Wildside 2020: Come Together

Chapter One: Prohibition World
by R.W. Lander

My name's Dan. A lot of people just call me Dragon. That's a name I picked up in my boxing days. Dan "the Dragon" Ochiro, the toughest jap ever to hit and be hit on the streets of Chicago.

About 1928, I dropped out of the bruised knuckle and jaw business and went on to where my talents should have taken me in the first place. I became a detective, and I'm good at what I do. If you pay my fee, I get the job done, and I won't get bribed or scared off like so many of the cops these days.

I'm a big guy, but that don't mean I can work alone. About two years after I started working, I picked up a team of business associates. People took to calling us the Wild Boys. Course, they're still calling us that now, which kinda ticks off the feminine member of our little gang.

Her name's Rose, and she is one hell of a fighter. She also happens to be my wife. We met about three years ago, she'd just come back from some kind of cult in Japan. Seems she learned all about ancient mystical and martial skills, or some such nonsense. There must be some truth to it, though, cause she can do things no one else can. For instance, she'll be looking at you, and she'll say what's on your mind about two seconds before you can. She always seems to know what's in your head. And, if by some chance she don't like it, she'll knock you around a bit. The cult gave her these sticks, and no man should have to get acquainted with them at that speed.

Don't mind telling you her abilities spook me a little. Course, they really spook the other Wild Boy. His name's Eddie, he's a Chicano from the South Side. He's not good for much in a street brawl, but he's got more brain power than me and Rose combined and he's pretty good with a pistol. Still, he's scared silly of Rose. Thinks she might be some kind of a witch. Still, he looks up to me, so he doesn't mind sticking around with the two of us.

That's pretty much what the team looks like now. It used to be bigger, but we've lost a lot of members over time.

There's people like Jason Stone and his sister. They used to be with us, but it got to dangerous for them and they bailed out. They still help us out from time to time, especially when we need information on the less-than-savory types in this town.

See, Jason works with a colored band in the Torchlight Club, playing ragtime and jazz. That club is popular with a lot of the underworld types in Chicago. And nobody visits more than Alec Xavier, public head of Xavier Industries and private head of the Mob. He started out as a respectable businessman, even worked with the Wild Boys for a while. Hell, we were best friends once. Then his company started doing some dirty business. When I tried to help, he told me to keep my nose out of it. Thing is, he told me with his knives. I still got scars on my arms.

I knew he was too far gone when I found out about Capone. Remember that hotel explosion, about a year back? Capone and all his men were inside, and suddenly the hotel just goes up in flames. The Wild Boys were there, dragging people out and watching innocents die because they were in the wrong place during a gang war; the middle of it.

Alec was there too. His limo pulled up and he got out, looked around, and nodded. Then he got back in and drove away. I think we're the only ones who noticed that he was smiling.

D.A. said there was not enough evidence to link Alec to the bombing, but that's no real surprise. D.A. is Bresler Xavier, Alec's brother.

Wild Boys investigated anyway, and we found out the bomb had come from a Xavier factory. Course, it had been reported stolen that day, but we knew. Sure enough, Alec starts moving in on Capone's territories, and now everybody knows he's the main man in this town. He's got the cops bought of or scared, even Ness won't try to fight him, cause he knows he'd lose. Word on the street is that he's moving into new areas, planning on ruling the crime syndicate world wide and setting it up like a business.

Anyway, I guess I been thinking about all this because I've got to decide if I want to go up against him or not. I've got a real solid offer to take him down. I'm dying to do it, but if I take the cash, I might just die trying to do it. If I go after him, it's gonna get bloody.

I'll start at the beginning. I was in the office with Rose, and we were arguing again. This time we were trying to name the kids we were planning on having someday. I like Alexander and Mary, but she's partial to Dave and Cindy. Anyway, there's a knock on the door and conversation stops.

I look up, and outside the door, barely obscured by the stencil on the window that reads "Dragon and Rose Investigations," I see Alec Xavier. I mutter, "Come in," but I slip my hand into my desk for my sawed-off shotgun. Rose has shifted into a place where she could use her sticks if she needs to.

