done, right Gary?"
Garrison said, "That's right, Chuck. Just relax. Dragon and his wife will be joining us for lunch."
"What am I, chopped liver?" Dave said. Garrison gave him a withering look. "Oh, sorry," he said sarcastically.
As Chuck made a quick exit from the room, Garrison looked at Dragon. "I'm afraid he has a crush on you, Dragon. That's why I made the point about your wife."
"You mean he's gay?" Dragon asked.
"Does that bother you?" Garrison returned, his eyes taking on a dangerous gleam.
"No!" Dragon said quickly, "it's just...sorry, I'm just not used to it. I don't have a problem with it."
"Don't be so sure," Walter said without turning around.
Garrison lead them out of the kitchen and over to an oak door. He knocked and said, "Doug? Can we come in?"
A gravelly voice answered, "Yeah, come in, Gary."
Garrison slid open the door and coughed as the smoke filled the corridor. Sitting on the torn mattress in the center of the room, surrounded by various open magazines, cigarette butts, and crushed beer cans, was a six foot tall man dressed in black leathers. He also wore the brown boxes on his arms and legs. He looked up from his cigarette and Dragon saw that his face was covered with scars, and his nose was broken in several places. He grinned, showing missing teeth.
"This is Backfire," Garrison said, "Backfire, this is Golden Dragon and Dave Hunter from Wildside."
Dragon didn't correct him. No one needed to know that this was a solo mission. Besides, he still considered himself a reserve member.
"Charmed. Could you leave now? You're letting good air in." Garrison closed the door and seemed about to apologize.
"Forget it," Dragon said, "there's one in every group. Just don't let him take control of a major corporation."
Garrison made an understanding gesture and lead them into the next room, a large conference room with wood paneling and a metal table in the center. Garrison sat down at one of the eight chairs and gestured for them to sit down. The Teacher remained standing.
"So, Dragon, what can I do for you?" Garrison asked.
"I'm here on a tip from Schizo," Dragon said, "he told me you had worked together against PSI."
"Is he alright?" Garrison said, "I know he's been getting weaker."
"How do you mean, weaker?"
"Well, his aging was getting worse."
"You knew? I thought he was being secretive."
"He was," Garrison responded, "but he needed to confide in someone. We got pretty close. I take it that he isn't well?"
"No," Dragon said, "John has been kidnapped by PSI. But the strange part is, Schizo is sleeping on our plane."
"That's impossible, Dragon," Athena boomed, "for he is naught but a mental projection, and if the mortal John is missing, he cannot project his spirit."
"I know," Dragon said, "but it's like Schizo is his own person now. He seems like an immigrant, talking in fractured English and acting confused. Then he just shut down right before we landed."
Garrison got permission to scan Dragon's mind and watched the abduction of John. When he finished, he nodded to himself and said, "I think John may have stretched himself a bit. Can I see Schizo?"
Dragon shrugged and they all left, walking out to the Vagabond. Dave unlocked it and nudged Athena. "This is a plane of the gods," he said.
When they came in, they saw Schizo sitting against the wall, perfectly still. The clouds in his body were swirling around, as if his entire body was a normal sky. His eyes were gone. Garrison concentrated briefly and shook his head.
"There's no mind there. It's a physical body, but there's no mind."
"Hey, Gary," Dave said, "he was talking like Tonto a few minutes ago! Honest!"
"I can't figure it," Dragon said, "but I need to find John. I need his abilities, and I need to find out if there's anything I can do for him."
"Champion," the Teacher said, "we must not divert our attention from your quest. The cult needs you."
"My friend needs me," Dragon replied, "and I need him to find the missing Sleeping Dragons."
The Teacher seemed unhappy, but remained quiet. There was a tense moment, with everyone staying perfectly quiet. As usual, Dave broke the silence.
Garrison shook himself a little and regained his smile. "Soon. In fact, why don't we all sit down, and then you and I can discuss our tactics in private, Dragon."
Everyone sat down to dinner, including Backfire and Indomitable. Walter served an incredible cajun meal that had even Dragon stuffed. No one talked, and it was clear that everyone was worried about what the next few days might bring. The Freemen knew that Garrison had been talking about taking the war against PSI to the next level, and with Dragon and the Vagabond allied to him, they could do some real damage.
As Walter was serving the angel food cake to everyone, Garrison finally broke the silence.
"What do you intend to do, Dragon?"
