My information on the layout of the Pond comes from the October 1996 issue of Disney Adventures, in which a floor plan of the Pond was included.
For the sake of this story (and another one I hope to have posted soon), Nosedive was sixteen when he arrived on Earth and turned seventeen sometime during the second half of the season.
I recommend you read my other stories, especially 'Brotherhood,' before reading this story, otherwise it may not make as much sense as it should.
Monotonous. Humdrum. Tiresome. Dull. Interminable. Plebeian. Poky. Prosaic. Stale. Tame. Tedious. Unexciting. Trite. Vapid. Wooden. Wearisome. Irksome. Boring.
Mallory McMallard, formerly of the Puckworld Military, presently of the Mighty Ducks, had faced criminals, terrorists, robots, androids, mutants, psychotics, mad scientists, energy beings and giant, world dominating lizards from another planet. She'd fought in a revolution, been stranded in another dimension and seen more friends die and come close to dying than she particularly cared to think about. But now she was faced with what may possibly have been her greatest challenge yet - monitor duty.
Slumped uncomfortably in an uncomfortable chair staring at the monitors of their super computer, Drake One, Mallory scowled at every light and alarm that didn't go off, wishing for something, anything, to happen so she could get up and do something besides sitting there being bored.
For Mallory, one of the most hot-tempered and impulsive people alive, this was torture. She was positive Wildwing, or maybe the gods, was punishing her for something. Or maybe it was simply her turn, but she was way to frustrated to be reasonable. If only something would happen...
Mallory didn't notice the green shadow that appeared behind her until it was too late.
Grin was meditating when the door to his quarters slid open.
That wasn't unusual. His teammates sometimes let themselves in if something had come up which required his attention, and sometimes if they simply wanted to talk. Grin had a reputation for being easy to talk to, as more than one of his teammates would attest to.
What was unusual was the footsteps.
Every person had distinctive traits. Voice, speech patterns, body language, perfume, etc. All could be used to distinguish one person from another. Footsteps were no different. Wildwing, for instance, had a straightforward, forceful stride, Mallory was graceful, rather like a dancer, Tanya's was steady and Duke's was effortless and silent, Nosedive's stride was easy and constant, but with the beginning of the balance and poise that came with knowing how to fight - his lessons with Duke were definitely showing promise.
Whoever had come through his door was not one of his teammates, nor was it the hurried, slightly heavy stride of their manager, Phil Palmfeather. Since no one else was supposed to be in their headquarters, or even know it existed, Grin could safely assume that whoever it was meant trouble.
He was right, as he was about to find out.
Duke l'Orange was running for his life.
His throat burned, his lungs were on fire, his skin burned with stinging cuts and scratches from the branches that whipped across his face, the muscles of his legs screamed in protest with every step he took and the blood pounding behind his ears combined with the constant gunfire from behind him was giving him one hell of a headache.
By the stars, but he'd missed this.
The only thing spoiling the total rush he usually got from similar circumstances was the worry for the seventeen year old kid beside him also running for his life. A kid who was only in this mess because Duke had gotten him into it. A kid with little actual experience in a full fledged firefight. A kid whose older brother would rip Duke's head off if he brought the boy back to Anaheim with so much as a scratch on him.
Duke wasn't sure who he was more worried about, the gangsters behind him or the aforementioned older brother.
All things considered it was probably a good thing they left the woods and found themselves standing at the edge of a cliff when they did.
"Water looks deep," Duke observed. "What do ya say?"
"Why not?" Nosedive gasped. "Our lives don't have nearly enough excitement."
When their pursuers arrived less than thirty seconds later, all they found was an empty clearing, and a flock of startled seagulls clamoring on the cliffs below them.
Wildwing had just hung up the phone after spending half the afternoon shooting down every publicity stunt Phil had come up with when he heard a soft footstep behind him.
The first thing that occurred to him was that someone was trying very hard not to be heard.
Which of course, immediately made him suspect his kid brother and an impending practical joke. Except Dive was out of town with Duke and wouldn't be back for another two or three hours.
He didn't have the Mask, or his puck launcher and the closest thing to a weapon available was the pencil he'd broken in two pretending it was Phil's neck, but Wildwing spun around, hands coming up into a ready position, ready for whatever was there.
His teammate, Grin, took a step back, surprise on his face. "This a bad time?"
Wildwing smiled sheepishly and lowered his hands. "Sorry. Didn't hear you coming. I guess I overreacted a bit."
"Just a bit," Grin agreed. "Everything all right?"
"Yeah," Wildwing scowled at the phone. "I just spent three hours talking Phil out of some publicity stunts. Would you believe he wanted up to go base jumping to promote some new kind of parachute? He wasn't even fazed when I pointed out it was illegal!" Wildwing sighed. "You don't want to know what he came up with to promote the new and improved bullet proof vests."
Grin clapped him on the shoulder. "Sounds like fun."
Something, he was never sure what, rang false in that statement. The tone of voice, the way the statement was worded, the simple fact that it just wasn't something that Grin would say; any and all of those contributed to Wildwing's realization that this was not his teammate. But before he could do anything more than realize this, Grin - or whoever was pretending to be Grin - tightened his grip on Wildwing's shoulder and threw him into the wall.
Wildwing struggled to his feet and faced his assailant. A glimmer of light and the intruder sudden seemed to warp - and Wildwing knew who he faced. "Chameleon."
The shapeshifting Saurian grinned and morphed again, this time into a towering, muscle-bound giant, easily twice Wildwing's height. "Oh, man," Wildwing muttered. "This is gonna hurt." He dodged Chameleon's first blow, hitting the ground and rolling back up onto his feet just in time to dodge another blow. He cast a glance at the doorway, just a few feet away. He had to get out of there before he could worry about how Chameleon got into their headquarters. And who he'd brought with him.