The door opens, and I relax a little. This guy looks like Alec, but it ain't him. For one thing, he's got long hair, but since he's a client, I don't laugh at him. For another, his eyes don't look as crazy as Alec's do. Course, it does look like he's wearing some sort of miniature skull on his suit. It's a nice suit, looks like it was expensive, and in his right hand he's carrying a wad of cash bigger than I've ever seen on a law-abiding man.

So automatically I'm suspicious of this guy, which gets us off on the wrong foot. "What the hell do you want? I don't take payoffs."

The guy looks surprised and angry, and for a minute I think there's gonna be a fight. Rose doesn't though. She puts her sticks away and leans against the desk, giving me a little peck on the cheek.

"Relax, Dragon. He's not here to pay us off. He's got a case. Right?"

She glances back over her shoulder at the guy and smiles. He returns the smile, in a way I don't like. He looks at me and the smile drops.
"That's right, Dragon. I have a case for you."

I still don't know if I like him, but I trust Rose. So I sit back in my chair and slide the sawed-off into my drawer.

"So talk."

The guy tosses the wad onto my desk and tells me to count it while he talks. He's pacing the office, and I figure Rose is listening, so I start counting. I'm up to three thousand when I hear the words "Xavier Industries," and suddenly I lose my count.

I look up at the guy. "Hey, we don't need trouble with Xavier. We can't take him."

"Another time, another place, maybe not. But right now, you are the only ones who can stop him," he says.

I don't answer him, I just let my smirk speak for me. Of course, it doesn't shut him up.

"I have information that Xavier is about to make a big move. He's through with Chicago, he's got his sights set on New York."

Right away, I'm relieved, which I don't think is the attitude this guy was looking for.

"He's leaving town? That's great!"

This guy stares at me like I just told him I liked the Cubs for the World Series this year.

"Dragon," he says, "he is going to follow through on his plans in New York City."

I glare back at him. "Hey, New York ain't my town. Let him take it over if he wants."

The guy's about to say something else when Eddie walks in. "Hey, boss, I got those glasses you wanted...oops."

Eddie's about to back out, but I motion for him to come in and close the door. Then I look back at this guy.

"Look, Dragon, he doesn't intend to take over New York. He intends to blow it up."

This time, I'm sure I don't have the attitude he's looking for, but I can't help it. I just start laughing, and I can't stop. In between laughs, I say, "Yeah, even Xavier doesn't have enough explosives for that! The U.S. Army doesn't have enough explosives for that! What's he gonna do, bomb every building?"

"It will take one bomb, Dragon. An atomic bomb," he says.

I'm about to tell this guy that I don't read science fiction when I hear Eddie giving off a low whistle. That's when I know we're in trouble.

"Eddie? You got something to share?"

He kind of shakes his head and says, "Sorry, boss. I've heard of the theory, but it's gonna take years before an atomic bomb can be used. No offense, friend."

The guy inclines his head, like he understands. That makes one of us.

"Eddie," I ask, "what the hell is it?"

Naturally, the long-haired guy answers the question instead of Eddie. He's really starting to get on my nerves.

"An atomic bomb uses nuclear fission to cause an explosion, big enough to wipe out a city. Enough of them could destroy a world. And, no offense to your whiz-kid, but Xavier has one in production right now."

If Eddie's worried, I'm inclined to take this guy more seriously. From the look on his face, I'd guess he's worried.

"This doesn't make any sense," Rose says, "why would he destroy New York?"

Vincent looks at her and even though he isn't smiling, I still don't like the way he's looking at her. "Because he is the avatar of Shiva, Hindu god of destruction," he says, "Or at least, that's what he believes."

"This is getting better and better," I say to him, "Alec Xavier, crime kingpin of Chicago, thinks he's some god and is going to blow up New York with a bomb that doesn't exist yet? You must be some kind of loony, pal. Where do you get your information? And who the hell are you?"

The guy shakes his head and sighs. Suddenly I feel like a five-year-old who just asked the teacher a stupid question.

"My name is Vincent, and my sources, for now, have to remain confidential. But I have high-placed connections inside Xavier, and another high-placed connection that tells me that the Wild Boys have to be involved. He's the one who sent me here to help you."

"Help us? What do you want us to do?"

Rose smiles. She knows that's my charming way of saying we'll take the case. Vincent figures that out and smiles back.

"We have to hit Xavier hard and fast, before he knows what's happening. He's still building the bomb, and I can prevent it if I can get there. But I don't know where it is. We have to find out."