Dragon looked up and put his fork down. He shook his head briefly, and without making eye contact, said, "I don't know. I was hoping that John could use his telepathic powers to help me find my son. But I don't know how to find John."
"I thought you were a hotshot detective," Backfire blurted out. Garrison glared at him, but the young man just grinned, showing bits of food in his teeth. Dragon looked visibly embarrassed.
"My detective skills faded recently. I had a memory problem." In truth, his possession by Black Dragon had scarred him. Black Dragon had focused so much energy into learning war and tactics that he had managed to lose the borrowed knowledge that Dragon had in detective work. When Dragon's psyche returned, his skills didn't return with it.
The oak double doors to the dining room exploded inward, showering splinters across the room. Dragon and Indomitable both dove in front of everyone else, letting the splinters bounce off them. Standing in the now ruined door frame was Schizo. He was howling, a sound so high-pitched that the glasses on the table shattered, sending wine and water everywhere.
"Pain! Mind being destroyed!" Schizo fell, holding his temples with both hands. Garrison rose and stepped in front of Dragon and Indomitable. He concentrated and entered Schizo's mind. He gasped, sharing the pain that Schizo was feeling.
Suddenly, Dragon was in the mind link, sharing some of the pain. He was standing in a white misty area, and Garrison and Schizo were standing next to him. Both seemed to be in pain, but not as out of control as before. Garrison said, through gritted teeth, "Dragon, Schizo is linked to John. We can continue the mind link, but that means continuing the pain. The only way to deal with it is to share it among as many people as we can."
Dragon nodded and in his physical form, explained the situation to everyone else. Athena and Walter were in immediately. Backfire seemed about to refuse, but Indomitable grabbed him by the back of the neck and accepted the pain for both of them. Dragon felt his own pain lessen as they were taken into the mind link.
Dave and the Teacher nodded, and Dragon felt the pain lessen even more. Now it was merely a throbbing, like a very bad headache, not the full body pain he had felt originally. Still, the pain was maddening. Kim said, "I'm in too, Dan."
"No. I won't let you," Dragon said.
"You're not the telepath," she answered, and she felt herself pulled into the link. In the mental realm now, Dragon looked at Garrison. The pain had subsided, becoming a dull ache in the back of his head. It was more irritating than maddening now.
"Your wife volunteered, Dragon, and there was no reason to exclude her."
Dragon controlled his anger and nodded. The Teacher gave a brief smile at this example of Dragon's self control. He had been most worried about the strong emotions his wife and daughter elicited in him. That was why he had chosen to make them the focus of the test he had given Dragon when they met.
Schizo, now more in control, gestured at the whiteness and parts of it formed, taking on the shape of the inside of a building. There were no windows, just some bare light bulbs casting harsh yellow light around the area. No furniture filled the room, except for a wooden table where two men sat. They realized that they were seeing through John's eyes.
One of the men was a handsome man in his forties, with graying black hair and a thick mustache and goatee. He was a little over six feet tall, and had a commanding presence. He was dressed in a fine black suit, and on his tie there was a gold lapel pin.
"Darke," Garrison muttered, "Counselor Nicholas Darke."
The other man was dressed more colorfully, in a black bodysuit with red and orange highlights in fiery shapes. He was younger, in his twenties, and had black hair and pupilless black eyes.
"That's Soulfire," Garrison said, "a very nasty character."
As they watched, they saw Darke talking, but could not hear what he was saying. He seemed very calm and even friendly. Soulfire simply sat and smiled, looking content just being there.
"Can you scan for them now?" Dragon asked.
Garrison shook his head. "I still have no idea where they are. We need some clue, but there aren't any from what we can see."
"Can we communicate with him?" Dragon asked, more desperate this time.
"Again, no. We have a visual picture, no more. This is an unusual link, it's more Schizo's doing than my own."
Suddenly, everyone found themselves in their own bodies. Schizo was standing there, looking a little shaken.
"What happened?" Dave yelled.
"John broke contact," Schizo replied, "because Darke knew we were there. That's what he told me."
"Garrison," Dragon said, "does PSI have any known bases? You've studied them, right?"
"Yes, I've studied them, but they don't work that way. They set up temporary bases and then they disappear when they're done with them. It makes them nearly impossible to track."
"So it's hopeless? I don't accept that."
"And I didn't say that," Garrison replied, "but we do need some kind of an edge."