Wildwing ducked, dodged, and dived toward the doorway, the automatic doors sliding open a second before he would have crashed into them. He came up on his feet and hit the security panel beside the door. The doors slammed shut and Chameleon hollered bloody murder as they closed on his hand. Wildwing waited only long enough to hear the locks engage before turning and taking off down the hallway. He had to find the rest of his team and figure out what to do next.
If Chameleon was inside the Pond, then Siege and Wraith almost certainly were and maybe even Dragaunus. He didn't know how they'd gotten inside without setting off the security measures; everything had been upgraded, updated and strengthened since the last time this had happened, all in an effort to make sure it never happened again. Fat lot of good it had done them.
That's more than enough of that, Wildwing told himself firmly. Find the others first. We have to keep Dragaunus away from Drake One. And we can't afford for him to get his hands on some of the information we have stored down here. But first, I have to get my hands on a puck launcher. No way am I taking on Siege hand-to- hand.
The Ready Room was just around the corner and down the hall. There he could get a puck launcher and check Drake One to see where the rest of his teammates were. Of course, that was assuming that Dragaunus hadn't already set up shop down there. Wildwing paused at the corner, listening. He heard no one and risked peering around the corner. A quick glance revealed no one. He carefully stole down the hallway, taking each step quickly and silently. The Ready Room door was closed and locked, and the voices coming from inside most definitely were not those of his team. Great. Only one choice left. He continued past the Ready Room. If he was lucky he could reach the private quarters before anyone saw him.
"Next time you need a favor, remind me that I'm busy."
Duke l'Orange laughed, careful not to disturb the precariously balanced packages in his arms. "Aw, come on, kid. It wasn't that bad."
"We went over a cliff."
"Hey, they were gangsters. We're lucky that's all that happened."
"Why'd you go and insult them then? You have a deathwish or something?" Nosedive, carrying a similar pile of packages and not doing nearly so well a job of balancing them, still managed to give Duke a dirty look. "What are you doing ripping off gangsters anyway?"
"I'm not ripping them off," Duke protested. "The car's over that way, kid."
Dive changed direction without missing a beat. "Not ripping them off? Oh, well I'm relieved to hear that. Makes me wonder why they chased us off that cliff though - the only thing lucky about that was that the water was deep - and why afterward we snuck back to their place and took all this stuff."
They reached the car and loaded the packages in the back. "Do I even want to know what this stuff is?"
"Probably not. Who's driving?"
"You. I'm still soaking wet. Heaven forbid I get water all over Phil's upholstery."
Duke laughed again as he got behind the wheel and started the engine. "I think there's a blanket in the backseat. Why don't you spread that out? I'll keep the water off the seat anyway." Dive did and he had barely closed the door behind him when Duke slammed the car into reverse and sped off. "Minor problem here, kid."
"I do have a name, you know."
"Remember those guys who chased us off the cliff?"
"I think they're up for an encore."
Whatever Nosedive said next was lost in the sound of gunfire.
Tanya's first indication that something was wrong came when she tried to reach Mallory over the communicator and got no answer. The second indication came when she went to the Ready Room to check something on Drake One and found the doors locked. And the third, and final, indication came when she turned the corner and walked straight into Siege.
The Saurian was as surprised as she, but recovered quicker, grabbing her by the shoulders. Tanya tried to twist out of his grasp, but her struggles only served to tire her out. The Saurian was a lot stronger and managed to keep his grip long enough to slam her against the wall of the hallway. Stunned, Tanya tried to shake it off, but Siege had already snapped a pair of restraints on her wrists. "Three down, one to go," he rumbled as he led her down the hall toward the containment cells.
Wildwing heard the sounds of a scuffle before he turned the corner. Pressing against the wall he carefully peered around the corner just in time to see Siege leading Tanya away. Well, great. Tanya was down. It was fairly safe to assume Grin was down. And if the Saurians held the Ready Room they must have taken out Mallory as well. Wildwing didn't have any misconceptions about his ability to deal with all three Saurians - he hoped there were only three. If Dragaunus had come with them, he was in even more trouble than he'd thought - and right now his best bet was to get to his comm unit and contact Duke and Nosedive.
Problem being was that his comm unit was built into his uniform and his uniform was in his quarters because he hadn't planned on doing anything that day.
From now on, Wildwing thought grimly. We're all carrying our comms with us – even in the shower.
He waited until the last of Siege's footsteps faded away before venturing around the corner. The main room was only down the hall, getting to it would be no problem, and once he got past there, it was clear sailing to the private quarters. Whatever the Saurians were after it was unlikely they'd be looking for it down there.
Not much of a plan, Wildwing reflected sourly, but for now it would have to do.
Duke winced as another burst of gunfire slammed into the side of the car. Phil was going to go into conniptions when he saw what had happened to his 'baby.' Assuming he and Nosedive lived long enough to get the car back to Phil, that is.
He twisted the wheel to the left, not bothering to use the brakes as he turned. They were in a fairly empty section of Anaheim, the only people who ever came to this neighborhood were criminals, homeless or driving through on their way to work. Unfortunately, none of the above were going to get themselves involved in a high speed firefight. Fortunately there weren't any civilians around to get run over or shot.
This whole thing was turning into an embarrassment. It was supposed to be a simple errand; deal with some gangsters who were starting to get too cocky and give Nosedive some hands-on training with one of the lesser-known aspects of the Brotherhood all in one move. But the gangsters had gotten the drop on them - Duke still didn't know why the criminals had returned to their headquarters so early; they were usually away until late afternoon. And while the two Ducks had given them the slip by going over the cliff, their escape hadn't landed long. For one reason or another, the teenaged thugs had once again returned early and discovered that their stash was gone. Displaying the most intelligent thinking they were likely to experience for the next six years they had suspected Duke and Nosedive.