"We? Last I checked, Vincent, you were hiring us, not signing on with the Wild Boys. Give us the cash and we'll do the job."

He stares right at me and I know this is going to be a problem. Rose comes up behind me and puts a hand on my shoulder. I figure she's supporting me, until she starts talking.

"Dragon, we need to take him with us. I can feel it."

Across the room, Eddie shivers. Rose is doing it again, looking at this guy like she's in his head. Which usually means her feelings are right on target. Great.

"Well, I guess you're in Vincent. Don't screw up."

So we're leaving the office, one big happy family, and Rose suddenly pulls out her sticks. Vincent looks up and then jumps on Rose, pulling her down to the sidewalk with him. I land on top of him and I'm just about to knock his head off when I hear the sound of a tommy-gun.

Bullet holes are appearing on the wall, right where our heads were a second ago, and I can hear glass shattering as they hit the door to the building. Eddie's running back up the stairs, so I guess he didn't get hit.

I look up and there's a tan sedan hopping the curb and heading right for us. Some hood with a lot more ugly than brains is leaning out the car window trying to perforate us with his little toy.

I whip my sawed-off out from under my trench coat and fire from the ground. Now the guy's a lot more ugly and he's got a lot less brains, since they're decorating the car.

I'm aiming at the driver when I realize that he's gonna hit us anyway. Suddenly, Vincent leaps into the air, does some kind of flip, and lands on the hood. He bends down and swipes a glowing sword through the glass and into the driver's neck.

The guy's head falls into the seat next to him and Vincent reaches into the car and turns the wheel hard. He jumps off the car as it careens into the nearest brick wall. In mid-air, he does another flip and lands on the street.

I lean down to check on Rose. She half-smiles at me and says, "I'm okay, Dragon."

After I help her up, we both go over to the car, where Vincent is standing. Eddie is out of the building and standing with him. Vincent's flipping through a brown leather wallet.

"Xavier?" I ask.

"No ID, but I bet it was," he answers.

I hear sirens in the distance and a cop car is pulling near us. "How did he know?" I ask him, "did he follow you?"

"He couldn't have known about me," Vincent says, "unless...we may be in trouble."

I'm about to tell him where to shove his may be when the cop gets out of the car. I close my eyes and wonder if the day could get any worse. Meanwhile, Rose is greeting the cop.

"Hello, Officer Kaufman. We were just assaulted."

I hear Kaufman's voice. "Can't stay out of police affairs, can you, Dragon? That's why you get shot at."

"Whatever, Kaufman. Look, can we give you our statements and go?"

"Sure, sure," he says, and he's looking around the car, "what the hell happened to the windshield?"

It's then that I notice Vincent has vanished. Rose talks before I do. "Must have happened when he hit the wall, that's probably what killed him too. Dragon's shot came close and scared him."

"Dragon's shot came real close to this other guy, I see," Kaufman says, looking at the headless gunman.

"Hey, he was trying to kill us, Kaufman!"

"Relax, Dragon," he says, "I know you don't kill unless you have to. And sometimes not even then."

"Okay," Kaufman says, writing in his notebook, "so this guy was shooting at you, you fired back and both of them ended up dead. Any idea why?"

"No idea," I say. Last thing we need is Kaufman nosing around Xavier and making him nervous, especially when he can't prove anything.

"Probably your personality," he says, and flips his notebook closed. "I'll be in touch, Dragon."

Kaufman gets in his car and drives off after roping off the scene. I hear more sirens and figure we should clear out now.

Vincent steps out of the alley and voices that thought.

"What the hell is with that sword, Vincent?"

"I can't explain everything right now," he says, "but just trust me. Rose already does."

"Rose always trusts people she shouldn't. I need a reason," I tell him.

He takes in a deep breath. "You won't believe a thing I tell you. If you don't trust me, this ends right now. And I can't afford to let that happen."

I shake my head and turn away. I'm about to tell Rose and Eddie that the case is off when I hear Vincent talking real quietly behind me.

"No, I can't tell him that. Because Samsara said so, that's why! Who knows what effect it will have...uh, oh."

At this point he sees me looking at him, and he pockets the little metal piece he was talking into. Not before I get a good look at it, though.

