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PeabodySam

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About PeabodySam

  • Birthday 04/14/1994

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    he/him/his
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    In front of my computer
  • Interests
    Obviously I am a LEGO fan, otherwise I would never have found this website. I'd say my top three favorite LEGO themes are Rock Raiders, Adventurers, and Alpha Team. BIONICLE, Pirates, and Space also rank rather highly.

    I also enjoy videogames. I do not consider myself a hardcore gamer in any way; I just play for fun. Two of my favorite game series are Mario and Half-Life (including Portal). Naturally, I also enjoy LEGO games, though I dislike that most games since 2005 are repackaged versions of LEGO Star Wars.

    I am very into art and music. I find that both help me express my feelings very well. I am interested in most forms of art, and in music, I love mostly anything orchestral. I play both the piano and clarinet. One more thing... music is a lot like candy. It's much better when you throw away the rappers.

    Literature is another favorite subject of mine. I love to read, and when I'm not reading, I'm usually writing, be it for a story (such as The Story of Frosam Trilogy) or for a text-based RPG (such as Dino Attack RPG). I've written many stories here on BZPower, and my Dino Attack RPG has been praised for its well-written plot.

    I am also interested in science. Personally, I find geology, astronomy, and biology to be the most intriguing subjects of science, yet I am also good at chemistry because somehow I'm excellent at math.

    I do not watch a whole lot of television. Most TV shows nowadays are rather bad; back in the days of Monty Python, it was great, but nowadays it is sadly not so. Too many lousy reality TV shows on the air. However, two recent TV shows that I absolutely love are Pushing Daisies and Fringe.

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  1. Back in January, I said I'd update the online chapters to version 1.1. Well, here we are, more than half a year later... and I've finally got around to updating the chapters, now updated to the recently-released version 1.2 instead! Better late than never, I suppose. A whopping 74 out of 80 chapters (including the prologue) have been edited to some capacity. However, as I said in my last post, many of these edits are minor tweaks and fixes, but there are still a handful of chapters with brand new content to read, including the aforementioned content from version 1.1 that has finally been posted online. To make the biggest changes easier to identify (for anyone who's already read the Director's Cut on BZPower and just wants to catch up on the new stuff), I've listed them below: Chapter 2: Black Operations: All missing content has been fully recovered. Chapter 3: High Voltage: All missing content has been fully recovered. Chapter 8: Blacktron Legacy: A new scene has been written for properly introducing General Evil. Chapter 11: Entropy: Two new scenes have been added, including Kotua's escape from Dimension 8231 and Anti-Kotua's arrival in the primary universe. Chapter 12: Dark Horizons: Two new scenes have been restored, including Kotua's final battle against Alpha Chaos and his first meeting with Anti-Kotua. Chapter 20: Our Inner Demons: Two new scenes have been written, including a debriefing in Specs's office and a conversation in the mess hall. Chapter 26: Homecoming: Two new scenes have been restored, including an escape from Dr. Rex and General Evil renouncing his villainy. Chapter 27: Typhoon Turbulence: A new scene has been written for General offering to train Talia Kaahs. Chapter 33: United We Stand: Three new scenes have been added, including a restoration of Amanda Claw revealing her backstory, the food debate in the mess hall, and Trigger's reworked introduction. Chapter 36: Team Fortress: Three new scenes have been restored, including Rex and Reptile's infiltration of the XERRD Fortress, their encounter with Dr. Michelle Gladys, and Amanda Claw outing herself as Silencia Venomosa. Chapter 38: Countdown to the End: A new scene has been restored for Amanda Claw's private confession to Rex. Chapter 77: Let the Celebration Commence: Two new scenes have been reworked, including the Pierces complaining to the Brickolinis about their pizza and Sarah Pierce trying to get Papa Brickolini arrested. You may notice that a few of these additions (Alpha Chaos's defeat, Anti-Kotua's introduction, Amanda's backstory) were mentioned in my last post as some of the missing posts I wanted to restore in future versions of the Director's Cut. That's three down! But there's still plenty more to do, both in restoring lost scenes and in writing brand-new scenes, so I expect there'll definitely been a version 1.3 released sometime in the future. On top of all this, the downloadable version of the Director's Cut now includes the "Fifteeniversary" stories, which were written by some of us old Dino Attack RPG players on Discord to commemorate the RPG's fifteenth anniversary in 2020. So, if you want an additional 200 pages of story to read, be sure to download the Director's Cut and check it out!
  2. For anyone who's been diligently following and reading Dino Attack RPG: Director's Cut each weekend, I thank you for joining me on this journey through BZPower history. After 80 chapters (including the prologue), the story is finally concluded. There's plenty more to tell, of course; there are various Expanded Universe stories covering additional events before the Dino Attack, after the Dino Attack, and even in other universes or timelines! But for now, at least, I'll be keeping those as "extras" in the downloadable version. Speaking of which... now that the entire Director's Cut is online, version 1.1 is now available for download. This includes all the tweaks, nitpicks, and other edits I've been making while proofreading each chapter just before uploading them onto BZPower. However, this downloadable version also has a large number of edits that aren't yet in the online BZPower mirror, with nearly 70 chapters seeing at least one change. Many of these are minor (i.e. more corrections of typos and grammar), but there are a few substantial additions, with some of the more notable ones including: Thanks to Among Us, all posts from the first three chapters of "Act 1: The Kotua Crisis" have been fully recovered! As a result, Chapters 2 and 3 are significantly expanded; major events such as Rex, Kai, and Hyrode being captured by ShadowTech are able to be told as a full story rather than merely reconstructed from wiki summaries. The codenames of the Second Headquarters Squad have been changed (with the exception of Medic, in order to keep his backstory). Similarly, Michelle Glados's name has been slightly altered to Michelle Gladys. Both changes were made with the intended goal of distancing these characters from their Valve inspiration and making them feel less like blatant copies. The ending of Chapter 33 has been expanded with a new introduction to Trigger... which is actually a significantly reworked version of a non-canonical post from the final battle. Brikman McStudz wrote an Expanded Universe story titled Corruption, which was retroactively integrated into chapters 36 and 37 after they were posted on BZPower. Unlike the above changes, this one is actually already online, but I probably forgot to mention this earlier. Therefore, if you read these chapters before July 2021 and missed out on it, you can check it out now. It will certainly take some time for me to update all the online chapters to reflect the v1.1 download, but I'll be trying to get it done over the course of the next couple weeks. An obsessive director's job is never done! There is still more that I think can be done with the Director's Cut, particularly in reconstructing the lost material. I'd love to depict Zero exploring Astor City and discovering the T.O.A., or give Alpha Chaos a proper exit and Anti-Kotua a proper introduction, or rewrite Amanda Claw revealing her dark past to Rex. And there are some new stories that could be told, such as writing a finale to Kotua's final mission against the Raptors Gang, or finally showing the off-screen battle against Willa the Witch and her magical Thunder Driller. And there's always room for new Expanded Universe and additional contributions from my fellow RPG players. But for now, until the inevitable release of version 1.2... I hope you have enjoyed the definitive Dino Attack RPG experience.
  3. Chapter 79: Sunrise ---- January 1, 2011, 6:00 AM Waves crashed upon the sand, and a gentle breeze carried the voices of gulls across the water to Peter Abody's ears. It had been a beautiful night on LEGO Island, but here on Adventurers' Island, everything felt so calm and serene in comparison to the manic excitement of the New Year's Eve party. The tranquility had allowed Peter to reflect upon recent events. The last message from the ATLANTIS Deep Sea Salvage Crew claimed that they were closer than ever to finding the lost city at last, but no news had been heard from the divers since they passed through the Portal of Atlantis. The war in Castle Cove between the Lion Kingdom and the Dragon Kingdom continued in full force. Although reconstruction was going smoothly, the crime rate in LEGO City had risen since 2009, causing some trouble for the police department. Even worse, there were reports from various sources around the galaxy that a fleet of alien invaders were approaching the LEGO System. Even after the end of the Dino Attack war, there was still much to worry about in the LEGO Universe. It seemed there would be no rest to conflict between opposing factions, and for many, the Dino Attack had shaken the belief that such factions could be easily divided into "good" and "evil", for the truth was far more complicated than that. Peter himself learned that lesson the hard way: he had once believed he was an infallible hero, only to discover that he was capable of committing terrible acts… he once thought that General Evil was an irredeemable villain, only to watch him die as a courageous and noble hero. But despite it all, this was a place where Peter could escape his concerns. Here on Adventurers' Island, there was no strife. With the expulsion of Maelstrom from the Temple of Creation, the barren wasteland left by the destructive energies was being repopulated once more. The Mutant Dino war was over, leaving the local dinosaurs free to continue nature's circle of life. The TumTum Islanders and the Adventurers had no quarrels with one another, and with Lord Sam Sinister going on a pharaoh's quest, there would be no conflict. All was at peace. Peter closed his eyes and took in a long breath of fresh sea air as he listened to the sounds of waves. He heard footsteps in the sand, and when he opened his eyes once again, Peter saw Greybeard standing beside him. "Aye," sighed the old, grizzled pirate. "T' a buccaneer such as meself, thar be nothin' quite like th' sea. T' a pirate, th' sea be freedom... th' sea be life." "I'm glad you could come," said Peter, grinning. "LEGO Island isn't too far from here. I stayed until midnight to join in the 'HAPPY NEW YEAR!', and then I took the first helicopter to Adventurers' Island. Being my old home, LEGO Island will always hold a special place in my Creative Spark... but I have to say, finally seeing Adventurers' Island in peacetime, this place is definitely something special." Greybeard nodded. "Reminds me a bit o' home. Th' Phanta Sea certainly carries th' same air o' adventure an' mystery that make th' Tropical Seas th' best place on th' entire planet, an' this island... I can smell th' hoards o' treasure that would make King Kahuka jealous. Aye, it be a pirate's life, me lad... it be a shame that I must give it all away." "What?" exclaimed Peter, blinking in surprise. Greybeard sighed and shook his head. "I be a grandfather now, I suppose, an' I must settle down t' take care o' Mary Rose." He gestured inland to the edge of the jungle, where the little girl slept comfortably as a T-Rex stood protectively over her. "It be somethin' I 'ad ne'er thought o' before, but in me decision t' take th' girl under me wing, I must bid farewell t' th' sea. It be... rath'r bitt'rsweet fer me. I do love her, but I be missin' th' sea." Peter patted Greybeard's shoulder, to comfort the old pirate. "Well, you can always take a ferry or bring Mary on a cruise or something. Take her to the beach every now and then so you never truly have to say goodbye to the sea." "Aye," Greybeard said, nodding half-heartedly. Peter glanced around, as though he was making sure that no one was listening, and then leaned in closely. "I personally would not approve of this," he whispered, "and don't tell the royal nations I said this, or else Dash Justice will never let me live it down, but... I suppose, once she's old enough, there's nothing to stop you from training her to be a pirate. Most girls her age dream of growing up to become princesses... maybe her dream is to become a swashbuckling adventurer like you." Greybeard beamed at that prospect. He gestured towards the T-Rex and inquired, "Now, I dinnae 'ave t' worry about th' big lizard o'er thar, says ye?" Peter nodded to the T-Rex, who nodded back. "Don't worry," promised Peter, "Chompy won't let anything on this island lay a tooth or a claw on her." Peter's expression turned more solemn as he remembered his reuniting with his old T-Rex friend. Chompy was overjoyed to see him, but when Peter delivered the sad news of Rex's passing... Chompy's cynical attitude let nothing get him down, and his duties as alpha male meant that he could never show any weakness, but Peter could tell that Chompy secretly mourned the loss of his brother. "Thinkin' o' Rex?" Sighing, Peter nodded grimly. "He was a good man. I'm going to miss him. I heard that they're going to open a museum dedicated to the Dino Attack, and Dr. Cyborg was planning on a special tribute in the memory of Rex." "We all miss 'im," murmured Greybeard. "Th' Dino Attack be a long war, an' now that it be over, wi' so many great men like Rex... Joseph Race... Robert Batrick... 'avin' given them lives t' save th' rest o' us... nothin' be ev'r be th' same, says I. So much be chang'd. O'er th' past few years, I be gone from a pirate t' a racer t' a freedom fighter... t' a grandfather. Th' LEGO world may rebuild, but only a fool be sayin' that all be as it once be. Nay... ev'rythin' be chang'd." "I still can't believe that... it's over," Peter whispered incredulously. "It might have only been eight months, but it felt like nearly eight years. And now, for the first time... for the first time, I can walk down the street without fear of being attacked by a Mutant Lizard. With Evil Ogel's recent departure from LEGO Planet and Dr. Inferno finally behind bars, there might not even be a need for Alpha Team anymore. It's... a very peculiar feeling. There will always be war and conflict... you needn't look farther than Castle Cove... but for once, I might very well face the prospect of peace... something I have not known for so long. For the first time since 2004, I might have no battle to fight." "It must be hard t' adjust t' peacetime society again," mused Greybeard, "much like a sealegged scallywag such as meself t' find meself rooted on land." "Yes," agreed Peter, nodding. "Exactly." They were both silent for a moment. "Now that Chompy is the alpha male of Adventurers' Island," murmured Peter, "he is busy with his duties to his pack. Sam Throramebi's heading back out into space soon. We'll all keep in touch with one another... maybe have a reunion every so often..." Peter sighed. "Is this the end?" "Look, me hearty." Greybeard gestured out towards the ocean. Peter did as he was told, and saw the first rays of the sun light up the sky over the water: sunrise on Adventurers' Island. "It's beautiful," whispered Peter. "Th' end?" repeated Greybeard. "This be th' end... o' this chapter o' our lives. Before us lies th' vast possibilities o' th' future... an' as th' new year begins, thus we turn th' page t' th' next chapter o' our lives, says I." Peter nodded in response. "Aft'r all," continued Greybeard, "th' Dino Attack be o'er, an' ye be findin' yerself an' yer ol' hearties chartin' separate courses an' sailin' t' different seas. But new relations can still blossom... anythin' new about that Shannon lass?" Peter rolled his eyes. "I already told you, Greybeard; we're just friends. She's marrying another man, and that's perfectly okay. I've made my peace with her." Scratching the back of his head, Peter continued: "Earlier this year, I had adopted the identity of 'the phantom'. I believed that the only way to conquer my own personal demons was to isolate myself from everyone else so I could do it alone... I thought I would be doing myself and everyone else a favor by making the burden my own. But I see now that I was wrong. By keeping to myself, I allowed my demons to fester like a wound. Only by opening up and properly talking with Shannon could I overcome my own regrets and, finally, move on." Then, with a smile, Peter added: "And, you know, there are plenty of other great women working at Alpha Team as well. Who knows? I think that, after fighting Ogel's zombies and Dr. Rex's dinosaurs, I should have the courage to pursue a serious relationship." "Good man!" said Greybeard, chuckling. His face turned serious again. "An' one more thing... I know ye talk'd sev'ral times about yer father. Do ye think ye'll see 'im again?" Peter turned serious as well. Sighing, he stared out into the sunrise again and was silent for a moment. Then, at last, he murmured, "I don't. After all these years, with no news on my father's status, I don't even know if he's still alive after all this time. And if he is... well, it's a fool's hope to hope that we'll ever meet again." "I be sorry," whispered Greybeard. Peter locked eyes with Greybeard and smiled. "Don't worry," said Peter. "I'll always keep him alive in my heart. And if it makes you feel any better about it... these past few months, you've been like a father to me. I'll always miss him, but I'm glad that my life, no matter how dark or bleak the battles have been, has left me with a family I will always have, dad." Placing his hand on Peter's shoulder, Greybeard smiled. "Then ye 'ave me blessin' t' make th' best ye can possibly make o' yer life, son. Just imagine." Like father and son, Peter Abody and Grisbarba L. Pirata together stared out into the sunrise over Adventurers' Island, a truly beautiful sight. Neither of them knew what the future had in store for them. What seemed like the longest chapter in their lives yet had finally ended. But Greybeard was right. So many lives had been changed forever, and nothing would ever be the same again. As the sun rose on the first day of 2011, a brand new year to start anew after the Dino Attack apocalypse of 2010, this was not the end. It is a new beginning. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  4. Chapter 78: As Time Goes On ---- January 1, 2011 "Boom. Headshot," Rob Kabrinsky said in as best an Australian accent as he could. "Nice kill, Rob," said Kevin. He glanced down at their radar. "That about wraps it up. Sensors can't pick up any more lizards within five miles." "Let's keep moving," said B. "We want to get this region cleaned up by the end of the month, remember?" "Just to clarify something," said Kevin, "Did you, or did you not, get ordered to do this?" B replied, "Let me put it to you this way: if your house burned down, wouldn't you want to go back to it when it's built again, rather than during construction?" "That still didn't answer the question," noted Kevin. "No," answered B, "I didn't get ordered to do it. But, it's a job that will need doing sooner or later, and we're doing it for people. Not the team, not the government, but for the people. It's why we signed up, right? Besides, we have a ton of ammo that we won't be doing much with otherwise, and I know I'm not the only one here with an itchy trigger finger." Kevin smiled. "Alright, then. Let's get on with it, then." "Lock and load, and move out, everyone!" shouted B. With that, the five of them loaded up onto their Fire Hammers, and continued with their crusade as the winter sun rose into the sky. The convoy rode on through the desert. Abandoned towns were mere shadows in the distance. The only noise was that of the engines. And suddenly, a noise broke the silence. It was a sound that no one of them had truly heard for at least a year. It was the sound of a cell phone ringing. B called for the convoy to halt. They stopped, and B answered it. "Hello, this is Dr. Brickholm for Agent Benton Kabrinsky. We are very sorry to inform you that your mother has passed away due to natural causes. Again, we are very sorry, but there was nothing we could do. You are hereby recalled to the Antarctica Hospital for funeral arrangements. Thank you for your time." B slumped in his seat. And, for the first time in what seemed like years, he cried. "She's dead. Our first day of peace, and she's dead. She was the one who always kept us going when Dad was gone, and she's gone. We're the last ones left." When Benton and Sam were younger, they had wondered why they never went to family gatherings like their friends. They soon learned that their extended family, quite simply, didn't exist. Their branch of the Kabrinsky family was the only one that existed. And now, it seemed to B that they were the only ones left. "So," said Sam, "what do we do? We're stuck in the middle of nowhere." "I don't know," admitted B. A gunshot shattered the silence. Military reflexes kicked in instantly, and the squad took up defensive positions behind their vehicles. Another gunshot pierced the air. B let out a visible gasp of pain. "I guess... our hearing isn't as good as it used to be," groaned B. "Okay," said Kevin, "That son of a MegaBlok is going down. Though, I'm surprised he hit you. How bad is it, Sam?" "It's hard to tell," replied Sam, "It's bad, that's for sure, but I can't tell where the round actually is. It could be... fatal." "Well, then," grunted B, "we still have one last mission. One last hurrah?" "But we don't know if it is fatal!" exclaimed Sam. "Do we even have anything real left to fight for?" snapped B. "We fought to protect the people we loved, and guess what! They're dead! The only reason we're still alive is because the people we love basically killed themselves for us! And for what? So we can go around and kill the people that have been attacking us! And, in return, they go and kill the people we love! It's a vicious cycle, and it's one that never truly ends. I keep hearing that peace is achievable, but there is no peace on Earth, not yet. We need to end the cycle." "And you propose to do that by killing," mused Sam. "No," replied B. "I have come to the conclusion that my life is worthless, that all that I've fought for is MegaBloking worthless! That's why I didn't stay at the celebration! Some part of me can't stand celebrating at the mass murder of I-don't-know-how-many fellow living beings, and the slaughter of animals, even though they all tried to kill us. Something in that doesn't feel right. The problem is that violence is all I know. All we know. That's why I want to end it all. And I don't care if you follow, and I would prefer if you go back and live your lives, but I'm ending my empty life, because when you are abandoned by everything you hold dear, all you have left is revenge. And all I want right now, is to make sure that they die before they kill me." B got up, pulled out his sidearm, loaded and made it ready, and started running towards the direction of the gunshot. Slowly, as if time had slowed, Sam, Rob, Kevin, and Chris grabbed their weapons and followed. It was a fairly small bandit camp, as the camps go. No more than thirty people in all walked and lay around, wondering what to do with their days. When there had still been refugees around, they had stolen the refugees' supplies, but now they had many bullets, many guns, but no one to shoot. And then, from the watchtower in the middle of the camp, a gunshot from their sniper rang out. The bandits awoke from sleep, and looked at each other with bloodthirsty glances. They knew what was going to happen. The sniper was getting more eager. He must have seen that he had not killed his mark, and he was trying to remedy his mistake. B had found that snipers, as a rule, panicked when you saw them and ran at them. Their aim would get steadily worse, giving you a fairly easy kill. "One last hurrah." Rob "Rookie" Kabrinsky was never one to charge blindly into battle. It felt alien to him to do this, but he was ready for this. Instead of charging head-on, he ran around the group and started firing from behind. "One last hurrah." Chris "Crooks" Tzien was stealthy, attacking from the shadows. But, he thought there was honour in letting an enemy see you before you killed them. Yes, his blades would taste blood today, sadly. "One last hurrah." Kevin "Knuckles" Kabrinsky didn't like violence. He had always found it ironic that the guy tasked with destruction hated it. But, the one thing he did pride himself on was his consistency, because he didn't think he was going to stop now. "One last hurrah." Sam "Sucker" Kabrinsky was a medical man, a doctor. Killing sickened him, and the term "preventative medicine" left a bitter taste in his mouth. But, he was not about to be killed, if he could help it. "One last hurrah." Benton "B" Kabrinsky was already firing before anyone else had the chance to. Bullets from his sidearm peppered the bandits. He reloaded, and a fire ignited wherever he shot. Unknowingly, he had loaded incendiary rounds into his pistol. As he fired his last bullet, he heard it go through metal. "Well," said B. "One last hurrah, it was." And with that, the gas tanks blew up, and fire cleansed the battleground. ---- January 2, 2011 "Well, my old friend, we made it through alive," Catless said to Dr. Cyborg. They were sitting on the steps of her house. The party had finally died out. Very few had slept during the party, and after 72 hours of fun, nobody but robots and cyborgs could not be tired. Catless had invited some agents over to her house, and many had accepted. It was about 6:30, but most people were asleep, so the island was peaceful for once. "We did, indeed. So, Catless, what do you plan on doing now?" Dr. Cyborg asked her. "For right now, stay at home and help in the reconstruction of LEGO Island. After that, I don't know. There will probably be another crisis soon, and I'll probably join in and help defend against it. You?" she replied. "I need to lead XERRD. We were responsible for this war, and I need to help XERRD become what has the potential to be - an organization for beneficial science, not making mutant monsters. The best course of action is currently to leave Earth and assist Nexus Force. I'll need to go with them, which means that someone will need to run UlTech's day-to-day business. I'm not sure who, though I've got some ideas." "We'll both be busy for the next few months," Catless said. "Will we see each other before again before you leave?" "No, I'm afraid we won't. So this will be a long-lasting goodbye when we leave. I'll miss you, Catless," Dr. Cyborg said. "I'll miss you too, my friend." Later that day, it was time for them to part. Dr. Cyborg had to leave with most of the Dino Attack agents back to the mainland. "Well, this is it," Catless said as they walked back towards the transit station. She had been carrying a box wrapped in wrapping paper with a snowflake design since they left. "You're right. We can email, and maybe video chat, but we won't see each other face-to-face for a long while," Dr. Cyborg said. "Before you leave, here is a late Christmas/birthday present, to make up for all the ones I missed," Catless said, handing him the box. It was heavier than Dr. Cyborg expected, and dipped towards the ground before he compensated. He used his free hand to pull the wrapping paper off, revealing a brown cardboard box. Opening it, he saw a slim silver Asus ultrabook. "Catless, you shouldn't have," he said, pulling it out and looking at it. "Well, I felt guilty about not giving you presents these past few years just because we fell out of contact. It wasn't that expensive anyways. I was wearing my Dino Attack uniform for some reason when I went to buy it, and when I walked up to the checkout, they took a huge chunk out of the price because I was a Dino Attack veteran. It's not enough to make up for the past few years, but I hope you like it," Catless said. "I do like it, and I appreciate it. Thank you, Catless," Dr. Cyborg said. He turned to leave, but stopped and said, "Goodbye, Johanna. I'll miss you." "Goodbye, Matthew. I'll miss you too." She turned to leave, but turned back around and hugged Dr. Cyborg for a few seconds before releasing him and walking away. ---- January 12, 2011 "Hello, this is Leslie O'Neal. May I ask who's calling?" "Hi... it's Dave. Is Dad with you?" "Oh good heavens, David, you're alright! Where in the world have you been?" "I know, it's been a while, but--" "A while? Dave, we haven't seen you since your graduation, and it's been over a year since the last time you called us. We tried to find you in Antarctica, and it was just an exercise in futility! Let me tell you, that den of bureaucracy--" "I joined the Dino Attack Team. That's why you couldn't find me." "I -- oh, well -- well done indeed. I admit, I wouldn't have expected it of you. And you made it out in one piece?" "...Mostly. But listen, I--" "Where are you now?" "LEGO City. Some friends of mine are letting me stay with them until I get back on my feet. So to speak. This is important, though. Is Dad there?" "Yes, he's listening. What's this all about, Davey? Did you finally meet a girl?" "Oh, for crying out loud, Mom, I've already explained this to you. Can we please not go there again?" "Fine. You'll still change your mind soon enough, though, I'm sure of it. But please do enlighten us -- what else could be so important that it would motivate you to talk to your parents?" "I... I found out what happened to Sarah." ***** January 15, 2011 "Hello, you've reached the home of Brian and Leslie O'Neal. We're unable to talk right now, but if you leave us a message, we'll get back to you as soon as we can. Cheers!" "It's Dave again. Look, I'm sorry about the other night... some of those things I said, I... I'm not sure I was thinking clearly by the end of it. I'm not sure any of us were. So I just wanted to apologize, first of all. But beyond that, I -- ...oh, Blok. "Dad, I'd be lying if I said I don't blame myself for Sarah's death just as much as you do. But I swear, I did everything I could to try and stop it from happening, and I think we both know it really wasn't my fault. And don't forget that she spent all those years fighting to keep the world safe. "I certainly know mourning's hard, but you're not the only ones hurt by this. Please don't forget that. Mom, the fact that I don't intend to 'give you grandchildren and a daughter-in-law' doesn't mean that I don't have emotions. Try grief mixed with survivor's guilt and see how that feels. "Sorry, I guess I'm still worked up about this. I'll talk to you later. Love you both. Bye." ---- January 23, 2011 "Dr. Cyborg, we've been called into court again," Solomon said. "What is it this time, Solomon?" Dr. Cyborg asked. "It's another property damage claim. This time, it's some family out in the Midwest, claiming their storm cellar was caved in by the Mutant Dinos out there. I don't think there is any way to tell if that is true or not." "There actually is. If one were to dig around there, one could see how fresh the cave-in is. If it's older than nine months, or newer than a month, then it is not the result of Mutant Dinos, it was natural or they did it themselves." "Great. I'll call our lawyers and have them and a couple operatives out there as soon as possible. Thanks for your insight." Solomon walked out of the office, and Dr. Cyborg leaned back in his chair. In the month since the Dino Attack ended, anyone wanting some money had crawled out of the woodwork, suing XERRD for all they could get their sticky little mitts onto. Dr. Cyborg had set up a division of XERRD made up of lawyers and laymen simply to disprove as many claims as possible. He had narrowly avoided having the entire organization brought up on charges of war crimes. It was only thanks to some quick thinking, four lawyers, three laptops, two slide shows, and a roll of toilet paper that they weren't. (Don't ask Dr. Cyborg about it, he won't tell you.) Normally, he'd just pay the claims, because they most likely had merit, but XERRD was a little strapped for cash at the moment, plus most of the claims were just baloney. There were some sensible ones that had a basis in fact, (Brik-mart suing them for destroyed warehouses, stores, and merchandise) and some that did not. "Dr. Cyborg," Solomon said as he came in again, "sorry to bother you so soon again, but I just got a phone call from the legal division. We're being sued, yet again." "Oh, joy. What is it this time?" Dr. Cyborg asked. "Some guy said his great-aunt's sister Anna developed an allergy to wheat as a result of some Mutant Lizards attacking them just as they were evacuating their house last year," Solomon informed him. Case in point. "Is that even possible?" Dr. Cyborg asked in disbelief. "I don't think so. However, there is no way I know to disprove it, so we will most likely have to pay this time. Can you think of anything?" Solomon asked. "Nope, not this time. I guess we will. This guy's lawyer actually believing the story?" "Whether he does or not is irrelevant. What matters is whether the judge believes it." "Let's hope he doesn't. In the meantime, get Legal Division on it." "Yes sir, Dr. Cyborg," Solomon said as he left. ---- January 29, 2011 Magma and Covert had gathered the forces of their respective agencies and done exactly as Magma had wanted. They had elected to name the ship after the Voltage, because Covert hated the name "Iron Hammer" and, in Magma's words, "If we're going to send a giant ship in space on a mission of vengeance and justice under the command of a special operations agent, there's only one name that fits." They'd wound up calling it the Voltage-B, though, as previous iterations of the ship had used numbers, and they weren't sure how many numbers Kotua had gotten up to. Still, whatever it was called, it was almost finished. They had both recruited volunteers, and were preparing to launch the ship as soon as they could. But that is another tale that, perhaps, someday will be told, if the Voltage-B ever returns home, whether in triumph or in shame. As for this tale, one last scene will hopefully bring some closure to it: "My name?" Magma murmured. "My name…" He sat up. "During the war in 2008, Ogel escalated things beyond anything any of us had ever seen before. Every theater of operation we'd ever dreamed of him threatening - he did. To make things worse, we were left contending with Dr. Inferno and the Agents - no offense, of course-" "None taken," said Covert, smirking. "Continue?" "Well, operations sprung up all across the globe. Black ops tactics were used much more often than they had been in years past. Fear and paranoia among Special Operations reached an all-time high. In one operation, in Mission Red Planet - don't even ask what we were doing on Mars, it's a long story and would draw this conversation on for a few days - I volunteered to become a Skeleton Drone. Well, a Red Space Drone, I suppose, but in any case, that's not really the point-" "You… what?" said Covert, staring at him. "You became a Drone?" "Yes," Magma said. "I became a Drone. We infiltrated a, ah, Droning facility and modified some of the Mind-Control Orb technology - long story short, when I came into the presence of a specific smell, my conditioning would revert and I'd awaken. The goal was to assassinate the commander of Ogel's Mars forces - and good thing too, otherwise we'd have been dealing with a fleet of alien warships rather than just Space Drone shock troops-" "Just how classified is this story if I've never even seen records of an Alpha Team mission to Mars?" asked Covert sharply. "I assure you it happened! It's no more ludicrous than fighting an otherworldly force of chaos embodying a giant airship and army of robots, and yet, Mission Deep Freeze happened, didn't it? "Anyway, if they knew I was an Alpha Team agent they'd have killed me on the spot. If they happened to check my identity and realize who I was, or see something in my mind when performing the Drone process, we'd have been finished. So I purged my real name from every Alpha Team record. I deleted every bit of information I could find on myself. And then I underwent therapy in preparation for the Drone process… and then I became a Drone, and they didn't recognize me, so it worked. "And the operation proceeded according to plan. I gathered intelligence on Ogel, destroyed his Red Planet operation, killed its commander, discovered new things about how Drones worked, and returned home, where I had to undergo more therapy-" "I imagine so," Covert said, staring at him with concern. Magma was secretly touched to see the concern in her face, but carried on talking. "In any case - my name, and identity, is classified beyond almost everyone's security clearance. I'm one of a handful of people who actually know it now… my brother was one, and he's dead. Zed, Dash, and some other higher-ups know it," Magma finished. "But I have told you mine," Covert said, with a smile. "And if we're going off on this mission together…" "True," Magma said, smiling back. "And so… against all of my better judgment… " He leaned in, and whispered two words in her ear. She looked at him, and he nodded. And as if it was a weight off his shoulders, Magma felt at peace for the first time in a long time. He knew it wouldn't last, not as long as Evil Ogel was out there awaiting justice, but here and now, he was alive, and he was happy. ***** "She what?" The calmness of the UlTech waiting area was broken by Osprey's exclamation. "At least, that's the story that's circulating," Desdemona responded. "I wouldn't have expected it of Covert either." "It's Magma I'm more surprised by," said Osprey. "For all the reputation that Alpha Team's Special Agents have, I'd imagined that they trained away their emotions entirely." Desdemona chuckled. "This sure helps explain the sudden alliance." "And it throws that incident in Antarctica into an entirely different light," Osprey said. "All this time, I'd assumed I was the mediator, and now it turns out I was actually the third wheel!" They laughed again, when Osprey was suddenly struck by a sobering thought. "If this gets around, it could have some serious implications for security," he muttered. Desdemona shook her head. "It almost sounds too outrageous to be true. I imagine most will dismiss it as a silly rumour. And the conspiracy theorists among us can easily be debriefed, and -- ah, hello again." The minifig -- Osprey couldn't tell whether he was a human, an android, or some clever combination thereof -- who had met them at the entrance to the compound and brought them in had returned. "The doctor will see you now," he said, and led the two Agents down the hall and into the office of Matthew Cyrista. The man himself was just entering through a small doorway at the other end of the room, and Osprey caught a glimpse of a laboratory before the scientist shut the door behind him. "Captain Osprey, was it?" said Dr. Cyborg. "How can I help you? Please, take a seat." "Thank you kindly," said Osprey, as he and Desdemona sat down across from Dr. Cyborg's desk. "I imagine you've heard of the recent alliance formed between Alpha Team and the Agents Defense Force." The doctor nodded thoughtfully. "Well, we've come to ask you if you'd consider joining UITech Industries to our alliance..." ***** February 25, 2011 "Gah!" Dr. Cyborg cried. The new model of plasma reactor he and some XERRD and UlTech technicians were working on was throwing up problems left and right. He was half-convinced it had developed sentience and was literally refusing to be fixed. "Check the polarity reverser coupling!" He ordered a XERRD tech named Anthony. Dr. Cyborg moved back against the wall of the reactor chamber, 100 feet underground. He opened his ultrabook and booted it up. He pulled up his calculations and hooked himself up to the laptop. He ran some more simulations, matching up every variable he knew of, but still the actual reactor behaved differently. "Polarity Reverser Coupling's fine, sir!" Anthony cried out. "However, Dorsal Gaseous Capacitor 7 was being short-circuited. It blew out, and we'll need it replaced. I think there are some replacements in the workshop where they were fabricated. Would you like me to go get them?" "No thank you, I'll get them. In the meantime, everyone, keep troubleshooting." Dr. Cyborg left and went to the elevator that took the workers back to the surface. UlTech had constructed this underground chamber years ago for dangerous research, but so far nothing had gone wrong. He reached the surface and left the elevator. He remembered that the gaseous capacitors, among other reactor parts, were made in workshop 3. He went to the east wing of the lab building he was in, and found the capacitors. At this point, he was wondering if they were ever going to build this reactor and get it working. It seemed that, since its formation, XERRD and anything it touched was under a curse, this reactor included. It simply denied Dr. Cyborg the pleasure of getting it to work. He grabbed two or three of the capacitors and returned to the chamber. On the elevator ride down, he realized that nothing was working right. XERRD was definitely not popular among the people, even after the work they had already done to prove they were reforming, and it didn't seem like they would ever be. The reactor wasn't working, and didn't seem like it would in the near future. Finally, every day, more members of XERRD revealed themselves to be as power-hungry as the members Dr. Cyborg had already kicked out. He reached the chamber and replaced Dorsal Gaseous Capacitor 7, along with one that was blackened on the inside. He saw two pieces of metal framework that were too close to each other, and were discolored from electric discharge and magnetic aura interaction. "Tony, give me a hammer," Dr. Cyborg said. He took the hammer that Tony held out to him and hit one piece of metal, pushing it away from the other. He crawled out from under the reactor, and moved to behind the blast shield, along with the other techies. He took a deep breath, expecting this to be failure #187, and pressed the button. Nothing happened, and then - then something happened! Blue light from the plasma filled the chamber as the reactor initialized, pumping plasma into itself and metabolizing it into incredulous amounts of electricity, using just ounces of plasma to create hundreds of kilowatts. Dr. Cyborg smiled. For once, the future of XERRD wasn't so bleak, after all. ---- March 15, 2011, LEGO Island "Firstly, Joseph, I want to express my happiness that you've chosen to speak with me today. Do you mind if I call you Joseph?" "I prefer Pharisee," muttered the hulking commander as he awkwardly shifted in his chair. He hated having to answer questions; being the interviewee was an uncomfortable role-reversal to him. "That's fine, Pharisee," said Doctor Saran as he took a seat behind his desk. He straightened his papers and reached over to ask the commander if he would like a cup of coffee. Pharisee refused and continued to shift in his chair. He checked a cheap watch on his wrist before turning his attention back to the present. "Nice weather we're having today, eh?" commented Dr. Saran, shrugging as he gestured out his office window. A panoramic view of the LEGO Island ocean sparkled just outside the window. Seabirds shrieked when the tranquil waters were disrupted by the whine of a nearby jet-ski. Pharisee did not respond; his gaze was not set on the beautiful sunny day, but the dusty self of World Magazine issues sitting just behind the psychologist's head. Saran followed Pharisee's line of sight to the dated volumes behind him. "Is there something bothering you, Pharisee?" asked Dr. Saran. "Your mind seems preoccupied." The commander seemed to snap out of whatever world he was occupying. He would continue to take passing glances at the magazines behind the psychologist's desk, but now focused his attention on the doctor. Pharisee was now 42 years old. Although no one could see his cornrows beneath his always-present skullcap, he detected gray hairs emerging. He was no less fit than he was three months ago, but with fewer distractions, he was becoming more aware of his age. Commander Pharisee had not chosen to speak with the psychologist because of a midlife crisis. It was the intensifying nightmares that had forced him to request a meeting. Pharisee had always had nightmares; he saw it as punishment for the crimes he committed. He had never thought of himself as a good man. Over his life, he had committed many sins, and he expected punishment for his actions. When the end of days came, Pharisee believed he would burn for what he did in life. He had stopped praying for forgiveness because the Creator he believed in was not forgiving. As he saw it, there was nothing he could ever do to redeem himself. He had learned that years ago in that hellish Johannesburg prison of his youth. For twenty years, he had lived surrounded by evil for the atrocious acts of violence he had once committed. Faith had set him free; faith had broken his bonds and allowed him to step through those doors into the light. For years, he had pondered whether or not he deserved freedom. He often asked himself if it would have been better to remain in prison. It was true that his newfound religion had changed his outlook on life, but he was still as bad a man as he was before. He always would be. Since prison, he saw the people of the world as either good or evil. His time behind bars had taught him to differentiate the righteous and unrighteous. To his dismay, he soon found that many outside the walls were just as unrighteous as those inside. He knew good and evil, and he had nothing to lose in life. His fate was predestined, he was beyond redemption, He could repent for his crimes forever, but the Creator would never forgive. If he was to burn for eternity, it was justice that other unrighteous men joined him. It was too late to redeem his soul, so the crimes he would commit might not change his ultimate end. He had read the book in prison; he understood that the Creator was an angry and violent lord. It was important that