And now, Duke mused absently, we're in deep. And I thought the cliff was bad. He took a sudden right, tires squealing. Glancing into the rearview mirror he scowled as the other car managed to make the turn as well. "That does it. Kid, how good a shot are you?"
To his credit, Nosedive did know when to be serious. "At this speed? And swerving all over like this? I can hit them, but I don't know if I can take them out the first time."
"Good enough," Duke said. "See if you can't hit the tires. Got your puck launcher with you?"
"Yup." Dive waited for a lull in the firing before leaning out the window and taking careful aim. He fired off two shots in rapid succession before ducking back inside. "I hit them, but I missed the tire. It's not slowing them down."
"Try again when you get an opening. And watch your head."
Dive rolled his eyes at the warning and took aim again. His first shot went wide, but the next two were hits; one slammed into the hood of the pursuing car, the other into the tirewell. Dive cheered as the twisted metal caught on the tire, shredding it. He could see the driver frantically trying to gain control as the car began to swerve. "He shoots, he scores," he said softly. "Come on, creeps. Crash."
It was with satisfaction that he watched the car skid to the side of the road, over the curb, onto the sidewalk and into a storefront. "Sleezoids defeated!"
"Unfortunately, so are we." Duke glowered at the steering wheel. "We must have taken a hit in the gas tank. We'll be out of fuel in just a minute. Ready to run?"
"You think they'll follow us?"
"Let's just say that they're *real* anxious to get back that stuff we took. And they're gonna be even more anxious to get rid of us."
"Great." Dive looked over his shoulder. "We've got a few blocks head start." Even as he spoke the car began to slow. Duke steered it over to the side of the road. "Come on, kid. We gotta get this stuff out of sight before these guys catch up with us. He grabbed a pile of boxes and handed them to Nosedive. Here shove 'em through the manhole."
"The sewer? You sure?"
Duke snorted. "Ain't no one gonna be using this stuff if I've got a say in it. If it gets wrecked all that means is we can't turn them into the cops. There'll always be a next time. Hurry."
"Right." Dive pried the manhole cover up and slid it to the side. He dropped the boxes down into the ground, and Duke did the same with the rest. "Help me get it back. And let's hurry. I don't want to be here when those guys catch up with us."
"You think they will?" Dive asked.
Duke winced slightly as the manhole cover dropped back into place with a loud 'clang.' "They almost have to. It's kind of hard to miss gasoline gushing out of a car onto the road, especially since they were most likely aiming at the gas tank. They have to know we couldn't have gotten very far. They'll probably be on us in a minute." He brushed his hands off and gave one last regretful glance toward the car. "Come on, let's get out of here while we still can."
Wildwing reached his quarters without any further confrontations. His communicator was where he'd left it and it was with relief that he switched it on. "Duke, Nosedive, come in."
There was a brief burst of static and Duke's face appeared on the screen. "Wildwing, what's up?"
"Dragaunus has the Pond," Wildwing said shortly. This was *not* the time for a drawn-out conversation. "Mallory, Tanya and Grin have been taken. I really need some back-up here."
"We're on our way," Duke promised. "We'll be a while, though. The car, uh - broke down." From beyond the communicator's screen cam a quick laugh. Wildwing shook his head. If those two had done anything to Phil's car, then Dragaunus was the least of their worries. He heard Duke and Nosedive talking, then the screen jumped and Dive appeared on the screen. "Watch your back, bro," he advised. "We're on our way." And the screen went blank.
"Trust me, little bro," Wildwing muttered. "I intend to."
He froze as footsteps approached from the hall.
"We've gotta get back to the Pond," Dive scowled. "Our friends are in trouble and we're stuck here dealing with a bunch of temperamental dealers who're pissed 'cause we busted their stash!"
Duke shook his head and grinned. They were running full out, had been for several minutes and Dive had just launched that little tirade without so much as sounding out of breath. The kid must have amazing lung capacity. "Good work. You figured out who we're dealing with."
Dive sighed. "Does everything have to be a lesson with you?"
"Yes," Duke teased. "Now pay attention. This'll be on the final exam."
Dive would have grinned. "Oh hell. Get down!"
A hail of bullets ripped through the air around them just as they hit the ground. There was a squeal of brakes as a car fishtailed past them. "They got another car," Duke said disgustedly. "I should have known. Quick, into the alley! We have to get off the streets!"
They scrambled to their feet and into the alley just as the car full of potential killers slammed into reverse and began to back up in their direction. There was a wall at the center of the alley - a rickety, wooden thing about eight feet high that looked to be about half a century old. It was a simple matter for them to climb over the other side. "Keep your puck launcher ready," Duke said as soon as his feet hit the ground on the other side of the wall. "They'll probably be following on foot aw well as in the car, so we can't stay out in the open. This way." He led the way across the street and through another alleyway, this one without a wall. "Here."
"Here what?" Dive asked. "It's an empty street."
"Not entirely empty." They hadn't slowed their pace while they talked and now Dive saw that they were heading directly toward a car parked at the curb. "We're gonna steal a car?" he asked incredulously.
"Not steal," Duke protested. "Borrow. And it's this or try to out run those guys. Which, may I point out, hasn't been working very well so far. But for the sake of our mutual well being," he added, "we won't tell Wildwing."
"Sounds good." Dive stopped just before the car and raised his puck launcher. "Get going, I'll keep you covered."