It's a black triangle with a stylized red "W" superimposed. It looks a lot like the symbol we use whenever we do something as the Wild Boys. He shrugs. It seems like I've been staring at him for an hour when Rose puts her hand on my shoulder and shakes me.

"Dragon? What now?"

Vincent cocks his head, and I know he's asking me the same question.

"We go to the Torchlight Club, see what Jason knows."

Vincent smiles, and this time it's directed at me. I smile back and start walking towards the club.

It takes us about ten minutes to get there, and it's pretty quiet. After all, at mid-afternoon, the club ain't even open to customers. But then, I'm not a customer.

From inside, I can hear Jason's piano and his sister's voice. Sounds like a good show tonight. I'm about to walk in when my view is blocked by some guy's chest.

The guy smiles at me and says, "Some pretty important people are having a private meeting in there,chump. You can't go in."

I smile back and punch him in the stomach. Immediately, I regret it. My hand feels like it just punched a wall, and this guy's still smiling. I'm not sure he even knows I punched him until he grabs me by the neck and lifts me off the ground.

Somewhere along the line I realize that this guy is about ten feet tall to my six. I also realize what a luxury breathing can be. He's holding my face about two inches away and he says, "That wasn't nice. I'm going to have to punish you."

The guy groans as Vincent slices him with his sword, which again came out of nowhere, and Rose follows up by smashing his knee with one of her sticks. He still doesn't drop me, though.

From somewhere, I get strength enough to break his grip and drop to the ground. I reach for my shotgun, but all I get is a tingly feeling. A second later, it's in my hand, but it feels different. Warm.

I shrug and fire at this ape, who's now swinging at my wife and connecting with Vincent, who jumped in front of her. Vincent goes flying back, and my shotgun fires a burst of flame. Not pellets, flame. It hits this guy and he screams, falls down.

I'm not one to miss out on a good thing, so I fire again. This time he passes out. He's lying on the ground, panting. I turn around to make sure Vincent is okay, and Rose and Eddie are already helping him up. Then I turn back around and the ape is gone. Without a trace.

I step inside the club ready for trouble. Vincent is right behind me, Rose is right behind him, and Eddie's bringing up the rear with his pistol out.

We step in and I see Jason's band playing on the stage, his sister wailing out the last notes of "Blue Moon." Over at the bar, the bartender is shaking up martinis and pouring them into two glasses.

Then I look over and see the other two occupants of the bar. Alec and Bresler, sitting at a back booth and talking. I motion to Vincent and we head over to the booth.

I sit down next to Alec and slide my gun into his ribs. "Morning, Alec. What are you doing out this early?"

Bresler's about to react when Vincent sits down next to him. My guess is that Bresler has a sword pointed in his direction, because he calms down fast.

"Dragon," Alec says, "that's hardly necessary. I was just talking with my brother. Is there something I can do for you?"

Vincent looks like he's pretty upset. There seems to be some kind of conflict going on inside his head.

"Who's your new friend, Dragon? He looks a lot like me, doesn't he?"

Alec is talking like he's got the upper hand, which I don't like. So I decide to push the issue.

"What do you know, Alec?"

"It's very simple, Dragon. My god told me this morning what I should do if I want my scheme to go off right. And that is just what I'm doing."

I hear a pistol shot, and my arm goes numb. My shotgun clatters to the floor, and I realize I've been shot. Another shot rings out, and I hear glass breaking at the bar.

Eddie and Rose have taken cover behind a table and they're shooting it out with the bartender, who's ducked behind the bar with a .45. By the time I've taken this all in, Alec is over the back of the booth and standing behind me.He flips his knives out, holding one in each hand.

"Want some new scars, Dragon?"

He's grinning until a metal stick hits the side of his head, knocking him down. I yell thanks to Rose and get under the table, reaching for my gun. It's lying in a pool of blood.

When I come up, I see that Vincent has run his sword up through Bresler's side and into his head. He won't be helping anyone in this fight. The band is ducked down behind Jason's piano, and two more of Xavier's goons just shut the door and locked it. They're both carrying tommy guns.

I swing my gun around and fire at one of them, and he turns into a cinder when the flame burst hits him. Eddie realizes the danger and plugs the other one with his .45. Xavier is heading for the back entrance at top speed.