other evildoers knew that, too. Pharisee frowned as he considered how to respond to Saran's question. "I've been thinking lately. For my entire life, doctor, I've been so sure of myself and my duty. I've always known what needed to be done. However, since the war ended, I feel less sure. I'm less positive about that path I should take." Saran nodded. "What do you mean by that? I remember, months ago, you were so sure of your actions and confident in the choices you've made. What's made you reconsider? Back in December, you didn't even want to speak with me." "I really don't know," the commander said with a shrug. "I was hoping you could tell me. My work has been suffering. Something needs to be done about Firecracker before he blows his way out of prison; I've been procrastinating going after Sarah Pierce for too long now; and I felt I went too easy on Snake back at LEGO City." "You feel you've lost your motivation, correct?" asked Saran. "Nothing could stop you back then. MegaBlokland's fury could not keep you from chasing the likes of Snake and Trigger. Why was that?" "They deserved it," Pharisee said simply, shrugging again. "I knew they did." "How did you know?" probed the psychologist. It was a question that Pharisee had recently begun to ask himself. Previously, he had a powerful gut feeling that had never failed him; he had not felt regret or empathy, and he was willing to do whatever it took to stop those whom he considered evil. It had been a simple decision. Those he hunted were bad, and it was as clear to the commander as night and day. He had once learned to identify the evil, but his skills were now failing him. Now, when he considered people like Claw, Montoya, General, and Sarah Pierce, he felt less confident in his judgment. The commander sighed and shifted more in his chair. The doctor's chair was barely large enough to hold his muscled figure, and it groaned under his weight. "I am not a good man," began Pharisee, "I have never possessed any dilutions of forgiveness for my sins. No matter what I do, I will inevitably suffer for the crimes I commit on Earth. I have lived with this revelation for years now, and I've always wished to be among those who live in the light. I know I can never be among them; I understand my actions are far beneath their standards of integrity." Dr. Saran nodded his head. "What make you say that? I imagine that is quite a cross you bear. Surely, you have not lived your entire life believing you were so unscrupulous." The commander shook his head. "No, I remember how naïve I once was. I don't know whether it was after my parents' deaths or during my time in prison, but I came to understand that there are truly evil people in the world beyond redemption. I believe I am one of them. So, speaking as a sinner myself, I can see the unrighteousness of those around me. I hated myself; I feared what my punishment would be in the next life and knew I could not escape it. For years, I wallowed in my depression. It was not until after my release did I understand I still had a duty." "Can I stop you there?" asked Dr. Saran, "You keep mentioning your sins and the punishment you believe you should receive. Are those actions what put you in prison? What did you do that caused you to believe you were so far beyond redemption?" "Back when I was a young man, the war between the ruling Crusaders and the revolutionary Black Falcons was particularly bloody. My parents fought with the Crusaders in the war of independence back in the late 60s," said Pharisee. "I remember," said Dr. Saran. "It was back in Cold War. The communist scare was in full swing during the Black Falcon-Crusaders war. The Black Falcons were violently opposed to the Crusaders and likened their rule to Marxist ideology." "I was loyal to my family," said Pharisee, "and by extension their political leanings. I had been taught as a boy to support the abolition of private property, and an education that teaches citizens to abide by a disciplined and self-fulfilling lifestyle. One might insinuate I was indoctrinated but, even after spending twenty years of my life in prison, I still hold these beliefs. Even after the war ended, I still support the Crusaders' policies." "What did you think of the Black Falcons?" asked Dr. Saran. "I hate them with a deep passion. I hate them with my entire soul," said Pharisee darkly. "I learned to despise them at an early age, and they have since done nothing to earn my respect. They were the ones that showed me the inherent evil that lived in the world." "Evil?" inquired the doctor. "That's not a word someone would usually use to describe a member of a different party." "You're familiar with the civil war, doctor," responded the commander. "You know that the Black Falcons and Crusaders were not just ideological opponents but blatant enemies. I grew up in southern Africa, Mozambique to be precise, where the violence was the greatest. I knew what the malicious Black Falcons did." Dr. Saran shrugged. "If my memory serves me correctly, both sides committed atrocities during the war. Massacres of civilians were committed by both…" "Do not lecture me on the acts committed!" interrupted Pharisee. "I lived in Mozambique for nearly my entire life! I never witnessed injustices carried out by the Crusaders; it was the Black Falcons that were the sinful ones!" "Do you want to explain?" asked the psychologist. "The truths we hold are often based on a certain point of view. What happened to you that caused you to brew such deep anger?" The commander hesitated. He thought back to the dusty day back in 1986 when the Black Falcons soldier had marched into his village. It was decades ago and a stark contrast to the beautiful day just outside the window. It was humid and sticky as the African sun bore down on the poverty below. "I was eighteen years old," began the commander. "It was the day I became a man, and the first time I took a life. The moment still haunts me, and I often ponder whether it was the wise decision to make. I ask myself if I did what I did to spare another child the torment, or out of a simple lust for blood. It was on this day that I started to question whether or not I was a good man." The psychologist waited respectfully before inquiring the circumstances of day. Pharisee sighed before divulging the details. "When those Black Falcons arrived, they carried with them a prisoner," he said "I do not know the man's crime, or if there even was one, but they had sentenced him to death. They had determined that the greatest humiliation would be to have one of his own people pull the trigger, specifically a child. "They brought him into the square and forced him to his knees. I do not know the bound man's name, but I recall he was old and decrepit. His eyes shown a sad hopelessness, and I remember a sad frown beneath his white beard. The Black Falcons gave a speech filled with lies about the Crusaders before handing a crossbow to a nine-year old boy." Pharisee stopped and paused. For a moment, Dr. Saran witnessed some form of emotion behind the commander's eyes before it was replaced by his normal cold indignation. "They told this child to shoot the man. I learned the boy's name was Yemi, and I saw the fear reflected in his trembling hands. I knew this youth could not take a life, and I knew his actions would torment him forever. A child so young, forced to commit murder, would destroy his soul for eternity. That prospect is what made me run forward and pull the crossbow away." Doctor Saran knew what was coming next. "I took this boy's place and I shot the man," said Pharisee. "I sacrificed my soul so this nine-year-old would not live with the consequences. I now tell myself it was to save this child's life but, in retrospect, I'm not so sure that was the case. I wonder now whether what I did was an act of sacrifice or an act of sin." "Are you ashamed of what you did?" asked Dr. Saran. "You saved this child from a lifetime of hardship and bore that burden yourself. It was a brave act." "That's what I once believed, but now I'm not so sure. I believe my actions were not driven to save this boy, but something darker. I don't think I'm a good man, Doctor; this murder of an innocent man is but a small piece of evidence. I'm destined to commit evil acts; it is my nature," replied the commander sadly. "Maybe I did save that child, but I do not think that's why I did what I did." "Tell me about what happened immediately thereafter," asked the psychologist. "How did you feel?" "I remember the Black Falcon smiled," said Pharisee. "The knight congratulated my parents for raising a killer, before taking some of the boys of my village away. They left me behind as some short of cruel joke. They wanted me to be alienated; they wanted me to be an outsider among my family and friends." "How did they act around you afterwards?" asked Saran. "Where you treated differently?" The commander hesitated as he thought back to the day. "My family tried to comfort me. For a while, I believed them and saw my actions as heroic. I had taken the burden of murder on my shoulders and spared a stranger. I carried the sacrifice with pride and saw myself as someone who could protect the innocent. I did not realize how the others saw me until much later." The commander paused before Dr. Saran motioned him to continue. "The other families in my village stayed away. My parents convinced me what I did was right, but I remember now the dark looks I received. They stayed away from me, they saw me as a murderer and, for the first time, witnessed what I truly was." "Is that when you started to see yourself as a bad man?" asked the psychologist. "It seems you felt confident in your sanctity before you reached that conclusion." "I was not until I went to prison," replied Commander Pharisee. "A year later, the Black Falcons returned to my village. They were angry and drunk, I remember it clearly, and they spouted more lies about crimes the Crusaders committed." "Both sides committed atrocious acts during the war," said Dr. Saran. "There are always good men and bad men fighting under a flag." "I don't believe that," answered Pharisee. Dr. Saran could see anger growing in the commander again. He fumbled his words and hesitated. "I didn't believe that. I'm not so sure anymore, that's why I'm here. "I've seen things as black and white for ages now. The Black Falcons were evil, and nothing you can say would ever make me speak out against the Crusaders and my family. I've always applied this to every two sides in a war: Earth Command and Crystaliens, Cedric the Bull and King Leo, they have all have been very clear in their morals. I know the Black Falcons were the villains because of what they did to me; I've never seen the Crusaders commit an act of injustice to rival them!" "Tell me what they did," asked the doctor. "I know they asked you to kill that man. I can understand the suffering that caused you. What else happened that made you nurture such hate toward you enemy?" The commander paused. The sun still shown in brightly through the window of the psychologist's office, and sea birds continued to sing outside. Teenagers called to each other in a nearby skatepark, and a cold breeze ruffled the curtains. The incident was what solidified his understanding of humanity. It had made him see that some were unquestionably evil and beyond redemption when others walked in the light. He had believed it as a child, but what the Black Falcons did pushed the concept beyond any reasonable doubt. "They murdered my parents," said Pharisee. He said it sternly and with an arduous determination. There was a disturbing lack of emotion behind the statement, and he continued to speak as if there was nothing special. He had forced the tragedy to no longer affect him. It was a barrier he created to avoid any signs of weakness. Instead of sadness, he had allowed it to create anger in his life. He had never coped with the death of his parents; he allowed the emotion to wallow in his soul and use it as a weapon against those whom he compared to Black Falcons. "They were drunk and angry," he repeated. "Pathetic monsters walking the path of transgressions. They hated the Crusaders and, in revenge for some nonexistent crime we committed, they shot my parents. I escaped their attacks, so unfortunately for them, they would feel the revenge. They had made a monster out of me that day, and they would pay the price." Doctor Saran said nothing. He only listened and watched the commander's countenance contort into fury. "I loved my parents more than anything," said Pharisee. "They comforted me when no one else would accept me; after I killed that man, they never pushed me away. They only gave me their warm embrace. Those Black Falcons took that last comfort away from me! I had ever reason to hate them, and that's why I killed them!" The anger of Pharisee seemed to climax and his voice lowered to a near whisper. "I paid for it too. After I tracked them down and murdered every Black Falcon who had been at my village that day, I was arrested. I deserved to be; what I did then was not some act of selflessness like that boy, it was proof I was a ruthless man, someone who deserved to suffer. When I was taken to Johannesburg to serve my time, I knew it was a fitting punishment for a murderer like me. I was an irredeemable monster, just like those men I hunted. I was no worse than the Black Falcons themselves. I deserved to die behind bars." Dr. Saran allowed the message to sink in. He had not realized that Pharisee harbored so much self-hatred. What was strange, however, was how the commander could be in a righteous origination like the Dino Attack Team and still see himself as a bad man. If that were the case, how could he see Dino Attack as good when he saw himself as a blotch of evil? The psychologist considered what question might best give him the answers to understand Pharisee. How could he see his mission as virtuous when he saw himself as wicked? "You expressed confusion about people like Claw, Sarah Pierce, Montoya, and General. The Dino Attack team had plenty of villains on it; how can you be so sure what side is good when each side is filled with so much gray?" "I was hoping you could tell me," said Pharisee. "I don't like living like this. I want answers, doctor; I hate not knowing who is good and who is bad. Things were always so clear to me, and now the line blurs. I don't know what is right and wrong anymore." "Perhaps it's not our place to know." offered Saran. "Do you think we have the right to judge others?" The question took the commander off-guard. Many times, he had been asked to justify his actions, but his response had always been about his power in the law, not the inherent morals of a human being. "I have nothing to lose," said Pharisee. "I'm doomed anyway. In prison, I found faith, I found a book that answered the questions I had. The Creator is angry and a lord of war. He is not forgiving, and my pleadings for forgiveness mean nothing to him. I have been cast from the Creator's sight, and I will burn for the things I've done. Nothing I can do will ever redeem me. My ultimate fate will be the same, and the things I do in life will not change anything." "Were you released because you found faith?" asked the psychologist. "The officers at my parole hearings determined I was regretful enough of my crimes to be released," said Pharisee. "I am not sure I agree with them, but after twenty years it was determined I had the right to freedom. This book I found set me free, it made them see I lamented my sinful ways. In 2008, I was set free after twenty years behind bars." "And you don't think you deserved it?" asked Saran. "No," replied Pharisee. "I don't. I do not believe I was reformed; my time in prison did not change the man I was. I was a murderer with a rotten spirit, and nothing could change that. For my punishment to be revoked was an injustice. I deserved to die, and I was released simply because of some book I found!" "So you still felt guilty after your release?" asked the psychologist. "That was about three years ago, correct?" "Yes," responded Pharisee. "It was 2008, and I did not know what to do with my life. I was lost, and I knew I had no one to turn to." Saran was starting to realize that the commander still maintained a focus on the magazines behind him. Pharisee had continuously analyzed them since the beginning of the conversation. The distraction intrigued the doctor, and he spun around to pull some of the yellow volumes off the shelf "What's troubling you, Pharisee?" Dr. Saran asked softly. "You're talking about very powerful moments in your life. You don't seem very emotional; you seem distant." The commander shrugged. It was not necessarily a response, but more a means of avoiding the question. He looked out the window before acknowledging the World Magazine issues on the desk in front of him. He casually flipped through the glazed pages of the volumes as he continued to speak. "I felt my release was wrong," said Pharisee without looking up. "I deserved to rot for the murders of those Black Falcons. I was freed simply because of this book I found and the remorse I felt. I did not earn the right to be free, and I knew that whatever I did for the rest of my life would be meaningless in changing my fate." "You were depressed, weren't you?" said Dr. Saran. "Were you suicidal?" "I was in a very dark place," said the commander. "But I feared death." The commander had withdrawn an old magazine from the stack. The cover photo was of Egypt and Hotep III. Pharisee shifted through the pages absentmindedly as Saran pointed at the photos. "What is it, Pharisee, that is so interesting about my magazines?" The commander shook his head. "I don't know; I suppose I like to read. I like to read about people and the things they do. When I worked with the Dino Attack Team, I read a lot of files on the agents there. It helps me feel more secure, I suppose, when I know about people. I don't like secrets, and I hate not having answers." "Would you call yourself curious?" inquired the psychologist. "I suppose I might be," answered Pharisee. "I never really was concerned with what was going on when I was in prison. All that concerned me was the contents of the book. It enlightened me to things I was not able to comprehend. It was not until I was released did I realize what I missed. The war with the Black Falcons was long over, and attacks were happening on Mars. So much had changed, and I wanted to know what had become of the world." "What made you start chasing the unrighteous, then?" asked the doctor. "I felt insignificant; I had no meaning to my existence," said Pharisee. "When I walked out the doors, I knew that nothing I did could change the man I was. I had nothing then: no money, no contacts, no transportation. All I wanted was to get away; I wanted out of Johannesburg, I wanted out of Southern Africa." Pharisee looked through the pages of the World Magazine issue. The psychologist motioned to the magazine. "I picked that up in Antarctica," he said. "I've been carrying it around in my suitcase for the entire war. Apparently, the cover story is about a man who was served on the team during the Adventurers' Island campaign. I did not realize the connection until after he died however." Pharisee flipped through the pages of the volume. Past faded photos of Vikings, Tiny Turbos, and Mythical Creatures, he spotted the story of an archeologist and his young protégé. The man was in his late-twenties and sported a black outback hat. The professor was undeniably Charles "Lightning" Kilroy, an esteemed explorer who became famous after his exploits in Egypt back when Pharisee was in prison. The young archeologist looked familiar. Pharisee never forgot a face, and the hat was quite recognizable. The article informed him that his name was Gahiji Thutmose. It rang no bells for the commander. "This man who served on the Dino Attack Team, did he perchance use the name Dust?" wondered the commander. Saran nodded his head. "That is indeed what he called himself. Do you know him?" Pharisee seemed distant. His mind went back to the day in 2008, when he had stepped out the doors on the Johannesburg prison. Lost and filled with a sense of hopelessness, he had wandered to a nearby bus stop where he had encountered an Arab man wearing a worn-out black safari hat… ***** 2008 It was hot. Joseph St. John had turned forty a week before, but he felt far older. Prison had taken twenty years of his life away, but it felt more like an eternity. He had grown strong behind bars, an image of physical perfection. He was not aggressive, but he was no less feared and respected for his incredible power. Joseph had become mighty, but he did not feel happiness or freedom. He stood under the South African sun, contemplating how to continue with his life. He had nothing to live for anymore; his family was dead, and all hope in his future had depleted. He was a sinful man, and he deserved punishment for his crimes. Somehow, his newfound enlightenment had been enough to break his bonds, but his soul did not feel free. He had killed men, an atrocious act beyond all forgiveness. The book had taught him he would burn for his crimes and that he could expect no mercy from his Creator. What could Joseph do if his fate was already set in stone? He deserved to suffer; he deserved to pay the price for his crimes. If prison would not give him what he deserved, he would have to finish the job himself. He glanced up at the buildings around him. It would not be unheard of to throw himself from one and end it all. But he was afraid; he knew what would wait in the life beyond. The most Joseph could do was prolong that fate. Cries of redemption would be ignored; he had read what punishment sinners like him would receive. He stepped under the shade of the bus stop. Without any plans for what to do in life, leaving Johannesburg felt like the only thing to do. A man stepped out of the shadows of an alleyway. Pharisee tensed as the man approached and balled his hands into fists. He had learned to expect violence in prison and prepared for a fight. Joseph had nothing of value, but the newcomer did not know that. If he was to be mugged, the stranger was in for an unpleasant surprise. Instead, the man stopped a respectful distance away. He smiled in a friendly manner before reaching into his jacket. Joseph held out his hand. "Please, be careful, sir. I would hate for you to lose your fingers." The Arab chucked. "Relax." He pulled aside the jacket, revealing a collection of cheap watches. "I was only going to ask if you wanted some merchandise." Joseph shook his head. "Do I look like I have any money? Besides I have no intentions of dealing with a conman like you." "My name is Dust, by the way," said the Arab. He closed his jacket and took a seat on the bench. "You just got out of prison. I could understand if you don't want to get involved in an unsavory figure like myself. After all, you made parole; you've earned the right to return to society!" The insinuation suddenly made Joseph uncomfortable. The sudden assumption about his morality created unfortunate implications in his mind. It opened a whole new dialogue that he was unprepared for. "I am a sinner, Mr. Dust," said Joseph slowly. "I am not a righteous man, but I do not wish to step deeper into the darkness." "Yet you're out here in the light!" exclaimed Dust as he motioned to the sun above them. "You must have done something right!" "I found my faith," responded Joseph as he looked down. "I know what fate awaits me." "So you're a villain, then? Why not indulge yourself?" replied Dust. "Go out and be bold. Perhaps you would like to start with buying one of my watches?" Joseph growled. He rose to his feet and towered over the Egyptian conman. "Perhaps I should start by beating a lowlife like you. Maybe you have a point. I do have nothing to lose. They called me Pharisee in prison, Mr. Dust; it was because I had a low tolerance for those who disrespected the law. I assure you, I am a force to be reckoned with." "Well, how far would you go then?" asked Dust. "You said your soul is at risk. Would attacking someone like me cement your fate?" "It would not worsen it," growled Joseph. "Well, there you go!" exclaimed Dust as he spread his arms wide. "You're a bad guy! Who better than you to go after other bad guys? You have nothing to lose; perhaps you should hit me and drag me over to the prison across the street. I'm sure they would love to have you back!" Joseph reached forward and grabbed Dust by the neck. He pushed his head hard against the glass panel surrounding the bus stop. Before Joseph had chance to speak, a thin knife appeared at his chin. He gulped in surprise as Dust raised an eyebrow. "You have anger issues," he said. "Perhaps something you should work on. Did you consider that perhaps I'm selling these watches to care for my pregnant wife or send a child to college? You don't ask any questions; you just act. That will get you into some dangerous situations, I assure you that." "I know what you are," whispered Joseph as he stepped away. "I know who you are," responded Dust. "You're impulsive, judgmental, and live in some sort of black-and-white reality. I got news for you; we're all a different shade of black. Everyone on this planet is self-centered and backstabbing. They won't admit it, but they are. If you judge everyone the same way you judged me, you're going to get yourself hurt. No one can live up to biblical standards; you can't hunt down everyone who you consider less than saintly. Trust me, Pharisee: everyone is." "Why not?" asked Joseph. "Why not spent what time I have expelling the evildoers? I'm not a good person; I should let other like me know what awaits them." "You're going to sound like a hypocrite, you know," mused Dust as he fiddled with the point of his knife. "What gives you the right?" "I know what evil is," said Pharisee. "I escaped my punishment, I won't allow others to escape theirs." "Well, kudos to you, then," Dust said with a smile. "More power to you. It's a futile mission however, I hope you beat the MegaBlok out of as many people as you see fit." Joseph St. John shook his head. "I'm not a good man, I have no future. Other good people do, and I can make it better for them by removing the unrighteous from their path." The Egyptian shrugged before rising from his seat and rubbing the back of his head. "Well, you sure showed me a lesson." He reached into his coat and pulled out two watches that he quickly tossed to Joseph. "Use one to keep track of the time you'll waste. It's a vain undertaking; no one is perfect, and we're all sinners." Joseph inspected the watches. They were clearly knockoffs and certainly quite cheap. Some might be fooled by their shimmer, but he had learned to identify shams behind bars. They looked nice, but close inspection would identify what they truly were. "People are either good or evil, Mr. Dust. Righteous or unrighteous, this book I read taught me that." Dust chuckled. "Only a Pharisee like you would deal in absolutes. I'm not going to pretend to know your religion, but I do think you should read between the lines. There is more in your book than what is written. I hope you figure that out one day." Pharisee did not respond. He glanced down at the two cheap watches in his hand. "What am I supposed to do with this other one?" "Use it to buy a bus ticket," said Dust, shrugging. "Think of it as an investment. You say you're a bad man anyway; what harm can selling a stolen watch do?" At the moment, a rusty bus pulled up to the bus station where Joseph and Dust stood. The door opened and the driver motioned for them to board. Joseph hesitated and looked back at Dust before stepping up. In his fingers was the watch. Dust was right: he was a bad man, inherently so, whatever he did would not change who he was inside. Conning this driver would be the last unrighteous thing he did. Henceforth, he would tarnish his spirit in a different manner. He would fight monsters, and he would sacrifice himself to do so. As he held up the glistening watch before the bus driver's eyes, the doors closed behind him. He turned back, and Dust smiled. He hoped to prove him wrong one day, he hoped to find good people in the world, but something deep down told him the Egyptian was right. His standards were too high for anyone. ***** Pharisee looked at Gahiji Thutmose's face in the magazine and then down at the cheap watch still around his wrist. How much time had he wasted? He had met plenty of bad people in the Dino Attack Team but he had also met some gray. What about Andrew, Zachary, and Rex? Were they as good as he believed they were? Doctor Nicholas Saran listened intently as Pharisee finished his tale. It was apparent to the psychologist what was causing the commander's distress. After the events of the Dino Attack, he was stating to believe what Dust had said. A black-and-white sense of morality was unhealthy and unrealistic. It was remarkable how someone could live as long as Pharisee without having some sort of mental breakdown. Honestly, Saran was concerned with Pharisee's safety. The commander hated himself more than the psychologist could imagine. When a person believed they had nothing to live for, they did not see themselves accountable for their actions. Pharisee had continued to spend his days doing things that were morbid because he felt they would have no consequences. When he had asked earlier if the commander was suicidal, Pharisee had responded that he feared death. Saran believed he was sincere in faith, but he had neglected to give a straight answer. Pharisee exhibited the symptoms of depression; while he was effective in his job, he was antisocial and exhibited little joy. As a psychologist, he had experience treating people like Pharisee; it was the commander's ideals that complicated the mater. "Commander," began Dr. Saran. "You say people are either good or bad. Would you mind telling me what you think of some members of the team?" "I can tell you what I witnessed," sighed Pharisee, "But I'm not so sure anymore." "Well that's good," said Saran. "I'm glad you're asking questions. It means you're willing to accept your fallibility. It's important to remember that we all are capable of mistakes. It's dangerous to assume you can't make mistakes." The commander shifted in his chair but nodded his head in half-hearted agreement. "What was your opinion about elite agent Rex?" asked Saran. "We were both there during his last moments. Did that provide you with any insight to his character?" "He was a good man," replied Pharisee without hesitation, "He sacrificed his Creative Spark to kill Dr. Rex. It was a selfless action for the good of the entire world." "I won't deny that Rex was a hero and I in no mean disrespect his memory by saying this," said Dr. Saran. "But I've had the pleasure of speaking with him on a few occasions. You remember how Rex attacked elite agent French Fries while he was being escorted to the prison complex? Although I'll admit he had it coming, I certainly would not call that sort of assault civil, would you?" Pharisee shook his head. "Evil was paid onto evil. The action was just." Saran shrugged and scribbled a note on his legal pad. "Okay. What do you think about elite agent Zachary Virchaus?" "Zachary is also a good person," said Pharisee, the commander responded just as quickly but sounded less confident. "During the final battle, he distinguished himself in combat and was a natural leader." "But he still had parts of the Maelstrom in him," countered Dr. Saran, "He was violent. At the temple, he killed a XERRD scientist in cold blood. He killed dozens of agents as a Stromling. Even before then, he was responsible for the death of agent Scratch and he associated with a kleptomaniac. I'm not going to say that Zachary was bad, but would you attribute his actions to an honest man?" Pharisee said nothing. He looked down at his watch and then at the photo of Dust still on the table. "Am I making you uncomfortable?" asked Dr. Saran. "If that's the case, then I apologize. You're rethinking the beliefs you've held for your entire life. This can be a scary thing, but I'm here to help you." "I just don't understand," muttered the commander. "The book I read in prison said that there were only two kinds of people. Righteous and unrighteous. How can anyone fall between?" "I'm not going to go against what you read in the book, Pharisee," said Saran. "Clearly, your faith is strong. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when it dominates your entire life, it can cloud your judgment. Has it occurred to you that you could be misinterpreting the meaning of the texts?" Pharisee shook his head. "I've had twenty years to find the truth, doctor. I think I have a strong enough understanding to know the difference between good and evil." "I'm not going to pretend to be a theologian, Pharisee," said the doctor, shrugging. "But, if I recall correctly, people are capable of salvation. There are many who have redeemed themselves over the course of their lives. Even in that book you speak of." Pharisee did not appear convinced. "And what about forgiveness?" asked Dr. Saran. "I don't believe the Creator is as vengeful and angry as you make Him out to be. Look outside the window, Pharisee; do you see the people surfing and the wonderful day outside? The sun is shining and the planet is happy!" "How can you say that?!" demanded Pharisee. "Look at your leg! The Creator punished you for your past transgressions! Can't you see that?" The doctor smiled and rose from his seat behind the desk. The prosthetic limb followed him awkwardly as he stepped beside the window of his office. "Not everything is an act of the Creator. There is such a thing as bad luck. I lost my leg to a particularly nasty shark off the LEGO Island shore. Do I blame some higher power? No, I blame myself for being foolish enough to go swimming after eating." "But were you not angry?" inquired the commander. "Did you not blame the Creator for your misfortune?" "Of course I was, at first," said Dr. Saran. "But over time, I saw that our Creator was not that petty. We don't live in world subject to some sadistic Builder; we live in a world filled with life and creation. If the Builder was as unforgiving as you say He is, how could the likes of Zachary and Rotor find redemption after the crimes they committed?" "I don't want all your analysis, doctor, I just want answers!" growled the commander. "What I want is how to think about Montoya and Pierce! I just want to get back to my life, not reevaluate it!" "Well, I'm afraid you came to the wrong person, Pharisee," said the psychiatrist, frowning. "There are no easy answers to your questions. I'm not around to justify the things you do, I'm here to help you overcome your challenges and better understand yourself - not others." Pharisee seemed annoyed as he rose from his seat quickly. He did not want to understand the people he chased; it only made his job harder and challenged the things he believed. He just wanted to the status quo to continue, not have it be unhinged. Saran limped over to the commander and reached up to place a hand on his shoulder. "Pharisee, I'm disappointed in you. I thought you were a curious and intelligent man, but the moment you are confronted with a challenge, you run away. You've chased some of the most rotten scum I can imagine, but you can't confront yourself?" "I just want to do my job," grumbled Pharisee. "It's all I have. It's all that matters." "But are you happy?" inquired Saran as he raised an eyebrow. "Do you feel any joy? I'm trying to show you there is more to this world than tragedy. You have the potential to live a good life if you could only see you're not so wicked! You can never be happy if you can't grasp the good you're capable of!" "But I've done so many bad things," Pharisee said as he looked down. "I killed that man and I murdered those Black Falcons. How can I continue after the evil I've done?" "No one is beyond redemption, Pharisee," said Saran. "The problem is you've given up. How do expect to turn your life around when you keep wallowing in the past? Those events don't define who you are." Pharisee considered what was said. He wondered whether he deserved to be happy. He had spent many nights wishing he was still in that Johannesburg serving his time. He had always considered his release as a cruel irony. He had been cast out into the world with no hope and no future. Now, Saran was saying he was capable of being a moral man. He looked down at the cheap watch Dust had given him. How much time had he wasted judging others? For three years, he had chased the unrighteous all because of his own complex stigma. Perhaps more could be achieved in this life than simply chasing the wicked. Why had he given up trying to save himself? Seeing someone as a shade of gray in his black-and-white world still challenged him; he could not begin to grasp there was something more than those two absolutes. There was nothing unhealthy about a strong set of morals, Pharisee certainly had those. It was how he used them that brought him down the path he walked today. "I could have been somebody," said Pharisee. "I don't believe I'm a good person, doctor; what you say cannot change how I see myself now. How is it that some can chose a righteous path when I cannot? What makes it so hard for me?" "It's because you don't believe in your potential," replied Saran. "You don't believe you're capable of doing right. You have the conviction, commander, you have the judgment. All you lack is the spirit." Pharisee looked down at the minute hand as it ticked around the perimeter of the dais. Time reflected what path he had chosen. Instead of path that led to redemption, he had chosen one that carried him further from the light. "I'm a monster," said Pharisee. "That's what I've become. I believed I was incapable of anything else, and I accepted the fate I thought I deserved. I don't want to be that person." He turned to the psychiatrist and held out his massive callused hand. "I think it's best that I leave, Doctor Saran. I don't believe I can enforce the law anymore; it would be hypocritical to do so. I can't hope to change the person I am and still be effective with my work. There is still much evil out there, doctor; still a lot of black smears in our otherwise bright world. I just can't be the one to find it. There is too much of a burden on my soul now. I can't continue to pile on crimes if I want to escape from that cage I've built for myself." Saran nodded and smiled. "You've made incredible progress, Pharisee. I hope one day you can hope to see yourself in a better life. Do you want to have another session?" "No," said Pharisee. "I found out who I was, unaided. I was wrong then, and others paid the price. I think it is best I reevaluate who I am alone. It is fitting that my new identity comes about the same as the last. I must challenge who I am in isolation as well; no one else can help me." "What's to keep you from reaching some other wrong epiphany?" asked Dr. Saran, concerned. "You said I have conviction, doctor. I know what's right and wrong. I can see now that the path I chose was wrong, and I am not beyond doing what's right." "I regret not being able to talk with you further, Pharisee," said Dr. Saran. "But I hope you find what you're looking for." "Please," said Pharisee. "Call me Joseph." The hulking commander turned away and pushed open the door of the psychiatrist's office. Saran sighed as he listened to his footsteps fade away. Outside the window, the commander stepped into the picturesque sunlight of LEGO Island. He put on his sunglasses before stepping onto the street and down the sandy beach. The sparkle of the ocean forced the doctor to avert his eyes. He pulled shut the blinds as the light flooded his office. The seabirds were quiet now, and the jet-skier no longer was heard beyond the sea. All that carried was the rhythmic music of the ocean as the tide slid in and out. Past the shadows of the blinds, he spotted an object glisten on the carpet by the door. He limped over to investigate and found the crushed remains of a wristwatch. The springs and gears were scattered across the floor. Its cheap frame had failed to the powerful muscles of the commander. Now, its bent remains sat where they had fallen. Joseph Sr. John had crushed it in his hands before walking out the door. ----- April 3, 2011 "Are you sure that this is the right thing to do?" inquired Alan Pierce. Sarah sighed. "I don't know. I haven't seen him in years, not since the accident. I'm not even sure if he'll recognize me. But it's worth a shot... I admit, I have become curious to see what has become of him." Alan shook his head. "I mean... do you think that this is what is best for Kate?" he whispered. Looking down at her daughter, who was resting her head on her mother's shoulder, Sarah nodded slowly. "She deserves to know. If there's one thing I learned, it's that it was wrong to keep family secrets from her, even ones of... this nature. Besides, Kate specifically requested this... I would hope that this means she's ready to know the truth." At last, the door opened, and a tall man with dark hair, glasses, and a well-kept suit stepped through. Sarah shook her daughter awake as they stood to greet the man. "Mr. Bonaparte," the man introduced himself. "Now I understand that you three wish to speak with me?" It was difficult getting this far, as the receptionist had initially denied their request to speak with Mr. Bonaparte, the administrator of Napoleon XIV Mental Institution, due to Bonaparte's work allegedly keeping him too busy to speak with anyone. It was only a death glare by Sarah Pierce that finally convinced the receptionist to let them in. "Yes," said Sarah, shaking Bonaparte's hand. "I'm Sarah Pierce, and this is my husband Alan and my daughter Kate. We're here to see one of your patients, my brother, by the name of Wallace Bishop." Mr. Bonaparte's features hardened. "Mr. Bishop suffers from a severe mental condition that has only worsened since the time that he was committed. For his own health, we cannot allow any guests to see him. Especially family members, as his state of being has reduced him to violent breakdowns by the mere thought of his family outside Napoleon. I'm sorry, Mrs. Pierce, but it is strictly against protocol and I simply cannot allow it." "Kate?" urged Alan. "Is there something you would like to tell Mr. Bonaparte, my dear?" Kate's mouth was dry, but she swallowed and quietly murmured, "William's bell is ringing." Mr. Bonaparte blinked in surprise. "What was that?" he asked, leaning in closer to hear. When Kate repeated the message in a louder voice, Bonaparte pursed his lips and adjusted his glasses. "Well, then... this is an unexpected... surprise. I never thought that Dr. Einstein would... well, never mind. Come with me." Bonaparte led the Pierce family to a secure room which only had a few chairs and a table, all of which were bolted down onto the floor to prevent anyone from doing anything dangerous with them. Telling them to make themselves comfortable, Bonaparte left briefly and returned with a pair of nice young men in clean white coats, who were escorting a man in an orange jumpsuit with unkempt hair, a bushy beard, and eyes sunken so far into his skull that they were only barely visible. The man walked stiffly, his hands trembling uncontrollably, and his eyes fixated upon the floor. Instinctively, Sarah stood upon seeing her older brother, Wallace, enter the room. "Oh my Builder..." she whispered, lightly pressing her hand to her bosom as her heart rate quickened. She recognized him; there was no doubt about it, it was definitely Wallace... but at the same time, she felt like she was looking at an entirely different man who bore only the faintest semblance to her brother. As the two nurses helped a trembling Wallace sit down in the chair opposite the Pierces, Mr. Bonaparte cleared his throat. "I must apologize for Wallace's current state. We have just given him new medications. Most likely, he will be... unresponsive. I doubt he will even notice your presence." Alan frowned as he looked upon Wallace. Bonaparte's meaning was evident, as Wallace had not once taken notice of the Pierces. His eyes remained fixated upon the floor, but Alan wondered if he was even looking at the floor or if he was just staring off into blank space. "What sort of medications are you giving your patients?" muttered Alan. Mr. Bonaparte stiffened. "That would be classified, Mr. Pierce. However, I assure you that we are only prescribing what is best for our patients here at Napoleon XIV." Sarah took a seat opposite Wallace at the table. He did not respond to her presence. "Wallace," whispered Sarah. "It's me, your little sister. Sarah. Do you remember me?" Silence. Leaning in closely, Sarah continued. "Remember, Wally? Your sister, Sarah? Do you remember our dad, Roy? He fought in World War I. Remember? This is your niece, Kate. You two used to spend so much time together when she was only a baby. Don't you remember anything at all?" Silence. Mr. Bonaparte cleared his throat. "Wallace Bishop may not remember you, Mrs. Pierce, or even your family. His memory, sadly, has been deteriorating after the severe cranial trauma that he suffered after a head injury..." "What sort of institution do you run here?" gasped Alan, aghast. "How could you let one of your patients get away with a head injury? How could you get him so high on medications that he cannot respond to his own sister talking to him? Ridiculous! This place is more insane than the LEGO Island Medical Center!" Bonaparte frowned. "Insane, Mr. Pierce? You think you know insane? What is insane to you, but a pair of paramedics who think that sharks and trees are part of proper medicinal procedure? Here, insanity is not a series of amusing antics... insanity is so much worse. Howling every night at the top of their lungs without knowing why. Inability to stay in one place and time. Unstoppable rambling about the unimaginable. Violent breakdowns at the slightest provocation. Losing everything that you hold dear. Having nothing to live for. Insanity? You do not know insanity, Mr. Pierce." Kate tried her best to lock eyes with her uncle, which was difficult when Wallace was not looking at her. She knew that this was the man who convinced Frank Einstein to do everything in his power to protect the Bishop family. If it were not for him, Kate would have been subjected to the horrors of Dr. Strangebrick's experiments, used as a human shield by Walter Breen, and never could have defeated the Darkitect himself. As Kate reflected upon this, she realized that she owed a lot to Wallace. Gently, she placed her hand on Wallace's own and whispered, "I love you, uncle." Silence. As tears began to form in Kate's eyes, Sarah sighed in defeat. "I'm afraid we must get going." "I'm sorry it had to be this way," Mr. Bonaparte