Hot wiring was a skill. A simple, uncomplicated skill that anyone with half a brain and the ability to see in color could master, but a skill nonetheless. Duke, not being colorblind and having considerably more than half a brain, had the car up and going in twenty seconds. But apparently, that was fifteen seconds too long, because he'd heard the gunfire from across the street, and the answering retort of Dive's puck launcher. "Get in!" he ordered and as soon as Dive was inside the car he slammed the gas pedal to the floor.
The three gang members pulled off some impressive moves to get out of the way before Duke hit them. Before they could try to fire at the fleeing vehicle, Dive, kneeling backwards on his seat, let loose with half of his remaining ammo, driving the gangsters out of the street and into the alleys and empty buildings along the street.
"Finally," Duke said. "Let's get back to the Pond."
"What about the guys in the car?"
"You trying to ruin my good mood, kid, or what?"
Dive snorted. "Trying to stay alive. Where d'ya think they went?"
"Probably holding back, waiting to see how their friends did. If they're still out there they'll probably put in an appearance right about-"
Screeching brakes and the clatter of gunfire interrupted him as the black sedan burst from a side street. Dive regarded Duke with something akin to delighted respect. "Spooky."
"Nah. Good timing. Shoot them, would ya?"
"Inmediamente." Dive aimed carefully, trying for the tirewell again, and fired off two shots in rapid succession. Each hit their target, but neither with enough force to stop the car. He cursed softly and tried again, this time hitting the tire itself as the car swerved slightly. He watched with satisfaction as the car slammed into a lamppost.
"I believe that now we can finally get out of here," he announced. He slumped down in his seat trying to brush away the shards of broken glass from the window Duke had smashed to get into the car. "Remember what I said about the next time you need a favor?"
"Please. One of those bullets put a hole in my jacket. My brand new jacket - or it was at least, until I decided to come along with you today."
"So long as it didn't put a hole in you. I can just see me trying to explain that to Wildwing..."
"Speaking of which," Dive said. "How long till we reach the Pond?"
"We'll be there in ten minutes, if we don't get pulled over." Duke grinned at Dive's confused look. "We're driving a stolen car, remember?"
"I thought you said 'borrowed.' "
"I'll give you semantics..."
Moving as quietly as possible, Wildwing positioned himself beside the door. Unarmed as he was he didn't stand much of a chance against any of the Saurians - except maybe Chameleon - but he wasn't going down without a fight.
Fortunately the footsteps didn't even pause as the continued down the hall. Wildwing waited until they faded from hearing before venturing out into the hallway. What was one of the Saurians doing down here? The only things down here were the private quarters - which weren't the goal, otherwise whoever it was out in the hall would have stopped to search Wildwing's quarters, as well as Grin's which was just down the hall, which they hadn't - and the infirmary. Neither seemed like something that would capture the attention of the Saurians. And if they wanted to get into the generator room they would have stayed in the elevator for another floor. What could possibly be of interest to them on this level?
For all of a second Wildwing debated which way to go - right after the intruder, or left to the elevator and the upper levels where he could get to the Mask and a puck launcher. The knowledge that the Mask was in the last place the Saurians would ever think to look for it made the decision for him and he turned to follow the intruder.
It wasn't long before he caught up with his unseen quarry. Chameleon stood at the far side of the hall staring at the wall. So far the Saurian hadn't seen him, and Wildwing slowly retreated around the corner. Pressed against the wall he watched to see what Chameleon was up to.
Chameleon's intentions became obvious when he pulled out something similar to Tanya's omnitool and pointed it at the wall. A high-pitched whine reached Wildwing's ears as a thin laser beam shot out into the wall. What the-? Oh no... Wildwing started as he realized just what Chameleon was up to. The passageway!
When the Ducks had built their headquarters beneath the Pond they'd anticipated just such an occurrence, and as a precaution they'd built a secret entrance to the headquarters. The main point of it had been to get to the generator room but separate corridors also ran to the infirmary and Ready Room. And if Wildwing remembered correctly, one of those corridors ran directly behind that wall. But why does Chameleon want to get into it? he wondered. They already have control of the Pond. What good would it do them? One thing was for sure, Wildwing wasn't about to let the Saurians continue with their plan. Whatever it was.
"I should've gone upstairs and gotten a puck launcher," Wildwing decided wearily.
"Looks quiet enough."
"Have I taught you nothing?" Duke shook his head in mock consternation. "Just because it looks harmless-"
"Doesn't mean it is, yeah." Nosedive handed Duke the binoculars. "I still don't see anything."
"Well, if they're down in the lower levels, you wouldn't." Duke raised the binoculars to his eyes and took a look for himself. Their position on the roof of the Anaheim Mall offered an unobstructed view of the Pond across the way. "I wonder what they're up to. I doubt they could get through all the new security we added to Drake One after last time. And how did they get past the transporter shields?"
"You're trying to make this more difficult than it has to be," Nosedive accused. "How're we going to do this?"
Duke grinned. "You're going to hate me."
"Trust me. I do already."
"I hate you." Nosedive bit back a grunt of pain as his arm caught on yet another sharp edge. The ventilation ducts to the Pond had not been designed for covert activities.
"Shhh," Duke hissed. The older man was moving through the ducts with an ease that made Dive feel positively lumbering. "The Saurians could be anywhere."
Dive rolled his eyes but remained silent. He'd known as soon as Duke announced his plan, that he was going to hate this, and he'd been right.
Getting into the Pond had been easy enough. They simply used their access codes to gain entrance to the 'secret tunnels,' the hidden corridors which had been built for just such an occasion. They'd worked their way through the corridors to one of the hidden entrances that would take them into the Pond, from where they could work their way to the hangar, where weapons could be reached.
It was what came next that got a little complicated.
They were locked out.