Vincent looks like he's about to get after him when the bartender plugs him, a bullet in his chest. He doesn't even stop moving, though, just changes direction and heads for the bartender. He swings his sword back as this guy plugs him twice more, with no effect.

The back door swings open and shuts, and Alec is gone. Vincent's about halfway through on the sword stroke when the bartender gets clubbed on the head with a bottle and drops. Vincent stops the sword and I watch it disappear into thin air.

The real bartender is standing there, holding a broken bottle. His blond hair is pretty messed up, and I see rope burns on his wrist. He looks down at the phony bartender.

"Guy stole my uniform. Do you believe that?"

"Dave, just give me a whiskey," I tell him, sitting down at the bar.

He nods and pours, handing me the glass. Then he winks up at Rose.
"This bum still married to you, Rose?"

"Dave," I say, warning him.

"I know, you won her fair and square. Doesn't mean I can't flirt, does it?"

"Would it matter?" Rose answers, sitting down beside me. She looks at my arm. "You're lucky, bullet went through. I'll bandage it for you."

She finishes bandaging me while Vincent and Eddie clean up around Bresler. Meanwhile, Jason's trombone player is locking the back entrance too.

Jason comes over to the bar and sits down. "Your friend killed the D.A. Nobody here called the cops, but they'll show up when Xavier calls them. What do you need, Dragon?"

I look over at him. "What were they talking about?"

"Alec's gone around the bend this time, Dragon. He was telling Bresler how he was visited by his god this morning, and that in a week New York will be gone. He also said the project is being completed in someplace called Icecap Station. Your name came up, too. His god apparently told him to finish off the Wild Boys with the help of his brother. Is the long-hair named Vincent?"

I nod to him and I'm about to ask how he knows.

"Alec knows he's here, says his god told him. He told Bresler he's planning to kill you guys before you can interrupt the plan. That's all I know."

"That's plenty," I say to him, "say hello to your sister for me."

He shakes my hand and goes back up to the stage. I go and join Rose, Vincent, Eddie, and Dave at the bar.

"Seems Alec knew you were here, Vincent. Says his god told him. Also said that his project is somewhere called Icecap Station. That mean anything to you?"

"Antarctica," Vincent mutters, "it has to be. We need to catch a plane."

"What? You know where it is?" Eddie asks.

Vincent nods and tells us to go out, he'll join us in a second. I look back and see him talking into the metal triangle again. Then he gets up and joins us outside.

This time, Vincent leads us, and we take a taxi to a small airfield. Really small, like a miniature runway and one plane. The place looks like it was set up yesterday.

It's a nice plane, though, a four-prop cargo plane with that same "W" painted on the nose. I don't think anyone else notices, but I was looking for it.

At the front, banging on the landing gear with a wrench, is a skinny-looking guy dressed in a leather jacket and jeans. He's got a backwards-baseball cap on his head, reads "USASF" in big letters.

Then the guy turns around, and from the front, she sure doesn't look like a guy. She's pretty, but she's got grease all over her face. A nice body, but dressed like a guy so it doesn't really show that much. In a dress, she'd be gorgeous; in the clothes she's got, she looks like a baseball player.

"You're letting a skirt fly your plane?" I ask Vincent.

This earns me a shot in the ribs from my darling wife that will probably ache for weeks.

Meanwhile, this girl is heading towards us. She's probably in her mid-twenties. She also looks real familiar, but I can't place the face. She smiles and extends her hand.

"I'm Cindy Hunter, your pilot."

I reach out and take her hand and I'm still shaking it when her other one lands, hard, in my gut.

"...And don't ever call me a 'skirt.' Now get on board my plane."

She turns on her heels and walks inside the plane, climbing into the cockpit. I hear the props roar to life. Rose is snickering, and I think even Eddie is suppressing the urge to laugh.

Vincent isn't suppressing the urge. Even his laugh is beginning to bother me.

"Wonderful girl. Where did you pick her up?"

He stops laughing and says, "Like I said, you'd never believe me."

I'm starting to get a bad feeling about this as we board the plane. When we get on board, it increases. Vincent is handing Rose this shiny purple packet and he hands Eddie a shiny silver one. He leans back and produces a yellow packet for me.

"You're kidding me," I say, "what inspired you to make yellow my color? And what exactly are you handing us?"