said as he stroked his chin. "You see, I'm afraid Mr. Bishop's case is incurable. He will never be fit for society ever again, and that's something that not even Dr. Frank Einstein could change. He will have to remain here for the rest of his life." "Will we at least be able to visit him?" inquired Sarah. She hated the thought of her brother spending the last years of his life all alone, even in this incapacitated state. Bonaparte was about to say "No", but then hesitated. Sighing, he decided: "If that is what you wish, seeing as Dr. Einstein has indeed given you authorization to see him." As Sarah, Kate, and Alan stood to leave, Kate shot one last look at the lonely man that was once her uncle. As tears filled her eyes, the young girl forced herself to look away. However, just as they were about to exit the room, Kate heard a male voice that sounded aged and weary, but sounded familiar, as if it were from a dream: "Someone once told me... Love... is an emotion... too powerful... to be simply forgotten." Sarah stopped in the doorway and slowly turned around to look at Wallace, who did not appear to have moved at all. However, she rushed to his side, ignoring Bonaparte's warnings, and got a close look at his face. There were tears in Wallace's sunken eye sockets, and although his lips quivered and trembled weakly, his smile was unmistakable. "Oh, Wallace!" said Sarah, who felt tears of her own coming to her eyes. For the first time in years, she wrapped her arms around Wallace Bishop in the embrace of a sister who dearly missed her beloved brother. ---- April 16, 2011 Kara stood in front of the door to Dr. Cyborg's office, straightening her uniform and her cap. She may be his friend, but as her boss, he was still intimidating, plus she had no idea why he called her into his office. She took a deep breath, then punched the "open" key on the door control console. The door slid open, and she walked in. "Ah, Kara," Dr. Cyborg said as she walked in the door and stood in front of his desk. "I'm sure you're wondering why I called you in here?" "Yes sir, I am," Kara answered. Dr. Cyborg picked up a folder off his desk. It wasn't full, but it didn't have only one or two sheets of paper in it, either. "This folder has reports from former Dino Attack agents you worked with in it. Specs took these up on everybody, and we Elite Agents reviewed them to see how people behaved. I requested copies of reports dealing with you, and received them. Would you like to read me some to you?" Kara swallowed. Dr. Cyborg, as much as she could tell (only being able to tell from his voice and half a face), was being very cold, concealing some other emotion. She tried hard in the Dino Attack, but people might not have liked how she didn't really follow the chain of command, just sorta helped who she thought needed it. "Yes sir," she answered. "For reasons of time, I am only going to read one to you." He opened the folder and looked down at the top sheet of paper. "'I worked with Kara Wise the most of probably anybody except Dr. Cyborg during the Dino Attack. She seemed like she was used to working as she thought best, and therefore I did not give her specific orders, merely general directives. She did as she was told and did it well. She is quick, smart, and talented at flying. All three are skills a good pilot needs. I was proud to work with her during the short time she was with the Dino Attack team.' There are more, saying the same general thing." Dr. Cyborg suddenly smiled, dropping the emotional wall. "I am proud of the way you worked in the Dino Attack. Many people thought highly of you. Therefore, I see fit to promote you to the rank of Commander Pilot. Congratulations." Dr. Cyborg stood up and shook hands with her. "I also have a request. This is optional, so feel free to turn it down. I'm sure you know that UlTech has been working with XERRD scientists on building a capital ship." "Yes sir, I've been wondering what it's for," Kara replied. "Well, we are going to use that ship to get back to Crux Prime and Nexus Force. It will also be our mobile headquarters. We need two efficient pilots, and I've already chosen one - your former superior, Dylan Bingham, for the copilot. I want to ask you if you would like to be the main pilot, or if you would rather stay on Earth," Dr. Cyborg said. "I will consider it, sir, and get back to you," Kara answered. ---- April 22, 2011 David O'Neal got off the bus and walked. It was the first time since December that he'd been without a wheelchair, crutch, or other support. The bus stop was two blocks from the apartment, but a slight detour and a stop at the city bank turned it into three and a half. Passersby glanced at his curved metal shin in surprise, but he paid them no mind. Arriving at the building -- a four-story brick affair -- he struggled up the stairs to the second floor and unlocked the door. Bart and April Helmutson had generously offered Dave a place to stay until he could find a home of his own. While he was certainly grateful, it was positively unnerving to see photographs of Tracer -- no, Jason -- at earlier ages distributed from room to room. April had initially insisted upon allowing Dave to occupy Jason's old room, but it had turned out to be rather unpleasant. Jason had started appearing in his dreams -- nervous, happy and laughing, or dying on a cot. Then one night, Dave was back in the bombed-out Dino Attack HQ, held captive by O'Cozy's realists, and when Tracer slipped over and freed him, Dave turned to see the kid riddled with bulletholes, eyes wide and lifeless, mouth twisted open in a silent scream. He'd awoken in a cold sweat, and had slept on the couch ever since. April was pulling on her jacket when Dave walked in. "Morning!" she called out cheerily. "The final appointment went well, then?" Dave nodded. "All clear." And that means it's time to go. "Fantastic," April said. "Oh, you have some mail." She handed him an envelope and he looked it over. From Hertz -- another invitation to return to... whatever it was Dino Attack Team was calling itself now. Perhaps Hertz could deal with the past year's experiences by building something positive out of them, but for Dave, that was rather out of the question. He just wanted to put all of 2010 behind him for good, if that was possible. "Well, I'm off to the memorial. See you later," April said, stepping out into the corridor and pulling the door shut behind her. The memorial was another thing Dave wanted to avoid. He'd no desire to see the names of his friends on a block of stone. The names of Sarah O'Neal, Swerve, Tracer, Rex, and more were already etched in his mind. And then there were the others -- Kotua, Databoard, Blade, Fullmetal... he'd no idea whether they had survived, nor any desire to check the memorial and find out if they hadn't. Try as he might to stop it, the Dino Attack still continued to work its way back into his life -- just a few days ago, there'd been that paragraph in the newspaper: B and his squad had been found dead in the ruins of a bandit camp. And then there was Hertz's hopeful barrage of mail. Dave liked Hertz, honest to Builder, but his own sentiments towards the Dino Attack were difficult to put into words. He tossed the envelope onto the table unopened, then dug into his satchel and pulled out the wads of cash he'd withdrawn from the bank -- compensation for his services on the Dino Attack Team, plus the meager sum he'd earned over the past three months doing inventory work in a nearby bookstore (he had to take some amusement from that: a degree in electrical engineering and he couldn't even so much as get a job in a hardware store). Counting out a portion of the money, he pinned it to a sheet of paper and jotted down a note of gratitude and explanation -- Bart and April had insisted that it wasn't necessary for him to chip in and pay some of the rent, but he couldn't help but feel like a freeloader. Dave left the rent money on the table. April would likely stay at the memorial for hours, and Bart worked all day down at the harbour, so by the time they found it, he'd be long gone. The rest of the money he slipped into a hidden pocket inside his satchel. He showered quickly before packing, musing as he did so. 2010 was not devoid of redeeming qualities. He was all but guaranteed a job with Alpha Team or the Agents, should he ever decide that life in a quasi-military organization was for him -- right now, the answer was "no," but if the world came under attack by a force of brutal malevolence again, well, you never know -- and he'd found friends, both old and new, and some in quite high places, on whom he knew he could depend if he needed it. Zach, Andrew, Dr. Cyborg, Reptile, Hertz, Wright, Shiller... And Kat. That was another matter entirely. True to her word, she'd sent him telegrams -- letters written as though they were telegrams, that is (her humour certainly hadn't changed) -- for the first few weeks after her departure. But the last one had been months ago. That was why Dave was leaving now. He shut the water off, dried himself off, dressed, and walked back out to the couch, where he gathered his few belongings and tucked them into his satchel -- a few changes of clothes, toothbrush and soap, an extra prosthetic and collapsible crutch just in case, and a few electrician's tools. Then he pulled the bag over his right shoulder and walked out. A fifteen-minute bus ride brought Dave to LEGO City's central train station. He was headed for the doors when a voice stopped him. "Just where do you think you're going, Dave?" He turned, and there, leaning against the wall, was Lucy Wright. "Away," he replied solemnly. Lucy crossed the sidewalk and nudged him in the shoulder. "C'mon, you gotta give us more details than that." "Yeah, we didn't follow you here just to let you slip past us with a few cryptic words," said a second voice. Dave spun around to see Ben Shiller leaning out the window of the old station wagon he'd taken no notice of just moments before. "Besides, we'd already figured out you were going 'away'." He gestured to the back of the car, which Dave now saw contained several suitcases and sleeping bags. "Wait, back up," Dave said. "You followed me? How?" "We hadn't heard anything from you in almost a month, and it was getting a bit worrying," said Wright. "So we looked up your friend, agent Mort." "And we got him to sniff some proverbial paper trails, off the books," Shiller continued. "That's how we found out you'd quit your job and reserved a train ticket for the same day you'd be finished with your physical therapy. It didn't take much to put two and two together." "Okay, but... well... I couldn't ask you to drop your lives and come with me," said Dave. "You were willing to do that for Kat when she left, though," Wright pointed out. "And you were stuck in a wheelchair then." "We couldn't do anything less and still call ourselves your friends, O'Neal," said Shiller. "And this is about Kat, isn't it?" Dave nodded. "I haven't heard from her since the end of January. Before then, I was getting a postcard a week. Not sure what happened, but if she's still out there I'd like to catch up." "Well, I know you care a lot about her, even if it's in a way we can't exactly understand," said Wright, circling the car and getting in the driver's seat. "Hop in. None of us are getting any younger." It didn't take much deliberation for Dave to make his decision. He pulled open the door, tossed his bag onto the back seat, and followed it in. "So, where are we headed?" Wright asked, starting the engine. "Her last letter came from World City," said Dave. "I thought I'd start there, but if there are no leads? Well, who knows?" Shiller laughed. "World City or bust, then. Subsequent stops: everywhere." He looked back and shot Dave a smirk. "Just like summer '04 all over again, eh?" "Just like summer '04," Dave agreed with a grin. And five minutes later, they were pulling onto the highway, with the past in their wake, and nothing but the future ahead of them. ---- April 30, 2011 Dr. Cyborg wandered the corridors of XERRD's new ship. It was empty, except for the robotic servants who made the food, kept it repaired, and did everything to keep the ship running but pilot it. It was to be piloted by Sub-Commander Dylan Bingham, and a recently-promoted Commander Kara Wise. After her excellent work in the Dino Attack, it was only fitting that she be promoted. After a few days, Kara had come back with an answer. She had decided to take the offer, and be the pilot for XERRD's new ship. Dr. Cyborg was glad she had accepted. She was his friend, and also the best pilot he knew. There was nobody else who he would rather have. As he walked down the corridors in the cabins area, he thought back to the party and time after it on LEGO Island - specifically, when he said goodbye to Catless. He had now reached the engine section of the ship. Robotic drones were scurrying around him back here, keeping everything working. He entered the large reactor compartment that took up most of the stern of the ship. He looked at the gigantic plasma reactor in the middle of the room, looking like a mutant spider with all of the pipes and wires running from it into the walls. He walked over to a console near it, checking its status. He thought back to merely two months ago, reflecting on how different his situation was now from then. He put the console into sleep mode and left the engine section. As he went back towards the bow of the ship, he passed by the cabins on the command deck. He, Solomon, Dylan, Kara, and some other ranking members of XERRD had cabins here. As he passed by them, he remembered a meeting he had, when they were being the victim of countless court cases. He closed his eyes as he called more memories to the fore of his mind. Those days had been very harrowing, Dr. Cyborg remembered. Thankfully, the most of them had slowed down, although he expected them to continue for at least another month. He sighed and continued on towards the center of the ship. He went to the mess hall and logged onto the console in there, except this one was part of the ship-wide network run by Cortana(2) instead of being dedicated to the upkeep of the engine. As he entered his username and password, and saw the screen that welcomed him to the ship's network, he smiled. That reminded him, not of memories, but of what was to come. Three hours later, Dr. Cyborg stood behind the curtain. A small stage had been set up in front of the dock the new ship was resting in. A large cloth had been draped over the bow where the name was painted. Nobody but those who painted it on and the ones who came up with the name knew what was under the sheet. UlTech employees, XERRD members, and others from LEGO City had come. The majority of those who had come were those who had forgiven XERRD, although some troublemakers were expected. That is why UlTech Infiltrators armed with stunning electrostaffs were spaced throughout and around the crowd. Most did not notice them, but if one tried to do something rash, the Infiltrators would definitely be noticed. He heard Solomon finish up his speech, then introduce him. Dr. Cyborg came out from behind the curtain, carrying a Nexus 7 in his hand. He walked up to the lectern, placed the tablet on top of it, then adjusted the microphone. "The majority of the important things have already been said," he started off. "Not that I'm jealous or anything, I hate making speeches." The crowd laughed. "But I was suggested, no, told, by all the members of XERRD and many UlTech employees that I should make the speech to name the ship. I couldn't really refuse, so I went with it." He turned and gestured to the ship behind him. "This ship represents a new direction for XERRD. As such, the name should be a fitting one. It can't be anything simple. There must be symbolism behind it, a meaning to the name. It must show the new XERRD, that we are different from the organization that started the Dino Attack one year ago. The majority of XERRD came up with names, voted on them, and gave me a little slip of paper with the winner on it. What was written on that sheet of paper was the name Cyrista. Everybody wanted the ship named after me, for I was changing XERRD for the better. So, I decided to name the ship-" He trailed off and mentally activated the motors to release the sheet from the ship's bow. The sheet fell, revealing the name of the ship. "The Dawn! XERRD's previous capital ship was named the New Age, for it did start a new age. However, this new age was one of death. To represent the new direction of XERRD, I named the ship the Dawn. Today, we leave a New Age of doom, death, destruction, and terror behind! Today, starts the Dawn of a newer age, a better one for the world, one without destruction done simply For science!" The crowd burst into cheers, and Dr. Cyborg stepped back, thankful the naming went so well, without any violence. ***** May 1, 2011 It was time. The entire organization of XERRD, many supplies, and assorted vehicles and pieces of equipment had been loaded onto the Dawn. Everybody had said their goodbyes to their friends and family. Everyone except Dr. Cyborg. The friends he was leaving behind, he had said goodbye to months ago. Sadly, his parents weren't speaking to him. They believed him responsible for his sister's death, and he supposed he was, in a way. However, from what Catless had told him, his sister had forgiven him even as she died from wounds inflicted by those which he helped create. That plus his memories, which he no longer took for granted, which told him Elizabeth would forgive him, made him sure she truly did. He mentally laughed. His sister forgave bullies even as they shoved her and stole her stuff. He at least waited a few minutes before forgiving them. They were both popular targets for bullies in school. It was ironic, because once UlTech Industries got up and running, most of the same bullies came to them asking for money and good jobs because they were, as they put it, "old school friends". After the assorted bullies left his office, he and Elizabeth always looked at each other and simultaneously said, "Nah!" He missed his sister. He got along better with her than his high school friends did with their sisters. Dr. Cyborg sighed, then got out of the captain's chair and walked to just behind and between the two pilot seats. Kara was to his left, Dylan to his right. Solomon was against the bulkhead to his right, about 10 feet away, checking the reports sent in from all areas of the ship. "Reactor's running fine!" he cried. "All gear is stowed, all hatches shut, all lines detached from the dock, and the docking clamps are released! We are ready to roll!" Dr. Cyborg put a hand on top of both pilot's headrests. He took a deep breath, now was the moment of triumph. "Kara, start all engines." There was a dull thwump! felt and heard throughout the ship as the main drives engaged, then the thrusters initialized, preparing to steer the ship. "Now, Dr. Cyborg?" Kara asked. "Now," Dr. Cyborg agreed. Kara pushed forward on the sticks, and the Dawn lifted out of the dock and tilted upward, pointing its nose towards the sky. The main drives fired up and it slowly left the dock, thundering towards the sky. A few minutes later, it left the atmosphere, steadily making its way into space. Dr. Cyborg looked up at the monitor above the main viewport, connected to the stern camera. He saw a green and blue sphere slowly shrinking as it receded into the distance and into the past. He took a deep breath. Onward into the future, he thought as he watched the endless reaches of space through the viewport. ---- May 17, 2011 Noomi Shaw stood nervously as her latest clients in her unintentional wedding business approached. Maria and Andrea Jackson Orange held hands tightly as they approached. Technically, Shaw really did not have a license to perform weddings, but right now she was the closest thing around to a minister, and with most businesses slowly struggling to get off the ground, they just had to make do with what they could get. And at this point, it was either her or Pharisee, and most would agree the latter would not be good at weddings. The wedding itself was small in size. The only attendants were Maria's old partners, Clint Wayne and Van Cleef - and Erik Paulson, but he was passed out for most of the ceremony. Shaw cleared her throat and began. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to celebrate the union of two... very strong lovers." Maria smiled as she looked at her bride. Andrea's skin had finally started to return to a more natural colour, rather than the almost grey look she sported when they first met. Her hair was cleaned up, and she stood tall and proud. There was a part of her wishing her father could be there, especially after they'd finally settled their differences, but she still did her best to enjoy the moment. "Maria..." Erik immediately hiccupped as soon as Shaw was about to say Maria's last name. "I- comin' to git yehr sandwich, See." He started snoring loudly again. "Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?" "I do," replied Maria, her thick Southern accent showing. "And you, Andrea Jackson Orange?" "Yes," replied Andrea. "Then by the power vested in me, I hereby pronounce you..." Shaw paused for a moment unsure of what to say. "You're married." Andrea quickly wrapped her arms around Maria and the two embraced each other tightly. ---- June 4, 2011 A nebula was a beautiful thing. People often forgot the colors of space, it was usually assumed to be no more than a black void, but when Solomon sat on a bench and looked up at the spirals of gases swirling above Nimbus Station, he saw the truth. Nimbus Station was beautiful under normal circumstance, but when the clouds of blue, green, and yellow floated above the plaza, it was even more stunning. Nimbus Station was a hub of activity. Similar to a grand train station, minifigs from all across the universe converged at this point to traverse the galaxy. It was 2011, only a few months after the Dino Attack had ended. In the grand scope of things, the events that had transpired on the small planet of LEGO seemed incredibly insignificant. Tourists from the far reaches of space appeared unaffected by the war. A child from Sector 6 carried a small mutant dinosaur toy, and trade to the LEGO Planet had returned to normal. A stranger might never have known there was a Dino Attack. He looked up the rainbow nebula flouting above him. He was no longer carrying the armor of XERRD that he bore during the war. Instead, he was wearing a smart maroon vest and linen trousers. He shifted his tie and looked down at the sheathed katana resting on his lap. He was glad the war was over. He hated fighting, and he hated what it did to people. Although the philosopher had been taught in the honorable way to fight, he knew chivalry had died long ago. There had been nothing noble about slashing down a Fright Knight or shooting some poor Inferno henchmen. It was brutal and messy; although some still held the belief that war was glorious, Solomon had never witnessed such glamor during his service. That was not to say there had been no heroes. The likes of Zachary, Minerva, and Rex would not be soon forgotten. The problem with a planet that could be rebuilt in a week was that tragedy could so easily be forgotten. The populous lived in a state of blasé, as if the countless deaths meant nothing. No signs of the initial attacks remained; the sun shone bright again in LEGO City, all scorch marks had been wiped clean, and the rubble had been pushed away. It made Solomon wish there was some sort of reminder left about the last days of December, something more than the pages of a history book. The problem with the planet was the isolationism shown by the people. Vikings did not care about the exploits of Johnny Thunder or the World Racers. Nothing seemed to exist beyond their own little worlds. The world lacked connection and continuity; the adventures of 2006 were meaningless compared to the escapades of 2007. People simply made the philosopher sad. Their painfully short memory would lead them to forget things that should not be forgotten. To some, the events of December would be remembered as no more than an inconvenience in the Holiday season. It was June 2011 now. The planet looked good as new, and people continued with their lives. What was even stranger was that work still needed to be done; it was just no one seemed to care. Elite agent Hertz had recently proposed to Naomi Carver. After his initial flounder at Outpost 4, they had decided to take things more slowly. After six months, he had popped the question following a romantic brunch at Café Corner. Obviously, she had said yes. Hertz, however, had been called away very soon afterwards to attend to pressing dinosaur-related matters. Recently, these matters had been keeping Dr. Koplowitz and XERRD busy too. XERRD's reputation following the war had been tepid. Despite the integrity of its new leader, the organization still was viewed with an incredible amount of distrust. Dr. Cyborg had worked hard to change the image of the group, but the populace was skeptical. It was them that started the Dino Attack in the first place, and it was founded almost entirely by power-hungry madmen. Solomon regretfully had been included in that category. Although Cyborg had disposed of many of the unsavory members, some still hid their presence. In the last few months, Cyborg had been working to fix the origination's innerworkings while Solomon had been working to fix its image. Saying either task was easy would be a lie. They both had experienced mixed success. Dr. Cyborg, Solomon had discovered, was extremely efficient at running a company. Much of XERRD's past activities had been reworked into more benign endeavors. The investigation of mutation department had been shut down and the entire board of directors had been replaced. Some villains remained and continued to cause trouble, but Dr. Cyborg was breaking ground and making progress. Solomon was having less success. Minifigures could certainly move on with their lives, but they were also capable of holding a grudge. The war with the Maelstrom was still going on in other parts of the galaxy, and many were too distracted to open their hearts to reaccept XERRD. The events of the Dino Attack were still fresh in their minds, and convincing them to accept an old enemy as a friend was incredibly difficult. XERRD was doing marvelous work in the world now. Although Cyborg was still busy fighting dangers within the group, he was still able to assist Captain Ace Speedman in his Atlantis exploration and Sensei Wu in Ninjago. Meanwhile, X2½ aliens invading Earth were complicating matters. It seemed every year some new apocalyptic threat would threaten the planet. Bluetooth had reorganized a fraction of the Dino Attack to combat that threat, while Hertz had taken another fraction to track the dinosaurs that had eluded capture in the months following the war. Under the leadership of Dr. Cyborg, XERRD had developed a mass-produced cure for the mutation. This Green Goo-like substance had been installed in tranquilizers and distributed to various units across the globe. At last check, roughly 70% of Mutant Dinosaurs on earth had been cured. Now, the reminder of Dr. Rex's army roamed the earth as natural dinosaurs. Unfortunately, these natural dinosaurs continued to cause trouble. Hertz, David Norman, and Reptile had theorized that they were bonding together into a single coherent herd and developing a nest somewhere in the jungle. Catching this remnant promised to become a serious problem in the future. Hertz had made it an utmost priority to locate the nest. It was a shame that Hertz's nuptial had to be put on hold became of his work. With both the Alien Conquest and Maelstrom's activity in space, everyone was busy. The people were facile; how strange it was that good deeds could be forgotten while grudges could remain. He worried about Dr. Cyborg. XERRD was doing such great work, but few recognized it. The doctor did not deserve blame for the problems he inherited. "Mind if I join you, Solomon?" The philosopher looked up to see the familiar half-face of Dr. Cyborg. The doctor's left robotic eye shifted back and forth across Nimbus Station before he settled down beside his colleague. Dr. Cyborg had adopted a leather jacket which he now wore over his mechanical body. He also had acquired a pair of tan khakis to appear more casual. His continued to wear his orange helmet but, considering some of the other denizens of the LEGO Universe, it was far from obtrusive. "What brings you to Nimbus Station, Dr. Cyrista?" inquired Solomon. "I thought you had business in LEGO City." Cyborg adjusted the collar of his jacket as he leaned back. His cybernetic eye shifted as he gazed up at the nebula above. "Bluetooth can deal with the Alien Conquest when I'm away. I have some experiments to conduct near Crux. Some samples need to be taken of the Maelstrom to measure its growth." "Nexus Force can handle that work," responded Solomon. "They have near-unlimited resources. I would say that XERRD has other priorities." "Like what?" inquired Dr. Cyborg. "This is what XERRD was originally founded to do. We're more equipped to deal with the Maelstrom then Paradox." "It's not about capabilities, Matthew, it's about image," Solomon said. "Some might not be so thrilled to see XERRD engaging in these sciences so soon after the Dino Attack. You need to ensure that all of the dangerous scientists are rooted out before you start with Maelstrom work again. If they still have a presence, their malicious influence will spread like a cancer." "Honestly, Solomon, when will you start to take my word on this?" groaned Dr. Cyborg as he rolled his eye. "I've conducted extensive inquiries on our current members. I've conducted interviews and background checks. I can assure you that any of Dr. Rex's influence now is negligible. I'm keeping an eye on our members and I trust most of them." "Most of them?" asked Solomon. "Do you realize what chaos a single mad scientist could create? XERRD's image would go backwards, and escaping from that negativity will be impossible. We can't make the people trust us; XERRD has to go slowly. Charging into more Maelstrom research is not the answer." "Well what do you recommend?" demanded Cyborg. "Just sit around and gather dust? We're not going to make any difference when all we do is paperwork. We need to do something to redeem ourselves!" "Dr. Cyrista, I respect your idealism but must say you are a naïve gentleman," sighed Solomon. "People are petty. Sure, they will celebrate the heroes, but only until the next incident makes them forget. It's been six months now, and focus is now on the new heroes. There is an end-of-the-word incident every year, Matthew. Yes, the Dino Attack Team saved the planet but their names will be replaced with the heroes of Alien Defense Unit in no time. Then, once their heroics become obsolete, the names of next year's stars will be shouted in the streets. This is the world we live in, Matthew: give the people a show, and you will be raised on a pedestal only as long as you are never overshadowed by the present. "Villainy is something else entirely," continued the philosopher. "Heroes cycle through our memory while villains remain. It's easier to hold a grudge than a debt. Years from now, what people will remember about the Dino Attack will be the mutants, not the heroes." "I don't believe that," Dr. Cyborg said with a chuckle. "For all your sentiments of honor and integrity, you're certainly a glass-half-empty kind of guy." "Ernest Hemingway once wrote," said Solomon, "'The world is a wonderful place and worth fighting for.' I believe in the second part." "Wow, Solomon. I've met a lot of cynics on the team. Pharisee and Dust included. I can't believe you're on that list too." "There is a difference between realism and cynicism, Matthew," said Solomon. "I'm a philosopher. I've spent my life pondering the principles of humanity. People are not quite bad, but more often than not, they will make the wrong choices. Inspiration for good is a bright burning flame that burns out quickly. I'm only afraid that, with all your idealism, you'll be let down." "I have faith that XERRD will get approval one day," said Dr. Cyborg. "Once the Alien Conquest is over, and as long as stray dinosaur activity does not increase on Earth, XERRD can be what it needs to be." "I hope catching the rest of the dinosaurs does not prove too difficult," muttered Solomon. "I trust those who are still working on the cleanup will be able to handle them." "We worked with great guys during the war. Even if catching those dinos is taking longer than anticipated, we're going to make an impression soon." Dr. Cyborg gestured to the katana resting on Dr. Koplowitz's lap. "Why do you have your sword with you, Solomon?" Solomon appeared distant as he looked down at the blade resting on his lap. "I've been a warrior for too long, Matthew. I'm tired of all the fighting. I'm tired of being asked to decide the lives of others." Solomon drew the sword from its sheath with sharp hiss. The thin blade slid out elegantly and sparkled under the light of the Nimbus nebula. Dr. Cyborg observed how the pristine blade had become tarnished by various dents and dings. Despite the grace of the weapon, it was still only metal. Solomon ran his finger along the blade of the katana. It was rough and bent and he cut his finger on its edge. "I'm done with the violence, Matthew. Since the ninja wars, I've been a knight in sour armor. I was an idealist once, but since my life as a warrior, I've lost that optimism I once had." Solomon turned to Dr. Cyborg. "That not the philosophy I want. I know people are good; you and Rex are evidence of that. I just can't continue to strive for that ideal when I continue to wield this weapon." Before Dr. Cyborg could stop him, Solomon snapped the sword over his knee. He held the two halves in hand and chuckled. "I'm free to ponder the mysteries of life now. No longer will I be preoccupied with petty disputes or trivial conflicts. I want to dedicate myself to more meaningful pursuits." He took the fragments and tossed them skyward. The unique gravity of the world caught hold of the pieces, and they drifted into orbit. Solomon and Dr. Cyborg watched as they floated toward the nebula visible in the sky above them and disappeared into space. "That's surprisingly easy to do here," muttered Solomon as they vanished from sight. "Didn't you steal that sword from Fullmetal's locker?" remarked Dr. Cyborg as he raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you're right, I did." He frowned. "Well, if we ever hear from Fullmetal again, and he wants his old sword, I'll be sure to get him a new one." Dr. Cyborg chuckled. "Well, I'm happy for you, Solomon. I'm glad you got that off your chest. You spent a lot of the war lamenting about stuff so now you can have a more positive outlook." "I'll need it, too," said Solomon, "I have a press conference in ten minutes, I need to represent XERRD in a damages hearing. The company still has collateral to pay." "Oh yes, bureaucrats and the press," said Dr. Cyborg with detest. "Sometimes, they are more terrifying than mutant dinosaurs." "You have your own work, Dr. Cyborg. I suppose we're both going to need the luck." Solomon took the doctor's hand. "It's been a pleasure working with you over the last few months, Matthew. We'll both have our work cut out for us, but I'm sure that we'll come out on top at the end." "I don't care about coming out on top," Dr. Cyborg said, smiling. "I just care about coming out in one piece." "Those are wise words, Matthew, wise words." Solomon Koplowitz chuckled. "Maybe you're deeper than people give you credit for." Cyborg winked. "I try." The two doctors picked up their suit cases. Shaking hands one last time, they parted ways and headed in opposite sides of the plaza to their respective launch ports. It was true, a lot of work still needed to be done. With no more signs of war, Solomon and Dr. Cyborg had all the time in the world to make XERRD the noble beacon it needed to be. ---- Dr. Fuchs slowly stepped into the conference room, a couple of binders tucked under his arm. Another group of scientists were sitting there, interested in what he had to say. "Gentlemen," Fuchs said slowly as he sat down. "During this war, I have had the chance to possibly make a discovery that will change our outlook on the world." Fuchs opened one of the binders and presented it to the scientists. "I have found a cure to the Maelstrom." "You did?" said one man, a tall, thin dark-haired scientist. "Indeed I did, Dr. Bowman," replied Fuchs. "With some assistance. The initial formula was originally created by another man, a fellow by the name of John Dorian, I believe. Unfortunately, he died before we could get access to his notes. He was killed by a Stromling." "So how does this cure work?" asked a blonde-haired woman. "It still needs some work, Dr. Arroway," explained Fuchs. "But I've had a chance to examine a Stromling specimen, and what we found was that their primary weakness was Imagination." "Imagination?" Dr. Bowman repeated. "There is a problem," Fuchs continued. "As of now, we have only found one sufficient source of Imagination to expel the Maelstrom from a person's body." "And what is that?" inquired Dr. Arroway. "A Creative Spark," replied Fuchs. The other scientists acted in disgust. "I don't like it either. If it's of any help, both men were dying and gave up their Sparks voluntarily." "So, how do we replicate this?" asked another scientist. "At the moment, Dr. Lowell, I'm not totally sure," admitted Fuchs. Arroway was about to get up when Dr. Bowman interjected. "Now let's not be too hasty," he said. "Obviously, we can't go around murdering people and extracting their Creative Sparks, but perhaps there's a way to synthesize a similar effect." "You think that's possible?" asked Dr. Arroway. "I don't know," said Dr. Bowman. "What do you think, Dr. Lowell?" "It's difficult to say for sure," replied Dr. Lowell. "But I do think we should at least try." "Alright," declared Dr. Bowman. "I'm in." "You can count me in too," added Dr. Lowell. "I guess I'm with you as well," decided Dr. Arroway. "Excellent," said Fuchs. "If you would proceed with me to the lab, Dr. Strangebrick will show you what we have so far." ---- June 7, 2011 Carl Lutsky, age 42, was found dead in his room yesterday of an apparent suicide. Sources from Napoleon XIV indicate that no visitors were received in the hours preceding his death, and the circumstances all point to the former commander taking his own life. Napoleon XIV prides itself in its security but admits that accidents do take place. This is the first suicide the intuition has documented in thirteen months. The motives behind Lutsky's actions are unknown. No suicide note was located, but personnel theorize it was his continual agitation that puts him over the edge. Carl Lutsky served in the DINO team during the 2010 conflict. Events on Adventurers' island promoted him to commander, where he briefly served with distinction. Doctors suggest that it was his demotion that instigated his mental breakdown. In the days following, Lutsky was reported to be disturbed and detached. His murder of the archeologist Gahiji Thutmose resulted in his arrest and subsequent court-martial. An examination by Dr. Nicholas Saran classified the commander as insane based on hallucinations and paranoid schizophrenia. He was admitted in February and has lived at Napoleon XIV for the last five months. Before the war, Carl Lutsky worked as a manager for the World City branch of a box company. During that time, he worked with John Blaire Howlett, who would eventually join the war on the side of XERRD under the more infamous pseudonym "Blaire Darkling". He married Emily Wooster in 1992 and had a daughter Lara. They were divorced in 2008, and both would eventually die in Dino Attack two years later. Carl was the sole survivor in his building, and the incident would be what drove him to join the team. Carl Lutsky has no surviving relatives. The date of his funeral ceremony is to be announced. Elite agent Hertz closed the newspaper and filed it away on his desk. At least, that's what he told himself; in truth, he just added it to the pile of papers covering every horizontal surface of his office. The immediate pile capsized and tumbled onto the floor. He swore and muttered to himself about the cleaning staff not doing their work as he gathered up the documents and pushed them aside. Somewhere beside a half-eaten pizza was a wedding catalog. He remembered Naomi had given it to him when his desk was still clean. That had been a long time ago, and therefore meant it was beneath layers of documents and would probably never see the light of day again. He stopped and considered the concept that somewhere on his desk was a wedding catalog. It was a ridiculous premise because he had never ever pictured himself getting married. Looking at tuxedos and deciding colors was an entirely foreign notion to him. Over the last few months, he had figured out some of the basic skills of a relationship that had eluded him in high school years. He was someone who Naomi would not have been caught dead with. The brooding nerd and cheerleader homecoming queen were truly star-crossed lovers. Hertz himself was surprised by the relationship; he had always envisioned women like Naomi to be total ditzes. Although she dragged him around to shoe sales and chick flicks, she proved to be very intelligent. Their relationship was going perfectly, although Hertz hated to sound like a hallmark card, he had to admit that was the truth. He had proposed after a walk through the City Park. It had been a gorgeous day and the two had a lunch at Café Corner. Because of his elite agent ranking, he had been able to afford a perfect ring without going over the top. He had popped the question before on Adventurers' Island and had only succeeded in embarrassing himself. He now had the time to do it right, so when he got down on his knee and asked the question, everything went like a dream. The record player in his office whined as a dated Rock 'n' Roll album skidded on its track. He rose from the floor and listened a moment as melodious melodies reached his ears. It was not a direct course, however: the notes flowed past his cochlear implants before reaching his mind. What a miracle it was that he could even hear the music. Months ago, he had been deaf and without resolve. Everything that mattered had been yanked away in that horrible explosion. He had wandered in silence for hours before the devices had fallen into his lap. The implants he wore today where not the same that Enter and Return had installed. Those had never been calibrated to his unique head and lacked some features necessary for a radio technician. In January, he had upgraded them to pair that could pick up a wider range of frequencies and could function underwater. The new sets of cochlear implants were so advanced that his hearing was superior to that of a normal person. The swinging 50s album filled the office. Every rhythm and chord meant so much more to him than it did before. He valued his hearing more than ever, and he accepted how blessed he was to be have his ears back. The sound of footsteps in the hallway reached his ears. He pulled the needle away from the record player and sat down quickly at his desk. He straightened the papers in hopes of looking busy and pushed the garbage pile into the trash. It cleared off a large swatch of his desk that had not been visible since he first got the office. His fiancée opened the door and smiled. She was carrying some catalogs under her arms and a bag of clothing from her most recent shopping excursion. She smiled with delight when she saw him behind what could only be described as a debris field. "Hey, honey," said Hertz, beaming. "I was not expecting you to drop by." "I was in the area," said Naomi as she looked around for a place to sit. "I thought I would swing by and see how you were." The elite agent got up hastily and pulled away the box of wires sitting on one of his chairs. He dumped it in the corner and brushed of the seat before allowing her to sit down. "I see you've been making an effort to clean up your office," said Naomi sarcastically. "Hey!" replied Hertz with mock insult. "When I have to keep our house clean, all my work needs to go somewhere." "Shouldn't work stay in the office regardless?" said Naomi, smiling. "Those papers at home were more of a hobby." He chuckled. "Believe it or not, all the stuff here is meticulously organized." He pointed his finger in the air displaying a dramatic show of bravado. "I have a system!" "Yeah," Naomi said, rolling her eyes. "I'm sure you do." She leaned back in the chair and held out the catalog she had brought with her. "I came by to talk to you about the wedding." "Oh yes," said Hertz as he looked down at the patch on his desk where he thought the old catalog might be. "I've been looking through that." "Really?" said Naomi skeptically. There was an awkward silence as she stared across the desk at him. He gave a valiant effort keeping his poker face but he ultimately gave in. He put his hands to his face and shook his head in submission. "I'm sorry, Naomi. You know how much work I've had recently." "Charlie, we're getting married." She sighed. "Why can't you prioritize? You've been doing work for so long now. Let someone else track those dinosaurs! I don't want to plain our wedding alone." Hertz was feeling really guilty. Since February, the dinosaur activity had been picking up again. Many had been cured in the first weeks of 2011, but the non-mutants had begun to breed. The problem had not yet escalated into a danger, but Hertz predicted that, left unchecked, they could lead to a second Dino Attack in the near future. Many of the Dino Attack scientists were now working with Alien Defense Unit to fight the Alien Conquest. They were making ground against the extraterrestrial invaders, but the focus was being drawn away from the Dino Attack cleanup. Hertz, Specs, and Reptile were among the only agents still working with the team. He looked down at his cluttered desk. The papers mostly consisted of tracing reports and files about reptile genetics. Not a single visible paper was about his fiancée. "And you won't have to," replied Hertz at last. "I have a little time now. What do you want to talk about?" Naomi considered where to begin. She glanced at the full calendar on Hertz's desk. It was covered in notes and Xs indicating meetings and appointments. "We need to pick a date," she began. "We need to get the word out for our guests." "Fair enough," said Hertz as he motioned for her to join him on the other side of the desk. Naomi smiled and navigated her way over to sit on his lap. Hertz put his arm around her and reached for his calendar. "Next month looks pretty busy," he began. "August could be tough too. Honey, we may not be able to do this until September." "Well, can't you clear out a week?" said Naomi. "For the Creator's sake, you practically head of this operation now!" Hertz considered. He had a hard time trusting others with his job. If there was trouble, Hertz often ended up preforming the task himself. Being in the Dino Attack Team had taught him some social skills, but at heart he was still an introvert. "I'll talk to my secretary," reasoned the elite agent. "This is just cleanup work after all, I doubt they'll need me breathing down their neck every moment. Specs can probably set aside some time to help too." Naomi smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "Charlie, I'm glad to hear you care." "Was there ever a doubt?" replied Hertz as he raised his eyebrow. He motioned to the newspaper lying among the pile of papers on the floor. "Did you hear Carl Lutsky died?" "No," Naomi said in surprise. She pulled away and looked her fiancé in the eye. "How did that happen?" "The report is that he hung himself," he said. "There was no suicide note but the doctors admit they anticipated trouble. Lutsky's profile indicated that his situation had gotten worse since his admittance to the institution. It's really too bad; the staff should have kept better security." "Hmm, talk of suicide," said Naomi. "That really lightens the mood doesn't it?" "Sorry," admitted Hertz. "I just thought it was interesting." "Let's change the subject," said Naomi as she once again put her arms around him. "Have you done any thinking about who we're going to invite? I was thinking of asking Gates to be my maid of honor." "That sound good," considered Hertz as he leaned back, "Obviously, we invite most of the team. I don't have any idea who could be my best man yet." He paused to ponder. "Maybe Zach or David. I suppose I could talk to Dr. Cyborg, provided he's not too busy with XERRD and the aliens. " "Well, you have some time to think about it," she replied. She glanced down at the scribbled calendar that Hertz had thrown on the floor and sighed. "A lot of time." "I'm sorry, Naomi," said Hertz. "Don't worry, I'll make some time. I would not miss this for the world. I would never let my work damage what we've made together." Their lips moved closer together. The professional in Hertz told him that this was inappropriate behavior for the workplace, but the madly-in-love nerd told him he should take advantage of this opportunity. It had been some time since he and Naomi had shared an intimate moment. The months of Alien Conquest had meant Hertz often got home late. He had neglected their relationship and he wanted to turn all that around. Just then, the phone rang. The pitch was amplified by the implants in the elite agent's ears. He stretched his arms out from beneath his fiancée and dug for the phone under his cluttered desk. The caller ID told him it was Specs on the line. The founding member had been taking some criticism for the slow cleanup but he was still widely respected by the team. Sadly, some officials were demanding he be replaced with some fresh blood. If Specs was calling, it could be important. Then again, it could just as easily wait. He muted the phone and turned back to Naomi. "I was thinking we make the colors olive and maroon." "Oh, I like that," said Naomi alluringly. She grabbed hold of the tie Hertz was sporting and the chair they were sitting on flipped. The IKEA desk chair was not designed for such strain. The laughed as they tumbled down. When Hertz lay on the floor of his office with his beautiful wife-to-be in his arms, he considered how far he had come. He had started the war as a week, nerdy, tech officer under the command of Carl Lutsky. He had been an introvert who avoided causing conflict and would rarely stand up for his ideals. Now, he was an elite agent and leading the cleanup department of the Dino Attack Team. He cochlear implants let him hear again and he had toned his body into a strong psychical form. He had grown up and become a leader, and most importantly, he had met Naomi. Even after witnessing the horrors of war, killing men, and facing death, meeting her strangely made it all worth it. ---- July 5, 2011 Flatfoot Thompson smashed through a glass window as he and his partners made a dash from the El Paso Bank. The plan seemed so simple: make a break for the desert, find a place to lay low for a little while, and make a run to the ruins of Gold City. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite prepared when someone shot at Thompson's horse. It fell down hard, leaving Thompson lying on the ground as the horse got back up and ran while his cronies galloped away. Quickly, he went for his gun, when suddenly he heard the familiar clicking of a revolver. A boot stepped firmly on the gun. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," said a familiar gruff voice. Thompson looked up nervously to see that familiar bearded face, puffing that big cigar as always. "You!" Thompson shouted. "That's right," replied Clint Wayne. He reached into his vest and pulled out a roll of paper, showing a picture of Thompson's face on it. "Seems there's a mighty big reward for you and your gang." "You ain't gonna catch mah gang," Thompson said. Clint Wayne took a firm breath of his cigar. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way." He cocked his gun to show he meant business. Thompson didn't want to admit it, but he was clearly pissing his pants with fear. Clint smiled. He smacked Thompson over the head with the butt end of his gun and then slung him over his horse, tying his hands behind his back carefully. As he rode back to town, Clint was rather pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face, a rough and tough gunslinger clad in black. With him were Black Bart and Dewey Cheatum, tied to his horse so that they were forced to follow. "What was that you were saying about your gang, Thompson?" Thompson growled in anger as Clint and Van Cleef rode back toward El Paso. When they reached the Sheriff's office, Clint dismounted and stepped onto the porch. Wyatt West was sitting in his rocking chair, as usual, fast asleep, and snoring loudly. Clint drew his revolver, aimed toward the sky, and fired, startling him awake. "What's going on?" Sheriff West asked as he looked at Clint. He signaled for Van Cleef to pull Thompson off of Clint's horse, and threw him onto the balcony. It didn't take long then for the Sheriff to notice the other two men tied behind Van Cleef's horse. "Ah, Flatfoot Thompson," Sheriff West said. "This is a pleasant surprise. I won't see you escape so easily this time." He called for a deputy, who stepped out of the office and escorted the criminals toward the jail. The Sheriff then reached into his pocket and pulled out a large pile of dollar bills which he placed in Clint's hand. As Clint Wayne and Van Cleef stepped away from the office, they took a moment to divide their newfound cash, and then they mounted their horses, and rode off. ---- August 24, 2011 Rotor turned in surprise to see Cabin standing in front of him. They were in the middle of a grocery store, seemed mundane enough, but for him the place seemed so meaningless. He had just been staring off into space, completely forgetting reality as it was. "You okay?" Cabin asked. "Yeah," replied Rotor. "I've got most of this stuff taken care of," Cabin said sweetly. "Why don't you go get some cereal, and we'll meet at the checkout." "Yeah," Rotor said nervously. The cereal aisle was long and narrow. Rotor looked around, box after box. He did not know which one to grab. Finally, he just grabbed one at random, and placed it into the cart. His life at home wasn't so good either. Rotor casually lit a joint as Cabin worked in the kitchen of their small apartment, the little they could get from insurance. There was once a spark of genuine love between them, one that came from being trapped in that crumbling house surrounded by their potential doom… but now, it was nothing. What was he to do now, he had no idea. All he could do was wait until something happened, another war that he could join. ---- September 16, 2011 Sarah Pierce could not help but gasp as her eyes snapped open. Several months after the war ended, and yet she was still plagued by insomnia, and whenever she wasn't, she was faced with nightmares. The result left her sometimes wandering around the small house her husband had gotten for her and his new family. Dr. Alan Pierce was fully aware of Sarah's condition. His daughter, however was worse. Kate became something of a recluse, distancing herself from her parents. Before long she found herself falling in with the wrong crowd, finding an addiction to drugs and cigarettes. Alan was really the only stable one in the family, and he had been doing everything he could to help. He tried seeking help for both. He even tried talking to Dr. Shaw, who began arriving frequently to speak with Kate. "How are you?" Shaw would ask. In her usual state, Kate would typically claim to be fine. Shaw did her best to comfort Kate and to get her to state her problems, with varying degrees of success. The worst came one evening at dinner. Alan had taken care of the cooking, as Sarah had trouble handling the utensils, her hands constantly trembling when she did so, especially with sharp objects. "Where's Kate?" Alan asked. Sarah looked up. They tried calling her, but she did not respond. Alan ran upstairs hurriedly and knocked on Kate's door. No reply. He finally decided to open it, and then saw to his horror Kate sprawled out over her bed, a needle lying on the ground. Alan reacted with horror as he ran to her. Quickly, he ran to the nearest phone and called an ambulance. It arrived in a relatively short time, and two paramedics that fortunately were not equipped with sharks or trees arrived on the scene. One of them his old buddy, Giovanni Wade. "What happened?" Wade asked. "It's my daughter!" replied Alan. "She's overdosed!" "This is serious!" Wade said. "Get her in intensive care!" "I'll give you a hand," Alan offered. "That won't be necessary," replied Wade. "I'm a doctor," insisted Alan. "And she's my daughter!" Wade sighed. "Alright, come on, help me get her to the ambulance." A loud beeping noise rang in Kate's ears as she awoke. She saw the familiar face of Dr. Shaw standing in front of her, smiling with relief as she noticed. Kate looked at Shaw with some confusion. "What happened?" "You overdosed," replied Shaw. "We nearly lost you. Now you're going to be okay but you can't keep taking those drugs." Kate nodded. Alan soon ran into the room, followed by Sarah, who was quick to hug her beloved daughter. A few tears were visible in her eyes. "I'm so glad you're okay," Sarah said. Kate could not help crying somewhat herself. Alan walked up to her and held her hand tightly. "I know this is difficult for you Kate, but I'm here, and I'm going to help you get through this." ---- February 2, 2012 "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Kaahs, but we have decided to move forward with another candidate for the position of pediatrician." Talia's heart sank when she heard those words. She slowly shook her head in disbelief. Her mouth felt dry, but she managed to find her voice long enough to ask a single word: "Why?" Mr. Reece, head of human resources at Mercy Hospital, sighed as he picked up her resume. "Quite frankly, you do not meet the qualifications. You graduated from state college with a bachelor's degree in… 1957?" He raised his eyebrows. "I still find that part hard to believe." "I already told you," Talia said in a hard voice, "it's true. It doesn't matter, anyways." "Well," explained Reece, "unfortunately, it does. See, the field has changed significantly in the past 50 years. Many of the practices you've learned are no longer used, replaced with more efficient techniques. Besides, a bachelor's degree alone isn't enough to qualify for this position, and seeing as you have no work experience in the field…" "I did internships here," Talia pointed out. "Doesn't that count for something?" Reece shook his head. "Again, that was over 50 years ago. What I meant to say is that you've had nothing on your resume that is more recent than that. If, say, you had been working for the past 50 years, having an old bachelor's wouldn't be a problem because, at least, you would have had experience while the field was developing. But, you have nothing." Talia realized she was running out of options. If her degree and her work experience was not enough to turn their heads, then a personal connection would be her only chance. "Where's Dr. Murphy? When I was doing my internship, he promised me that Mercy Hospital would hire me for a full-time position, and he even offered to pay for medical school. He'll put in a good word for me!" Reece sighed. "Dr. Murphy retired about 30 years ago. He passed away in 1993. Bless his soul, but we are not obligated to keep a promise he made 50 years ago. Even so, if he was still with us today, I'm sure that he would agree with everything I've said to you." Mr. Reece's words struck Talia like a hammer. Dr. Murphy was dead for nearly two decades. She could not believe it… after all, didn't she just see him alive and in good health rather recently? But it was not recently at all. It was more than 50 years ago. Talia Kaahs had gone to sleep one day and woke up to find herself more than half a century later. Logically, she knew how much time had passed… but even so, she would frequently forget that the world had changed while she was gone. In the heat of the moment, she would think that everything was just as she had left it, only to be given yet another grim reminder of the truth. How would anyone else cope in her situation? How would they react to being told that their recent memories were now a distant past? How would they feel to learn that the people they knew and loved were now old or deceased? Indignant anger swelled up inside of Talia. She stood up and slammed her hands down on the table. "It's not fair!" she snapped. "I had my whole life ahead of me… a job, a fiancé… only for it to all be taken away from me! I'm trying to put my broken life back together, and now I'm told that what I had isn't good enough anymore? That Dr. Murphy's words mean nothing now? That I have to start all over completely from scratch, because everything I did… my work, my education, my dream to build a better life for myself… was all for nothing? It's… not… fair!" Mr. Reece scowled. "Fair?" he repeated, raising his voice but remaining seated. "You want to talk about what's fair? Every day, I receive dozens of cover letters and resumes from people applying to every open position in this hospital. Many of them have more qualifications than you do, but I still have to turn away most of them because we can only hire one person for each position. And here you are with your sense of entitlement, thinking that giving me some unbelievable Rip Van Winkle sob story is enough to convince me to hire you over any other candidate, people who have actually worked hard and are struggling to find a job in this economy? It's not that the world isn't fair, Miss Kaahs. It's that you're too entitled to see it for what it really is." Talia breathed heavily. Her anger was now spent, leaving behind only empty sadness. Slowly, she sat down again as tears welled in her eyes. "Entitlement?" she asked. "How can I feel entitled when I have… nothing?" Reece's expression softened. "I'm sorry, I may have overstepped my boundaries. If you want my advice… go back to school. Get a doctorate. Your old bachelor's may still be useful in applying for colleges. See if you can work an internship somewhere while you're in school. Maybe in a couple more years, you can try to come back here for a permanent position. I'm not promising anything… just trying to offer a suggestion or two. Understand?" Weary, Talia simply nodded in response. She stood up again and started to put on her coat. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Reece." As she turned to leave, Reece cleared his throat. "There's… one other thing, too. You want to be a pediatrician? There's no easy way to say this, but… if you are applying for this kind of position, you might want to do something about… well, this." He gestured towards his own face, and his meaning was clear. "My facial scars?" said Talia. She shook her head. "Out of the question. These are scars I received during the Dino Attack. I got them because I fought to protect the world and people I care about. Mercy Hospital still stands today because I helped to win the war. When people see me… I don't want them to ever forget about that." "We're all very grateful for your service," said Reece, "but… children will not understand. I'm just concerned that they may be frightened by your appearance. It's hard enough for most young children to trust a doctor… I'd hate to think how their overactive imaginative minds would look at you as a… well, for example, a scary villain." Appearance is everything. That was a lesson Talia had learned all too well. Nobody paid any attention to her when she was just a plain-looking girl. When she realized that she needed to get ahead in life, she reinvented herself as a beautiful woman… which was not merely a blessing, but also a curse, since it gained the unwanted attention of the man responsible for putting her to sleep, responsible for this whole mess. She almost welcomed her scars, knowing that it would again change her appearance and forever alter how others perceived her… but that, too, came with a cost. It was not just young children who were frightened of her now. "Good day, Mr. Reece," Talia said, and then she walked out the door. ***** Talia glanced up at the clock. It was 1:37 PM, which meant that he was now running 7 minutes late. Of course, Talia was so anxious about coming here that she ended up arriving 23 minutes early, so that meant that she had now been waiting for a half hour. She tapped her foot and twiddled her thumbs, but the butterflies in her stomach simply would not go away. Waiting was the worst form of torture. She immediately perked up when the front door opened at last, ringing a little bell as a man stepped into the lobby of St. Lucy's Nursing Home. He was a young adult, younger than her (that is, her age not counting all those years of stasis), with short jet-black hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He glanced around the room, saw that Talia was the only one waiting there, and walked up to her. Then, he must have noticed her scars, because he visibly faltered, averted his gaze, and started stammering: "Oh… uh…" "Yes?" said Talia. The man collected himself, trying to regain his composure. "Are you… Talia?" he asked. Talia nodded. "Yes, I am." Trying to make him feel more comfortable, she smiled and shook his hand. "I'm Anthony Lee," the young man introduced himself. "Thank you for coming to see her." "No," said Talia. "I should be the one thanking you for helping me. I can't get past the front desk without you." "Well," Anthony said with a shrug and an awkward smile, "even if we're just distant relatives who have only just met, I guess we're family now, and family members look out for each other, right?" Family. That word gave Talia a sense of comfort and familiarity that she had been longing for. Anthony led her to the front desk, where he spoke with the receptionist and finally confirmed that Talia was allowed as a visitor. As they walked down a hallway, Anthony asked: "So, how did you find out you were related?" Talia sighed heavily. She knew that if she tried to tell the whole truth, he would not believe her, so she decided to only tell him as much as he needed to know. "I lost everything in the Dino Attack. Family, friends… here one day, gone the next. Now that the war is finally over, and people are settling down and returning to normalcy once again, I thought I'd try to reconnect… to reach out and find someone… anyone… who is family. Even just a distant relative. Fortunately, Kaahs isn't a common last name at all. Unfortunately, it took much longer than I wish it would have, having to search for maiden names of people who married 40 or 50 years ago… I'm just so glad I was able to find her." Anthony nodded slowly. "I know… believe me, I also lost most of my family, and she's all that I have left. It's ironic that, in a war that left whole cities in ruins and claimed millions of young lives… somehow, St. Lucy's Nursing Home survived. We all dearly love our great-aunt and none of us wanted to send her here… but after Mike – her husband, my grandfather's brother – passed away and her memory started to fail… after she fell down the stairs and broke her hip one night… we realized it was no longer safe keeping her home alone anymore. Turns out that decision saved her life." "Her… memory?" repeated Talia, concerned. "Dementia, I think," explained Anthony. "The most recent memories are the first to go. She'll forget something you told her five minutes ago. Her long-term memory fares better, but now she's been having trouble remembering things as far back as 10 years ago. If… if she asks about Mike… just tell her that he's alright. It's… so difficult having to watch her repeatedly relive the moment of finding out that her husband died." "A merciful, comforting lie," murmured Talia. She wondered what other truths would have to be kept away. Would she have to lie to her, just as she did with Anthony? "Here it is," said Anthony, stopping in front of door 132. He inserted a key, turned the doorknob, and held the door open for her. "Thank you," said Talia. She stepped through the doorway and entered the room. Anthony started to follow, so she stopped and turned around. She realized that the conversation would not make any sense to him, so it would be better if he was not around to hear it. "May I have some alone time with her?" she requested. "I just would like to discuss some personal matters with her." Anthony seemed taken aback, but he said, "Okay, okay," stepped out of the room, and closed the door behind him. Talia took a deep breath and walked across the room. It seemed nice enough, for a nursing home. There was a table with a flower vase sitting on it; a small couch in front of a television screen; and a comfy chair next to the window, sitting in the sunlight with a pretty view of a green meadow beyond. And resting in that chair, looking out the window… was Dakota Lee. Talia felt her heart skip a beat. It was Dakota. She was old and frail. Her skin was aged and wrinkled, her hair was white and thin. But underneath all that, it was her. Slowly, Talia walked towards her. Dakota did not seem to notice her approach. "Dakota?" spoke Talia. Still no reaction. Dakota continued to stare out the window. She was so still… if she was not breathing, she could have been mistaken for a corpse. "It's me…" Talia knelt down on the floor in front of her. "Talia." Dakota blinked. Slowly, she turned to look at Talia, their eyes meeting for the first time. "Talia?" she repeated in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "Yes," said Talia, fighting back tears. She took Dakota's hands and held them in her own. "Talia… your older sister." Dakota's trembling lips curled into a smile. "I always knew you'd come back!" she said. Laughing and crying at the same time from sheer joy alone, two sisters separated by half a century reunited in a warm embrace. It might not have lasted for more than a minute, but in that moment, it felt like an eternity of everything Talia ever wanted. "Why did you ever leave us?" asked Dakota, her eyes now full of sadness. "George was such a good man. Why did you run from your own wedding?" Talia's smile faded away. Those were painful memories, and Dakota's questions hit home. She remembered what George had told her: everyone thought that she was a runaway bride who abandoned her wedding. Being left at the altar was enough to turn George into a depressed nihilist who would eventually become general of the Evil OGEL Empire; Talia had not even considered how the rest of her family was affected by it. "You deserve to know the truth," Talia said. "What really happened on my wedding day. Do you remember Ronald Alexander?" Dakota thought for a moment. "Your old friend from high school? Your study partner in science class? You didn't run away with him, did you? Oh, but you were never interested in him in that way… you told me so, after he tried to take you on a date one time." "You're right," said Talia. "I had told him that, too. I said we'd be better just as friends, he agreed, and I thought that was the end of that… if only it was." Talia took in a deep breath as she began to recount the events of the night that changed her life. "On the night before my wedding day… on the way home from church, my car broke down on the side of the road. By sheer luck, Ronald showed up and offered to give me a ride. I said yes. But he didn't take me home. He was… drinking, or something like that… he wasn't in a right state of mind. He confessed that he still had unrequited feelings for me. He begged me to give him a second chance. I said no; I reminded him that tomorrow was my wedding day, and George was my groom! He suddenly got very angry and tried saying all these mean things to discredit George… I didn't believe any of it." Talia shuddered involuntarily as her memories grew traumatic. "I realized that I needed to get out of there, but he had locked the car doors and I couldn't escape. He started rambling… said he was trying to fix what went wrong, said he was trying to correct the injustices of the world… said he couldn't bear the thought of losing me the way he lost Catherine. And that… was the last thing I remember before everything went black." Dakota was silent for a long time. As she told her story, Talia could see a gamut of emotions cross her younger sister's face: shock, anger, and sadness. When Dakota finally spoke, she whispered, "I… I never knew… I should have known…" Talia shook her head. "No one did. Not even George, who thought he was Ronald's best friend. We all trusted Ronald… and he took everything from us." Dakota reached out and laid a shaking hand on Talia's cheek, caressing one of her scars. "Did he do this to you, too?" she asked. Talia nodded. Given the role that he had played in the Dino Attack war, he was indeed responsible for that, even if only indirectly. "In the end, George and I made sure that Ronald would pay for his crimes." "Still," sighed Dakota, "I should have looked harder for you. I knew it wasn't like you to just run away like that. I never let go of my faith that you'd come back home to us someday. But Mom…" She trailed off. "What about Mom?" Talia asked urgently. "Please tell me, how was she?" "Heartbroken," replied Dakota. "She had worked so hard, trying to ensure her daughters had a better life, a better future than she did… and then she suddenly lost you. I can still remember the sound of her crying herself to sleep every night…" Talia swallowed hard, thinking about her poor mother and how awful it must have been. She already dreaded the terrible news the next answer would bring, but she just had to know: "And… Father?" She could immediately see pain in Dakota's eyes as she shuddered. "He… he was angry. And drunk. Even more than before. He couldn't even decide what he was angry and drunk about… half the time, he'd be cussing out George for stealing his daughter away from him… the rest of the time, he'd call you certain words I should never repeat." Talia winced. "I hope he didn't take his anger out on you and Mom," she murmured, "because of me." Dakota was silent, and then she smiled unconvincingly. "No, don't worry. Mom and I were alright." That was a "merciful, comforting lie" if Talia had ever heard one before. Her guilt felt like a knife twisting in her heart. "I'm… I'm so sorry…" she whispered, holding Dakota's cold trembling hands. "I never wanted any of this… how can I ever ask you to forgive me?" "My dear sister," said Dakota as she leaned forward, "there's nothing that needs to be forgiven. It is not your fault, understand? How could I possibly be angry at you when I am just so overjoyed, so relieved to finally see you again? Our reunion should be a happy occasion, not a melancholy funeral." Dakota's smile faded away as she turned to look out the window again. She spoke very quietly, as though she did not have the strength to continue the conversation. "Then again… I suppose there were some things we were never meant to see. An older sister should never have to see her younger sister lying on her deathbed. You're just as young and beautiful as you were before… and I am elderly, and ill, and… I'm sorry, Talia… maybe it would've been better if your last memory of me was when I was young and happy…" She trailed off, staring out the window with a wistful expression. She pursed her lips, as though she was going to say more, but remained silent. Slowly, she closed her eyes. Talia was frightened. "Dakota?" she said, gently shaking her sister. Dakota opened her eyes again, turned her head, and looked at Talia as though seeing her for the first time. "Talia? I always knew you'd come back!" She leaned back, closed her eyes again, and whispered: "Why did you ever leave us? George was such a good man." ***** Talia cursed to herself as she fumbled with her keys. At last, she found the right one to open her door, and so she entered her apartment. It was small, with not much inside… admittedly, it made Dakota's room at St. Lucy's Nursing Home look like an expensive 5-star hotel in comparison. But, it was all that Talia could afford. With a heavy sigh, she leaned her back against the wall, slumped down to the floor, and buried her face in her hands. It was a long, exhausting day, between the Mercy Hospital job interview and the reunion with Dakota. The result of the interview put her between a rock and a hard place. If getting her doctorate was what it took to finally get her job, then it would continue to remain out of her reach. She could not pay for medical school; she could barely pay the rent. She looked up and glanced over at the desk beside her bed. Resting on the wooden surface was a G.E. Body helmet, its metallic surface covered with blackened scorch marks. It was the helmet that George had worn as General… the helmet he was wearing when he and Talia were finally reunited on Dinosaur Island… the helmet he was wearing when they were separated forever more, just mere minutes before the war's end. Talia shook her head sadly and murmured, "You never had to worry about money, George." He came from a wealthy family. While she and her mother had barely scraped together enough money to pay for her tuition at a state college, he had attended prestigious universities. Wealth and money were never the reasons she fell in love with him… but now, she could not deny that it was an even-handed dealing of the world that she was not prepared for. When he died, he did not leave a single penny in her name… he couldn't have, not with his vile brother claiming the entire Ogel family fortune. Seeing Dakota again had brought great joy, but the happiness was dampened by revisiting traumatic memories, learning what happened to her family, and seeing her beloved younger sister as an elderly woman in a nursing home who likely did not have much longer to live. They spent quite some time together, discussing Dakota's life after Talia left, including her marriage to Mike Lee. Dakota had much to say, and she seemed to remember much of the details just fine, although she was under the impression that Anthony Lee was still a young child; just as he had suggested, the last 10 years were a blur to her. It actually sounded like Dakota had a pretty good and fulfilling life… but it hurt Talia to know that the single worst thing in her sister's life was that Talia was not there to share it with her. She was still responsible for years of pain, misery, and grief that she unknowingly and unwillingly thrust upon everyone she had known in her old life. "What did I do to deserve this?" Talia stood and walked slowly into her bathroom, where she looked at herself in the mirror. A once-beautiful face, now tarnished by hideous scars, stared back at her. But, she knew that former beauty was just a skin-deep façade, a mask she had crafted for herself in an effort to reinvent herself and get ahead in life. Now, the scars served as a constant reminder that the gilded appearance was never real in the first place. Perhaps the universe had its own way of telling her something about herself, and she reflected upon it. Her motivation for fighting in the Dino Attack war… she had told herself that she was just as altruistic about "protecting the world and people" as everyone else in the Dino Attack Team… but deep down, she knew there was only one real passionate reason she fought: to get revenge on Ronald Alexander. George knew this, and Specs probably did… that might've been why they kept her playing support roles and tried to keep her away from Dr. Rex. In the end, she did not even get to accomplish her one goal. She was not there when he died; she did not get to play a role in his demise. Her inability to fulfill a shallow and short-sighted motivation such as revenge left her with a lingering sense of aimless confusion. Maybe she was not such a good person after all? Talia slammed her hands against the wall, shaking her head and gritting her teeth. No, she could not think like that. She was not intentionally a bad person… her anger, her hatred, her lust for revenge… that was all just Ronald's fault. "I am a good person!" she hissed. "I am a…" Talia gasped. Something out-of-place in her reflection had caught her eye when she was shaking her head. Was it her imagination? She looked at herself more closely in the mirror. No, it was real. A single strand of hair on her head that was as white and thin as Dakota's. Jugend Serum, the substance Ronald had used to keep her in stasis… Talia heard that it had negative side effects and strong withdrawal symptoms just from daily injections. And she had been forced to bathe in it for over 50 years. Was this gray hair just the start? Was she going to start aging rapidly into an old woman, all of her lost years suddenly catching up to her? Was she about to die, alone and afraid? These questions overwhelmed her. The tears she held back… she could not find the strength to hold them back anymore. She started sobbing uncontrollably, breaking down in front of the mirror as her eyes and her nose ran. Her breathing grew ragged, and her lungs burned. She wept until she had no more tears to cry, at which point she was left with only emptiness inside. Talia slowly walked to her bed, each step feeling as heavy as though she was wearing iron boots. She had lost any appetite she had, and was going to bed without dinner yet again. She collapsed upon her mattress and lay there, lacking the energy to even take off her coat. She looked up at the desk beside her, and saw General's helmet staring back at her. She reached over, took it, and cradled it against her bosom as she curled into a fetal position. "I'm so sorry, George," she whispered. "I'm lost without you… I can't do this alone." Talia Kaahs had lost count of how many times she had cried herself to sleep. ---- August 3, 2017 Leonidas Spartana woke in a cold sweat, gasping and panting for air. It took him a moment to realize where he was: safe, in bed. The young woman beside him stirred. "Flashbacks, Teddy?" Blaire murmured, using her husband's pet name. He nodded silently as his wife sat up and turned the light on. At twenty-six, she was two years younger than him, but looked much younger, thanks to her small frame. Blaire wrapped her arms around his shoulders before resting her cheek on his organic shoulder. Ever since they'd started living together, she'd had to sleep on the left side of the bed. "The Dino Attack ended seven years ago. You're safe, Leo." The former Dino Attack agent took a breath and patted his wife's head. "I know, Angel," he whispered. He was still shaking. "But not all wounds suffered in war are physical." Leonidas swung his legs out of bed, the left one making a metallic click on the floor. He went to the bathroom, washed his face. As he looked himself in the mirror, he still could see the face of Dino Attack agent Fullmetal staring back at him. He could hardly believe that he had once been the young, idealistic, rookie codenamed Sauro-Hunter. The war had changed him so much. Leonidas felt Blaire wrap her arms around him from behind, as well as the kick from inside her rounded belly. "You woke the babies," she said softly. "I'll be up for hours now." She moved beside her husband. The two had met four years ago, at Comic-Con. It had been a chance meeting in a cosplay contest: she had dressed as a cat goddess from the game Gryphon Age, while he had simply worn his old uniform. Imagine each other's surprise when they found out the truth about each other: he had been a real Dino Attack agent, while she had cat yōkai ancestry, not unlike the famous Coalessa of Pet Cove. It had been after a year in their courtship when he dropped two very large bombs on Blaire. The first: "I'm half-dragon." The second? "Oh, yeah… I guess kinda I forgot to tell you that my adopted daughter is a Mutant T-Rex." Blaire didn't speak to him again for a month after those revelations. But when she did, she accepted all of him: Tex, half-dragon lineage, robot limbs and all. For that, he thanked the Builder from the very bottom of his heart every day. Leonidas turned, smiling apologetically and scratching behind his wife's cat ears. "I'm sorry, honey," he said. "Have you thought of names for the babies?" asked Blaire. "I'm still trying to get over the fact that we're having twins." Blaire giggled. Leonidas had fainted then and there when the doctor had pointed out another tiny body on the ultrasound screen. "I have given thought," continued Leonidas. "I agree that our baby girl should be named Izumo, after your grandmother, the shrine maiden. But, I want to name our son after a man I respect very much, who gave his all to end the Dino Attack." He bit his lip, his expression becoming distant. "I only ever worked with him on rare occasions, but when I did, he gave me the courage to keep fighting." Leonidas seemed to come back to the present. "Rex. I want to name our son Rex." Blaire's tail flicked back and forth as she thought. The raven-colored fur caught the light as her eyes changed color. "I'll sleep on it," she decided, before letting out a sigh. "I may as well work on my manga, being up and all." She planted a kiss on her husband's cheek before going into her office. Even seven months pregnant with twins, Blaire's movements still had a smooth, catlike quality to them. "I'll go out for a ride, hon," said Leonidas. "We'll be back in time for breakfast." "No donuts if you go by the gas station!" "Blaire, I know you'll hurt me if I do." "I was talking about your ten-ton daughter." ***** Tex felt her father's emotions even before he had woken up. The two still shared an emotional and cognitive connection after all these years, even after he had fallen in love with another woman. After Aravis's death, Leonidas had fallen into a depression, even as he projected his normal self to others. But Tex felt everything in his heart and mind. How many nights had he cried in his sleep, apologizing to his fallen teammate? How many dreams had her father dreamt of Enox Phorm and his arena? Of his dead allies rising from their graves to take him with them? Or seen Aravis's smile as she said goodbye night after night after night? Tex remembered them all. It was after the Dino Attack that he'd returned home and began rebuilding with others from GAIA Squad. Despite having served on the front lines and giving part of themselves to saving the planet, Leonidas and other teammates faced hatred and discrimination because of Tex, Freefall, and Shade. She understood their hatred; how else were they supposed to feel after Tex's race and others had tried to wipe out Minifigkind? It was a year later when Freefall was poisoned as a message to the ex-agents. It was too late to save him before the toxin claimed him. The perpetrator was in prison, but Tex and Ptero missed their friend terribly. It was after that that Shade made his own decision to return to Adventurers' Island; the last they'd heard of him, he was leading a pack of his own, having proved himself to those who once called Mutant Dinosaurs "abominations". After the war, Leonidas had been set up on two blind dates by a friend named Vic. Both of the young ladies were ex-Dino Attack agents, and both had been equally wonderful; coincidentally, both wielded scythes. But he had pushed them away, sabotaged their relationships. Anything so he wouldn't feel the pain of losing someone he loved again. But then came Blaire. Tex had been distrustful her at first, but her father was genuinely happy again. Blaire had not taken part in the Dino Attack war; in fact, she'd never even seen a real Mutant Dino until meeting Tex. But it had taken her patience, her understanding, and her love to soften Fullmetal's iron heart. After all, Blaire was a rare treasure: beautiful, both inside and out; patient and understanding; and an adorkable nerd whose idea of a wild Saturday night was Wing Bulls, anime, and video games. Papa found himself a veritable unicorn. If the T-Rex's facial muscles would have been able to, she would have smiled. The porch light came on, and Tex raised her head. She loved these morning rides, even if this one was far earlier than usual. The saurian rose from her nest in the barn, glancing at the memorial she kept of her lost family: pictures, dog tags, and gear that still carried the scent of her loved ones who had passed on. The ground shook with each step, and she lowered her head to greet her father. Leonidas smiled, patting Tex's snout lovingly. The Tyrannosaur closed her sapphire eyes as a rumble emanated from her chest. Despite being far beyond her hatchling years and mindset, she still purred whenever Papa paid attention to her. "Hey, Baby Girl," he greeted. Leonidas grabbed onto one of her horns before moving to the base of Tex's skull. Good morning, Papa, her voice echoed in his head. Without need for instructions or reins, Tex began making her way into town. It had taken the T-Rex a while, but she'd learned a technique of walking that wouldn't break concrete or wake neighbors up as she passed. As a predator, Digger had said in an email to her Papa, Tex was perfectly capable of learning things like that. Of course, their first stop was the gas station for Papa's morning coffeeccino and donuts. When he was working on his book, Tex would hunt… well, only enough to be full. The lake was fully stocked, and despite not being a Mutant Spinosaurus or Mosasaur, she had learned to hunt underwater very quickly. Being a ten-ton predator, it was sometimes difficult to find food. But Leonidas had worked out an agreement with the local farmers. She had one goat and one pig a day (Papa had approved of the latter once he taught Tex that pork HAD to be properly cooked); one cow a month; wild deer and coyotes whenever she could (only males of the former); and any lawyer who Znapped over his clients on a consistent basis. Thus far, Tex had only gotten a taste of a single lawyer after swallowing him whole before spitting him back up. He'd straightened out after that incident, and Tex had sworn off eating anything that tasted as foul as a bloodsucking parasite with a briefcase. In addition to that, Tex worked on the farms in the area. It was cheaper to use the dinosaur to plow the ground than a tractor, and the mere scent of her around the fields discouraged all but the hungriest of would-be thieves. Tex found it a bit disturbing, but due to the traces of dragon DNA in her body, farmers were willing to buy her waste as fertilizer for their crops. But it paid for what food she couldn't hunt down for herself. After all, a girl as big as her had one MegaBloking big appetite. ***** The sun rose as Leonidas sat down on the bench. The warm colors reflected on the surface of the lake. Tex settled down in the grass beside her father. He was silent for the longest time, taking his time eating his donuts. It was only when he was on his sixth one that he spoke up. "Tex? Can I ask you something?" he inquired. Tex raised her head. I can read your thoughts, you know, she said. The T-Rex's tone was playful. "Semantics." He took a sip of his coffeeccino. "I want to know your thoughts about the babies." Leonidas's eyes didn't leave the lake's mirror-like surface. Tex thought about it for a minute before answering. I'm excited, the Dino admitted. But… scared too. The only sibling I ever knew of died after the final battle, and both of my egg-parents died during the War. I've lost family, same as you, Papa. I don't want to lose them too. Leonidas was about to speak again when she continued. I hear them already, Papa. Their thoughts are only colors and sounds, but I already know them. "I understand, sweetie," said Leonidas. He gave a soft, humorless chuckle. "I know that you can feel it, but I'm Znapping scared. My dad was horrible to me and just a memory by the time I was in high school. But there's this nagging voice in my head that doesn't go away. It whispers to me, and it seems like it's always been there. First with Aravis, and then with Blaire. I know that she loves me, but those little voices in my head say that I'll be as bad as that... MegaBloker with my own children." You raised me, Papa, said Tex. She nuzzled her father… before using her tongue to steal the final six donuts. Despite the mischievous twinkle in her eye, her tone was serious. You will be an excellent father. Blaire is there to help you, and I will protect my baby siblings as I have protected you. Leonidas smiled, despite his daughter's cheekiness, and wrapped his arms around Tex's snout in a hug. "Thanks, Baby Girl," he murmured. He let her go, smiling broadly. "We're here. You may as well start fishing. I can walk back." Are you sure, Papa? "Yeah." Leonidas stood up. His prosthetic joints were acting up, a sure sign of rain. "I'll… I just have somewhere to stop before heading home." The sentence had just left his lips when ten tons of dinosaur plunged into the lake and the Archimedes Principle proved itself once more. Half of which barreled towards her father. He scarcely finished his coffeeccino before the wave overtook him. ***** Leonidas was still sopping wet when he reached the memorial in the Mt. Bricklake city park. Beneath the statue was a plaque that read, "IN MEMORY OF THE LIVES LOST IN THE WAR OF 2010." At the top were two hometown heroes: Krystal "Aravis" Portman and Spencer "Spino" Harder, forever immortalized in bronze. He desperately wished that these likenesses of his lost friends would come alive. But despite his prayers, his pleading, and weeping, the Builder had not seen fit to breathe life into them in the three years they've been placed here. He took a breath. He knew it was crazy, but he spoke his mind to them. After all, who would they tell? "Hey, guys," he said. "It's me again, Fullmetal." The ex-agent still used his codename when talking to them. "I told you guys about the babies, but I was hoping you could convey a message to someone on the other side for me, if he's there." Leonidas took another breath. "I wanna name my son Rex. I know, it sounds crazy, like I'm naming my dog, but I'm serious. "Blaire's thinking it over," he continued. "I know that people would want me to name the twins after you two, but I can't. It's too soon for me. The wounds from losing you are still fresh in my mind, even after almost a decade." Leonidas took a breath. Tears glistened in his eyes. "Please, watch over them until they're old enough to take care of themselves." A sudden gust of wind blew Leonidas's hat off and sent it skittering down the street. He gave chase like a five-year-old, solely focused on the hat. Unfortunately, he ran face-first into the sign of the local thrift store. He shook his head, adjusted his glasses. It took him a moment to realize what had happened. His hat was stuck on the WellWill sign, blocking the first "ll". We Will. Despite believing in Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Chupacabra, Leonidas was not a superstitious individual. However, he would take this as a sign. He smiled as silent tears streamed down his cheeks. "Thank you," he whispered. He put his hat back on and started for home. After that, Leonidas's night terrors stopped, and for the first time in seven years, his mind was truly at peace. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  5. Chapter 77: Let the Celebration Commence ---- December 31, 2010 LEGO Island had many things to celebrate this last night of the year. First was Christmas. With so many events to celebrate in such a short time-span, it had been decided to combine all the island's big events into one night, celebrated at the end of the month. Some people had already celebrated Christmas and other seasonal holidays on their own, but now the entire island would join in together for a party like no other. Second was New Year's Eve. A new year was always an exciting prospect, a chance to wrap up the old one and prepare for the new. And after everything that had happened this year, everyone on the island, and the LEGO Planet in general, was ready for 2011. Third was the return of LEGO Island's populace to their homeland. With the victory for the island Dino Attack had won, relocation had swiftly begun the moment the Infomaniac was given back the Constructopedia. In no time, the place had returned to exactly how it had been in the days before the attack, and the populace was eager to celebrate their return to (relative) normalcy. And along those lines, the final, and perhaps biggest occasion being celebrated that night, was the obvious one: the end of the Dino Attack itself. The island was so overjoyed by this news that, through Pepper and the Infomaniac's connections, they had managed to invite all Dino Attack members to come join in the festivities. And quite a few of them had, including several who had grown up and/or lived on LEGO island. Both agents and citizens were gathered together now in the lot around the Information Center, atop the large eastern hill that was second only to Space Mountain. Night had fallen, and the street lamps cast a lovely glow around the building. In front of it, a small stage had been built, upon which a podium with a microphone and several chairs were placed. In those chairs sat several Minifigs, all of them having come from the island, and all having fought in the Dino Attack as agents or allies. This opening ceremony was to be their honoring moment. After a few minutes of the crowd gathering and muttering to themselves, two Minifigs exited the Information Center, hopped onto the stage, and took the podium. One was an old man in a bright red cap and red-black coat with "i" logos on them, white pants, perfectly round glasses, and a bushy white mustache. The other was a young man with blue pants, a red-blue shirt with stripes and a pizza on it, a baseball hat with a "P" logo and a radio headset, and a green backpack with another pizza picture. They took the podium and, after making sure the mic was working with a few loud taps, began to speak. "To all citizens of LEGO Island, welcome home!" the Infomaniac began. "To our visitors, hello! Hola! Velkommen! Bienvenue! Konnichiwa! Aloha! How ya doin'! Yo! And in any language: welcome, Dino Attack Team, to LEGO Island! Though I'm sure for many of you, this isn't the first time. I do believe many of you were part of the task force assigned to liberate it from those horrible Mutant Dinos. Ooooh! Just thinking about it gives me the willies. I'm more than grateful for what you've done." "And so am I!" said Pepper. "You guys have been incredibly awesome! I can remember when, in all the chaos of evacuation, I got left behind when the island was overrun. Luckily, this amazing dude Voltage was here on a Dino Attack mission and was able to get me to safety! It just comes to show you what cool heroes this radical team has been for us! Perhaps even bigger ones than I am!" "Indeed, they are, Pepper. And of course, we are honored to know that some of our own people were among the brave, fearless, determined, incredible, jaw-dropping, head-blowing, green-red brick clicking, totally amazing Minifigs who've risked their lives multiple times to bring peace to our island, and our world! I know many of us have been wanting to return the favor." "Totally. I know Dr. Clickitt and Enter and Return proudly donated their services to the team's medical crew, Bill Ding was assisting the mechanical know-hows, and the Brickolinis and I were so willing as to set up in the cafeteria and serve our unbeatable pizzas to them and the neighboring populace. Even the Brickster joined their fights and helped kick some major brick out there! Heck, even I decided to risk it and help those dudes in the final showdown at LEGO City! I may've not used any guns, but let me tell you, those dinosaurs didn't stand a chance against sizzling tongue-numbing hot pizzas!" "What can?" the Infomaniac asked with a laugh. "Good question," replied Pepper. "But enough about me. As much as I am a LEGO Island hero, not unlike my father Bologna Roni and good friend Sky Lane, I have to honestly say, that these cool dudes over here among some of the best heroes this island has ever created! They're way too cool for words! Guys, come over here and let everyone give you a hand!" As the crowd began applauding (and a few literally threw their hands), the Minifigs in the seats got up and approached the podium as Pepper and the Infomaniac stepped aside. "From the ranks of the Dino Attack team and their allies," cried the Infomaniac, "we have our own Zachary Virchaus, Peter Abody, Nicolas Saran, Lucy Wright, and Andrew Anderson!" Andrew felt more than humble at the attention his hometown was giving him. Being considered as someone perhaps greater than Pepper Roni, by Pepper Roni, was something you rarely saw happen, and was starting to realize just how much had happened to him ever since he had first signed up not too many months ago. Now gathered around the podium and shoeing away a few stray hands, Peter (or Frozeen, as Andrew had grown accustomed to knowing him as) spoke first. "It's a fantastic pleasure to be here tonight, folks. Especially after such an opening by the two people that have really put this island on the map." "Even factoring in how long it's been since some of us have been here," said Wright. "I do recall me and my family didn't leave on the best of terms, and I'm amazed and thankful that you're all willing to accept us back." "Hey, it's just the goodwill of Minifigs, especially LEGO Island ones," said Zach, putting an arm on Andrew's shoulder. "I should know after folks like Andrew here saved my bricks after I took a dark, hammy, and very purple turn when I went to Adventurers Island." "And believe us, people, he was more than hammy," Andrew added, getting quite a few laughs. "But anyways, I would like to take a moment to give recognition to a few of us that couldn't be here tonight, either out of inconvenience or MIA status. People like Slash B. Swordsman, Dr. Samuel 'Lay' Go, and even Volant, who was the very same agent Voltage who left such a good impression on our good friend Pepper. Let's keep their best interests in mind tonight." "Indeed," said Dr. Saran. "If there's one thing I know this island does best besides keeping me busy, it's your ever-encouraging upbeat attitude and fond recollections. I am honored to be here with you all tonight." "As am I," said Peter. "Like with Wright, I haven't been home in quite some time. Alpha Team duties have kept me very busy. Though I admit, even if I had had time, my… previous condition wouldn't have made me very recognizable. Luckily, chance (andabrushwithdeath) has allowed me to appear just as I had before my various accidents with the team. Though I note now that I could easily be mistaken for Pepper by my looks." Pepper snickered. "Only if you started wearing my hat, man." "Good point. Anyways, Andrew here and I were part of the campaign that took back LEGO Island earlier in the fall season. It was quite an experience, traveling across the island for the Constructopedia, discovering the secret lab in old Captain Click's cave, and then being drawn into the Torn World, where no one Minifig has, I believe, ever been before." "I sadly missed that part," said Andrew. "And I'll let you know, I was pretty distraught when that happened. Fortunately, our allies prevailed and our island was returned and looking even better than before. I'm as proud as you are of their actions." "I'm almost sad I missed out on that," Zach said with a smirk. "Though I don't regret how I did come in, and meet people like Andrew in situations like being stuck in an old net over a cliff. People like Minerva Fabello and Holly Vinyaya, who are out here in the crowd tonight, and deserve as much respect as we do." The crowd cheered for Zach's friends, though not knowing where they were. Andrew could see them, looking humbled themselves, standing near the front, alongside Bluetooth, Laxus, and Pterisa. "Right you are, Zach," said Andrew, "I feel the exact same way about the friends I've made with the team, like the late Randal 'Semick' Tennoly, the intuitive Martian Laxus, and the wondrous Minifig/Mutant Pterosaur Hybrid Pterisa, who, considering their species, I'm sure you've all noticed by now, even if you don't recognize now. Give them you congrats as well!" There was more clapping as Andrew's Martian and Hybrid friends got their turn at being humbled. "I suppose then I should give a shout-out to Ben Shiller," said Wright. "We've been through a lot, and I'm sure our antics might get a lot of curious looks, but we're as strong as Pepper and Luna Rom over here." Pepper ended up blushing as the crowd gave another round of applause. "Well, I don't really know of anyone in particular I feel the need to shout out to," said Dr. Saran, "especially since I don't know exactly who has come here from the Dino Attack team. I'll just pass it on to Peter here." Peter rubbed the back of his head. "Well, I not quite sure of who's here and who's not, and I know of quite a few who I definitely know aren't here, but I at least want to give a few names I'd like to give tribute to. Chompy, my old T-Rex pal, currently serving as alpha back on Adventurers Island. Shannon Grimton, an old school friend who I've recently reconnected with. Greybeard, an old swashbuckler who's currently handling the adoption of a fine young girl. Databoard and Kotua, my old Alpha Team companions who haven't been seen in quite some time (barring some rumors I've been hearing from a certain Sherlock). And… and I'd like to give my respects to Rex and Amanda Alexander. Two of the best people I've fought alongside with, and one of the best couples I've ever seen. Wherever they are, I hope they're having fun in an eternal honeymoon and watching over us as we respect their memory. Give it up for them." One more round of applause came from the crowd. Andrew couldn't help but feel moved. He didn't know Peter in any way well enough to consider him a friend, but he could see that he was experienced beyond his years, and was definitely very passionate about the memory of their past colleagues and current friends. He should get to know him better. He seemed just as good a man as Rex. "Well said, Frozeen," said Andrew. "Assuming no one else has anything to add…" He looked around, and his fellow agents/LEGO Islanders shrugged. "Alright. Pepper, Infomaniac, feel free to take the mic again." The group backed up to let the legendary LEGO Islanders take focus again. "Now then, I have a few last-" The Infomaniac paused as he cleared his throat. "On behalf of the entire island, I wish to congratulate 'Your Names Here'-Oh! Eh heheh, I'm sorry. Let's see… Oh, never mind the speech. What I really want to say to all you Dino Attack fellows is… thanks. Thank you for all you've done for us and the world." "Agreed," said Pepper. "We can't thank you guys enough. From now on, all Brickolini's is on the house for you vets. Papa's allowed it himself." Andrew was at a loss for words. This was still a lot to take in. From once just being one of many on the close-knit island, to being considered one of its greatest heroes for what he did in the Dino Attack team was a wonder beyond his comprehension. He never thought this could have happened in a zillion years. "Thank you for the kind words," said the young LEGO Islander, raising his hand for a shake. The Infomaniac returned the favor, then Pepper, and then they did the same for the other LEGO Island Dino Attack agents. "Alright, now let's get this party going," said Pepper, "LEGO Island style! DJ Radio Jackitt! Hit it, dude!" "You got it, Pepper!" said the DJ's voice from one of several speakers that had been attached on the lampposts all around the island. Within seconds, the song "Pizza Pie Man" (Wasn't it called Minty Fresh at one point? Andrew thought randomly) was blaring out across the island. This is the island, the island where I live. Let's walk around now and see how everyone fits in… Within moments, fireworks began going off all over various locations over the island, nearly brightening the night into day. The space shuttle took off from the launch pad atop Space Mountain, a banner proclaiming "THANK YOU, DINO ATTACK TEAM!" flapping behind it. From out of nowhere, probably related to the old race track, a giant pizza began rolling across the streets, being "driven" by a skeleton in a Royal Navy helmet not too dissimilar to Captain Click atop it. "LET THE CELEBRATION COMMENCE!" cried the Infomaniac, and the crowd erupted in cheers. ***** Sarah rested her head against the shoulder of her new husband as they sat together on the park bench in the middle of a great big dance party of some sort. The Brickster walked past them, munching happily on a slice of pizza that he must have swiped when no one was looking. "Man, the pizza here is great!" he told Sarah and Alan with a brick-eating grin. "Ain't nothing better than a super-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening-hot pizza! You just gotta have it! Oops, here comes Papa Brickaloony now! I wasn't here, got it?" He proceeded to dive into a nearby bush. Before the Pierces could wonder why the Brickster was acting that way, they were suddenly approached by Papa Brickolini. "Oh, who wants-a-some pizza?" he asked, excitedly holding up a plate with two slices of pizza. Sarah raised her head from Alan's shoulder and stood up, taking the plate from the chef before he returned to his restaurant. She picked up one of the slices and bit down. She immediately started gagging. "What's going on?" Alan asked as he approached her. Sarah dropped her slice on the ground and spat out what she'd already chewed. "This is the worst pizza I've ever had!" she shouted. "Oh, come on," replied Alan. "It can't be that bad." "I don't know what's wrong with her," said Gideon Worse. He enthusiastically walked toward the beach while carrying a leaning tower of pizzas that was surely about to fall over disastrously. Alan took one of the pizzas off his tray, and he turned and walked elsewhere before Gideon's accident found a place to happen. Alan took a bite of the pizza. "It's not that bad," he said. Sarah looked at him, nervous. Suddenly, he started to grab his mouth in pain and screamed. "What's wrong?" "MY MOUTH!" Alan shouted. "IT'S BURNING UP FROM THE INSIDE! GET ME SOME WATER OR SOME- AHHHHH!" Sarah quickly stood up and ran to get help. In all the ensuing chaos, she didn't hear the Brickster snickering mischievously from the bushes. "Oh, you darn, dirty Brickster!" he said to himself. ***** "I wasn't sure if you were being overdramatic earlier when talking about the island," Minerva said. "But now that there's a party, I can safely say you were right; this place is crazy." Zach smirked as he watched a fire truck zoom by, its ladder extended as several skeleton pirates tried to reach the ambulance nearby where Enter, Return, and Pete Bog were eating pizza. The latter in particularly seemed rather unamused by their antics. Beside the ambulance was a racecar being driven by Studs Linkin, apparently thinking he's racing. Zach, Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda hung by the Octan Gas Station as celebrations for the end of the war, Christmas, and New Year's all occurred at once. Citizens were eating pizza, dancing, racing, and having a good time. Trees, flowers, and light posts seemed to dance along as the pop song "2-Step" blasted through the city. Every time I'm dancing I go crazy Reaching at the lights just make me crazy Every time I'm dancing I go crazy LEGO beat. "Certainly feels good to be home," Zach said as a palm tree Zelda was leaning against suddenly shrank down into a flower as Bradford Brickford and Shiney Doris went by on their bicycles. "Last time I was here, we had to get out rather quick. Cargo ships with Mutant Dinos were on the way. We managed to get everyone off and when we learned Pepper wasn't onboard, it was rather... bad, to say the least." At that moment, Nubby Stevens exited the gas station with Nancy Nubbins and saw Zach and his friends. "Hey, Zach! Good to see you again! These your friends you talked about earlier?" "Great to see you again, Nubby, Nancy," Zach said happily, clapping Nubby's hand and pulling Nancy into a quick embrace. "Yeah, I met a few people. This is Commander Holly Vinyaya, Zelda Frodongan, and Minerva Fabello." "Shore nice to meet you folk," Nancy said, shaking each of their hands. "Did I hear right about Minerva here packin' up 'n' moving over here?" "Uh, yeah," Minerva said, smiling nervously. Since arriving on the island a week ago, Minerva had been slowly getting acquainted with all the islanders. Each time she met someone new, she appeared to be worried of giving the wrong first impression. Zach tried to convince her to relax, and she has been gradually. She explained about how having to adapt to a new lifestyle after her living the way she did in LEGO City for almost all her life. Even with her concerns, Zach could see Minerva enjoying the friendly citizens on the island and could (and would) adjust to this new life. "Well, I am just drilled to hear that, hun!" Nancy said happily, pulling a drill from her belt and spinning it briefly. Minerva laughed in surprise. "Pardon the pun. You're sure to like livin' here. We're a lively bunch o'folks. N'we don't bite, I promise." "Yeah, you'll love it here!" Nubby agreed. "The weather's great, the people are nice, we got it great. Thinking about it, have you ever noticed it never seems to rain on LEGO Island? I wonder why it does that." Zach chuckled. "I wonder as well." Nubby and Nancy soon left, probably to go get some pizza or dance to the music. "There certainly a lot of... colorful personalities on this island," Vinyaya noted as she watched the gas station attendants began to dance to "Hobo Train". "It's a rather quirky little place. If I didn't work (or prefer) living in space, I'd consider living here." Vinyaya had become relaxed than ever since the war ended. She had chosen to simply wear jeans and a black, Space Police T-Shirt. "A bit too much for my taste," Zelda said, brushing the dirt from her fall off her shoulders. "Visit maybe. Live with this all the time? Not so much." "Come on," Zach said with a grin, punching Zelda in the shoulder. "The island is more like this during a special occasion a la defeating the Brickster in 1997, 2001, and 2007 multiplied by ten or so. LEGO Island is a bit whacky, but not overblown madness every single day." "Regardless, I can kind of see how you are the way you are now," Minerva said, soliciting a chuckle from the others. She turned her head. "Oh, um... what's going on over there?" Zach, Vinyaya, and Zelda turned to see Polly Gone and Valerie Stubbins tossing around a yellow and black ball near the beach. Closer inspection revealed the ball was a Minifig head. "Excuse me?" the squeaky voice of Gideon Worse said to Valerie. "Could you throw me over to the Pizzeria? I'm hungry?" Valerie nodded and, with all over might, threw Gideon's head across the street. It bounced once before landing square on the shoulders of a body wearing a black shirt with gray pants. "So can you do that?" Zelda asked, an eyebrow raised. "I mean, I've heard of people doing it, but I've never seen someone just break apart into pieces?" "Yeah," Zach said. "You want to figure out how to do it, living here. It doesn't make you invincible, by the way. If you mess up, you could hurt or kill yourself. It's rather complicated thing I don't really want to go into, so I'll just show you." With his right hand, he carelessly pulled his left arm off, causing the three women to gasp. "And it doesn't kill you or anything?" Vinyaya said with a measure of interest as she took Zach's arm from him and examined it. "If you do it right." "Why do you need that right hand then?" Zelda asked, gesturing to his gold hand. "Someone blew it up. There was nothing left to put back together, requiring a new hand." He took back his arm and snapped it back into his torso with ease. He then smiled. "Be careful when walking around. Make sure not to bump into anyone here unless you want a nasty surprise." Minerva, Zelda, and Vinyaya just looked at him, but didn't inquire further. Zach merely smirked as he pulled out a slice of pizza and chomped on it as he watched the party carry on and spoke to his friends. Overhead, the space shuttle, an airplane, and Super Station Master raced overhead. The train ran around the island, shooting off fireworks. The party house was bouncing more than ever as LEGO Island citizens and Dino Attack agents danced to DJ "Radio" Jackitt's beats, including Red Greenbase, Snap Lockitt, Rhoda Hogg, Jenny, Timmy, and Jimmy. Pepper was skateboarding around the island, dropping off pizza for the citizens and visitors to eat. Nick and Laura Brick ate doughnuts on their motorcycles while Captain D. Rom tried to maintain order with so many people on the island. Several people were gathered in the park behind the gas station after hearing word that the Flying Legondos were reuniting just for tonight to pull of show. The giant pirate skeleton from the old race track sat up stomped around the north edge of the town while shouts of "You were the reason I never got all red bricks!" were tossed at it. Citizens and agents constantly passed the group. The agents congratulated each other while citizens passed by in their partying madness. They saw and met Glen and Dorothy Funberg, Maggie Post, Arnold, Buck Pounds, Gnarly Bones, Technician Bob, and more. They even got into a brief conversation with the Brickster, who had decided stop by and briefly tried to convince the group to vouch for him when Nick, Laura, and Rom decided to rearrest him. "And you," Brickster said as he jabbed Minerva's chest with a blue finger. "I hear that you're staying here now, right?" Minerva, not really caring what kind of impression she made on the criminal, nodded curtly. The Brickster laughed darkly. "Oh good, someone new to insult. If Condiment Boy manages to point me behind bars again, I'll make get to know you better and toss a few insults your way. Character flaws, disabilities, anything. I'll find it and exploit it." Minerva stared at Zach with a mixture of surprise and amusement before looking back at the Brickster. "I'll be looking forward to that, I suppose." The Brickster raised an eyebrow before stealing the group's pizza and running off to cause more mischief. "Is getting insulted by him a rite-of-passage or something? Transitions me from an outsider into a real citizen?" she asked Zach. "I suppose it is now," said Zach with a chuckle. As "Park" by Lorin Nelson began to play, Minerva closed her eyes, enjoying the music. Seeing the opportunity, Zach seized her hand and pulled her on to the grass, shocking her out of her stupor. "What are you doing?" she asked with a half-laugh. "I told you we were going to dance," Zach said plainly. She stared at him and shock her head rapidly, pushing him away. "I told you I didn't want to! I'm not keen on embarrassing myself in front of everyone." "Please, everyone's too busy absorbed in their own festivities. The only people who are going to make fun of you are Holly and Zelda because they're your friends. Speaking of which…" He turned to Vinyaya and Zelda, both who were grinning at the couple. "You should dance with Ryan at some point, Holly." Vinyaya coughed in surprise. "Well, I don't... I mean..." Zelda laughed openly at Vinyaya's stammering. Vinyaya sighed and smiled faintly at Zach and Minerva. "I haven't danced in a long time, but I may give it a shot if you two dance." "Hear that?" Zach said. "Give me a chance and you can poke fun at Holly later." Minerva glanced back at Zelda and Holly, who gave her thumbs up. Minerva gave a breathy laugh, then turned to Zach. "Fine. But it's not going to look pretty." "I'm sure of that." As Minerva walked toward him, what he said seemed register in her brain. "You don't know what you're doing either?" Minerva asked, incredulous. Zach smirked as he grabbed her right hand. "Nope." ***** Kate looked in shock as Sarah ran toward her, accompanied by Alan, who was clutching his mouth with his hands. They ran toward the pizzeria, where Mama Brickolini was playing her piano, as usual. "Mama Mia!" Mama Brickolini shouted. "What happened to your friend?" "He tried eating one of your Znapping pizzas!" Sarah shouted angrily. "What's-a going on here?" Papa Brickolini asked as he stepped out of the restaurant. "My husband here ate one of your pizzas and now his mouth is burning up from the inside!" "Oh my," Papa Brickolini said. "What did he have? My famous jalapeno red pepper anchovy double-garlic pizza? My hotsy totsy supreme hot pizza times two? My sizzling tongue-numbing hot pizza? Oh no, you don't suppose he could-a had my new white hot OGEL special pizza...?" "WHAT?!" Sarah shouted. "WHY WOULD YOU MAKE SUCH A PIZZA!? YOU SHOULDN'T MAKE A PIZZA THAT CAN BURN PEOPLE ALIVE! YOUR AWFUL FOOD IS BAD ENOUGH AS IT IS!" Red Greenbase, Shiney Doris, Polly Gone, and Bradford Brickford gasped in unison as the jukebox music abruptly came to an end. Nobody had ever dared insult Papa's pizza in his own parlor before! Papa frowned. "'Bad' is the one topping I do not-a serve here!" he declared. He turned over his shoulder and called to Mr. Pollyanna, the parrot perched next to him: "QUICK! CALL-A THE HOSPITAL! GET ENTER AND RETURN DOWN HERE PRONTO-!" Fortunately, Alan was spared that further torture. They noticed a familiar face: a young woman with shoulder-length hair, and a cross around her neck. She quickly turned toward him, noticing something was wrong. "Is he okay?" Shaw asked nervously. "No!" replied Sarah. "He just ate an insanely hot pizza!" By this point, Alan had stopped screaming, but it was clear the pain was intense. "GET ME SOME WATER!" Shaw said. "ICE COLD!" Papa Brickolini quickly came back with a glass filled with ice cubes. Shaw forced Alan's mouth open and poured the water and some of the ice in. "HOLD IT!" Shaw said. "DON'T SWALLOW!" Alan struggled to do as she said, holding him tight. Just as he had comforted her when she was scared in that basement, she was now comforting him in this bizarre unpredictable occurrence. After a short time, Alan couldn't take it anymore and spat out the ice cubes, the ones that hadn't already melted. He took a moment to catch his breath. "There's a hospital down the road!" Shaw said. "No way!" shouted Sarah. "YOU ARE NOT BRINGING HIM TO ENTER AND RETURN!" "I can do it," Shaw said. "I just need the right equipment." Sarah nodded. Shaw quickly helped her carry Alan down the street to the hospital. ***** Dr. Cyborg had found Cyrista's Bane and Screech giving rides to people from LEGO Island and the Dino Attack Team. He had been okay with that, until he found what they were charging.... "Twenty dollars!!! You're charging them twenty dollars a ride! That is nowhere near a fair price! That is simply thievery!" he exclaimed in surprise and anger. "But sir, we had a good reason for the price," Screech told him. "Really. Do tell," Dr. Cyborg said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "We need to save money for the future," she replied. Bane was wisely staying out of this, knowing better than Screech not to antagonize Dr. Cyborg, even though she knew Dr. Cyborg for longer. "And why would that be?" "We, ah, revealed we like each other. So, we need money to build some sort of residence and to raise little Mutant Dinos of... some breed, we're not sure what would happen with our genetics. Basically, we need money," Screech told Dr. Cyborg. ***** Once they arrived at the hospital, Sarah and Shaw ran inside. Clickitt was there already. "Hello," he said. "What's wrong?" "My husband ate some ludicrously hot pizza," Sarah replied, annoyed. "Oh dear," murmured Clickitt. "This is serious. ENTER! RETURN! Get in here, we need you!" "It's alright," insisted Shaw. "I can do this. I'm a doctor." She quickly rummaged through her clothes before pulling out a card and handing it to Clickitt. "What's this?" Clickitt asked. "My medical license," replied Shaw. "Medical license?" Clickitt repeated. "Whoever heard of something so ridiculous?" He quickly threw it away. "You mean you don't have a Znapping medical license?" Sarah asked, incredulously. "How are you qualified to perform medical tasks?" "Easy," replied Clickitt, pointing up at his white cap with the blue Star of Life. "I just wear this hat." At that moment, the two identical paramedics entered the room. "Incoming!" "Outgoing!" "Hey that's mine." "No, it's mine!" "Since when do you wear that colour?" "We have a serious emergency here!" Clickitt shouted. "Pierce here has eaten a super-hot-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening pizza!" The two paramedics immediately grabbed Alan, dragging him out of Shaw's arms and carrying him away into the next room. "Don't worry," Clickitt said. "They'll have it all under control." "I think I should go in there with the-" Shaw was about to say, only to be cut off by Clickitt. "They'll get their act together. They always do!" "Yes, but the methods they use-" "You had to watch them, didn't you?" Sarah asked. "Yes, Wade had me do that," replied Shaw. "Did they do the job?" "I don't know," admitted Shaw. "I fell asleep. When I woke, I couldn't tell if the patient had recovered or not." Sarah rolled her eyes in frustration. ***** "YEAH!" Walter shouted as he rolled a solid strike on that bowling alley that the Infomaniac decided to build on LEGO Island. "Man, I tell you. This bowling alley was a great idea." "I know," replied Donnie. "Yeah man," said Dude. "Isn't this, like, you answer to everything?" "Yes," Walter replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "You went bowling in the middle of a Znapping dinosaur apocalypse, man!" "So?" said Walter. "You could have gotten yourself killed!" "That is not a problem," Walter said dismissively. "There is nothing to worry about. There is not a Znapping thing to worry abo- OVER THE LINE!" "Hey, calm down buddy," replied Nubby Stevens. "I'm just trying to relax." "You're over the line buddy. It's a foul!" shouted Walter. "Calm down, man," said Dude. "So what, Nubby put one toe over the line. So what?" "Yeah," replied Nubby, walking over toward the notepad that served as a scorecard; they obviously hadn't yet gotten around to installing electronic systems. "I'm marking this one down as an eight. I mean, what even is a 'toe' anyway?" "Hey," growled Walter. "You're entering a world of pain." He quickly reached into his bag, pulled out his handgun, and promptly aimed it at Nubby. "MARK IT ZERO!" "I'm marking it eight," insisted Nubby, unfazed by Walter's threat. Apparently, living on the zany LEGO Island had dulled the laid-back mechanic to any sort of real danger. "YOU THINK I'M ZNAPPING AROUND HERE?!" Walter yelled, cocking his handgun. "MARK IT ZERO!" "Walter, they're calling the cops," said Dude. "Calm down, buddy," said Nubby. Despite being philosophical in nature, he decided this was one debate not worth having. "Alright, I'm marking it as zero." Walter slowly lowered his gun. "That's better," he said. ***** Elsewhere, there was quite a bit of dancing going on. Rotor stood proud on top of a platform holding a large mug of beer. Everyone cheered as he carefully chugged down the glass, and lowered it, half-empty. Cabin looked at him in amazement, slightly drunk herself. Kate stood alone watching a group of dancers near the pizzeria's jukebox. Someone had swapped out the usual tunes, and instead replaced them with some Kate Bush, which a number of people were busy dancing to the awesome tune of "Running Up that Hill." Lance Williams was among those dancers. He was clearly drunk, probably having had a couple beers, possibly also mixed with some drugs of some kind. She couldn't quite pin down which. Papa Brickolini walked up to her with a tray containing a few slices of pizza. "Would you like-a-some pizza?" he said. Kate nodded, reaching for the tray and picked up one slice, and took a small bite out of it. She took a moment to chew, almost as if she enjoyed the taste, and then started gagging. "You alright?" Papa Brickolini asked. Kate nodded. "I'll go get Enter and Return!" Within a few minutes, Kate was on her knees, coughing up the small bit of pizza she'd already eaten before wiping her mouth. "This is the worst pizza I've ever had!" she shouted after taking a moment to catch her breath. "Oh, Mama Mia!" exclaimed Papa Brickolini. "You're the second person to say that here!" Kate slowly got to her feet in embarrassment. Off in the background, the Brickster snickered again. ***** It was late evening, December 31st. Dr. Cyborg was wandering around the party, never staying in one place long. He had stopped to participate in a Super Smash Figs Brawl multiplayer tournament with some LEGO Islanders and Dino Attack agents. The prize was a Ninlego Wii, four remotes with nunchucks, and a copy of Legoid Prime Trilogy. He now had the prize deposited in the Titanium Predator. He had beat everyone without using his electronic control. He had simply used experience with an arm cannon to win. Dr. Cyborg remembered his encounter with Bane and Screech. He smiled and shook his head. He still couldn't believe they liked each other. They had also asked to come with him wherever he went. He told them they could. He still needed to talk to Solomon in private to iron out the details of the departure. ***** It was the best party Andrew had ever experienced. So much crazy fun was had that night. The streets were wild with crazy drivers, from the giant pizzas to mad firetrucks to the hospital ambulance. Pepper Roni was also skating across the streets, over buildings, and alongside the tracks, often with the likes of fellow skaters Luna Rom, Gnarly Bones, and Shugu. Much of it was done for both Brickolinis pizza delivery and impressing the Dino Attack agents, though there was one point where he was skateboarding like mad to get away from a red-haired girl in pigtails dressed in a white pizza shirt. "Dontask,longstory,gottago,pizzasgettingcold!" he told people who inquired during the delivery runs. There was plenty to eat. The Brickolinis, as usual, were the main caterers, and their pizza was just all over the place, mostly thanks to Pepper's experienced delivery skills. But there were a few hamburgers, hot dogs, and pieces of bread around the place as some people (like Red Greenbase) set up some cookouts around the residential area. Besides that, there were plenty of coolers full of soda and water, so there was plenty of ways for people to quince thirst or burnt tongues. And at least two Dino Attack agents had brought a few packs of beer, and the drink made its way among the ranks, though the LEGO Islanders would have none of it. If offered one, they usually threw it to the sharks. Nearly the entire island became a dancing hotspot, though it often depended on what tunes you prefer. Plenty of Minifigs got their groove on, especially when a seventies-obsessed visitor had set up a disco ball somewhere around the skateboard park. Both islanders and agents went crazy in their dancing, and at least a few of the locals took advantage of some of their separation abilities, much to the surprise and shock of some of the Dino Attack agents who weren't quite used to such abilities on display. Andrew definitely let himself let go, almost spastic in his all-over-the-place dance style. But then again, he was a sucker for the "Brickster-Bot-Buster" tune. Laxus was a little more controlled, preferring to do something that was similar to a "stiff-joint" dance. Though he had to say Bluetooth and Vinyaya stole the show in his eyes. When "Asteroid Mega-Mix" by Lair of Rockwhales came on, the Space Police and Futuron operatives decided to give a dancing-together a shot. Somehow, either by chance or having been fueled by the very space-themed tone of the music, they managed to pull off some fantastic moves. "I dunno," Bluetooth said to Andrew when it was all said and done, "It just felt so natural to me. Guess the right music just really helps. Man, that tune was awesome!" Of course, being a partial Christmas party, gifts were no exception that night. The LEGO Island inhabitants had, for the most part, exchanged their gifts on the actual date for Christmas, but that didn't mean they had some last-minute surprises for each other, or gifts for the Dino Attack visitors as well. Andrew was surprised when he was gifted a fancy new laptop from Technician Bob, as well as some nice new bricks to consider putting into a new vehicle from Nubby Stevens. Even Laxus surprised him with giving Andrew his own Martian viewpad. "Shows maps, handles calculations, gives technical readouts," Laxus explained, "and just recently we gave it a feature to accept apps. Let's see the tablets your Earth tech manufactures compete with that!" In a similar line, there was a "white-elephant" style gift exchange the island inhabitants called "Dirty Brickster," where they got several gifts together, let people choose them, and then had others either get their own, or steal somebody else's. Zach and Peter were among the participants gathered at the bank, mostly consisting of islanders, but Joike had managed to come and bring a little something for the game as well. The Brickster himself had wanted to join, but everyone knew he might try to run off with the whole pile or something, so he was banned from the game. When the wrapping paper settled and the game was done, Nancy Nubbins had ended up with her own collection of Dino Cop movies (taken from Snap Lockitt), Peter had gotten himself a scale model of the legendary Yellow Castle (taken from both Red Greenbase and Rhoda Hogg), and Zach had gotten a plush of a pink pony Luna Rom had told him was called "Pinkie Pie" (which nobody had taken from him). "Have to admit," Zach told Andrew later, "didn't see that one coming. Aw well, beats the Clickits purse pack I got last year." And the promise of movie riffing did not come to pass as a hopeful guess. With the help of the local LEGO Studios crew left over from the shooting of Xtreme Stunts, Joike managed to arrange for a lighthearted riffing of the local-shot hit at the studio lot. While most of the island enjoyed the film for seeing themselves and their neighbors on the big screen (plus showing the Brickster getting outsmarted, which never got old), the near-nonexistent plot and odd character behavior didn't slip past the more jokey citizens, and the people had a good time cracking jokes and remarks throughout the film. Andrew enjoyed himself there, pulling off a few nice jokes about Sky Lane's role in the film (or lack thereof). Around fifteen minutes to midnight, Andrew left the lot and went over to the pizzeria. He had agreed to meet up with everyone in his and Zach's groups there to socialize a bit before the end of the year proper came. As he came in sight of the dining tables, where Zach, Minerva, Zelda, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth had already gathered, "Explore" by Lorin Nelson came on the speakers. "Ah, what'd I tell ya, Zach?" Andrew said as he sat down at the table. "Back when we were about to duel during the camp attack. Told you we'd be spending the last few days partying hard on LEGO Island." "Indeed," said Zach, raising a slice of pizza to his mouth. "Glad we never took bets over it. Granted, I wasn't exactly in a betting mood as a Stromling, but still." "Eh, just glad it went just as good as I had hoped it would," Andrew said as he took a piece of pizza himself. "So what now? Thinking of just settling down, or returning to a fighting force?" "Probably just kick back for a while at home sweet home. After all, Minerva here does need someone to keep helping her through the madness of living here." Minerva snickered along with everyone else at the table. "Ridiculous or not, it's definitely going to be more fun than what my life's been like. I'm just glad things are looking up." "Good to hear," said Laxus, arriving at the table. "Though admittedly, the island is a little too silly for my living preferences. I've always preferred quieter spots, like rural towns and underground towns like on Mars." "We're in agreement then," said Zelda. "Though I guess would more prefer a place by the sea, given my history." "Now there's a classic favorite living location right there," said Andrew. "Everyone loves a beach house." "I suppose I would support that," said Bluetooth, "if we remember space as an 'endless ocean'." Everyone got a bit of a kick out of the joke. "Yeah, space is a pretty fine place," said Vinyaya. "Granted, I spend most of my time in it chasing down criminals, but the in-between time cruising around the cosmos is pretty relaxing. Especially now that Bluetooth's been giving me copies of Carl Sagan's works to read and watch." "Makes me more excited for getting to go out to see some of those wonders out there myself." said Andrew as he took a look around the pizzeria. "Hmm. Looks like Pterisa's still taking her time coming along. She went off to check out the residential area when I was seeing Xtreme Stunts. Hope she didn't get lost over there." Zach eyed his fellow LEGO Islander with a mischievous look. "You have been spending a lot of time around her, I note. Granted, with her condition, she likely needed someone there for her, but I'm wondering if it could be someone more…" Andrew eyed his friend with bewilderment. "What? First, you played matchmaker with Ryan and Holly here, and now me?" "Well, he does have a bit of a point," said Bluetooth. "Laxus told me about how you've spent plenty of time together in the off time back at LEGO City and here. To quote a song from a lame teen movie, 'it could be the start of something new'." "Oh, c'mon, it's nothing like that." Though as Andrew said that, something in the back of his head nagged him about how he had been feeling around her as of late. And not just the need to help and protect from cool dudes like French Fries. But he shoved it aside and focused on the present. "Well, hey, can't blame a Minifig for trying," said Zach. "I've found romance, Vinyaya found romance, Zelda… eh…" "Your point stands," Zelda told him, "just continue before it gets too awkward." "Sorry. I mean, after all that I'm surrounded by, why shouldn't I think of my friends finding their own special somebody?" "Oh, shut up and play with your pony," Andrew said, gesturing to the plush that Zach left under the table. The table burst out in laughter as Zach lightheartedly shook his head in disapproval. "Low bow, man, not cool." "Actually," said Laxus, holding up his Martian viewpad, "I did some quick web research on that plush when I heard about your prize, Zach. Seems there's a show based around those ponies that some people are actually finding interesting. You should look into it." "Eh, it's probably not going to be anything big," said Andrew. "But considering the general attitude around here, it might not be too badly fitting for some of us. Oh, hey, here comes Pterisa." Everyone turned to greet her as she approached the table. It was a little noteworthy to Andrew to consider her dressing style tonight. Most of the Dino Attack people had abandoned their uniforms and were dressed casually. Pterisa, when she had dropped the Hybrid armor, had decided to simply go without clothing. It had initially surprised him, but as her biology was not unlike that of certain alien species that went around without clothes, there was no real bother to her decision other than one's own opinion of modesty. And in Andrew's case, he didn't have a problem with it. "Enjoy the residential area?" Laxus asked. "Yes, it was quite a fun place to explore," the Hybrid answered as she sat down. "The barbecues were pretty interesting to drop in for brief visits, though I would've preferred some food with a bit more fish in it." "Well, I hear Papa sometimes uses sharks in some of his nightly specials," said Zach. "Hold out long enough, and you might find some delight in that." "Shark meat in pizza?" said Bluetooth. "That sounds a little odd." "Hey, no matter what they put in their pizza, the Brickolinis have never failed to make someone dislike it." "Unless you're Sarah Pierce," Andrew remarked. The group snickered, the news about her rejection of the pizza having spread fast. Though some guessed that she might've just fallen for the pizza that the Brickster had sneakily swapped out with super-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening-hot