They tried to access the generator room via the hidden entrance without success. The same had happened at the Infirmary and Ready Room. The only available explanation had been that the Saurians had somehow discovered the hidden entrances. How was a problem; the corridors weren't listed in Drake One or any of the blueprints and the elevators didn't connect to them. Duke, announcing that he didn't really care and anyway it really wouldn't do them any good to figure out how if they still couldn't get the doors open, had then revealed what he called 'Plan B.'
Which is how they came to be crawling through the ventilation ducts, armed, without backup and facing nearly impossible odds.
Nosedive grinned in the near darkness. Bruce Willis, has nothing on this.
Duke's plan was simple enough, a fact which in and of itself was enough to make Dive wary. Duke's 'simple' plans had a tendency to get very complicated very suddenly, usually when you were surrounded, out of ammo and about to be discovered by the enemy. They always worked, but you had to be paying close attention to keep up. This 'simple' plan had 'trouble' written all over it.
"What's the only way to get to the corridors from the main section of the Pond?" Duke had asked.
"The entranceways," Dive had responded, not sure where it was going, but knowing that Duke always had a reason for his seemingly stupid questions. "The one down in the sewers that we used to get in and the three up here - Ready Room, infirmary and generator room."
"That's conventional thinking, my friend," Duke had replied, shaking his head slightly, a grin appearing on his face.
"Conventional?" Dive had asked. "Duke, there ain't nothing conventional about hidden passageways and alien invaders."
"Think about it, Dive. Aside from the obvious, what's the only way to get back and forth between the corridors and the Pond?"
"This is no time for a lesson," Dive had sighed, but he'd run the options through his mind anyway. The conclusion he came to was the same as before. "There is no other-" He'd caught himself, blinked, and glared at Duke. "No way am I crawling through those air ducts. They're the size of a toothpaste tube!"
Duke had laughed, clapped him on the shoulder and offered him a hand getting up.
Now, wedged into the tight confines of the duct, firmly telling himself that he was not claustrophobic, Dive toyed with the idea of getting some normal friends.
Ahead of him Duke came to a halt. He gestured for Dive to move up. "Main room," he whispered. Dive glanced past him and saw that they'd come to a grate through which the main room could be seen. Duke leaned over to his young teammate and whispered softly. "We can get out here - make a break for the elevators. Or we can keep going through the ducts until we reach the hangar."
"Elevator," Dive said promptly.
Duke loosened the grate, carefully easing it down. Fortunately the couch was directly below and he was able to avoid making any noise. Twisting around, he managed to get into position to slide feet first from the duct. Dive followed a moment later and helped him replace the grate. Silently, puck launcher at the ready, Duke led the way out of the room and down the hall.
They reached the elevator and Duke ushered Dive ahead of him, checking the hall one last time before following. "That went well," he said.
He was knocked to the floor as an explosion rocked the building.
Chameleon hadn't been the problem.
Quite the contrary, actually. The small Saurian had gone down easily, never knowing what hit him. Wildwing had shut down the laser Chameleon had been using before it could do any more damage. Chameleon's blaster he took; it worked as well as a puck launcher and he was going to need a weapon soon. The Saurians held the Ready Room and it wouldn't bee too long before they found a way around Drake One's security. Then they would be able to turn the Pond's defense systems to their use. Last time Wildwing had been able to defeat the defense systems - with the assistance of Klegghorn. This time it looked like he was pretty much on his own. He *hoped* Dive and Duke were working on a solution, but he couldn't be sure they were even there.
He'd tied Chameleon's hands together, gagged him and locked him in a utility closet not far from where he'd been working. Retracing his steps, he headed back toward the elevator.
He heard the whine of the elevator in movement before he was halfway down the hall. He slowed his pace, keeping the blaster ready. The lift stopped about two levels beneath him.
Whoever was in the elevator ceased to be his main concern when he heard a sudden sound behind him.
He could never describe that sound even though he'd been hearing it on a weekly basis for more than a year. The closest he'd ever come to an accurate description was 'bending.' It sounded like something bending. And that sound was always accompanied by one of the Saurians.
Reluctantly he turned away from the elevator and toward the sound. A green 'shadow' shimmered into solidity and the tall, twisted form of Wraith appeared.
He was facing away from Wildwing, apparently he'd come to check in on Chameleon. Great timing, Wildwing thought wryly. I have got to have the world's worst luck.
Wraith seemed to be angry about something. "Chameleon! What is taking so long-" He stopped and glared at the empty hall. "Where did that pathetic little cretin go to? He'll throw off our entire plan!"
Plan? Keep talking, you overgrown stick figure. What plan?
"Chameleon!" Wraith shouted. Wildwing held his breath and listened carefully. Chameleon shouldn't have regained consciousness yet, but if he had there was no way he'd not hear Wraith's shout. Fortunately there was nothing but silence. Wildwing raised the blaster, determined to take Wraith out of the picture before he could cause too much trouble.
Then Wraith - acting on sixth sense, Ancient Saurian Powers, or maybe just good hearing - turned around.
That was the problem.
He saw Wildwing and let out a roar of rage. He raised a hand and a ball of fire appeared from thin air. Wildwing leaped to the side a split second before the fireball slammed into the wall behind where he'd been standing. He fired off a few shots with the blaster before ducking another fireball. That one slammed into the wall at the far end, taking out the elevator too. Solves that problem. Wildwing braced the blaster firmly against his side and took careful aim. Two more shots fired, each of them striking their target. Wraith howled in pain and anger as he stumbled into the wall, doubled over in pain. Wildwing heard a pounding from further down the hall. Apparently not even Chameleon could sleep through all the noise the short battle had made. Eventually he'd come to his senses - what few he had - and shapeshift into something big enough to break the cloth strips used to tie his wrists and break down the door. Wildwing fired another shot, hitting Wraith square-on at point blank range. The sorcerer collapsed to the floor unconscious. Wildwing approached cautiously and checked to make sure the Saurian was truly out of it. Wraith's pulse was slow, his breathing shallow; he wasn't going to be getting up for a while at least.