"These are thin suits with temperature control technology. You wear them, you won't feel the cold where we're going. And it gets cold where we're going, like about sixty below this time of year."

"I am not wearing anything big and yellow. I'd look stupid," I say, still not taking the packet.

"Better stupid than dead," he says, and drops it at my feet. I stare down at the little square, and look up to see Rose and Eddie already in theirs. Rose looks pretty amazing in hers, which is a tight-fitting pair of black pants and some kind of purple half-jacket on top. Eddie looks downright dangerous, since his is all silver with a helmet and a blue slitted visor. He looks like some kind of knight in armor.

So I put mine on as the plane lifts off. It actually doesn't look all that bad. Mine has a helmet too, with a red slitted visor. Rose looks over and nods her approval.

Vincent isn't wearing a suit, he's just chatting with the pilot up front. I yell up to him, "Hey, aren't you and the ski...pilot gonna wear these?"

He looks back at me, "No, I don't need one and Cindy will be staying on board the plane."

"You don't need one? What, you like freezing?"

"Nope. I don't even notice."

Before I can say anything else, he shuts the door to the cockpit and I get the feeling our conversation is over.

I turn to Rose and Eddie. "This all feel wrong to you?"

"I don't know, boss," Eddie says, "this suit feels pretty good on me. And excuse my saying so, but Rose looks great in hers."

Rose blushes and says, "Thanks, Eddie. I agree with him, Dragon. This feels right. I think we're supposed to be here. Call it a hunch."

She sits down on one of the boxes in the back and I lay down next to her. She rests her head on my shoulder and closes her eyes.

"I thought I was the detective. I'm supposed to get the hunches," I say to her.

"The sign on the door reads 'Dragon and Rose Investigations.' We're a team, and don't forget it," she replies, then she falls asleep.

I give her a little kiss and settle back to take a nap. The sound of propellers lull me to sleep pretty quick, and anyway it's been a tiring day.

When I wake up, I hear a low buzzing sound in my head. I've already knocked my head against the bulkhead twice before I realize it's coming from outside. I hear Rose telling Vincent that when we get to Antarctica, we may have to deal with Mechanon or his something counterpart.

I open my eyes and look, and I see that Vincent is actually talking to the pilot. A quick check confirms that Rose is still asleep on my shoulder. Another quick check and I see Eddie's asleep on the other one. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be such a broad guy.

"Your pilot sounds a lot like my wife," I say, shifting Rose and Eddie onto the floor.

Both Vincent and Cindy just stare at me as I get up. When I'm up, Vincent finally recovers.

"Coincidence, I'm sure."

Yeah, like I was thinking she was a long-lost twin sister. All I wanted to do was put him off guard like he's already done to me several times today, and he treats me like an idiot.

"Of course it is," I say, moving into the now open cockpit and looking out the window, "I'm just making conversation. Where are we?"

Below us is just white. No features, no clouds, no sky, just white, rushing by at high speed. The pilot looks up and winks at me. Vincent guides me back to the cargo area with his arm.

"We're almost there. Listen, Dragon, have you noticed anything unusual about your gun?"

"Oh yeah," I answer, "but I'm not looking a gift horse in the mouth. If I suddenly got a gun shooting fire instead of bullets, and it works, why ask questions?"

He smiles. "You're a lot different than I expected. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that the gun's on loan from a friend, so it's safe to use. I also wanted to tell you about the settings."

It takes about half an hour for Vincent to show me all the stuff this magic gun can do. It fires killing blasts of flame, which is what I've been doing, but it can also fire non-lethal bursts or flame that wraps people up without burning them. Nice gun.

I'm admiring the gun as I lay back down next to Rose and Eddie. Both of them cuddle in closer. I guess I'm giving off a lot of warmth or something. Vincent heads up to the cockpit and closes the door again.

I realize I've been asleep again when I wake up. There's a lot of heat in the plane, and I see that the other side of the plane is on fire. I can hear a loud sputtering sound behind me, and Vincent suddenly slashes out of the cockpit door, leaving it hanging off of burnt hinges.

"Xavier sabotaged us! Then he hit us with something! We've got to bail out! Cindy's gonna try and bring her in, but we need to get out now!"

