When they arrived at the spacious home in a suburb of L.A., Dragon got a bad feeling. Even though it was dusk, and the sun was almost down, all the lights were off. Dave obediently beamed Dragon down, although he was clearly unhappy with staying in the plane.
Dragon beamed just outside the house, dressed in his civilian clothes instead of his costume. As he walked up, he saw the name "Walker" stenciled on the door. The house looked like any other, not like the home of an agent of VIPER. But this was the right place. Walker was the man's name.
When he got to the front door, Dragon saw that it was closed, but there were splinters on the ground, as if it had been forcibly opened recently. He decided to be careful, and kicked in the door, diving for the side as he did so.
A burst of chemicals came out of the house, spraying out at where Dragon had just been. Someone cursed in Spanish inside the house.
Dragon switched his visor to infrared and risked a glance. Five heat forms, all normal human size. The kids weren't here. All five were now aiming weapons at him. It seemed likely that the wife wasn't here either.
Dragon moved again as the five people opened fire, spraying blaster fire all across his area. The chemical blast missed, but two of the laser-guided blaster bolts struck home.They scorched Dragon's clothes, leaving him bare chested, but he didn't feel much more than light stings. Still, enough hits would take him out, and even one from that cannon would be dangerous.
Dragon decided to go on the offensive. He dove into the house and tackled the man holding the largest gun. He didn't want to kill him, so he only punched with about half of his strength. To his surprise, the man wasn't wearing armor, and he went down with one punch.
The others yelled, and Dragon picked out at least one female voice. They kept firing, and Dragon laid his body on top of his now unconscious foe to protect him from the blasters. In doing so, he took four more hits.
"You're going to kill your friend!" Dragon yelled.
The blasts stopped for a second, and Dragon moved. He launched himself at the two nearest, and swung his arm through both of them. From the second he heard a crack as his fist connected with her ribs. She cried out, and both of them fell.
The other two fired simultaneously, striking Dragon. He turned and smacked them as well, knocking them out. Dragon reached for a light switch and flipped it up, casting yellow light over the foyer he had entered.
Three men and two women lay unconscious on the floor. Four of them had blaster rifles in their arms, and the other a massive cannon that Dragon recognized as a VIPER Brickbuster. But his assailants weren't dressed as VIPER. They wore black leather or torn jeans and t-shirts with gang symbols on them.
Dragon checked on the one who had cried out and was relieved to find that although he had cracked one of her ribs, it wasn't serious. He quickly bandaged her and then picked up the five of them, getting ready to leave the house.
A second later, the entire house exploded. In the Vagabond, Dave started yelling, "Dragon! You okay?"
His only answer was the sound of static from Dragon's comm.
Dave landed the Vagabond in the street and de-cloaked it. He stepped out of the plane, gun in hand, and looked at the wreckage. He was pretty sure Dragon could survive that kind of blast, but he wanted to check.
Sure enough, the rubble started moving. Dragon pushed his way up through the rubble until he was only standing waist-deep in it. He had cuts and burns on him, but looked relatively okay. He called out to Dave.
"Bring me a blanket, Dave."
"Why? You can't be cold."
"No. But the explosion destroyed my clothes."
Dave smirked and grabbed a large blanket from the Vagabond. Dragon wrapped himself in it and got on board the plane. Police sirens sounded in the distance, but Dave cloaked the plane again and they left without explaining.
Dragon looked frustrated. "That's two more to the list of missing persons I need to find," he said.
When they landed at Homestead, Dragon went to Defender and told him what had happened. He asked that they not tell the agent what had happened.
"Dragon," James said, "might I suggest that you're going about this the wrong way?"
"What do you mean?" he responded.
"Well, you're tracking down friends or other peoples' families, but you haven't tried figuring out what VIPER or PSI is up to."
"I don't know enough about either organization to make guesses," he said, but James held up a hand to stop him.
"Maybe not, but Memoir knows PSI pretty well, and I'm in contact with someone who knows VIPER the same way."
James flipped the switch on his console and the vid screen lit up, revealing a handsome blond man in his thirties. His eyes had a faint blue shine to them. When he spoke, he did so with a British accent.
"Hello, Dragon. We've spoken briefly before, but James tells me you could use my help. The name's Jack, if you don't remember. Jack Spartan."
"Otherwise known as Argent," Dragon mumbled.
Jack ignored the comment and went on. "Listen, the reason I'm talking to you about this is that VIPER just recently tried a kidnap on me. They sent some fairly heavy firepower, and I was lucky to have a few locals help me out. We're still interrogating the agents who tried to pull it. You're welcome to come over and help if you want."
"I want," Dragon said, "where are you?"
"I'm on board the UNTIL Solidarity, in international waters outside Japan. We're surfaced right now, and James knows how to find us. If you can get here within the next day or so, you can come aboard."
"I'll be there in a few hours," Dragon said, cutting off the communications.
Dragon turned to James and shook his hand. "Will you keep an eye on the VIPER agent for me?"
James nodded and said, "You'd better discuss this with Memoir. Maybe he and his team can look for PSI and John while you're on the Solidarity. And maybe Elaine and I can do some poking around here to see what we can find out about the agent's family."
Dragon grabbed Dave and said, "Prep the Vagabond. We're going on a trip to the UNTIL Solidarity in Japanese waters."
Dave shrugged and walked off. Dragon, meanwhile, went to get Memoir and tell him what was going on. After a brief discussion, they agreed to have the Freemen and Schizo checking into PSI's activities, focusing on finding John.