With that problem temporarily taken care of, Wildwing gave his attention back to the elevator. Whoever had been in it was slowly prying the door open.
The first explosion had only knocked them to the floor but the second had brought the elevator to a halt. Pulling himself back to his feet Duke blinked slightly trying to adjust his eyes to the sudden darkness inside the lift. "Fantastic." He pressed an ear against the doors to the lift and caught the sounds of blaster fire. "Someone's fighting out there."
"It's gotta be Wing," Dive said worriedly. "What can you hear?"
"Blaster fire." Duke examined the interior of the lift. "I've got an idea, kid. Come here." Duke pointed up. "See that panel? It's a trapdoor. If I give you a boost, think you can get it open?"
"Sure thing." Duke cupped his hands together at about knee-height and gave Dive a step up, supporting his weight while he examined the roof of the lift. "Okay, I think I've, uhn- Got it!" Dive gave the panel a shove and moved it to the side, clearing the way.
"Climb out," Duke instructed. Dive pulled himself onto the roof of the elevator lift. Duke followed a second later. The top of the elevator car was almost on level with a doorway. "Looks like we're just outside our quarters," Duke muttered. "Let's get these doors open and get out of here." They each took one side of the doorway and slowly managed to slide the door open.
The sight that greeted them was a bit of a surprise, but welcome. Wildwing, armed with a Saurian blaster, standing over the prone form of Wraith gave them a startled glance before lowering the blaster. "Am I glad to see you two."
"Looks like you've been taking care of yourself pretty well," Dive said with a grin. "Fill us in, bro. What's going on here?"
"I'll tell you on the way. We need to get to the Mask."
The generator room, which was about as far from the hangar as you could get, was dark and silent. To an accomplished thief like Duke, it was the perfect place for an ambush. He wanted to get out of there as son as possible. "You left the Mask down here?"
"Mmm-hmm. Tanya was working on the generator and she needed to get a good look at the problem before she got started. I told her to use the Mask. It should be right- here." Wildwing took the Mask from the storage locker and put it on with satisfaction. The Mask gave him a sense of confidence during battle.
"Have you been able to figure out any reason why the Saurians would want to get into the corridors?" Nosedive asked.
"Nothing," Wildwing admitted. "I still can't figure out how they even know they exist."
"Maybe last year, when they took the Pond - for the first time - they saw you and Klegghorn come in through the entrance in the generator room."
"That's certainly possible," Wildwing said. "But it really doesn't do us any good right now. Any suggestions anybody?"
"We were heading up to the hangar when we ran into you," Duke said. "There's weapons and ammunition up there. I don't know about that blaster you took from Chameleon, but I'm almost out of pucks."
"I've only got two shots left," Dive supplied.
Wildwing nodded. "Good idea. Duke, this is more your area of expertise. Lead the way."
"But I gotta warn ya. If you lead the way back into those ventilation ducts, I'll kill you."
Duke grinned, but his words were serious. "I'll lead. Dive you follow. Wing you take up the back. Let's keep this short, sweet and simple. We get to the hangar and we get out as soon as possible. Got it?"
Dive and Wildwing both nodded their agreement. Duke felt a momentary discomfort at giving orders to his leader, but Wing was right - this sort of thing was Duke's turf and if getting through this alive meant a temporary role reversal then that was what it would take. "Let's do this."
It was with a great deal of satisfaction that Dive reloaded the ammunition in his puck launcher. After the day he'd had he may never leave home without it again. He grabbed some extra pucks, just to be on the safe side and checked on Duke and Wildwing's progress. Like him, Duke needed only to reload on ammo, but Wildwing had taken a puck launcher, preferring the familiar weapon to the Saurian blaster. They both looked ready to go.
The next step was to hit the containment cells and free the others. To reach the cells would mean walking right past the Ready Room. Wraith and Chameleon had almost certainly managed to free themselves by now and Siege was probably around too. And they were all likely to be in and around the Ready Room. The only good side to this was that so far there was no sign of Dragaunus. They could hope he wasn't around.
Dive holstered his puck launcher and moved to join Duke and Wing on the other side of the hangar. He froze when he heard the doors to the hangar slide open. Feeling horribly like a deer caught in the headlights he looked up to see Siege and Chameleon enter the bay.
Oh, man... Any movement Dive made would only draw the Saurians attention. Cloaked as he was by the shadows and the stacks of equipment - by products of some of Tanya's experiments - the Saurians might not see him if he didn't draw attention to himself. And if they didn't look directly at him.
Across the bay he saw Duke and Wildwing, safely out of the Saurians line of sight, duck for cover. He didn't spare them much attention though, they weren't the ones trying to kill him.
The ones who were seemed to be too involved in their conversation to pay any attention to their surroundings, fortunately. "I'm telling you, Siege it wasn't my fault!"
"Getting yourself beat over the head by an unarmed duck and locked in a closet? So whose fault was it?"
Chameleon whined. "I didn't see him! How was I supposed to Wildwing was still loose? You never told me!'
"Is that the argument you're going to give Lord Dragaunus when he asks why we're half an hour behind schedule?"
"Relax, Siege! No need for the boss to find out! Right? We can still pull this off! We're almost into the corridors and from there on it's clear sailing!"