I help him put the chutes on Eddie and Rose before we wake them. I carry Eddy over to the side door and swing it open. He starts to wake up when the rushing air hits his face.

"Dragon," he mutters, "what's going on?"

"This is our stop, Eddie," I say, and he looks at me with panic in his eyes. "We're getting off."

His panic changes to quiet acceptance as he sees the situation, and he steps out of the plane. I watch as his chute opens below.

"Get out! I can't hold her much longer!" Cindy yells from the cockpit.

The whole plane lurches, and I realize we've been hit again. The world seems to go into slow motion as an explosion engulfs the floor and a hole opens under Rose and Vincent, sucking them both out of the plane.

I yell her name and look out the hole, but I can see two more parachutes opening and I relax a little. Then I realize how close we are to the ground, and I run up to the cockpit to get Cindy.

The cockpit is empty. As I enter, I see a flash of light from the pilot's chair, and then it's totally empty. And there is ground fast approaching.

So I run back and jump out the hole. I'm watching the plane above me as I drop, and then my opened chute obscures my view. It comes in to view again as it flies down and into the frozen ground, exploding in a huge fireball.

I land and roll in the snow, letting the ground absorb the impact. We're stuck in the middle of some huge snow field here, I realize as I roll into a huge drift of snow.

Rose comes over and helps pull me out of the drift. I see water rolling off her suit and mine. Pretty soon, even that is gone. A little red number, -63, is flashing near my right eye. I knock my suit helmet a couple times and she grabs my hand.

"Dragon, the number is not a hallucination. I see it too. Does yours say -63?"

I nod and she says, "I think that's a temperature reading."

It's that cold and I feel like we're in the middle of a warm day in July? "Nice suits," I say to her, and she smiles.

Vincent and Eddie walk over to us and Vincent comes straight to me.

"Where's Cindy?" I ask him.

"Don't you know?" he says, "You should have been there when she jumped."

"She wasn't in the cockpit, there was just some flash of light and she was gone."

"Oh," he says, like that explains everything. Then he starts scanning the other drifts in the area.

"Uh, Vincent? Anything in particular you're looking for? Cause all I can see is snow," I tell him.

He just grins a little and keeps looking. I shut up and look with him. Then I notice a glint off in the distance, like something reflecting the sunlight.

"Vincent, do you see....that!?" I'm interrupted in mid-sentence as some kind of light hits him in the chest, knocking him down. Rose is on him, making sure he's okay, and Eddie knocks me down.

I'm so surprised he did it that I can't even resist. He looks up. "Sorry, Dragon, but I think that's a laser. That is way beyond our technology. It's focused light."

"Focused light knocked Vincent down like that?"

"Lasers can kill people, Dragon. Easier than a bullet. Watch out!"

Another light beam shoots over all of us. Rose gives me a thumb up and Vincent stands up, his sword in hand. And his sword is glowing.

He points it in the distance and a beam of light erupts from his sword and stretches out farther than I can see.

There's an explosion in the distance and I can tell he hit whatever he was aiming at. Then he runs over to me with Rose in tow.

"That is very dangerous, Dragon. When it gets here, you need to hit it with your killing blast. And then move so it doesn't hit you. Eddie, you point your right arm at it like you're aiming a gun and think 'fire', okay? Trust me. Rose, you stay under cover. Your sticks won't hurt it."

Before any of us can argue, we see the thing. It looks like a human, but its all silvery and shiny, and its got a funny shaped gold head with two prongs sticking up.

"Chorus!" Vincent yells, and then he fires his sword beam at it again. I fire my blast and I see a beam of light shoot out of Eddie's arm too. He looks pretty shocked.

All three of the blasts hit the robot, who seems pretty surprised too. He falls back a little and I cheer and give Eddie a high-five. Then it gets up and talks, in a crackling voice.

"Organics. You will be destroyed. Azathoth has ordered it so."

Vincent has closed with it and he slices a hole in its chest. Sparks are flying everywhere, and the metal thing backhands Vincent and knocks him away. He yells, in mid-flight, "Eddie! Think 'magnetic burst' and aim your left arm at it!"

Eddie raises his left arm and the air goes all funny around the metal thing. The sparks increase and it collapses like a puppet with its strings cut. Vincent runs over and chops it to scrap.