pizza as a practical joke, the news was quite a surprise to many. After a few more minutes of banter, the Infomaniac came in on the radio to tell everyone there was only five minutes left until midnight. As everyone began cheering as the anticipation for the New Year really began, Pterisa tapped Andrew on the shoulder and gestured him in close. "Ehm, do you know of somewhere we could have a little privacy?" she asked. "I want to talk a bit about my plans for the future, and with things kicking up here, I don't feel like we'll be able to talk properly with all the noise." "Oh, um…" Andrew said, a little taken aback. He thought for a moment, then pointed out across the beach from the pizzeria. "There's a bit of land stretching out from around the residential area over there. We could go over there, if you wish." "Sounds good." The two got up from the table. "Eh, we'll be back in a few minutes, guys," Andrew told the group. "Pterisa and I just want to have a bit of conversation." "Oh, go right ahead," said Zach, a sly look on his face. Andrew made a mocking face at him and turned to follow Pterisa out of the pizzeria grounds. ***** Dave O'Neal would've danced had he been able to. However, missing leg aside, he was now confined to a wheelchair. According to the doctors who'd cared for him after the final battle, he'd put far too much strain on his body by behaving as though the prosthetic was his actual leg. He'd have to learn how to walk all over again, they'd said. And he was doing his best. He'd already been to a physical therapist once, and would be back again in a few days. It was quite laborious, though. As hard as he was trying not to let this bother him, it was casting a slight pall over his perception of the festivities. There wasn't much he could do but just sit around. He watched all the dancers with amusement -- Zach pulling Minerva along with him and both of them laughing; Vinyaya and Bluetooth; Helm and April, who'd just arrived from Antarctica two days prior; and Wright and Shiller swaying close together and occasionally kicking one another in the shins. Hertz and Naomi strolled past arm-in-arm and gave him a friendly wave. He withdrew one hand from the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt and touched the brim of his cap in response. He thought back over the past week to distract himself. It had certainly been a good one, he had to admit. It was wonderful to hang out with Kat, as well as Ben and Lucy, without worrying that the war would take one of them away. The blasted war had already taken his sister and many good friends -- Kotua, Slash, Databoard, and now Rex -- and there was no feeling that could compare with the relief that he, and everyone, felt now that the conflict was finally at an end. Cheered, Dave smiled. His smile grew when he heard his name called, and turned to see Kat hurrying towards him. Since the twenty-first, Dave had become accustomed to seeing his comrades out of uniform, but with Kat, it was always a surprise. For the first time, she was truly a civilian, and she didn't seem sure how to react in terms of dress. Right now, she was wearing an olive-green military jacket complete with epaulets and heavy brass buttons, a flowing black skirt that brushed the ground, and what appeared to be Roman-style sandals over striped socks. She'd let her hair down for the party -- literally. It fell to a point just between her shoulder-blades, and she pushed a strand away from her face as she slipped a backpack off her shoulder and dropped it onto the table. "Hey, Davey." "I was wondering where you'd gone," Dave responded. "What's with the bag?" "Have you seen Zachary?" Kat responded. "He's on quite the rampage." "That's an interesting way of putting it." Dave had indeed noticed Zach's handiwork -- Vinyaya and Bluetooth were happily socializing side by side, and Andrew and Pterisa had just strolled off together. Mort and Larson appeared to be almost inseparable as well, though Dave wasn't sure whether Zach had anything to do with that. "And I couldn't help but wonder why he decided to spare me." "He probably thinks we're a thing," Kat said with a snicker. She unzipped the backpack and began removing its contents. "Oh, right. I keep forgetting about that rumour. What does this have to do with the bag, though?" "We're going to beat Zach at his own game," Kat responded. "I've got all the necessary supplies: respirator masks, gloves, phosphorus sesquisulfide gel, and half the toothpicks from the Brickolinis' Pizzeria." She smirked at Dave's confused expression. "Basically, we're going to have a go at matchmaking." ***** Andrew noted that Pterisa was walking towards the beach rather than going towards the residential area. "Uh, are you planning to swim over there or something? Because it's not the way to walk." She turned to him with a bit of an amused look. "Why take all that time walking when I have these?" she said as she spread out her wings and flew over to behind him. Andrew had a second to realize what she meant as she picked him up by the waist and began flying over to the peninsula of land across the water. It was a curious little place, the "deserted island" peninsula. It was named as such for pretty much looking like the stereotypical cartoon deserted island: A circular landmass of a few yards long, with a single palm tree upon it. Exempting the stretch of land connecting it to the island proper, it pretty much looked like something out of comic strips and the like. It was isolated, devoid of any constructions, and perfect for a private conversation. When Pterisa landed upon the island, Andrew took a moment once he was let go to get his bearings. As he did so, he took note of the view. The entire length of LEGO Island could be seen from here, from the residential area to the police station. And as no lampposts and speakers were around here, the only light came from the glow that the lights were casting all over the island, and the music was almost like hearing a radio inside someone's house from the outside. It was quite a wondrous atmosphere. "You know, I never really have come here too often," the young Dino Attack veteran said. "Definitively not in the nighttime. It feels so peaceful here." "Indeed," said Pterisa, sitting down under the palm tree. "It's an excellent environment to reflect in." Andrew sat down beside her. "So… Now that the war's over, and the New Year's almost upon us, what are your plans?" Pterisa put her hand under her beak. "Well… I don't really know. When I was still with Dr. Einstein and the prototypes, I figured my place might be with any fellow surviving, peaceful Mutant Dino brethren. I thought of settling down on a private island, creating something of a refuge for my kind. But now… I'm not so sure, anymore." "What do you mean?" "Isn't it obvious?" Pterisa said as she looked at him. "It's because of you. Inviting me to tag along with you and Laxus, showing me around your headquarters and letting me get to know your various comrades, introducing me to movie riffing and Brickolinis pizza and the like. You've shown me that as grotesque as I may look, there are people who can overlook it and be accepting of whom I am as a person." Andrew smiled. "It's the least I can do for any ally under stress. Seeing you in such a state after Baron Typhonus unmasked you, turning from a confident anonymous samurai to a distraught Minifig/Mutant Pterosaur Hybrid who felt no one could help, I couldn't stand for that. I had to help you. And now look. I've been watching some of the online reactions to that interview you had last week. There are a few ignorant morons, but overall people have been reacting positively and supportively." Pterisa sighed with a smirk. "I never could've imagined such things could be before I entered the Maelstrom Temple. You can't imagine how grateful I am for your part in all this. It's given me a chance at a life I never thought I would have. I thank you so much for this." Andrew felt himself blush a little and rubbed his neck. "Heh. Well, you're more than welcome. I've been happy to help so much. You're a very nice person to socialize with." Pterisa smiled. "You think so?" "I know so. You're intelligent, curious about life, and just want to get along with others. All traits that I feel I share to some extent, and enjoy in people I get to know." The two sat there under the palm tree, looking at each other for another minute or so. Finally, Andrew said: "If it helps, I don't think you should worry too much about what might happen to the remaining Mutant Dinos. There'll probably be a few last missions to clear out the remaining hostile ones, but knowing Specs and Digger, they'll probably find a way to preserve the peaceful ones. There is at least two Dino Islands that I'm sure can accept new neighbors. Or a guy wanting to create his own Jurassic Park." "That is a little reassuring," said Pterisa, "knowing that not focusing on my kind will leave them endangered." "Then I suppose we do have to think now about what's next. What do you think you want to do now?" Pterisa looked to be in thought for a moment, and then looked back to the island. "I suppose settling down with civilization now is a good option. The people here are very welcoming and fun-loving, there's so much to see and do, and the atmosphere is unique in a way that I don't see anywhere else. I suppose there are some troubles around here, mostly from what I've heard about the Brickster, but overall, I couldn't think of a better place to live, especially with you around." "Can't argue with that," Andrew said, but in his mind, he was feeling a little worried about the last part. "But…" "But what?" Pterisa asked, her face looking quite curious. Andrew looked up at the night sky through the palm tree branches. Even with the light pollution coming from the party, there was still a lovely view of the stars. "Well… I suppose you might've heard once or twice, but Laxus and I have been talking about perhaps leaving Earth for a while. Going off to go take a trip around the galaxy or so. Space has always fascinated me, and I'd really like the chance he's giving me to see the universe up close…" The LEGO Islander sighed. "…but knowing how much you enjoy my presence, given our history… I wouldn't want to leave you behind or anything by heading off planet." Pterisa was silent. Andrew felt nervousness bottle up inside him, and started to worry about a negative reaction from her. The moments of silence didn't help his tension. Finally, she spoke. "If you were to go with Laxus, does it have to just be the two of you?" "Uh…" Andrew said, taken a bit aback. "Er, no, I don't think there's a limit. Laxus has his ways, and if there's strains, I'm sure Bluetooth or Vinyaya could help out as well." "Then how about I join you? Hearing what Laxus has told me about the galaxy and how there's so many strange creatures and odd beings who can live in harmony who wouldn't even give a second glance at my looks, I'm curious about what it's like out there. I'd be more than willing to follow you along up there." "Really?" said Andrew, a grin returning to his face, "you want to go to space too?" She nodded. "Well, that's great to hear! We could travel to places like Mars, Ice Planet 2002, the asteroid colonies, Ninjago, the peaceful parts of Crux's remains… and return here when we feel tired and miss the zany fun you can't find anywhere but LEGO Island! It sounds brilliant!" Pterisa smiled, and scooted over closer to Andrew. "It does, doesn't it? And in particular, I think I like the fact we'd be doing it together." Andrew was a little surprised by this, but in a moment, he shrugged it aside and scooted over himself. "You know what?" he said as he took her hand with his. "I like that idea, too." The two Minifigs sat there under the tree, looking into each other's faces and smiling. Then, a sudden burst of commotion came from the rest of the island, and they looked to see a mass of bricks forming a large, multi-colored, translucent sphere over the Red Power Brick on the top of the Information Center. "That's our own New Year Ball-Drop tradition," Andrew explained. "And it may not be extravagant as New York's, but our own style makes it a bit more superior to it, I think." He shifted to push himself up, thinking they would head back to the pizzeria but Pterisa put her arm around his shoulders. "Let's watch it from here," she said. "This place has a great view. Let's take advantage of it." Andrew felt a bit like disagreeing, wanting to be with his friends while shouting out the final countdown, but he realized the moment he would be disrupting. "Sure," he said, settling back down and putting his own arm around her shoulders. The two leaned together, their heads resting on each other's. With smiles, Andrew and Pterisa watched as the crowds began to count down and the ball began to lower down the Information Center's antenna. So it was the end. 2010, one of the LEGO Planet's darkest years, was coming to a close. "Ten…" With Pterisa at his side, Andrew reflected one last time on all that had happened this year. All that had happened between that horrible day in April and the final battle ten days ago. "Nine…" From partying at Red Greenbase's house to shivering in the initial refugee facilities in Antarctica… reading about Dino Attack team's exploits and wanting to join… but never working up the courage until just after the power station fight… "Eight…" So he joined the team, and not too soon, as LEGO Island became their next mission focus. There he met the likes of Semick, Bluetooth, Stranger, Raider, and fought alongside such notable agents and allies like Kat, Sauro-Hunter, B… Then along came a spider, and the island was literally torn out from under his feet… he was reunited with his favorite LEGO car, a Titanic car, but the prize was nothing compared to his despair at the loss of his homeland… "Seven…" But then he met Laxus, and his troubles started to settle as he found a close friend from among the team members. And eventually LEGO Island came back, and he felt strong and happy enough to continue the fight, to help make sure nothing was lost like LEGO Island almost was… "Six…" So off to Adventurers' Island, where he wrestled with oddly emerging desires, fighting alongside Rex, Reptile, and Zenna, and met a new close friend: Zachary Virchaus. He bonded with him, saved him from corruption and chaos, and through Mutant Dino swarms and Maelstrom fog, he helped the team overcome darkness and save the planet from an even worse threat than mutant dinosaurs. "Five…" And in the process, he met Pterisa. He helped her get back on her feet when she was most distraught, helped her accept and be accepted as a part of their team, and helped her learn what it was like to live a (relatively) normal life among Minifigs. "Four…" And at last, there was the final battle. He faced an unbelievable horde of mutated monsters, brushed with death so much he should've started giving high-fives when he passed, managed to help his team stay motivated and keep up the stand-off, and finally, help with the final procedure that ended the Mutant Dinos' leader for good, and win back the planet. "Three…" Andrew was now more than a citizen of LEGO Island. He was a Dino Attack Elite Agent, a savior for many of his comrades (like Zorikk, Zach, Pterisa), a combat veteran, and a hero of his world. Life had changed so much for him, and it would never be the same as it had been. He was going places, for sure. " Two…" He had allies he would never forget, friends dear to him who would be able to help him see the universe like he had wanted to, and a certain someone he felt would be a happy part of his life for quite some time. He couldn't welcome 2011 in more happier circumstances. " One…" The ball touched down on the Observation Deck's roof, and exploded in lights and color as fireworks rocketed out across the island once more. Even over that noise, the voice of LEGO Island rang out in three loud words: "HAPPY NEW YEAR!" "To a new year," said Andrew to Pterisa, gesturing a toast with an imaginary glass. "And to a new beginning," Pterisa added, gesturing a toast as well. ***** The crowd raucously counted down the last moments of 2010. When the ball dropped, Dave couldn't help but chuckle as, just in front of him, Wright and Shiller began playfully pummeling one another with light blows -- extra light in Wright's case; Shiller was quickly recovering from his injuries, but still had to take care not to exert himself -- and Kat leaned down next to his wheelchair and muttered, "I say ten seconds until they start tongue-wrestling." "Knowing Ben," Dave muttered back, "I give them seven seconds." They laughed and cheered along with the crowd, friends and comrades all, and for the first time, Dave found himself not just thinking of the future, but looking forward to it. ***** As the big ball hit the top of the Information center, Dr. Cyborg sat against a tree and smiled. It was 2011, a new year. The smile was not completely sincere, though. He was alone. He had nobody to talk to. Everybody was with their friends, but he had nobody that seemed to consider him a true friend. He supposed that it was subconsciously because he was a cyborg. Everyone claimed they had no prejudice, but experience claimed otherwise. The ball started to light up as colored lights shone into it. Dr. Cyborg sighed, and mouthed "Happy New Year." ***** Zach dipped Minerva's head low enough that her hair brushed against the ground, both laughing giddily. The New Year's ball then exploded upon touching the Information Center's central tower. Deafened by explosive cheers, chants, laughter, and kabooms beckoning the new year and blinded by the literally explosive fireworks erupting from the ball, Zach leaned in and kissed Minerva for several long, wonderful seconds. As they pulled themselves back on to their feet, Minerva laughed again, her face bright red. "I guess dancing isn't so bad," Minerva mumbled loud enough for Zach to hear over everyone else, clearly embarrassed. "And I think I'm getting better." After Andrew and Pterisa had left their group, Minerva had been the one to pull him into another dance for the last few minutes of 2010. "Yeah," Zach said, rubbing his chin. "I think you only stepped on my feet three times now." "Heh, yeah. Sorry." Minerva said with a sly grin. Her face seemed to turn a brighter shade of red as she pushed her lips into his again. Surprised but not extremely upset, Zach returned the gesture for several seconds. "Maybe sometime again tonight?" "Rather sudden change of heart on dancing," Zach said as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek. "I'm just... happy, I suppose," Minerva stated simply, looking at him with a more curious smile. She seemed unable to find the words to properly describe her feelings. "Really happy." She kissed him again. Her cheeks were extremely warm and she seemed intent on staying in this position forever. Not that Zach had too much issue with it. "Alright, you two," Vinyaya said sternly. Zach and Minerva broke away from their embrace and turned toward the Space Police commander sitting at the Pizzeria, whose own face was bright red with a sort of crooked smile on it. Beside her, Bluetooth's face was red as well, a look of happy surprise on his face. Zelda and Laxus were grinning from across the table. Zach and Minerva quickly realized what had happened and high-fived, laughing as they went to rejoin their companions. ***** Sarah watched uneasily as a disheveled Alan staggered out of the operating room. "What happened?" Shaw asked. Alan simply took one look at her. "You do not want to know," he said. "Come back!" Enter shouted from inside. "We still need to use the tree!" "I'm fine," Alan said. "I'm a doctor, I should know these things." Sarah quickly put her arm around Alan and hastily escorted him outside. "I'm going to find you a real hospital," she said as she carried him out the door. Shaw wasn't able to do much; Sarah was too fast and was out of sight before she had a chance to catch up. The most she could do was mutter a slight prayer that Alan was okay. From what she saw, she figured that would be the case, but a little extra never hurt. Wandering around, Shaw found herself walking toward the beach, on the other side of the island. There was a building nearby, and she saw a man step out, a large, hulking black man with a pair of sunglasses, who wandered toward the beach. She was surprised to recognize agent Pharisee from Dino Attack Team. There was something about this man that attracted her attention. She didn't know what it was, but something made her curious - she could tell he was troubled by something, but she did not know what. In that instant, she was compelled to find out. The beach was a place where much was going on. There were jet-skis zooming around, people sunbathing, Rotor and Cabin lay on a towel, passed out drunk and half-naked in each other's arms with smiles on their faces. There were a couple of people surfing, Snap Lockitt, and... Lance Williams. She certainly didn't see that one coming. Queen's music was playing nearby - Freddie Mercury was enthusiastically singing the lyrics to "We are the Champions". Shaw slowly approached Pharisee, who seemed to stand out, alienated from the others. She could tell there was something wrong, and calmly she walked up to him, and with a slight stutter, asked: "You alright?" The hulking but troubled man turned in surprise toward the shy, young semi-religious doctor. His build was intimidating, and there was a part of her that wanted to run, but she remained in place. Pharisee seemed to ignore her and kept walking. Shaw continued to follow. Finally, he stopped somewhere near the waters of the beach, where Lance was excitedly catching the waves. She looked elsewhere, Cabin shifted slightly in her sleep, Enter and Return were fishing for a shark. A couple people were jet-skiing. As Shaw stood beside Pharisee, he looked at her once again. This time, something seemed to draw his attention. He reached out toward her and momentarily handled the small metal cross around her neck, then let it fall back against her chest. "Something wrong?" Shaw asked again. "Yes," Pharisee said with a sigh. "I am." "Why?" "I've done terrible things," Pharisee said again. "My fate is sealed." "What sort of things?" "I killed a man in cold blood," replied Pharisee sternly. "You think you're beyond redemption?" The man nodded. Intimidating as he was there was something about him that compelled her to keep talking. "You believe in faith?" Pharisee asked. Shaw fingered her cross shyly. "Yes," she said. "Then you'll understand." Shaw seemed confused. "No, I don't think I do," she said. ***** 2010 was finally over. One of the most interesting, dramatic, and horrific years in the history of the LEGO Planet. If Zach was to boost the planet's ego, he could even extend the declaration to the entire LEGO Universe. Friends and enemies alike had joined forces to save their home from destruction. It had been a long haul with the loss of many of place, property, friend, and family, but they had done it. They had won. Tonight managed to make those eight months worth it to him. A massive, island-wide party filled with not only old friends and neighbors but new friends and allies that Zach had met and interacted with in the last months from the Agents to the Dino Attack Team. It felt wonderful to be with them all again one last time, even if they never directly spoke to each other. It was pushing one o'clock and the island still showed no signs of halting their party. Zach had relocated to the beach with Minerva, Holly, Zelda, Andrew, Ryan, Laxus, and Pterisa. Based on how Andrew and Pterisa were sitting with each other, Zach decided not to interrogate them for the full details. He only to smile knowing that both Andrew and Pterisa were happy and he had been correct. I think I'm done with the 'real-life' shipping for a while. The only people who I think should probably still get together are Hotwire and Kat, provided they aren't already together. And that might be overstepping my boundaries, considering I'm not particularly close to them. So they had resolved to simply sit on the beach in talk. It was simply yet happy occasion. They shared some laughs and stories and overall had a good time. Minerva leaned against Zach's torso, holding Zach's new pony toy with mild amusement in her eyes. It was far from the only gift he had received this evening, including a new MP3 player, a set of bricks, a free fuel card to the gas station, and a Brickster-Bot head (you could guess who the last one came from). However, Pinkie Pie the pony from Luna Rom seemed to be getting the most use. "It's kind of cute," Minerva said with a chuckle as she mock-galloped Pinkie Pie across Zach's leg. "I used to have a yellow one with long pink hair when I was younger. I thought these things were the greatest." "Then maybe we'll watch that show Laxus was talking about," Zach said with an amused shrug. "Relieve your lost childhood or something." He grimaced as Minerva landed a sharp jab on his stomach. "Don't try and act like a big tough guy," Minerva said with a faint grin. "I've gotten to know you enough these last few weeks that you aren't. You'll probably like the show." "How manly someone is doesn't really decide whether they like a show, regardless if the subject matter," Zach stated as he playful jabbed Minerva's sides, causing her to jump. "I'll give the show a chance, I suppose." "Good." Minerva turned her head to Zelda, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth, who were chatting about something related to space travel. "So what's the plan tomorrow? Or later today, I suppose? How long are you guys staying on the island?" "We'll discuss it later. When it's daylight again," Vinyaya said with a smile. "Unless we're all still awake by then," Zelda added in quickly. "Then we'll probably take a nap." Zach chuckled. "I suppose I'll count on a discussion at breakfast or lunch." Vinyaya and Zelda nodded. They sat there for several more minutes chatting with the group until the upbeat "Happy Roaming" faded into a simple and slow piano piece by Mama Brickolini. Zach felt himself almost begin to drift to sleep before Minerva suddenly stood up and grabbed his hand and slowly pulled him up. "Just one more quick dance?" Minerva said, an awkward smile forming on her face. Zach shrugged. After the first dance he had with Minerva, he had managed to convince Holly and Zelda to dance with him as friends. After a heavy amount of insulting his dancing skills, he was just about tired of dancing. He was willing to go one more time for Minerva. "Might as well." They both climbed out from the beach and stepped onto the road. The party had quieted down significantly. Fewer couples danced slowly on the street, among them Marco Martinet and Rosalie Mercedes. Zach wrapped his arms around Minerva's waist while she draped her arms over his shoulders, and they slowly swayed to the music. Minerva looked at him with warm eyes and shuffled herself closer to him. He looked down at himself and her. While the Dino Attack uniforms had a certain cosmetic appeal, he was certainly happy to be back in casual clothes. He himself was wearing dark colored jeans and a pale blue shirt with a black vest over it. Minerva was in jeans as well with a half-zipped red jacket over a white T-shirt. Zach sighed quietly, content. "So, you really like LEGO Island?" he asked. Minerva showed a small smile. "It's over-the-top and crazy in every sense of the word. But I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Compared to a few days ago, the good kind of insanity here is just what I need. This is my home now." A chuckle escaped from Zach's lips as he pulled Minerva closer to him. "I'm glad to hear that." He paused before continuing, "I suppose that's why you're in such a good mood." Minerva smirked, but nodded. They swayed to the music in silence, Zach resting his head upon Minerva's chest for a bit. Then Minerva spoke up again. "Your hair's gotten really long." Zach lifted his head and gave her a curious smile before she tugged at the hair that curled at the back of his neck. He hadn't looked particularly close at his hair in a few days. "I suppose it has. Considering it's only been two weeks or so since I last cut it, that's impressive. It doesn't grow particularly fast normally." "And you're growing a bit of a goatee," she said, running a careful finger down from his lower lip to his chin, before plucking a single hair from his chin, causing him to flinch and her to giggle in amusement. "It's kind of cute. Until the whole beard from earlier comes back in. Then it's just sorta... eh?" "Is my hair purple too?" She ducked his head down and looked at the top of his hair for a brief second. "Just a little. You need to color again." "Great," Zach said with a hint of annoyance. Trying to figure out how to dye his hair the last time in Dino Attack Headquarters had been a pain, and he had hoped to have more time before he had to do it again. "I can help you dye it back," Minerva said with a grin. "I think your Maelstrom experiences is making your hair grow extra fast." "Either that, or my body is aging quicker than it should because of the Maelstrom," Zach said with slight shudder as he remembered watching Rex's final moments. Minerva gave him a look of concern. "If that is the case, I'll flush the remaining Maelstrom out of my body in a heartbeat. My Creative Spark is powerful enough and my body has a level of immunity to it. Hopefully, rapid hair growth is just a side effect of becoming a Minifig again." "Hopefully. Speaking of which, I was meaning to ask you something." "Shoot." "I know you said you were going to hang out around here for a while. I'm all for that. But what do you plan to do later? For some reason, I can't see you just hanging around forever." Zach paused to think. He remembered Raine Dashworthy's offer about rejoining the Agents. While it seemed like a good deal, it wasn't something he had real interest in now, especially after his own personal experiences. No, what he wanted to do was bigger than the Agents. Bigger than the LEGO Planet. "I was thinking of joining the Nexus Force," he said finally. "It makes sense to me, seeing as how personally invested I've sort of become in fighting the Maelstrom. I know what's it's like to be a Stromling. I have half an idea what Baron Typhonus still want to do to the universe. After suffering through that, I want to stop it from happening to anyone else." Minerva nodded in quiet understanding. Zach continued. "I've been... mulling over it the past couple of days. If I were to get accepted, I would join Paradox." He briefly remembered the offer Carolyne Provencal and Michelle Gladys had made him in the Maelstrom Temple. "I'd probably let their scientists get a look at me because, as far as I know, I'm one of two Minifigs that have ever been a Stromling and been able to return to a normal, functioning Minifig. And after that, I'm going to do whatever I can to stop the Maelstrom and the Darkitect." Zach paused again. Minerva didn't say anything. "I want you -" "I'm coming along," Minerva snapped quickly. "I don't know if I'll join Paradox, but we're going to join together. I want to defeat the Darkitect once and for all just like you. For what he did to you, Zelda, J.D., Mom, Oswald, and more." Zach remembered hearing about Minerva and Holly's brief confrontation with Dr. Rex and Baron Typhonus during the battle. "Besides, after your last big experience with the Maelstrom, do you think I'm going to let you run off to the Nimbus System by yourself?" Zach laughed. "I fully expected you to come along. I just wanted to make sure. If there's anyone I'd want to be by my side fighting the Maelstrom, it's you." He pecked her cheek and rested his forehead against hers. "Thanks for being there these last few weeks. For saving my life multiple times. For being a great friend." Minerva's cheeks brightened under the dimmed lights that were scattered around the island. "I suppose I could say the same to you. I'm glad you were there to help me through what happened with my family. You being there has made it a lot easier to deal with. And thank you for offering a chance to start over and give me a new home." They both moved lightly, their heads staying close and not saying a word. Finally, as the song came to an end, they pulled their heads away briefly, only to return with a long kiss. They pulled away finally and looked at each with smiles on their faces. Holly Vinyaya smiled as she chatted with Ryan Radcliff and Zelda Frodongan about nothing in particular as they watched Zachary and Minerva dance. For the first time in a real long time (since even before she got involved with the Dino Attack), she was at complete peace. Complete relaxation. She'd decided as she snuggled close to Ryan that she would have to take vacations more often when she returned to space. Minerva suddenly broke away from Zach and jogged quickly back to the beach and picked up the plush pony. Vinyaya decided to speak up out of curiosity. "What are you doing?" Minerva's cheeks brightened. "Zach was going to show me something cool in the Residential Area. An easter egg left when the Infomaniac last redesigned the island, I guess." Her voice never skipped a beat. Vinyaya raised an eyebrow and looked past Minerva to Zach. He remained in the street and gave Minerva a look of confusion. "Um, okay?" Vinyaya said, looking from Minerva to Zach repeatedly. "We'll be back later," Minerva continued, smiling awkwardly before turning and jogging back to Zach. Vinyaya smiled slyly in sudden realization as Minerva gripped Zach's wrist and started walking with a brisk pace toward the Residential Area. Zelda shuffled toward Vinyaya and leaned in close. "Told you," Zelda muttered in a matter-of-fact tone, grinning smugly as she watched Minerva and Zach's retreating backs. Vinyaya closed her eye and smiled. "It seems pretty likely. What's the payment again?" "I think paying for whatever we're eating tomorrow should suffice." "Sounds good to me." ***** The Pierces had returned to Brickolini's Pizzeria, and Alan had quite a few things to say to the head chef. "What the MegaBlokland do you guys think you're doing, making pizzas like that? What, are you trying to kill your customers?" "We get orders like that all the time!" Papa Brickolini exclaimed. "Yeah?" Sarah said in disbelief. "Who orders these?" "I do!" replied Red, quite enthusiastically. "I always get the hottest stuff on the menu!" "Oh, that's not so hot," said Polly after taking a nibble of Red's pizza. "I get hotter pizza than that all the time." Sarah just rolled her eyes; these LEGO Island denizens were truly insane. "Only the Brickster likes it hotter," said Papa. "We get our hottest orders from the jail." "You never made a connection there?" Shaw asked. "You never thought that maybe that was how the Brickster kept breaking out of jail?" "Not a-" Mama started to say, but before she could explain that the Brickolinis carefully make sure to only deliver cold pizza (not even a single chili!) to the jail these days, Sarah cut her off. "I'm getting the police," Sarah said angrily. "You could be joining the Brickster in prison for this!" She quickly ran down the street and spotted a dark-suited man with a badge. He finally looked like someone sane on this crazy island. "Hey, officer!" "The name's Brick," the officer replied. "Nick Brick." "Nick," Sarah said, "you never gave much thought to the pizza joint down the road, did you?" "Of course," Nick replied in a dead-serious tone of voice, as though he was monologuing a film noir. "I think about them all the time. They serve great pizza." "They serve pizza hot enough to set your mouth on fire!" Sarah said. "And?" replied Nick, who did not seem the least bit surprised. "That's how I like it." "My husband could have died!" insisted Sarah. "We had to shove ice cubes down his throat!" Nick raised an eyebrow. "A bit excessive, isn't it? In all my years protecting and serving the good people of LEGO Island, I remember quite distinctly that no one has ever died from pizzacide." "It was a super-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening-hot pizza!" exclaimed Sarah. Brick's eyes narrowed, finally looking suspicious. "Alright," he said, pulling out his notepad and scrawling down what she said. "Anything else?" "For crying out loud, they keep delivering pizzas explicitly called super-hot-spicy tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening pizzas to the jail! How else do you think the Brickster keeps getting out?" "Interesting," Nick said. "Let's take a look." Nick followed Sarah to Brickolini's Pizzeria. He picked up a menu and took a look at it. "I've memorized this menu, and sure enough, it's just as I remember," he noted. "Super-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening-hot pizza is not listed here." "Does it even matter?" exclaimed Sarah, pointing to the questionable slices of pizza that she and Alan had attempted to eat. "You keep getting orders for super-hot pizza from the jail, and there's a pizza literally called jail-cell-door-opening-hot!" "Like I told you, this is-a no pizza of mine!" insisted Papa Brickolini. "We do not-a serve bad pizzas here!" "I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you under arrest," declared Nick, pulling out a pair of handcuffs. "For repeatedly aiding in the escape of a convicted criminal and for withholding evidence!" Sarah couldn't help but smile at the thought of Papa being arrested and no one having to eat one of those terrible pizzas again. But then, Nick proceeded to throw the handcuffs onto the super-spicy-tongue-melting-jail-cell-door-opening-hot pizza, as though the cuffs were extra toppings. "You have the right to remain silent," he said to the pizza as he took it away, completely ignoring Sarah and Papa. "Anything you say can and will be used against you." "Mama Mia!" exclaimed Papa Brickolini. "LEGO Island is-a safe again, thanks to Nick Brick and his brilliant detective skills!" Everyone cheered as Papa danced and Mama played a tune on her piano. Sarah was left utterly exasperated. Finally, she decided there was no point in trying to make any logical sense to this loony bin. She turned toward Alan and put her arm around her husband's shoulder. "You alright?" she asked. Alan smiled and kissed her in response. ***** The party seemed unstoppable. It was a few hours into 2011, and whereas most sane people would be giving up on a party and going home, LEGO Islanders were not known for their sanity. The party continued to go on. Dr. Cyborg was participating somewhat, just hanging around some friends, when a teenager, about 14 or 15, came up. "Your helmet appears to have had a visor attached to it at one point. I'm guessing it broke?" "That's correct," Dr. Cyborg replied. "How did you know?" "I'm good with tech, that's all. I have a replacement you can have; would you like it?" the boy asked. "Yes, please. What's your name?" Dr. Cyborg asked as they walked to the boy's shed/machine shop. "Matthew Wise, but my friends usually call me Wise." "Odd, my name is Matthew as well, and I have a friend whose last name is Wise," Dr. Cyborg said. "What a coincidence. Anyways, here we are." They arrived at a smallish, corrugated metal shed. Matthew twisted the dials on a combination lock on the door and opened it. He swung the door open and led the way in. "Hey, your eye got a flashlight?" Matthew asked. "Yes, it does," Dr. Cyborg replied as he mentally turned it on. Matthew started poking around in piles of equipment, while Dr. Cyborg looked around. "A couple questions." "Ask away," came Matthew's reply. "Why did you not turn the lights on? As great as the technology is in here, you don't have electricity?" "I have a generator hooked up as my power source, but it broke last year… as in, a few hours ago. I haven't gotten around to fixing it yet. What's the other question?" "What is this place for?" "I am working on powered armor. Sort of like MJOLNIR or the Iron Man suits. Ah, here we go!" Matthew pulled a piece of curved black glass out of a cupboard. "I'm glad it didn't break. It's nearly impossible to put a microscreen between two plates of glass. Here, hand me your helmet." Dr. Cyborg pulled off his helmet and handed it to Matthew. Matthew glanced up at Dr. Cyborg's head, curious as to what he looked like. Dr. Cyborg's head was extremely pale and badly scarred. There were wires running along the top of his head to the metal side. Matthew finished attaching the visor and handed it back to Dr. Cyborg. "Here, try this out." Dr. Cyborg put the helmet back on. "Great. Thanks. If you ever need a job, contact me. You'll always be welcome at UlTech Industries," Dr. Cyborg told him. "Thanks," Matthew replied. They shook hands, and Dr. Cyborg walked out, ready, more or less, to continue the party. As Dr. Cyborg was wandering around, running tests on his new visor, a man came up to him. "Hello, I'm Samuel Piaker. I'm an author writing a novel on the Dino Attack. An agent told me you could give me an interesting perspective on the Dino Attack. Do you know why he said that?" "Yes, I do," replied Dr. Cyborg. "For the most of the Dino Attack, I was actually a member of XERRD. The last week of November, I deserted XERRD because I felt I could not go along with their work anymore. Dr. Rex sent a pack of Mutant Raptors after me to kill me. However, they failed and I was only critically injured. Somebody found me and rebuilt me as a cyborg. I found a one-use Teleport Pad left here by XERRD, and I warped to Adventurers' Island, the current mission at that time. I served in various missions, regaining most of my memories, and I led a team of agents for most of this battle, until I was re-invited into XERRD as second-in-command. I regained all of my memories at that point, and accepted. I helped repair the Einstein Device and extracted Elite Agent Rex's Creative Spark to deposit inside the Einstein Device as a power source. After the battle, I helped hunt down the previous leader of XERRD who had gone rogue. I took care of some arrangements regarding XERRD's future a couple of days ago, and now I am here. I'm pretty sure you're not gonna need that last bit, though." "Thank you anyways; you'll make at least one good chapter!" the author said as he walked away. ***** New Year's Day, 2011 There was a foggy gray light seeping through the windows when Dave O'Neal awoke suddenly. He sat up and glanced at the clock on the wall -- 7:30 AM. Lying back down on the couch, he attempted to relax again. It had been an interesting night. As the party began to wind down around 3, Dave and Kat had caught the attention of a peculiar fellow who introduced himself as Ben Baseplate, and explained that he'd noticed that Dave was wheelchair-bound, and it just so happened that he'd replaced his front porch with a boarding ramp two years back because wasn't that just the coolest thing ever, and would they like to crash in his living room? That was how Dave now found himself on a sofa in an unfamiliar house. It was then that his observational faculties finally cut through the blur of fatigue, and he realized that the other couch was empty. Not only was Kat gone, but all the possessions she'd had with her the previous night had been removed as well. Dave heard a car door slam outside and sat up again, this time with a sinking feeling in his gut. He hauled himself to his foot and, with something between a hop and a shuffle, ended up in his wheelchair, then rolled to the front door as fast as his tired arms could propel him, kicked it open with barely a stop, and coasted down Mr. Baseplate's prized boarding ramp to the sidewalk, where Kat had just tossed her backpack into a taxi and was in the process of getting in herself. She stopped when she saw him. They stood and sat silently for a few moments, unsure what to say. It was Kat who first broke the silence. "Look, I'm...I'm sorry..." "Is it because of all the rumours?" inquired Dave. "No, it... well..." Kat sighed. "I had a long talk with Katerina last night, and there are some... things I have to do." "What things?" "You won't like it, I think." "Is that why you're sneaking off like this?" Dave asked, more confusion in his tone than accusation. "Look, you know how many times Katerina cheated death, right? And Loop? And me, for that matter?" She sighed again. "It would be absurd to think that Cane didn't have a contingency plan of some sort." Dave's eyes widened. "You're leaving all of us to chase after a guy who might or might not still be alive?" She nodded. "And I can't at least come along? That's assuming it's even necessary for you to go." "I couldn't ask you to come, nor could I let you even if I wanted to. You're stuck in a wheelchair, just starting out a physical therapy program -- your first priority right now should be yourself." "I could say the same thing to you!" retorted Dave. "This is the first chance you have to live something like a normal life, and you're dashing off on some quest to--" "This is for me, though," argued Kat. "Even if I could live with the possibility that Cane is still on the loose, Katerina can't, and if she and I can't reach an understanding, there's no way in MegaBlokland I'd ever be able to live this 'normal life' you speak of. She's still up here." Kat gestured at her head. "And he's still out there." She waved her other arm at the rest of the world. "Given that, there's no way I can just stay put. I'm sorry." Understanding began to grow in Dave's eyes. "Please..." he said quietly, "don't die or anything." She smiled faintly. "Oh, don't worry. I'll be fine." She pulled the taxi door open again. "You'll hear from me again soon. I'll send you telegrams or something. Oh, and a birthday card." Kat ducked into the taxi and began to close the door, but hesitated, stepped back out, walked back over to Dave's wheelchair, and ruffled his hair. And then she kissed him. It couldn't really be described as a romantic gesture. She simply leaned down and pecked him on the nose so quickly he was left unsure whether he'd just imagined it, and wondering why he'd imagine such a thing to begin with. Then Kat climbed back into the taxi and rolled out of his life, with the morning fog swirling after her. ***** Zach hated it when this happened. Whenever he wanted to just sleep in, it always seemed a little person slapped his consciousness multiple times while yelling at him to wake up. Today's case was double negative: not only was it a Saturday, it was New Year's Day. Zach rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he glanced at his bedside table. Beside Pinkie Pie the plush pony, the alarm clock read 10:36 AM. Zach groaned quietly. After one of the most interesting jaunts to the Residential Area in his life with Minerva, they had returned and continued to hang out with their friends until three AM, when they all decided to