Siege snorted. He and Chameleon had reached a row of storage lockers along the wall, only twenty or so feet down from where Dive stood. Siege pulled open one of the lockers and began rummaging through the contents while he spoke. "Clear sailing? If we're so much as a minute off on this the whole thing goes up in our faces. We can't afford screw-ups. Got it, screw-up?"
"Hey!" Chameleon protested. "I resent that!"
"Tough." Siege had apparently found what he needed. Dive couldn't see what it was he pulled from the locker but the burly Saurian didn't bother to search any more. "Take this down to Wraith. I'm gonna finish what you started with the hidden walkways. It's a four hour job to drill through into the subbasement of that military base and thanks to you we've only got three and a half left."
"Can't we just wait and try again?" Chameleon asked.
"Oh, sure, no problem-" Siege paused and peered into the shadows around him suspiciously. Not twenty feet away Dive held his breath, forced himself to remain still. You don't see me, he thought. Just keep going. Keep talking. I'm not here.
Siege turned away and resumed the conversation and Dive slowly took a deep breath. "Wraith and Lord Dragaunus worked on this plan for months, ever since we got the blueprints of the Pond's secret passage from that construction company. The passageway comes almost on top of the below ground laboratory of Anaheim Military Base. And the only time to get in there is a window of fifteen minutes that won't occur again for another six months! You think we can hold the Pond for six months? Sooner or later someone's gonna miss those ducks and even the stupid humans will think to come here looking for them, eventually. Then what? It's now or never if this is going to work."
Military lab? Dive darted a glance across the hangar to see if Wildwing and Duke had picked that up but he didn't see them. He turned his attention back to the Saurians.
"-wasting time," Siege was saying. "Let's get this show back on the road."
"But what about Wildwing?" Chameleon asked. "What if he causes more trouble?"
"How much damage can he cause all by himself?" Siege asked. "Forget about him. Now stop yer whinin' and get to work! We're running out of time!" Siege thrust the equipment into Chameleon's arms and stalked out of the hangar muttering obscenities and insults every step of the way.
"No trouble, huh?" Chameleon muttered as he followed. "Forgotten Atlantis already, have we?"
Dive waited until the door had slid shut behind them before daring to move. Letting his pent-up breath up in one explosive gasp he leaned back against the wall. The muscles of his legs ached from being held tense for so long and he felt as if three or four gallons of adrenaline had been pumped into his system.
He heard Duke and Wildwing approaching and steadied himself. "Did you hear that?"
Wildwing nodded. "We heard. This is bad."
"We have to stop them," Duke said firmly. "We can't let them get into a military lab because we made a mistake by not making sure those blueprints were destroyed. Stars only know the havoc Dragaunus could wreak with some of the stuff in there."
"We'll stop them," Wildwing vowed. "You heard Siege and Chameleon. We have three hours."
For the last hour and a half Mallory had prowled the containment cell like a caged animal, trying to come up with some way to break out. After going over the cell several times she had admitted (if only to herself) temporary defeat. She'd then switched to pacing while she considered ways of distracting their captors or tricking the Saurians into releasing her and her teammates. So far she was drawing a blank and her temper was nearing the breaking point.
It wasn't helping matters any that Grin hadn't moved a muscle in the last ninety minutes and appeared for all intents and purposes to be asleep.
Tanya was directly in between the two, worried and beginning to feel the effects of being confined, but not nearly to the degree Mallory was. She was however, becoming increasingly on edge and Mallory's constant pacing was beginning to get on her nerves. But Mallory had just cause to be nervous. They all did.
Mallory had been the first one captured, but the last one brought down to the containment cells, and while she was being held in the Ready Room she'd learned a little about the Saurians' plans. She had told her other two teammates what little she'd heard. The news that the Saurians knew of the hidden corridors came as a shock, but even worse was the knowledge of what they planned to use the corridors for. Tanya had been unable to shake a lingering feeling of guilty responsibility.
And all they could do was sit here and hope Wildwing managed to stop the Saurians without being captured himself.
Grin had pointed out that Duke and Nosedive were still loose, but Mallory had dashed whatever raised spirits that remembrance had brought when she also pointed out that the Saurians had control of the security systems. Even assuming they managed to get inside the Pond, they'd probably be killed by one of the lasers or the security drones. That poorly thought-out remark also applied to Wildwing and they all knew it.
Tanya was just about to enter into a good and well-deserved sulk when she heard the slightest rustle of something behind her. Frowning she turned around-
-and almost screamed.
Duke grinned at her from the other side of the security shield and held a finger in front of his beak, signaling her to remain silent. Tanya complied, gesturing for Mallory and Grin to join her.
Duke had the security system overridden in only a minute or two and the three former prisoners watched with satisfaction as the force shield shimmered out of existence. Tanya took the puck launcher Duke held out to her. Nosedive and Wildwing did the same for Grin and Mallory. All three of them, Tanya thought relievedly. Thank goodness.
Duke did something more to the security system and the force shield once again flashed into existence. Tanya gave him a questioning look. He only shook his head and continued what he was doing. It was several minutes before he raised his head from the computer panel. "It's safe now."
"What did you do?" Tanya asked.
"I tricked the computer," Duke explained. "The security systems aren't tied directly into Drake One, right?"
"So the security on them is simpler. Apparently the Saurians didn't realize that or they would have boosted security, or left a guard or something. It was easy enough to override the system while convincing Drake One that nothing was happening." Duke tapped the console with two fingers, a look of accomplishment on his face. "I also sealed the entire section off from Drake One's security influence. It's completely safe for us to talk here without having to worry about the Saurians overhearing what we say or sicking the defenses on us."
The reunited teammates quickly filled each other in on the events of the afternoon. "Why was Chameleon trying to drill through the wall?" Grin asked. "Why didn't the Saurians just get into the corridors through the entrance in the Ready Room?"