Vincent motions for us to follow him. I notice that there's no mist coming out of his mouth, like it should be if it's this cold. This is getting stranger and stranger. Eddie's inspecting the metal like its a new toy at Christmas. He's also looking over his suit.

"Vincent, can I keep this?" he asks.

Vincent shakes his head and keeps walking in the direction this thing came from.

I shrug, gather up Rose and Eddie, and we follow him. He yells back something else to Eddie, but we can't make it out. Eddie runs up to him and they seem to be having a brief conversation. We catch up in time to hear the end of it.

"...weak point search? Okay, Vincent." Eddie puts his hand on the side of the helmet and taps it a couple times.

"Wow," he says, "I got it. It's over there, says here about 20 meters." He's pointing at a big snow drift.

Vincent walks over and slices into the snow, but it bounces off. "Damn," he mutters, "Dragon, fire at that point."

I shrug and fire, and the flame hits the spot, melting the snow and revealing a scorched mark in the metal beneath. I fire again, cause I figure we want in there.

About four blasts later, the metal blows inward and there's a human-sized hole. I walk over with everyone else and look inside.

The hole goes down, as far as I can see and beyond. It's a metal cylinder, with no apparent grips. As far as I'm concerned, that's mission over.

"How did the robot get in?" Vincent says.

"Vincent, I know this may not be the right time," Eddie says, "but I'm starting to get some kind of flashing words in my helmet. It says 'Flight Systems Draining.' Ow!"

Eddie drops to the ground and Vincent moves. He picks him up easier than he should be able to and runs about two meters out. Eddie stands on his own feet and puts a hand on Vincent's shoulder to steady himself.

Rose and I run over to him. "Are you alright?" Rose asks, "what happened?"

"Magnetic field," Vincent says, and I'm lost again, "That's how the robot got up and down the shaft. We've got a problem. Eddie can't use his capabilities, like I first hoped."

Vincent walks back over to the cylinder and looks down. "If only we had a couple days to wait, I could get down there. But we don't."

Just like always, Eddie's got an idea. But this time he voices it. "Vincent, why don't we ride down on the fragments from the robot?"

"What's a robot, Eddie?" I ask him, but no answers are forthcoming, because he and Vincent are already heading back to pick up the parts of the metal beast we defeated. So that's a robot.

They come back and Vincent takes parts and bends them. He bends them around my waist, Rose's waist, Eddie's waist, and his own. I don't ask how sturdy this metal is if he can bend it.

It works alright. Vincent jumps into the shaft to demonstrate, and he sticks to the back wall and slides down fast. I shrug and follow, and eventually we're all at the bottom. Eddie looks pretty sick, but when he gets away from the wall, he looks okay again.

Vincent's halfway down the hall by the time we're all assembled, and he's cut into a door by the time we get to him. This place is amazing, all the walls are metal and so are the doors. Course, the doors don't have hinges or knobs or anything like that, they're just big metal slabs with some kinda numbers typewriter next to them.

When Vincent cuts the door, it blows open and we step in to a dream I never thought I'd see fulfilled. Xavier's Vault.

This room is full of tommy guns, Xavier Industries Security uniforms, hand grenades, bazookas, and a bunch of weapons I don't recognize. Then I see one I know all too well. Rose is picking it up already.

"Vincent, this is just like mine, but it's wood."

Vincent looks at it and shrugs. "I knew they lost some dimension traveling. Why doesn't it surprise me that he would wind up with them?"

"What the hell is this," I ask, "where does he get all these weapons?"

"Some of them are new," Vincent says, picking up a little glob of metal. I don't even see how it could be a weapon, but I guess it is. He hands it to Rose. "Here, you might need this if we run into more trouble. Just press the red button and it'll fire."

She nods and sticks it into her belt. Meanwhile, Eddie's picking up some other gun that's a little bigger than his .45. He's looking at it from every angle and then he seems to have found the trigger. He pulls it and a chattering sound comes from the gun, a lot like a tommy gun. Bullet holes in one wall, and I count them at about thirty.

Eddie drops it like he's been bit. I don't blame him. I walk over and shake him. "You okay?"

"Vincent, I think it's about time you explain to me exactly what's going on here now," I say.

I turn around to make sure he heard me. I don't think he did. Because he's gone.

Just like Rose.

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