They made a detour to pick up Mary, Kim, and the Teacher in New York. Dragon explained what was going on to them. Then they were off to the Solidarity.
When they arrived, the sun was just setting in that part of the world. The sunlight glinted off the surfaced Solidarity, showing off exactly how big it was. The craft was shaped like a large manta with a long straight tail. The front of it was a nose like a 747, but spreading out to become the manta's wings. It was easily the size of a large aircraft carrier, and while it was surfaced, UNTIL agents in various states of undress were playing different games or just relaxing on the smooth metallic surface.
The Vagabond landed in one of the docks on the upper half of the ship, the part that was still above water. Once inside, the doors locked tight, and the sunlight was replaced by artificial blue lighting. Dragon stepped off and was greeted by Argent, now dressed in his silver costume with a modified Union Jack on the front. His gun was missing, which Dragon took as a good sign.
Argent pulled off his goggles and hood and grinned. Kim smiled unconsciously, and Dragon gave her a strange look. "Well, he is handsome," Kim whispered.
"Rose told me to watch out for this guy," Dragon whispered back, and then he added to himself, "Actually, she told me to kill this guy."
Argent shook Dragon's hand and kissed Kim's. He then patted Dave on the back and even made an attempt to greet the Teacher. The Teacher was wary of him, however, and simply nodded.
"He seems very artificial," the Teacher said to Dragon.
"He's a spy. That's his job."
"Well, it's good to finally meet you, Dragon." Argent said. "How is everyone in Wildside?"
"Fine. You're not terribly popular, but they're fine."
"Yes, I know. Well, in this business, it's more important to get the job done than make friends, right?"
"We're in two different businesses, Argent," Dragon answered, "and my friends mean more to me than my life."
"The safety of the world is my concern, Dragon," Argent answered, never losing his smile. There was a brief moment of silence, which Argent broke by saying, "Differences we'll not resolve today, hmm? C'mon, let's go have a chat with our VIPER friend."
Dragon was uneasy, but he had to admit to liking Argent. On a gut level, he felt that he was just trying to do what was right, the same as Dragon. He just had different methods.
The group followed Argent through a variety of corridors, bumping into various UNTIL agents and scientists. Kim remarked on how huge the vehicle was.
"Yes, it's not a bad base for us. I've never been terribly fond of water, but I don't even feel like I'm off the land in this sub," Argent said.
They reached a room marked "Interrogation Room Q" and Argent punched a code into the scanner on the door. He then took off his glove and let the pad scan his hand. It unlocked, sliding open.
Inside there was just a table and two chairs. In one of the chairs, a man sat unconscious, dressed in plain gray clothes. He had a bloody lip.
"Sorry, but you'll have to go with the agents," Argent said, pointing over to a group of three uniformed men at the other end of the corridor, "this is for me and Dragon only."
Kim sighed and walked that way with Mary. The Teacher also followed, but Dave asked, "Hey, can I just walk around? I won't touch anything."
Argent shrugged and Dave wandered off. Then Dragon and Argent entered the room, closing and locking it behind them.
"You've beaten him?" Dragon asked.
"No," Argent responded, "we did that when he tried to suck down a cyanide capsule. In trying to get it out, he was battered pretty bad. But it worked. He didn't swallow it, and now we've got someone to talk too."
"What have you found so far?"
"We used truth serum on him, and he told us they were here to assassinate the boat commander. We tried interrogation, and all we got were some colorful curses in return. Finally, with the help of some consultant, we hypnotized him and he told us that VIPER wanted my cybernetics and my mind analyzed for some sort of psionics project."
Red flags went off in Dragon's mind. "Psionics?"
"Yes, something to do with artificial mind-to-mind communication. My mind is organized like a computer and I can speak telepathically with them. They wanted to extend that to humans. I don't know how they planned to do it."
"My guess would be by analyzing as many psis as they could get a hold on," Dragon answered, "like maybe Torment."
"Torment?" Argent said, "I'm not familiar with the name."
"He's a member of PSI we accidentally rescued from VIPER a few days ago. They had been operating independently, or so we believed."
"The science branch operates independently at times," Argent said, "the Supreme Serpent will give them a lot of leeway. Sometimes the local nest leaders are asked to provide muscle even when they have no idea what they're allocating them for."
"How much do you know about the Los Angeles nest?" Dragon asked.
"Not as much as I should, I'm afraid. I was a mole in the New York nest. What I do know is that someone named Style runs it. He uses a lot of street gangs, not just VIPER muscle. He gives them VIPER weaponry and they sometimes have to take assignments from him."
"Any explosives experts?"
"I don't know, but probably. Most of the nests have somebody who likes to blow things up. What do you know that you're not telling me?"
The agent stirred, mumbling something incoherent. Argent backhanded him and knocked him back unconscious. Dragon wasn't happy, but he didn't see what he could or should do about it, so he let it go.
"Listen, I'm looking for a telepath friend of mine who was kidnapped by PSI. When I tried to find him, I was duped into attacking a VIPER base and releasing one of PSI's troops. Now James tells me I should talk to you and find out what's going on with VIPER. He thinks if I find the motive, I can maybe stop whatever's going on. So I'm willing to share information and thoughts, if you're willing to help."
Argent opened the door. "If you don't mind staying a while. Let's go to my quarters and we'll work up a schedule to start this investigation together. Deal?"
"Deal." Dragon shook his hand and the two of them went to Argent's quarters. Meanwhile, the Solidarity sank below the ocean, beginning its patrol.