"I locked the entranceways," Mallory said. "When I heard Wraith talking and realized what they were trying to do I managed to get loose and trigger the security lock on the corridor entrances. I realized that I was probably locking you guys out, Duke, but it seemed like a better option than just letting the Saurians walk in without even trying to stop them."
"It was the right thing to do, Mallory," Wildwing assured her. "Do you have any idea how the Saurians got in here? The teleport shields were up, weren't they?"
Mallory wouldn't meet his gaze. "That's my fault, Wildwing. I was on monitor duty but I wasn't paying close enough attention. The Saurians just walked in through the front door and I never noticed until they appeared behind me."
"The teleport shields keep people from teleporting in from the outside," Tanya added, "but they don't do anything about teleportation once you're inside. The Saurians had free run of the Pond once they got inside."
"I'm sorry, Wildwing. I should have been more on my guard. The Saurians never should have been able to get inside so easily." Mallory was embarrassed and more than a little ashamed but this was her fault and therefore her responsibility and she'd never been the sort to shirk her responsibilities.
Wildwing rested a hand on her shoulder. "They've been planning this for months, Mallory. They know what they were doing. If they hadn't gotten in that way they would have another. It was a mistake, but I don't think it'll happen again. Do you?"
"Count on it," Mallory promised.
"I know I can. Now, we have two and a half hours. We need a plan."
They split up - Duke, Grin and Tanya would stop Siege from reaching the military lab and Wildwing, Mallory and Nosedive would retake the Ready Room.
Wildwing waited until Dive and Mallory took up positions on either side of the Ready Room door and signaled that they were ready before raising his puck launcher and firing off two quick shots. The Ready Room door exploded inward. He heard shouts of surprise from inside but didn't give them time to do anything more than be surprised.
Wildwing dove through the door and off to the side just as a barrage of blaster fire pierced the air where he had been only a moment before. Dive and Mallory covered him, keeping the Saurians pinned down while Wildwing took careful aim. Chameleon went down first; a puck hit him right in the chest and knocked him halfway across the room.
Wraith hissed as he narrowly avoided another burst of firing. Two fireballs appeared in the palms of his hands and he hurled them across the room at Wildwing. The team captain was forced to dodge them and he lost his aim on Wraith. "You haven't won yet," the Saurian snarled.
Wildwing lunged toward him just as Wraith triggered the teleportation. For a fraction of an instant he *almost* had a grip on Wraith's robes, but everything was intangible beneath his fingers and the Saurian vanished from sight.
"Aw, man!" Dive glowered at the spot where Wraith had been. "I'm getting really tired of those slimebag Saurians disappearing every time we're about to catch them!"
Wildwing punched his access code into Drake One. "I've unlocked the entranceway into the corridor from here. Mallory and I will go through the corridor to catch up with Siege, it'll be a lot quicker than using the hallways and the elevator. Nosedive, stay here, get the security systems back on our side. And little bro," he added, "make sure you tie Chameleon up tight before you do anything else."
"No problemo, Wing," Dive replied confidently.
It took less than three minutes for Wildwing and Mallory to reach the section of corridor Chameleon had attempted to cut through. Siege had apparently made better time; there was a gaping hole in the wall between the hallway and the corridor and he had started to bore through the other side of the wall. The tools lay discarded though. They could hear the sounds of fighting from out in the hallway. Siege was bellowing and there was the occasional sound of a puck launcher firing.
Mallory stepped over to the tools. Kneeling down she hefted one piece of the equipment and examined it. With a mischievous smile she met Wildwing's gaze.
Wildwing nodded. "Go for it. I'll give the others a hand."
But the other three seemed to have the situation well in hand. Siege was frantically trying to avoid the shots from Duke and Tanya's puck launchers and Grin's fists at the same time. He wasn't succeeding. As Wildwing watched Grin easily evaded a burst of blaster fire and grabbed Siege by the arm. The burly Saurian ended up slumped against the far wall, out cold.
There was no sign of Wraith, though. Wildwing wondered if he would have abandoned Siege and Chameleon. Stupid question, he answered himself.
"Very nice, Grin," he complimented. "Why don't you and Duke deal with Siege? If my memory serves, there should be some rope in the utility closet down the hall. And keep an eye out for Wraith. Tanya how much damage are we looking at here?"
Tanya followed Wildwing into the corridor where Mallory stood over a pile of what had once been expensive digging tools. "It doesn't look too bad. He only just started with this wall when we interrupted him. I can have this fixed up in a day or two if I can get some help."
"It's yours," Wildwing said.
There was a shout from out in the hall, a crash, and the sound of a Saurian teleporter. Wildwing sighed. "I think we just found Wraith." He looked back out into the hall and saw only Duke and Grin picking themselves up off the floor. "Great." He switched on his communicator. "Dive? You there?"
"Unfortunately," Nosedive replied a second later, holding one hand to the back of his head. "Chameleon's gone. Wraith-"
"I know; the same thing just happened with Siege."
"Good news is, I got the security back on our side, so you can stop worrying about the defenses."
"Good work. Make sure the teleport shields are up. We're heading back up." Wildwing switched off the communicator.
Duke and Grin had regained their feet and were wearing identical expressions of disgust. "Well, that was certainly anti-climatic," Duke said.
Wildwing grinned. "We could ask them back for a rematch; tell them we were a little disappointed with the way this turned out."
"Don't start with me, Wing. This has been a royally rotten day."
Wildwing clapped Duke on the shoulder as the three walked back to join Mallory and Tanya. "Don't worry, Duke. After four or five hours of repair work, you won't even remember what it was that had you so aggravated."
"You're truly evil, aren't you?"
Wildwing's laughter followed them down the hall.
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