hit the sack. He knew there was no chance of going back to sleep. Irritated, he laid back against his pillow and looked up to the ceiling of his recently reconstructed house. He shifted uncomfortably, having slept in his jeans, t-shirt, and vest. He barely lifted his head and saw Minerva's head laying on his chest. She hadn't bothered to switch into sleeping clothes as well. She was curled up next him, breathing slowly and clearly at peace. Looking at the edge of the bed he saw the lumpy dark green blanket laying alone and forgotten, barely touching Minerva's sock. He wouldn't have been surprised if Minerva had hoarded it away during the night and then discarded when she grew tired of it. Zach carefully shifted Minerva's head to the pillow beside him and climbed out bed slowly. He turned to saw Minerva stir briefly and adjust to not sleeping on him. Chuckling, Zach walked out of the room and traversed the short hallways before reaching the living room. Vinyaya was sleeping quietly on the couch, a blanket over her body and her blonde hair covering much of her face while Zelda sat into a recliner, snoring softly. Holly and Zelda had taken up his offer to crash at his house after it was rebuilt and didn't seem to particularly mind sleeping on the couch, floor, or recliner. Seeing them reminded Zach of his current lack of privacy in his home and led him to hastily return to his room to grab a new set of clothes. He then shuffled over to the bathroom, slowly undressed, and climbed into the shower. As the water splashed against his face, blissful memories from the last week flooded his thoughts. Returning home after eight months of constant fighting, rebuilding his house (whose Constructopedia page had not been saved) with the aid of Minerva, Holly, Zelda, Bill Ding and more, reuniting with his family as they passed through on their way back to the States with promise of heading to their home in a few days with Minerva, and getting acquainted with the citizens of the island. That didn't even include the party, one of the best days of Zach's life. He washed up slowly, dried himself, and dressed. As he combed his hair down, he saw Minerva had been right about earlier; his hair was getting rather long already. It concealed his forehead and seemed to stop at his eyebrows, where the locks began to curl upward. It covered his ears and curled at the back. And there indeed was evidence of a new beard growing in. Ironic, I suppose. Can't grow a beard to save my life, the Maelstrom comes in, and suddenly I have hair shooting out of my ears. Just another thing to see those Paradox scientists about at some point. He trudged out of the bathroom, past the sleeping Zelda and Holly, and entered his bedroom to see Minerva sitting up, a computer in her lap with his glasses on her face. She squinted at him and grinned. "I don't know how you see anything with these," Minerva said, glancing around the room before taking them off and tossing them to him. Zach jumbled the glasses in his hand before securing a grip and placing them on his face. "Why did you wake up?" "Good morning to you, too," Zach replied, leading Minerva to roll her eyes. "I don't know. I just woke up. It happens. What about you? Why are you up?" "You were my pillow. You woke up and moved and ruined my whole sleeping experience. Now I'll never forgive you," she teased. "Are we doing anything important today?" "We were going to have a meal with Zelda and Holly." Minerva rolled her eyes, set the laptop down and jumped out of the bed. "Then I guess I'll take a shower." She shook her unkempt brown and white hair from in front of her face, grabbed a pair of jeans and an orange t-shirt, and jabbed Zach playfully in the stomach as she passed into the hallway. Zach smiled at her rather carefree mood as he took a seat on the bed and picked up the laptop. A webpage full of popular and memetic images was on the screen. Zach glanced at the page for a few minutes before he opened a new tab to surf the internet while he waited for Minerva to finish her shower. She eventually walked back in with a new pair of clothes on and her damp hair simply resting on her shoulders, appearing to have been barely combed over. "Are they still asleep?" he asked. "Yep. I think that cancels out playing LEGO Kart Wii or Super Smash Figs Brawl or completing World 4 in New Super LEGO Bros. Wii in the meantime. Good thing, too. I've played enough of the original Smash Figs and LEGO Kart 64 with my brothers that I could kick your sorry butt to the moon and back." "Is that so?" Zach shot back with a wide grin. "You know, the original and sequel can be two very different games." "Pfft!" Minerva snorted as she jumped onto the bed. "You're just afraid that I'm going to win. Because I will." "Well then, tonight we'll take that challenge, won't we?" Zach challenged. "What's going to happen when I prove you wrong and I win?" Minerva scoffed, shoving Zach off the bed. "Keep dreaming. In the off chance that you do win, I'll find something neat to give you." "I'll count on it," Zach replied with a smirk, rising back to his feet. "So what do you want do? Zelda and Holly are still asleep, presumably moving that breakfast Holly mentioned back to lunch." "Let's go explore a bit." Minerva slid her feet over the bed and began to slip on her shoes. "Seeing as I'm not particularly hungry. You?" Zach shook his head. "Good. Let's go." Zach shrugged and pulled on his own shoes and headed out of their house. The island had become mostly quiet. The party was over, that much was certain. All around the island were tents where Dino Attack agents had stayed the night. Some just slept out under the stars with a sleeping bag and that was it. Agents shuffled quietly to the Pizzeria to pick up some breakfast before packing up their things and preparing to leave the island. In between all this, the agents communicated with both each other and the citizens, expressing their thanks for the party. A strange sense of finality washed over Zach. After today, they would most likely never see these agents, the people he fought alongside for months, again. It was a rather morbid thought. Minerva and Zach walked through the relatively small chaos in the town, simply talking. At one point, it was about current events involved with reconstruction and rumors of trials for members of XERRD. Regardless of whether they switched sides in the end or that they were manipulated by the Darkitect, people wanted to see punishment. Their conversation slowly drifted into pop culture and began to discuss menial things like music, movies, books, and video games. Ever since the end of the war, he found himself enjoying just simple conversation more than before. Especially when conversations a few weeks ago were almost always related to the war in some way, shape or form. "I was looking around on the internet while you were showering," Zach began as they drifted by the radio station. "Now that the war over, analysts think that pop culture is going to take over the history of the Dino Attack." "I'm not terribly surprised. Find anything to prove these guys, right?" "I found a rumor from a supposedly credible website that those guys who make the Call of Unity, Duty, Destiny video games are going to adapt the Dino Attack into a first-person shooter. Or two. They're supposedly trying to get into contact with big-named vets to voice characters based on them. Then there is supposedly a TV show and a movie being made and even more video games based around it. No toys or other merchandise, other than the 'Dino Attack Vet' shirt or something of that like. I'm waiting for a power metal concept album telling the big story of the Dino Attack with Christopher Lee narrating it, personally." Minerva smirked. "Interesting. I suppose if it sells." "Regardless of the 'Too Soon' rule, I guess. Then there's the less-vain documentaries and TV specials aimed to inform people about the true horrors of the war and of course the multiple memorials being erected all around the world. There's always good and bad. There are also ways to make the bad good." He paused. "What an interesting slice of social commentary." "Way to be self-aware," Minerva said with a laugh. Then she added, "Christopher Lee?" "The guy loves heavy metal and he's narrated albums for the band Requiem of Ice, what can I say? And I love his voice about as much as Morgan Freeman's..." After a short debate of whose voice was better to listen to, Christopher Lee or Morgan Freeman, their conversation drifted away from pop culture to immediate future events. "When are we going to the States?" Minerva asked as they walked past the bank. "I was personally thinking within a few days, more or less. We're probably help with rebuilding their house before holding any Christmas festivities." "Alright. Hopefully, any other family of yours that will be there will be as excited as your mother when she met me." The back of Zach's neck grew warm. Erika and James Virchaus and their two youngest children, Desiree and Kayla, had stopped on LEGO Island long enough just to reunite with their eldest son and brother. Zach had been tearfully and happily embraced by his mother, clearly happy to see her son alive. Surprisingly, she had apologized for giving him up to the Infomaniac to live on LEGO Island. He hadn't particularly cared about growing up on LEGO Island, considering how much he loved LEGO Island, but he accepted it nonetheless. And then Erika, upon realizing Minerva was "the girl he talked about" in the letter he had sent her, embraced Minerva tightly and was very keen on getting to know her son's girlfriend. And then Desi and Kayla had seen fit to make fun of him privately from the sidelines. In between the both of them embracing him, thankful for his survival as well. "Oh, heh," Zach mumbled. "I think she was a bit fearful I didn't make it. She was listening to Theano's and Scott's reports on the radio and didn't hear anything really about me besides a passing mention from Andrew about 'fighting witches' and 'deconstructing a Teleport Pad'. She just about blew my eardrum out when I called her and told her I was alive." Minerva smirked. "That doesn't explain why she was so keen on seeing me." "Oh. Yeah. I suppose all those times of hounding me about when I was going to get a girlfriend lead to that. Okay, enough." Zach said, crossing his arms as Minerva laughed openly. "I told you she would react that way." "I thought you were being sarcastic like always!" Minerva chortled. "I don't realize you were telling the truth." She laughed again. Zach smiled half-heartedly as Minerva punched him on the shoulder. "Is your mom eccentric? Cause that's the impression I get. No offense." "None taken, and not really. Like I said, she was probably a bit hysterical over the whole 'me going to fight a war against super-powered dinosaurs'." Minerva paused. "You get along with them rather well for them leaving you on this island when you were a baby." Zach scratched the back of his head, unsure about how to go around the subject. "They were afraid, simply put. Probably like I would be a target of random zombie attacks or something. Mom was pregnant with Desi at the time, and they were both torn up on how to go about it before deciding that I was ultimately safer under the Infomaniac's eye and that living on LEGO Island would ultimately help face this destiny, which it kinda did. They're both guilty about it now while I'm just sort of 'meh' on the subject." "Hmph. You're family's weird like mine. A different kind of weird, I suppose, but weird." Zach laughed. "I suppose that's a logical assumption." They continued to Brickolini's Pizzeria, where they saw Mama and Papa Brickolini speaking to the Infomaniac. As they passed by, the Infomaniac turned and his head seemed to pop off his neck. He walked briskly to the duo, grinning happily. "Good to see you two again!" the Infomaniac cried out happily. "I hope you are getting acquainted to the island quickly, Zachary?" "Oh, yeah, definitely." Zach said, grinning as he took the Infomaniac's hand. "It's great to be back." The Infomaniac beamed before looking to Minerva. "Superb! And Minerva Fabello, our brand-new citizen! Once again, I must welcome you to LEGO Island! How has living here treated you so far?" Minerva smiled nervously at the Infomaniac. "It's really great. I love it here. Thanks for opening up a spot for me." "You're welcome!" the Infomaniac exclaimed, clapping Minerva's hand. "The citizens of the island are more than happy to welcome in a new face, regardless of your... eh... previous situation." Minerva had elaborated on her past for the Infomaniac upon being greeted by him a week ago, primarily to explain half her reason for moving to the island. "Yeah, I-" "Hey, Zach, Minerva!" Pepper Roni called out as he rolled up to Brickolini's on his skateboard. "You should get back up to your house. I just delivered a couple of pizzas to that space dudette that's been crashing with you." "Be on your way," the Infomaniac said as he turned to Pepper. "I need to get Pepper up to date on the current Brickster situation. Now that the party is over, that blockhead will surely do something dastardly or try escape the island." Zach and Minerva nodded their heads and quickly made their way back up to their home. They found Zelda and Holly outside at a picnic table, a stack of pizza boxes surrounded by snacks, and large bottles of soda. "How often do you eat pizza here?" Minerva asked as they approached. "A considerable amount. Not to say that other food isn't around, but pizza is LEGO Island's big thing. We won't be having pizza seven days a week, three meals a day, if that's what you're wondering." "There you two are." Holly said, clapping her hands. She was in a black AC-DC shirt with jeans and appeared to have freshly washed hair tied into its regular ponytail. "Sorry that the breakfast plans fell through. Lunch will suffice?" "I think so," Zach replied, taking a seat at the table. Minerva sat herself down beside him and they both took slices of pizza. "At least it's still relatively early," Zelda said. She wore her regular black jacket over a World City University t-shirt. "I imagine you both realize this will be our last meal together. For a while, at least." Zach and Minerva nodded. They knew it had been coming. They all knew they would part eventually. Now that it slapping him in the face, sadness started to consume him. While he would still be with Minerva, he had become such close friends to Holly Vinyaya and Zelda Frodongan. Bonded together by war and the events immediately following, he could almost see both as sisters and, at least in Holly's case, a cool aunt or something. "Are you both leaving after lunch?" Zach asked. Silently, the two nodded. "Then let's make this last meal a good one." Their final lunch was filled with food, talk, laughter as it always was. The laughter seemed to be extra loud this time around, knowing that their time together was slipping away. They mostly discussed the strange and humorous scenes from the party the previous night. At some point their laughter became so hysterical that soda had come out Zelda's nose, igniting even more laughter. At some point they managed to calm down. The inevitable discussion of their own futures came up. "I really can't see both of you just 'settling down'," Zelda pointed out to Zach and Minerva, dipping a tortilla chip in salsa. "Yes, we're all a little tired of fighting after the war, but you both are young, strong, smart, and talented. I'm sure some fighting organization wouldn't mind having either of you." "Well," Zach began. "Minerva and I decided that around May or June, we're going to catch a ship to the Nimbus System and join the Nexus Force and help them defeat the Maelstrom once and for all." Holly closed her eye and nodded slowly. "It seems rather appropriate, considering how much the Maelstrom affected you both personally. Any idea of what faction you want to join?" "I was thinking Paradox. Between its whole 'studying and using the Maelstrom against itself', their somewhat darker outlook, and the fact they are led by someone who used to work under Baron Typhonus, I figure me, the former Stromling, outta fit right in." "I'm not really sure about myself," Minerva said. "I was looking up the factions earlier this morning. None of them really define me. Right now, I'm leaning toward the Venture League or Paradox. I'll probably make decision when I've had more time to think about it." "Whatever faction you chose to align to," Zelda concluded. "you'll both do great in the Nexus Force. The Darkitect and his army of slaves won't know what hit 'em." They all chuckled in agreement and raised their glasses to this sentiment. "So what about you, Zelda?" Minerva asked. "I'll be heading to World City and celebrate with my friends and family with a bit and help them rebuild. Then I think I'm going to go out into space. Explore every corner of the universe. Hone my skills. Maybe find that space ninja temple and see what I can do there. I was kind of thinking of doing what Nazareno did concerning Vherestorm on a wider-scale. A vigilante, I guess." "So you can be the Batman to Holly's Gordon, right?" Zach put in. "Because that would be cool." Minerva and Zelda snickered at this remark. "I guess you could say that," Zelda shrugged, still chuckling. "I - we - wish you the best of luck on that," Holly said, tapping Zelda on the shoulder. "With a little training, in a few years you will be greater than Nazareno and Darkling combined." "He'd be proud, Zelda," Minerva added. Zelda smiled and bit her lip, nodding in agreement as they raised their plastic cups to Zelda as well. "What about you, Holly?" Zelda asked. "Head back to Space Policing?" "I believe Ryan and I will swing by my hometown and reunited with some old friends like Zelda," Holly explained. "Help with rebuilding and the like. Maybe see any of his Earth friends if he's up for it." She then pointed to her eyepatch. "Then we'll head up into space and I'll probably get a new eye. As interesting an experience it was going with one eye, I'd much rather have two, considering my line of work. Hopefully, with technology today, it'll resemble a regular eye. Maybe get it in a color different from my left eye to mess with people." Everyone snorted at this. Zach decided that when Holly was relaxed, she could be a rather amusing person. "Then what?" Minerva asked. "Take a vacation for a bit. Relaxing here on the island has taught me I need as much. Read Carl Sagan, date Ryan, and so on. Then I'll get back to work with the Space Police. As emotionally, mentally, and physically charging this war was, nothing could stop me from working the best job in the universe." "What about the scars?" Zach asked. Holly stopped and thought for a moment. Finally, she continued speaking. "I'll keep them. The Imagination fallout from the Einstein Device helped eliminate most of the pain. And I could use these scars to tell varying war stories to Space Police cadets to spoke them." Everyone snorted again. "Most importantly, the scars will remind me what happened on this planet in 2010 and the friends I made fighting here." Zach, Minerva, and Zelda nodded in absolute silence, once again raising their glasses. It was almost 2:30 PM. Finally, Holly spoke up again. "We should probably get going, Zelda. Don't want it to be too late." Zelda merely nodded. They all rose from the table and headed to the path. Zach felt a small tear form in his eye. He knew Zelda and Holly were better off heading down their own paths, but he so wanted them to stay on the island with him and Minerva. As they reached the path, they began to say their goodbyes before they found Bluetooth and headed off. Holly and Minerva embraced tightly and so did Zelda and Zach. "I am glad we got to bond for a bit. You are now that cool older sister I never wanted but am glad to have," Zach said to her. "Now you go and be the Batman of space." Zelda laughed airily. "I'll keep that idea in mind. You better design me a batsignal or something." She squeezed Zach tightly. "I really wish none of us had to leave each other. You guys are the best friends I've ever had. At least you and Minerva get to stay together. Judging by the way you to acted around each other last night up, your 'visit' to the Residential Area with her, and the stories about you two from the war, you guys are going to be hard to split up." "Heh. We pretty much decided before the final battle that only death was going to split us. Though it would be nice if we could all be together, fighting bad guys. Though considering we'll all be off this planet eventually. And you're traveling all over the universe. Hopefully we'll cross paths in the Nimbus System at some point. Maybe Holly will drop by on some routine check-up or something." Zelda smiled as they pulled away from each other. "Maybe. A bit unlikely, but you never know." As Minerva went to share one more embrace with Zelda, Zach went to Holly. To his surprise, Holly pulled him into a hug as well. "Hugging me, Holly?" Zach asked with amusement. "You're a sarcastic and annoying person, Zachary," Holly said, somewhat exasperated. "Regardless, you're a good kid. Both you and Minerva are. A bit too emotionally invested in things for my taste, but I see that it is both a flaw and a perk." Zach chuckled, causing Holly to crush him briefly in her arms before they pulled away. "Thanks, I suppose. And just so you know, if you ever end up getting hitched to Bluetooth become Holly Radcliff or something, you'll always be 'Vinyaya' to me." Holly snorted, grinning. "I'm counting on that, Virchaus." She slapped him on the back, causing him to flinch before they pulled away at last. The four of them stepped back, looking at each other with faint smiles. "I suppose this is it," Minerva said. "The true end to the 'Dino Attack' chapter of our lives," Holly noted. They all nodded slowly, none of them speaking for almost a minute. Zach swallowed painfully. He really didn't want to put meeting Holly or Zelda up to chance. Yes, they could communicate with typed messages and video chat thanks to today's technology, but they would all certainly grow busy in next several months and prevent any proper communication. "Maybe... We should all get together sometime," Zach said finally. They all turned their glance to him. "Once a year, around this time. We all head back for Earth and hang out, whether here, LEGO City, or wherever. To remember old memories and to create new ones. I don't think I'm quite ready to let us all part ways with only a passing glance being chance of us seeing each other." The three women looked at each other. "That sounds great," Zelda responded. "I'm all for that," Holly added. "I like the sound of that," Minerva concluded, grinning. Zach smiled. "I love you guys - er - gals," Zach said. The three women nodded, obviously sharing his sentiment with each other. "You guys are the greatest friends I've ever had. Thanks..." He drifted off, letting his warm emotions wash over him. Even through the chaos, the betrayals, the corruption, and the horror he had witnessed, he felt thankful he had been a part of saving the planet and getting the opportunity to meet the friends he had. Minerva, Nazareno, Holly, Zelda, Andrew, Laxus, Thaddeus, Bluetooth, Pterisa, Raider, Semick, Raine, Marco, J.D., and more had all become a part of his still-being-written and story and left an impact greater than he would ever fully realize. "Thanks," Zach said with long, final sigh. "For everything. For being with me in the greatest ride of our lives." ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  6. Chapter 76: Sorrow and Joy ---- December 22, 2010, Dawn Slowly, Frozeen inhaled a breath of fresh air. The atmosphere had that cool, refreshing, after-rain taste to it. It had finally stopped raining, or at least it was drizzling so lightly that Frozeen no longer even noticed, although Frozeen could feel a bit of a cold wind picking up. It was colder than before, finally starting to feel like winter, but the rejuvenation brought upon by the victory over the Mutant Dinos had certainly kept Frozeen warm. But as winter, the season of death, had begun, Frozeen now found himself in a place of death. Since Rex had no Minifig family, and Frozeen personally doubted that Chompy believed in customary Minifig memorial and burial services, it seemed only fitting to look for the family plot of his late wife, Amanda. Only a quick bit of research told him where to find the Remous family plot. A bit more research informed Frozeen of some background history on the Remous family, including their rather wealthy status... and a terrible fate that shivered Frozeen's spine. But as much as Frozeen wished it were not true, the evidence lay before him. Two headstones stood before him, rather small and plain in comparison to what might have once been the more extravagant tombstones of their ancestors, but if the sources were true, then these two, small, plain headstones were all that the Remous family could afford. Still, they had miraculously survived the apocalypse itself, still standing to tell the tales of the dead. AMADEUS EDWARD REMOUS 1945-1993 ROSARIA MAE REMOUS 1947-1993 Frozeen was not alone in the graveyard. Accompanying him was Shannon Grimton, who surveyed the area from her seat in the wheelchair. "I remember reading about it in the Daily Brick newspaper when it happened," she said. "It was when we were all assigned that mandatory 'fire safety' research project that we did as freshmen in high school, remember?" Frozeen nodded. "Vaguely. I do seem to recall that our sophomore year chemistry teacher told us that we should have committed acts of arson to get true hands-on experience on the subject. He always was not-so-secretly a pyromaniac." Shannon grinned. "Ah, good old Dr. Mihav; we'll never forget a teacher like him." The smile disappeared from her lips as she continued her story. "A few of my friends and I got together one weekend to work on the project, and we took a bunch of recent newspapers and looked for anything interesting. And, well, we were all horrified to read about what happened. And, although nowadays it's pretty much public knowledge that Don Bricassius was responsible, back then, it was all covered up; unfortunately, this city's police and politicians were corrupt at the time." "Did you get a chance to properly meet Amanda before the final battle?" inquired Frozeen. Shannon shook her head. "Sadly, I'm afraid not. After I broke my legs in that fall, I wasn't allowed to go on missions out of fear for my safety; this was before I started making... adjustments... to my wheelchair. Rex was lucky to have had someone who cared for him so much that she would always be there, by his side, to ensure that he would never have to leave the battlefield where he was needed most just because of his condition." "If there's one thing that Rex taught us," Frozeen mused as he glanced at Shannon's wheelchair, "it's that you don't have to stand to take a stand." "Stop it!" said Shannon, smiling. "I'm serious," replied Frozeen, although he returned a playful smirk. "You are right, though," said Shannon. "If Rex's legacy will be half of what Andrew says it will, then it will certainly send out a strong and motivational message for people like... well, myself, right now. And, although you haven't met Janice yet, I think you can imagine how active I am in supporting people faced with challenges." "Indeed," noted Frozeen. "Anyways, to backtrack a bit, after the death of her parents, Amanda took a vow of silence for a long time." "They really must have loved her," murmured Shannon, "for their deaths to affect her so greatly." "Makes sense, when you think about it," Frozeen pointed out. "You see, when you look at the Latin etymology for the name 'Amanda', you see that it means 'worthy of love'. And, considering what she meant to Rex, I really do think that this was a very fitting name for her." "You didn't tell me you were into linguistics," said Shannon, impressed. Frozeen chuckled. "Thanks to Alpha Team training and private lessons from PBB, I've improved my ability to read and speak other languages. I'm still no expert, but at least I can point out a nerdy fact or two about etymology. And, seeing as it's a rather recent development, it makes sense that you wouldn't have known. There's been a few other... recent developments... that you still need to catch up on." Shannon looked up at Frozeen and pursed her lips. "Peter," she said softly but seriously, "we need to talk. What you said to me, back at Dino Attack Headquarters…" Frozeen cringed, recalling the way he had behaved. "Just forget it, please," he muttered. But Shannon shook her head and would not let it go. "What did you think was going to happen?" she pressed. "That I would drop everything and leave behind my fiancé like some sort of fairytale, just because you professed your love?" "That's just it - I wasn't thinking," admitted Frozeen, rubbing his forehead. "It was something I said recklessly in the heat of the moment because I believed that there was a very real chance one - or both - of us were going to die that night, especially after hearing what happened to Amanda. And I thought that if I never said it, then I would regret it…" "Well, do you feel better now, having gotten it off your chest?" asked Shannon, raising her eyebrows inquisitively. Frozeen winced yet again. "Honestly… no. No, I don't. Because now that we've both survived, I can look back on it and see how stupid and foolish it was of me to say it. It's like senior year all over again. I feared I would regret not saying it, but now all I can feel is regret for actually saying it…" He facepalmed. "Agh, I'm so stupid! Rex could act entirely on emotion, while Greybeard knew how to balance emotion and logic to act with reason… but I'm not like either of them, which is why I keep finding myself blundering blindly like a fool when it comes to things like this." He sighed heavily. "You know, Shannon? The funny thing is... after years of therapy and counseling, I've felt like I've been in control of my autism. I mean, I know it's incurable, but I never really thought of it as presenting itself as a problem during my years in Alpha Team; if anything, it might have even helped me be more effective at my work. I can be detail-oriented, highly-focused, puzzle-solving, calculating… uncompromising, undistracted, even aloof… all excellent traits in an efficient Alpha Team agent. And despite all those years of counseling and feeling like I was in control... when I'm with you, I feel like I'm in high school again, flustered and confused about my emotions, and not sure what to do or how to cope. It's almost like Frozeen is the cool, collected Alpha Team agent while Peter is the dorky, insecure kid." Shannon leaned in towards Frozeen, locking her soothing eyes with his own. "Peter, think. What would all your therapists and counselors, the people who helped guide you through your life, tell you to do right now?" Frozeen averted his eyes and was silent for a moment. "They would want me to clearly project how I really feel," he murmured. "And how do you really feel?" Shannon inquired in a quiet yet compelling tone. "Peter, speak to me. It was true, wasn't it? You meant what you said to me." Slowly, Frozeen managed to raise his eyes back up to meet Shannon's gaze. "Yes, I suppose I did," he confessed. "I've… always… loved you, Shannon. Or, at least, what I can assume is love. I've never been good with understanding emotions, not even my own. I know I'm as bad at handling romance as a socially-inept college freshman writing a poor fan fiction full of lousy love stories. And if I had any hopes that being a secret agent would make me as smooth and suave as James Bond... well, clearly, that isn't the case. But, yes… I do love you, Shannon." Shannon nodded slowly. "Good, Peter. I'm proud of you for being honest with me. However, I know what you're thinking, and it's the same question that drives every lover mad. And… I'm sorry, but you need to know this, so I must tell you: my heart belongs to Stefano D'Angelo. I am in love with him, and I am going to marry him. And while I've always thought of you as a friend, Peter… I have never had romantic feelings toward you." On one hand, it would be a lie to say that Frozeen's heart did not sink at hearing this. Perhaps there was still a part of him that clung onto the hope of that fairytale ending, one where he and Shannon would ride off into the sunset together. But on the other hand, he knew logically that this was what he expected to hear, what he knew he would hear, and most important, what he needed to hear. There was no fairytale dream, and it was time to wake up to reality. Taking in a deep breath, Frozeen nodded. "You're right; I needed to hear that. It helps me stop worrying about what could have been and instead accept what is. It's time that I move on." Shannon took hold of Frozeen's hands and locked eyes with him. "I'm not the one for you, Peter. But she is out there, somewhere. I promise." "I meant what I said to you during the final battle," Frozeen said, "but I also meant what I said earlier in the conference room. Stefano's a great guy, and he's definitely a good match for you, and I really am absolutely sincere when I say that I'm happy for the two of you. After all, I'd much rather see you happy with another man… than to see you unhappy with me." "Thank you, Peter," said Shannon, smiling warmly. "There are many kinds of love, you know. Romantic love is just one of them. It's said that another form of love is shown in being willing to let someone go, for their own happiness. And while I do not feel romantic love towards you, I do care for you. That's why I looked out for you throughout all those years of school." "I just hope things aren't awkward between us now," said Frozeen. "Can we not be bitter around each other, pretending to act polite and cordial even while holding onto resentment over stupid things that I've said? I'd just like to put this all past us, and for things to go back to the way they were before, when we were... friends." Shannon nodded. "Of course we can be friends, Peter. We're friends right now, aren't we?" Frozeen smiled. "I suppose so." Glancing back at the headstones of Mr. and Mrs. Remous, Frozeen changed the subject. "Anyways, I was thinking that we could, you know, have Amanda's burial and Rex's memorial service held here, seeing as Rex does not really have a family plot of his own, despite his connections to the Alexander and Schattenberg families. It would be a bittersweet ending, but I would think that Rex and Amanda would have wanted to be together forever, even in death, and it's only fitting that their tombstones should be together. And, of course, Roger too; the man deserves some recognition for all that he's done for his sister." "At last," murmured Shannon, "the Remous family would be reunited, together in the end." ---- The sun shone brightly as Montoya pulled his truck to a stop. He could see that familiar seaside cabin he'd found all those years ago as he opened the door and stepped outside. The door to the cabin opened, and Debbie, that beautiful wife of his, stepped out in her apron, her long dark hair tied into a ponytail. The two ran to each other and embraced. "I was so worried about you!" Debbie said, her eyes filled with tears. "When that man phoned me and asked about you…" "It's okay," Montoya replied. "It's all over now. My life in crime is over. From now on, we try to make the best for our kids, okay?" Debbie nodded, and together they went inside. ---- At sunset, a small crowd was gathered on one of the docks in LEGO City Harbour. Osprey glanced around at those present: Zachary Virchaus, Desdemona, Hugh Yena, Raine Dashworthy, and Jinx, along with many of the other Agents who had been present in the recent battle. The Agents were accompanied by a good number of Dino Attack agents, most of whom Osprey did not know, though he was able to pick out Helm, Giles, Kat, and Hotwire, who appeared to be in a wheelchair. Osprey raised the torch in his hand, turned, and walked to the end of the dock. Before him, bobbing on the tide, lay the lifeless bodies of Winston and Matthias Grendelwulf -- the former clutching his sword, and the latter his dual SMGs (unloaded, of course) -- atop a wooden pyre built on an old wooden dinghy. He paused, recalling Epic Winston's last moments in the infirmary that morning. He'd argued at length over the warrior's choice to refuse treatment for his wounds. "Half a two-man army is no army at all," Winston had said with finality, and Osprey had, in the end, little choice but to accept the man's decision, and to ask for the specifics of the rites Winston wished for himself and his brother. "Say nothing," he had instructed, "only think of us." Taking a deep breath, Osprey cast the torch onto the pyre, then bent as the wood began to catch and unmoored the boat. He gave it a shove, and was joined by Dashworthy and Jinx. The dinghy was soon caught by the waves and began to drift towards the darkening horizon. Those gathered watched solemnly as, in the golden rays of the setting sun, the boat and its valiant passengers lit up like a dying star. ---- December 23, 2010, Sunset "WHEEEEEEEEEEEL OF TIIIIIIMME!!" Zach sang triumphantly to the song playing on the radio of the Dino 4WD Trapper. "SAVE MY SOUL, FIND A WAY!! AND IF I FAIL, WILL IT ALL BE OVER?!!?" "Would you please-?!" Vinyaya snapped over the loud music. "THE WHEEEEEEEL OF TIME!" Zach interrupted as the vehicle barreled down the gravel roads of the outskirts of LEGO City. Vinyaya rolled her eye, a half-amused smile on her face as she leaned against the cooler in the middle of the backseat. Zelda's eyes were closed as she sat back, an amused smile. Minerva bobbed her head to the music, snicker all the while. "THE VISIONS SO FLEETING AND VAGUE! ONCE AGAIN I WILL BRING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN! ONE LAST GLIMPSE IT IS CONSTANTLY SLIPPIIIIIIIING!!!" The guitars, bass, and drums of the music played a bit before fading into an entirely orchestral interlude that sounded vaguely like a piece from a soundtrack from a movie with an Arabic setting. Minerva turned down the volume. "I think that's good, Zach." "Thank Builder," Vinyaya muttered. "Hey, what's your issue with Block Guardian?" Zach asked, smirking. "Not my cup of tea. You practically screaming the lyrics doesn't help." "These songs are written in caps lock, Vinyaya," retorted Zach. "It's not the same if you don't belt out every word in the most dramatic way possible." "Do we have to listen to it, though? Not entirely symbolic to the war. Not really a victory song." "No, but I've been waiting for this album, got distracted with the Agents, and I've taken a liking to this song particularly. It's tempting me to read the books the song was inspired by." Vinyaya merely shook her head. "You do know where we are going, don't you, Minerva?" Minerva nodded as she turned another corner. "Yeah. It's an old house I used to visit with friends when I was a bit younger to..." Minerva suddenly drifted off, her face turning red. Zach quickly put together that where they were going was a home Minerva had robbed at one point or another. "Anyway, the couple doesn't live there anymore. The wife died and the man was taken to a home. It's old, worn down, and nobody has gone there for years. If the fire were to get out of control, nothing of value would be lost." This place they were heading would be Kareem Nazareno's final resting place. During the night after the final battle, Vinyaya contacted Space Police central, who were able to give her a line to the (or a, Zach wasn't really sure) space ninja temple and shared the news of Nazareno's passing. The elder that had responded expressed sadness at his death and ultimately gave permission for them to send Nazareno off. He had even been kind enough to list some traditions the space ninja followed during funerals. "Ah, there it is," Minerva said. The Dino 4WD Tracker rolled into the driveway of an isolated acreage surrounded by miles of empty fields that were used for farming. The old, pale yellow house looked on the verge of collapse. Paint was peeling and bricks were coming loose and missing from the building. The Dino 4WD Tracker parked in a grassy field near the house. The group shuffled out of the Fire Hammer and went to work. Zelda and Vinyaya climbed into the back of the vehicle and handed down a wooden table to Zach and Minerva. Setting it up, Minerva gestured to a pile of firewood stacked against a shed that looked like it had been ruined by a passing Mutant Raptor. As they went to work building the pyre, Zach spoke to Minerva. "Why did you remember this place?" he asked. "Does it-?" "Not really," Minerva said, shooting a glance to the house. "The couple didn't hate me. My friends and I use to come out in and cause trouble. Steal things, vandalize property, and so on because we were stupid teenagers who thought they couldn't do anything to stop us. Then, around the fifth time we went here, as we were leaving, the man who lived here was waiting for us on the edge of his property. Everyone ran away except for me. Mostly because I was afraid what would happen since this old guy had the nerve to wait for us. He coaxed me into his house and had me explain what we were doing at his house. I sheepishly returned some of the food I stole from them and explained why." "So what did they do?" "They told me how they used to take in a lot of kids like me when they were 'not as old as they were now'. They molded them into successful and happy adults and taught them all sort of useful skills, apparently. One of their 'kids' apparently became famous across the universe, but wouldn't tell me who he was, though they were kind of sad about it. They said if they could've, they would've offered to take me in. But they were too old and in poor health. They just gave me the food I was trying to take and sent me away, no charges filed." "Did you ever go back?" Zach asked as they placed a bunch of chunks of wood under the table. "Yeah. Like I said, me and my friends were a bunch of stupid teenagers. They didn't like how the man had outsmarted him, so they'd visit his house and break windows and spray-paint walls. I was always sent inside to steal some stupid thing or money. I think they knew that, but didn't care. There was always what looked like a grocery bag sitting on the counter with tons of food. I took it once instinctively and later found money hidden inside boxes. They were trying to help me, I suppose. They knew I was the only one that cared about getting food in my group. Once I figured out what they were doing, I never missed an opportunity to go their house. We could last a month on the food they left for us, and the money helped pay for basic necessities." Zach blinked. "Huh." They worked in silence for a few minutes before Zach asked. "How did your...ah, meeting with Saran go?" Minerva shrugged faintly. "It went about as well as you think something of that subject matter would. But it's for the best, right? I really appreciate having talked to you about what happened the past two days, but talking to a professional should be beneficial." Zach nodded. The day after the final battle, with a mixture of celebrating with friends, they had finally discussed what had went down with her and Oswald during the battle. Minerva held up rather well as she described it with vivid detail. She had choked up multiple times, but seemed relieved in telling someone the whole story. After revealing her brief conversation with Baron Typhonus and Dr. Rex, Minerva's story ended with her simply weeping. Zach didn't say anything or judge, he just made sure that she knew she was there. The next day, she announced her intentions to see Dr. Nicholas Saran about it. "He thinks I could be a lot worse off, but we're going to have a session once a week for the next couple of weeks. Then he'll evaluate my progress and decide if we should continue," Minerva concluded softly, squeezing Zach's hand. He didn't say anything. He only wondered if he would end up suffering some kind of PTSD. At very least, he anticipated Maelstrom-related nightmares once his sleep schedule returned completely to normal. "I think that's good for now," Minerva said as she set down the last stack of logs in her hands. Vinyaya and Zelda carried a wooden casket to the table and set it down gently. They removed the lid and set it on the ground silently. The four gathered around the casket quietly and looked upon the peaceful body of Kareem Nazareno. Zach never really imagined what Nazareno had looked like underneath his cowl and had almost preferred if that had stayed a mystery. "So," Vinyaya said finally. They turned their eyes from Nazareno to Vinyaya. She had left behind her Space Police armor and was in her Zero Suit. "Anyone want to say anything before we do this?" They waited in silence for several minutes before Minerva stepped forward. "Thanks for being there, Nazareno," she said, her voice cracking slightly. "When Zach was corrupted and when J.D. died. Thanks for being one of the first friends I made in the team. Thanks for your advice. You were one of the most mild-mannered people I knew. Except during Rotor's kangaroo court." The group chuckled faintly. "Thanks for the hand," Zach said, lifting his polished gold hand into view. "Both of them. I'll make sure not bust up this one. Sorry for trying to kill you twice. You were about the coolest person I had ever seen when we met back in the rear guard camp. You were smart and had a dry sense of humor I could appreciate." "You are among the greatest men I've ever known," Holly said calmly. "You were strong, powerful, and brave. Thinking about it now, you were a bit of a legend in the Space Police. The guy who could take on Matthew Vherestorm. I know many people who will never meet you see you as an inspiration. And beneath your somewhat cold demeanor, I saw as you fought against Vherestorm in HQ that you cared for all of us." "I..." Zelda said, pausing to regain her composure. "I'm glad to have known you, Kareem. You helped me integrate back into the team after I became a Minifig again. You taught me so much. If you were a bit icy, you were kind, wise, and powerful. Even if you were insecure romantically, I hope you knew how much everyone loved you. I'm honored that I got to fought alongside you two days ago. Even though we'll never be able to explore a deeper relationship, I'll never forget you. I... love you, Kareem." Zelda swallowed painfully before leaning forward and kissing Nazareno's cold forehead. She then reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out Nazareno's white cowl. She carefully lifted his head and masked his face away for the last time. Holly looked around at the assembled group, then closed her eye. Simultaneously, Zelda, Zach, and Minerva closed their eyes. They might have been praying. They might have been simply paying their last respects to Nazareno. They opened their eyes after a minute of silence. "I think we're ready," Holly said finally. Minerva nodded and walked briskly over to the Dino 4WD Tracker and pulled out a can of gasoline from the back. She splashed it on the pyre below the table and set the can to the side. Vinyaya pulled a box of matches from her belt, lit a match, and tossed into the pile of wood. The wood burst into flames immediately. In a few minutes, the wooden table started to burn as well. Zach looked up to the sky. The sun was almost completely below the horizon. "Well, the elder ninja's message said this ritual often included celebrating the life of the fallen. Instead of making this a bitter occasion, it should be a little more bittersweet. We just won a war. This is the best and probably the only time for our band to all be together at the same time." "He's right," Zelda said finally. "We're going to be celebrating for the next week. One more celebration won't hurt. Go get the cooler out, Zach." He nodded to her and jogged to the jeep. He pulled out the heavy container and carried it over to the fire. Already, Minerva, Zelda, and Vinyaya were sitting in the grass. the latter two whispering into the former's ear. Minerva's mouth curled into an amused grin. Zach set the cooler down next to them, he turned and saw the three women grinning at him, causing his face to turn red. "I... what were you talking about?" Zach asked. They didn't say anything, but their grins didn't fade. Zach's embarrassment faded into minor annoyance. "You're not going to tell me, are you?" "Catch on pretty quick, don't you?" Zelda said as she pulled out a bottle of cola. "And so now that this little group has just one guy, I get to be the butt of your jokes, right?" Vinyaya chuckled as she opened a bottle of root beer. "At least you picked a smart one, Minerva. Right on the mark, Zach." "Fine then, Holly," Zach snapped jokingly. To his surprise, Vinyaya only scoffed at him and didn't correct him. A wide grin quickly formed on his face. "Aha! I've earned the glorious honor of calling her by her first name! Holly Holly Holly Holly Holly Holly Hoooooooooooooollyyyyyyy!" "You can stop embarrassing yourself in front of all your women friends, Zach," Vinyaya retaliated. Zelda and Minerva laughed playfully. "Ouch," Zach said, clutching his chest in mock pain. "That stung." Zach then moved and took a seat beside Minerva and pulled out a bottle of orange soda. They spent the next several hours sitting around the fire and sharing war stories. Zach described his more harrowing adventurers as an Agent while Vinyaya described exciting missions she took part in as a Space Police officer. Being in the team longer than the rest of them, Zelda described her experiences in the Goo Caverns, on LEGO Island, and in the Torn World. As she spoke, she mentioned meeting an agent Verrat. "Verrat?" Minerva repeated, shocked. Zelda nodded, a confused glint in her eye. Minerva sighed weakly. "He is... was my brother." "He was?" Zelda asked, surprised. "I saw him during the final battle. He was trying to the get the headquarters-" "So he could capture me, Minerva, and their mother," Zach interrupted bluntly. "He was working with XERRD. He was taken from LEGO Island and converted into believing the Darkitect's plans." Zelda stared at Minerva in shock. Vinyaya cleared her throat uncomfortably and addressed Minerva. "Do you mind me asking why your mother was brought into the battlefield?" Vinyaya asked gently. "You don't have to if you-" "I trust you guys," Minerva interrupted, sighing. "There's a story to it. It might be a while, but seeing as we're not going anywhere..." Minerva went into an abridged version of past. Zelda and Vinyaya listened intently. As she finished her story, the two sat there in stunned silence. "I'm-" Zelda began. "Don't," Minerva said calmly. "I really just... don't." "Well then," Vinyaya said. "I suppose I'll share some of my past as well..." And their stories drifted into their childhoods. Zach described the Brickster's antics on LEGO Island and going to and from the United States to see his parents. Zelda told of traveling the high seas as a young girl with her pirate parents and eventually being adopted by a family in World City after the Skeleton Pirate War escalated to the point where her mother was killed. Vinyaya told of suddenly living out with the Futuron and experiences culture shock as she saw a variety of species, technology, and worlds. At around 11:30, they began to sing carols welcoming in the holiday season many thought they wouldn't have. Zach was even able to finish listening to "Wheel of Time" by Block Guardian. Their conversations drifted into jokes and random stories, both funny and not. By 1:00 AM, the group was most quiet as they stared at the fire. The temperature had dropped and they were all wrapped in blankets. "So, Holly," Zach suddenly began after finishing a chug of orange soda. Minerva was sitting beside him, her head resting on his shoulder as she tried to stop herself from fall asleep. Vinyaya and Zelda were sitting together with two sticks, discuss methods of roasting marshmallows. As Vinyaya made a s'more from her marshmallow and began to eat, she looked at Zach with half-closed eyes. "What's with you and Bluetooth?" Vinyaya rolled her eye and swallowed. "Figured you'd bring it up again." "It's been two days since I inquired anything about it," Zach shot back. "I'm never going to drop it until I get a straight answer. Something you never seem to give." "Fine. I spoke to him after we Darkling and Martinet cleaned up my wounds. We sat around near the celebrations and just sort of... talked." "Talked," Zelda repeated as she chewed on her s'more, a smug grin on her face. "So are the shippers going to rejoice?" Zach continued impatiently, yawning. "You keep beating around the bush. It's like a writer trying to milk the shippers for all their worth." Vinyaya's eye narrowed. "I think we're going to start... something." "I can't really tell if you and Bluetooth are more romantically awkward than all of us," Minerva mumbled, her eyes still closed. "Or you're just embarrassed about us talking about your love life." Vinyaya silently fumed at this, her face turning bright red. "I think 'something' means they're dating now." Zach clapped his hands. "You pulled through, Holly. You pulled through. Bluetooth a good guy. I'm happy for you. You two better being going to LEGO Island for that party. You too, Zelda." "I think that was the plan," Vinyaya said. Zelda merely nodded before laying back and curling up in her blanket. The fire had lost much of its luster. Vinyaya yawned. "I think sleep sounds nice." Minerva was breathing softly on his shoulder. "I think so, too," Zach said as he watched Vinyaya lay back on the ground. "G'night Holly. Zelda." They both grumbled something incomprehensible. Zach laid back and carefully laid Minerva on the ground beside him. She stirred. "What's going on...?" Minerva muttered faintly. "Going to sleep," Zach said. "Hmm... okay." Minerva turned her head toward Zach and kissed his cheek. "One more burial tomorrow." "Then it's party time. Again." Minerva chuckled quietly before rolling away from him and falling asleep. Zach closed his eyes, letting the blissful feeling he had felt the last few hours drown him in sleep. ***** December 24, 2010, around 10:30 AM Light gray clouds surrounded LEGO City. Zach shivered slightly and squeezed his jacket closer to his body. The temperature was low, and he had heard predictions that it would snow today. As he stood in this graveyard, he didn't doubt it. Minerva stood by him, one hand tucked into the pocket of her dark red coat and the other munching on a piece of bacon. She was cold as well, but seemed much more adapt to it. She looked at Zach and grinned. "Living on a tropical island isn't very cold, is it?" "No," Zach said as he took a sip of hot chocolate from his insulated cup. Minerva gestured to him briefly, so he handed it to her. "I go to the U.S. every winter. Ninety percent of the time, there's four feet of snow on the ground. Never get used to it." Minerva finished her sip and handed the cup back to him. "Not exactly ideal, but I suppose it fits the mood. Dreary, bitter, at the dawn of winter...perfect for a funeral, I suppose." Zach smirked. "It's better than the cliché 'raining at the funeral', I suppose." Minerva snickered before shuffling close to him as a cold blast of wind struck them. "At least LEGO Island will be warm." "'Always perfect weather on LEGO Island.' Isn't that what Ed Mail said?" Minerva asked. "Heh, yeah." They were just making small talk as a lone digging vehicle sat in the cemetery, scooping dirt and mulch out of the ground so they could place the casket nearby inside. Inside the casket was the body of Athena Fabello. The plan was to bury Minerva's mother and head on to LEGO Island for the party whose word had quickly spread around the Dino Attack's allies. Athena's body had been flown back from Antarctica, along with a special-looking casket and a new tombstone. Zach quietly bent down and pulled away overgrown grass surrounding a tombstone half-buried in the ground, most likely thanks to a Mutant Raptor or something. Its inscription was faded from weathering, but there was no doubt what it said. TOD FABELLO 1987 - 2004 "How often did you visit them?" Zach asked as he rose to his feet. No doubt a ruined stone for Isaac Fabello laid somewhere. "Twice a year," Minerva said plainly. "Oswald and I would come on the anniversaries of their deaths. We always did, no matter what." Zach looked over to the stone lying by the casket. It looked a million times better than Tod's lying in the ground. "Nice of your aunt to do that. Get a stone that would last ages." Minerva nodded. "I called her early on Wednesday. We've barely communicated before now, but seeing as she's my only relative on the planet and Mom was her sister, I decided she should know. I suppose I wouldn't say she's bad, more... I don't really know, actually. After Mom went crazy, Aunt Ginny never talked to us. I guess she might have been embarrassed or sad about what happened to her sister and communicating with us would only bring back bad memories." Minerva shrugged. "Though I guess the Dino Attack might have changed her. She seemed relieved to hear I was alive and couldn't speak for a while after hearing what happened to Oswald and Mom, and she got real mad when she learned Napoleon XIV had lied to her about Mom and muttered something about a lawsuit. I told about what we planned to do and she immediately offered to pay for a tombstone and casket to place her on. I was really surprised, to tell you the truth. I told her she could come up to LEGO City and join us today if she wanted." "And she refused." Minerva nodded. "She seemed uncertain about what to do, but eventually decided not to come up. I imagine she'll come here by herself when everything comes back to normal." Zach silently mused as he watched the digger pull away from the hole. There was no real relationship between Ginerva Chase and Minerva, other than they were related to each other. And, from Minerva's "matter-of-fact" tone, there never would be a relationship. It seemed Ginny regretted never bonding with her niece and made up for it by making sure her family rested here with some level of grandeur. "Thanks," Minerva said, shaking the man driving the digger's hand as he returned from parking his vehicle. The man merely smiled and stood to the side and Minerva and Zach walked up to the dark red casket, their hands intertwined. Athena Fabello laid peacefully inside of it. Her torn and ruined clothes from before had been removed and replaced with a plain black dress. Just like Nazareno, she seemed extremely at peace in her state. Minerva touched her mother's cheek with a cold hand, smiling sadly. "I hope you're happy, wherever you are," Minerva whispered shakingly. Her eyes then widened as she saw a photograph being held down by Athena's folded over hands. Minerva quietly slid out the picture and held it in front of herself and Zach. It was a picture of a little boy with blond hair, dressed as neat as a child could be and grinning at the camera goofily. Minerva laughed quietly, a small tear sinking out of her eye. She carefully returned the picture of Oswald to her mother's hands and closed her eyes. "Thanks for being there. Things are better for you now. I know it." Minerva quietly closed the casket and, with Zach and the man's help, moved it over the rectangular hole in the ground and lowered into the Earth with rope. As the man returned to his digger to return the dirt over the hole, Minerva and Zach carried the tombstone over to a small, rectangular crater in the ground a bit to the left of Athena's resting place. Tucking it into the ground, Zach and Minerva stepped back and looked at the stone. The names were arranged in two rows: one for the elders, one for the offspring. FABELLO ISAAC ATHENA 1958 – 1996 1956 - 2010 OSWALD TOD 1986 – 2010 1987-2004 Minerva stood there in silence for five minutes. Zach could only guess at what she was thinking. What he knew, however, was that the Fabellos had reunited at last. Both in a physical and spiritual state. There might be a lot of explaining to do, but Athena, Isaac, Oswald, and Tod would finally be a family again. He shot a glance at Minerva again. Her family was together again, but was missing their youngest member. It was a bittersweet parting indeed. Zach snaked his hand into Minerva's. "They'll be waiting for you, Minerva." Minerva swallowed and nodded. They would be expecting her in many years. She turned away from the stone and together they began to walk toward their Dino 4WD Tracker. Neither said anything until Minerva looked up and pointed. "Look." It was barely visible, but it was there. A snowflake. A shiver traveled through his body. "Better get to LEGO Island before we're drowned in the stuff." Minerva nodded. He paused for a moment, then said, "Race you for driver's." With that, he started to run down the path to the exit. "Hey!" Minerva called out, laughing in surprise as she pursued him. "You cheater!" Zach laughed in amusement as Minerva began to catch up to him. Time to pick up Holly and Zelda and head home. ---- "Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me!" Dr. Cyborg said under his breath as he wandered LEGO Island. A day after the battle, he had met with some scientists of XERRD. They had agreed with him that the best course of action was to rejoin Nexus Force after the cleanup from the battle and aftermath. But in the meantime, there was always that LEGO Island party. He had arrived a bit early: yesterday morning! What he had done between then and now was find a hotel and sleep. If he remembered correctly, the last time he slept was in the Temple of Hotep III. The last time he got a good, restful sleep was before he left XERRD. It had only been a month or two ago, but it felt like two years. He was currently alone, as Catless was coming later and Kara had left to make sure her home was still standing. This was a reason for his downiness, but also the fact the fact that he was leaving the planet again in a week or two. Plus, he was alone on his birthday, which he usually spent with friends or family. Even though the actual party was still a week away, there was already some partying going on. A drunkard staggered by. Dr. Cyborg frowned at the sight. Even as a human, he never liked alcohol. He looked down the street, squinting somewhat. I really should get a replacement for my visor if I ever find one of the same tech level. I'm not used to this light. Dr. Cyborg saw Zach and his friends down the road, and he ran to catch up with them. ---- December 26, 2010 Over the past few days, Frozeen and Greybeard had never seen so many helicopters as they now saw. With the majority of the Mutant Dinos defeated and the survivors being hunted and captured in the outskirts, LEGO City's population was returning in full force from the Alpha Team refugee facilities in Antarctica. The first to arrive were the construction crews and, aside from a mishap involving a billboard and a stray Mutant Raptor, the rebuilding efforts were met with incredible success. There were certain advantages to post-war enthusiasm in a world built of LEGO. In no time at all, Frozeen figured, LEGO City would be even bigger and better than it ever was before. After the police and fire departments were reestablished, civilians returned to their newly-rebuilt houses and apartments. Much had been lost in the Dino Attack and nothing would ever be the same, but there was some strange unanimous feeling of high hopes for the future that filled the air, and everyone was ready to start anew. What would they make of it? Just imagine... One helicopter landed at the meeting point set up by Frozeen and Greybeard. Among the many civilians who stepped off the helicopter, there were three familiar faces. "Grandpa!" cried Mary Rose, her excitement nearly too much for her small body to contain. She rushed towards Greybeard with open arms, and Greybeard caught her in his embrace, laughing jollily as he did so. Observing this, Frozeen noted that Rex was right in choosing to sacrifice himself instead of Greybeard. Next, Frozeen found himself patted on the back and gently elbowed in the ribs by Sam Throramebi. "Oh, man!" said the Rock Raider, grinning. "You would not believe what it was like down there! When we arrived at the facilities, everyone was huddled around their radios and hanging off of every word spoken by J. Theano. It was just like the Golden Age of Radio! And then, when he announced that the Mutant Dinos were defeated... well, the noise was louder than the eruption down in Quadrant 14!" Laughing, Frozeen patted Sam on the shoulder. "If you think the noise down there was loud, you should have heard what was going up here after the victory! Half the time, you couldn't hear yourself think while Williams and Zimmer were warring with each other with 'The Throne Room/End Title (Medley)' and 'One Last Shot'!" "Throw in some '1812 Overture' and some fireworks," Sam said with a smirk, "and the entire world's population cheering at once, and then we'll talk about 'loud'!" "Oh! Hi, Talia!" Frozeen waved, catching the Dino Attack agent's attention as she stepped off the helicopter. After spotting Frozeen, Greybeard, and the others, Talia Kaahs smiled and rushed towards them. "Hello again, Frozeen!" she said. "I'm glad to see you again; I admit, I was unsure if I'd ever see any of you again, but then I found confidence and strength in telling myself that you'd pull through, as George said you would." "It's great to see you too, Talia," said Frozeen. Although the Alpha Team agent smiled, there was sadness in his eyes, as he knew that there was news that he would have to deliver. The look in Frozeen's eyes did not go unnoticed, and Talia faltered. "George...?" she dared to inquire. "Did he...?" Frozeen sighed and, slowly, shook his head. "He didn't make it. He... he wanted me to tell you that he was sorry, and that he loves you." Life drained out of the scarred face of Talia Kaahs. Even to Frozeen, who tended to be rather aloof towards others' feelings, could not be mistaken about the pure sorrow betrayed in her features. She pressed a hand to her chest and caught her breath. Talia looked as though she was about to say something, but could not voice any words, and instead lowered her head and slowly took a seat on a nearby bench. Frozeen was unsure of what to do. He remembered how Rex refused to let anyone pity him, and feared that something that he might say could only make things worse for her. Finally, he resolved to ask a simple question: "Is there anything I can do?" "When and how?" inquired Talia, her voice shaking. It was a simple, yet understood, question. "In the last few minutes of the battle," explained Frozeen, "George volunteered to hold back the Mutant Dinos while the rest of us boarded Typhoons to fight Dr. Rex. However, when Dr. Rex arrived, we were not ready for him, and I think the Darkitect must have given Dr. Rex the strength fueled by his anger regarding your relationship with General... we fired everything we had upon him, but it was not enough to stop him from crushing George beneath his heel. George really helped us out against the Mutant Dinos and put up a great fight against Dr. Rex himself, and I thought for sure that he was going to pull through... but it was just not enough. His death was not in vain, and he died a great hero." Frozeen pulled out the G.E. Body helmet and handed it to Talia. She took it and stared at it, her sorrowful face reflecting off its metallic surface. Sighing, Talia wiped tears from her eyes. "We both knew it wasn't going to last much longer," she whispered. "We both knew that old age was catching up to George... and George was certain that if his brother ever found out about me, he'd kill us both. I just... I just wish that I was there with him when he confronted Dr. Rex." "I think... you were," murmured Frozeen, "in a way. If it weren't for you, General would never have stood a chance against Dr. Rex. I'm certain that you were in George's heart and mind during the final battle, and you granted him strength so powerful, only the Maelstrom itself could come close enough to tear you two apart." "I... I think I need a moment," Talia said quietly, sniffling as she buried her face in her hands and sobbed. "Avast," grunted Greybeard. "D' ye think General would 'ave wanted t' see you actin' like this? He died wi' th' knowledge that ye lov'd 'im dearly, an' if thar be a Heaven o' some sort, then he be watchin' o'er ye now, says I. Would he want ye t' be sobbin' o'er 'im, mournin' 'im fer finally redeemin' 'imself in his own deadlights? Talia, listen t' me. General be a great man, an' thar ne'er be ano'er like 'im, but I be thinkin' that he would want ye t' move on, says I." "Yeah, there are plenty of other great men," suggested Sam Throramebi, "like me!" Frozeen and Greybeard shot Sam a pair of disapproving glares. "What?" said Sam, frowning. "Can't a guy hope that there's someone up there feeling nice enough to share the love down here?" Frozeen shook his head. "General wasn't the only one who died in the war, you know. I'm certain the name Semick might ring a bell?" Sam Throramebi blinked in surprise. "Semick?" he repeated. Taking off his helmet and scratching his head, he murmured: "Man, that's... really... something. After the LEGO Island mission, I began to put aside my distaste for the Power Miners and see that Semick really was a great guy. He was a great commander and wasn't afraid of anything. I mean... he knew I didn't like him 'cause he's a Power Miner, and he still made an effort to get past that barrier between us out of respect for his fellow teammate. Ah, well. I kind of wish I got to know him a little better. But from what I know of him... I think I'll miss him." Frozeen wanted to say something more to Talia, but then a message came in over Frozeen's headset. "Dash Justice to elite agent Frozeen. Come in, elite agent Frozeen!" "Yes?" responded Frozeen, turning away from his comrades. "This is elite agent Frozeen. Have you got an update on the case?" "Roger that. We found the civilian you told us about and we're currently holding him in the local Agents Headquarters, seeing as our main LEGO City base is still under reconstruction. We are waiting for you to commence with the investigation. Are you certain that this man will provide us with the information necessary to close this case for good, agent?" "Yes," said Frozeen, "I am quite certain. I am on now my way. 10-4, over and out." Turning back towards Talia, Frozeen scratched his head. "I'm sorry, I've got to go now. Alpha Team duties and all. But, look... if there's anything you need, just feel free to contact me, okay?" Slowly, Talia Kaahs nodded. ***** Bartholomew Enderson sat in the cold dark room illuminated only by a single lamp on the table before him. He sat placidly in his chair, waiting for something to happen. A door opened, and the red-haired Alpha Team agent stepped into the room. "I apologize for the low lighting and keeping you in here for so long," spoke Frozeen, breaking the silence. "Normally, this room is where the Agents hold… interrogations." Bartholomew raised an eyebrow. "Am I in some sort of trouble?" he dared to inquire. The agent approached the table but did not sit down. "No, of course not. You are not held here as a prisoner, you are not accused of any crime… you're just here to answer a few questions." "Of course," said Bartholomew, nodding. "I never forget a face, and I suppose you're asking about a particular face I might've seen?" "Indeed," replied Frozeen, who placed a photograph down upon the table under the illumination of the lamp. The bartender's eyes widened. "… Her?" "We have received an account," explained Frozeen, "that this individual and you shared… a bit of a bond, shall we say? Non-romantic and purely business, but a close bond nonetheless." The bartender bit his lip, but did not reply. "Look," assured Frozeen, "you are not in any trouble, and nothing you say can change that." Studying the bartender's features, the agent paused for a moment before speaking again in a softer tone. "Don't worry. You're safe here. Whatever… threats you may have received from this individual are now void. You are free to confess." Bartholomew looked away. "It's… too confidential, what a bartender such as myself knows. And if I dare say too much, I know that I will pay the price." Frozeen sighed. After a moment of silence, he revealed: "She's dead." "What?" exclaimed Bartholomew, blinking in surprise. "She died only a few days ago," explained Frozeen. "Before she died, however, she… confessed a few things. She mentioned your name and said you were now 'free'." The bartender sighed. "So, it's true, then? She really is dead." "Do I detect a hint of sadness in your voice?" mused Frozeen. Bartholomew shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know… despite all the terrible things she had done… I sort of grew to care for her, almost like how a father cares for his daughter." "A father," Frozeen repeated as he raised an eyebrow, "afraid of his own daughter?" "It's… complicated," the bartender said, biting his lip. "But when you're entrusted with holding so many secrets for so long… it tends to have an effect on you, you know?" The Alpha Team agent paused, then slowly nodded his head. "Yes. I know." "Can you promise me that what you say is true?" sighed Bartholomew. "She really is dead? I really am… free?" "You have my word," promised Frozeen, nodding. "Now, don't think of this as an interrogation… think of it as more of an interview. So, first question… I'm just curious… how did the two of you come to work together?" The bartender sat back in his chair and stared off into space as he recalled the story. "Well, you see, I was there, working in the old bar just like I always did. It was a… Tuesday, yes, and it was raining. A dreadful downpour. While I was cleaning this glass, she walked in for the first time." "Did you say anything to her?" inquired Frozeen. Bartholomew shook his head. "No. Although my profession is tending to the bar, I studied quite a bit of psychology in college. In my years as a bartender, I've come to recognize different types of people. There are those who love to chat, there are those who would love to chat but need someone else to spark the conversation for them with a bit of small talk, there are those who just need to hear someone talking to them, and… there are those like her. One look at her, and I says to myself, 'She doesn't want to talk, and she doesn't want me talking to her.' And I respect that. So, I let her sit in the bar for a while without burdening her with speech. The bar was unusually quiet; we don't get quite as much business on rainy Tuesdays as we normally do. But even though I never spoke with her, I studied her, as I do with all customers. I could tell that she held some sort of tragic background that had hardened and embittered her… she was a young and pretty little thing, and I think she was still a teenager that day when she walked into my bar for the first time, but I could see that some sort of experience had hardened her expression like that of an army veteran." "You let a teenager in your bar?" asked Frozeen. The bartender smiled. "I do serve plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, of course. It's not like she ever asked for something stronger. And if she had, then I would have asked for an ID… which I'm sure she would not have provided. No ID, no sale. Not even for her." "So, that's how you first met," murmured Frozeen, "but how did you work together? I cannot imagine you two forming a business relationship without a single word being spoken, especially on your end." "Well," sighed Bartholomew, "that's when a couple of blokes came in. You've seen them before. Loud, obnoxious, vulgar kind of guys who think that they own everything and everyone, especially the ladies. So they barge in and order drinks, and so I pour them what they want. They only got louder and even more vulgar. Wondering if these guys had too much to drink before even stopping by my bar, I was about to cut them off… and then they advanced on her. As I said, she was a young and pretty thing. At this point, she had found herself a newspaper and was minding her own business. On the front page, there was some big cover story. Breaking news. Some poor sap who was one of those big business owners had been brutally murdered by a mysterious female assailant. But the blokes tear the newspaper out of her hands and try to advance on her. 'Come on, little bunny,' says one of them, 'girls ain't supposed to read! We'll show you how to have a good time!'" "You didn't try to stop them?" Frozeen asked, raising an eyebrow. "I saw what they were doing, and I knew it was wrong. These blokes looked to be in their thirties, but she was so young. I says to them, 'Gentlemen, I'm afraid you must leave the young lady alone,' but they shrug it off like nothing. And, well, after that... I didn't have a chance to say anything else. One of the blokes got a little too close to the girl… and then, like a viper, she moves. She grabs one bloke's hand and throws him down to the floor. With one foot on his back to pin him down, she swings her hand towards the other man, and next thing I know, there's a knife pressed to his neck! I stare at her in shock, and then I lower my gaze to the newspaper. In the back of my mind, I make the connection. And… well, as a bartender, I am trained to rarely lose my composure. And there… I could not help it, but I coughed. Then, she turned her head towards me. Locks eyes with me. And she knew. She knew that I knew. Something about my expression tipped her off that I had figured out who she was." "What happened then?" The Alpha Team agent leaned in a little closer, quite intrigued by the retelling. "I… made the biggest mistake I could have possibly made," confessed the bartender. "I immediately turned away and headed into the backroom, trying to avoid the situation entirely. But no, I had seen too much, and she follows me, silent as a specter. I turned around, I saw her, and I knew I was cornered. Again, I don't normally lose my composure, but I lost it again. Panicked, I says to her, 'Look, please! I've got a sister, I've got a wife, I've got two kids, both still in elementary school… I can't…!' It was all true, by the way… I know some guys would just say that, but I really do have a wife and two kids. But then, I realized that I had sealed my fate. I knew too much, and I says too much, so she knows too much. It was the biggest mistake I had ever made." "What did she do?" inquired Frozeen. Bartholomew sighed. "She drew her knife and pressed it against my own neck. I imagine she was ready to slit my throat there and then. And then… and then she thinks better of it. And, to this day, I cannot imagine why… maybe that thing I said about having young kids got to her or something, but that's too naïve, I think. Slowly, she withdraws her knife, never taking her eyes off of me. Then she raises a finger to her lips, and I got the idea. I had to be silent. I could not speak a word of what happened. No one must know. Not a soul. Then she turned and, suddenly, she was gone." "And so, you didn't tell anyone about these events," murmured the agent. Bartholomew shook his head. "I didn't tell a soul. Not one. I says to myself that I cannot withhold such information… this killer, this terrorist, she was right there in my bar, and I says to myself that I needed to inform the authorities as quickly as possible. But my every instinct says to me, 'No, don't do that. She knows who you are, she knows you have a family, and she will hunt you all down and kill you all if you breathe a word about this.' I was in quite a bit of an internal debate, mind you. Days, weeks passed by, and I never saw another sign of her. But when I finally worked up the courage to call the local police department, suddenly, she walks in again. It's as though she knew! With my phone waiting for someone to pick up on the other end, she walks in and sits down at the bar again, her wary eyes never leaving me. Wisely, I hang up, and… well, that was the end of my attempts to call the authorities." "So you tried to call the police station while you were at the bar?" Frozeen raised an eyebrow again. "Yes," said Bartholomew, nodding. "A bartender such as myself… we devote a lot of time in our lives to our job. It's often not the most convenient place to make such a call, but based upon my work hours, it is practically the only place." "You couldn't just use a phone booth or call from another location when you had the chance?" said Frozeen, frowning. "If you knew that she knew that you could be found at the bar, why didn't you try going for a more secure location when you had the rare chance? You said weeks had passed since your first meeting." The bartender bit his lip. "She really… got to me, I suppose. I couldn't think rationally. Paranoia and fear drove my instincts. And you know, there was one time that she came back into the bar. And while she sat at the counter, a cop who's off-duty, he comes in, sits down at the bar, and orders a drink too. There they were, a criminal and a cop, sitting right next to each other. And then the cop turns to look at her… and you know what she does? She smiles sweetly. Yes, she puts on this entire innocent little girl façade. A natural fake smiler. And he smiles right back at her, completely and utterly falling for it, then goes back to minding his own business." "And you didn't try to make any hint towards the police offer?" Bartholomew shook his head. "These times were rare… but every so often, I would forget who she was and realize that… she was only a young girl. As I said, she must have been a teenager when we first met, and the last time I saw her, she could have only have been in her mid-twenties. And I would look at her and says to myself, 'She's only a young girl, and like the rest of us, she has her own life, feelings, and personal troubles.' And when I wonder what sort of horrible experience could turn such a young girl into such a notorious killer… I pity her. And I just couldn't have the heart to turn such a young girl, even her, into the police." "The same girl who threatened to kill your family," Frozeen pointed out. The bartender frowned. "Yes, that is true. I doubt that she ever forgot that threat, and I'm certain that if I ever did spill the beans without… well, you know, either her confession or her death, she would have made sure that the threat was not an empty one. And yet, I cannot help but feel as though, as that was our first meeting and we were not yet… involved… on a business level, we had not yet achieved a… mutual understanding, per se. In later years, despite the constant threat of her killing my family if I ever spoke a word, we sort of developed that level of understanding, and I could sense that I was probably the only, or one of the only, people in the entire world that this young girl truly trusted. And when I realized this… I had sealed my fate, one might say." "So, tell me about this business," the Alpha Team agent inquired. "How did this get started?" Bartholomew sat back in his chair. "Well, you see, that day we first met, when she beat those blokes who tried to advance upon her, there was another man in the bar who witnessed the whole thing. Like me, he puts two and two together and figures out whom she is. Turns out that he was working for some big corporate head who had heard of her previous exploits and wished to hire her to do some dirty work for him. He came into the bar, asked for a drink, and just before paying, he slipped me this envelope and whispers into my ear: 'If she comes back here, give this to her.'" Curious, Frozeen raised an eyebrow. "What was inside the envelope?" The bartender shrugged and shook his head. "Like it or not, it was not my business, so I did not dare to open the envelope myself. And then, a day or two later, she comes in again, and so I give her the envelope. She opened the envelope, read it over quickly, and then she gives me this look. I suppose that it was at that moment that she realized that I had unintentionally become her secret-keeper. Then, wordlessly… well, of course wordlessly, I do suppose that's a bit redundant, but she departs. I didn't see her again until about a week later. Now, we've got a television set in the bar, and when she comes in again, I look at the television, and it's this news reporter talking about some story about the disappearance of a man who used to work for the same corporation that made me deliver the letter to her. Turns out that, when he quit his job, he took some documents that belonged to the corporate head. That's when I realized that the corporate head's envelope was arranging a meeting between him and her, and he had hired her as a bounty hunter to hunt down and capture this man who took his documents." "I remember that news story," said Frozeen, nodding. "Go on." Bartholomew furrowed his brow and stroked his chin. "Now, I'm not quite sure how it happened. The only thing I can think of is that it somehow got out via word of mouth, but only to people interested in hiring her; somehow, it escaped the ears of authority or anyone else who would do the sensible thing and try to have her arrested. Either that, or our government is more corrupt than we suspect, no offense to you, but I'm not one who's about to get into conspiracy theories." "Good," said the Alpha Team agent, chuckling. "I've dealt with more than enough conspiracy theories, especially the ones that turn out to be true after all." "What matters is that," continued Bartholomew, "after a while, more and more people started showing up at my bar. Many of them were corporate heads, but some of them were politicians, and even some of them were mob bosses. And they'd all hand me envelopes to deliver to her the next time she showed up at my bar. She'd read the letter, meet up with her employer, do their dirty work, and show up on the news. I'd be lying if I say that I did not enjoy a bit of profit from the increased business, but for the most part, I was originally operating under the fear of her threat. After all, I do recall this one incident where one of her clients felt repentant about what he had done, and so he publicly confessed his knowledge of her. After that, he was placed under protective custody for his own safety… that did not stop her from breaking in and brutally murdering him, surely setting an example for anyone else who had already employed her or those who were wishing to employ her." "I don't suppose you'd be able to give me a few names of her employers?" Frozeen dared to ask. Bartholomew bit his lip and leaned in close. "I don't know about that. Some of these names… they're really big, and I don't want to malign anyone's reputation. And I mean, really big… on the level of Edward Korrupte and Walter Breen." The Alpha Team agent nodded slowly. "Edward Korrupte? Well, that certainly sheds some light on the Mindstorms, Inc. incident. As for Walter Breen, you needn't worry about maligning his reputation… but I digress. So what you're saying is," murmured Frozeen, "this relationship all boiled down to a bit of profit and operating under threat?" "Well… no." The bartender shook his head. "After a couple years of this… business, that's when she and I started to develop our mutual understanding for one another. Like it or not, I had become her secret-keeper, and her presence increased the bar's profit. In a way, we sort of protected one another. And as the years passed, we forged a tighter bond than I would have ever imagined. I looked after her like she was my own daughter, and in return she trusted me, perhaps greater than anyone else that she trusted." "So, you became her secret-keeper and she increased your profit, and in the end, you both benefited from it. I see. However, all things must come to an end, I'm afraid, and given what happened over the course of this past year, it sounds like it did end." Bartholomew sighed. "It did. You see, for her… and, eventually, for me… the whole ordeal was strictly business, and she never showed emotion or regret for the things that she had done. That all changed with one envelope that she received in early January. While she took a few jobs after that one, I believe that the end of her work can be traced back to this job in particular." "Who hired her this time?" the Alpha Team agent inquired. Bartholomew shook his head and shrugged. "He never said his name. Looked to be in his early thirties, had brown hair, grey eyes, glasses, a mustache… You know, I never forget a face, and while I'm certain that I had never seen this fellow before, I thought he looked strangely familiar, like I knew his sibling or something, but that's not important. But another interesting thing… the corporate heads, the politicians, the mob bosses… whenever they came in to deliver an envelope so that they could hire her, they were always smug, confident, not showing a bit of regret for what they were about to do. But this fellow, I don't think he was a corporate head or politician or mob boss… and when he handed me his envelope, he was not smug, but solemn. The fellow looked as though he was attending his own funeral. I had never seen that before in any of her employers." "Interesting," mused Frozeen. "So," continued Bartholomew, "when she comes in and I hand her the envelope as usual, she opens it, reads it over… and then she does something I never seen her do before: her face betrayed genuine shock. For a stoic such as her, for a person who received assignments to assassinate big names and never batted an eye, to show such emotion while reading that letter… that scared me. I could not possibly imagine what was contained in that letter. Still, she quickly regains her composure and then she departed as usual. Now, usually, as I said, when she was hired for a job, I wouldn't see her until the job was completed, and then I'd see her work on the news, while she sits there silent and stoic. The next time I saw her, there was nothing in the news. No murders, no disappearances, no heists… nothing. And she sits at the bar, orders a drink, and has that same look of solemnity as the man who hired her. To this day, I do not know what happened, but for her to be so badly affected… I shudder to imagine what horrible crime was written on that letter." "And then, after that?" inquired Frozeen. "As I said," concluded Bartholomew, "she took a few more jobs after that. Exactly three more jobs, if my memory doesn't fail me. The first two were like any other job she had done, except this time, she appeared to be falling into a depression or something. As for the third job… she never returned. And when I watched the news, it was telling the story of some famous mechanical engineer at UlTech whose home was broken into by her. But this news story had a twist ending. It didn't end with the horrible and gruesome murder of the engineer. Instead, the engineer survived, and according to police reports, she was about to kill him… and she suddenly drops her weapons and starts crying. He ran out of the room to call the police and get his kids to safety, but when he returned, she was gone. And that was the last that anyone had seen or heard of her." "I remember that news story," murmured Frozeen. "It was so unbelievable that there were a number of people accusing the engineer of making it all up. But from what I know about her, and from your side of the story, I believe there might be some truth to it. So, that is the last time you saw her?" "Yes, sir," affirmed Bartholomew, nodding. "Is there another chapter to this story that I do not yet know?" "Did you receive a letter from a Ms. Amanda Remous?" inquired the agent. Frowning, Bartholomew replied: "Sir, I'm not sure how this is relevant to…" Frozeen sighed and shook his head. "I suppose not. You should check your mailbox when you get home; it might have taken Ed Mail a little longer to deliver it, I suppose, what with the population moving back up north again in mid-delivery." With that, the secret agent stood. "Is that all?" inquired Bartholomew. The Alpha Team agent nodded. "That is all. As I said, there are no charges held against you. Now that you have spoken, you are free to go." "If you don't mind me asking," murmured the bartender, "but might I inquire as to the… well, point of this 'interview'? You fellows already know that she's dead, and you aren't placing any charges against me." Frozeen sighed and scratched his head. "You see, I intend to write up a report on her. She has quite an infamous reputation for being a living nightmare, even to the point of being considered a myth by some. It is clear that the public is very uninformed about her true nature, for you see, she was a tragic villain more than anything else. With my report, I intend to investigate the tragedy of her life and reveal the facts behind the myths, hopefully closing this case for good. Thank you for your time today." They clasped hands and together left the interrogation room. ***** December 27, 2010, Morning Bartholomew Enderson sat behind the brand-new counter of his freshly-rebuilt bar. It awed him how quickly LEGO construction crews could work, and combined with the post-war enthusiasm, his bar was restored to more or less exactly how it was before it was originally wrecked by a swarm of hungry Mutant Lizards, a Mutant Raptor that was too intelligent to be locked in the wine cellar, and a Mutant T-Rex with poor eyesight. As he reflected upon the interview he had last night, he stared off into space and continuously wiped a glass with a cloth even though it was already sparkling clean. He was not sure what it was all going to amount to. She was dead, and there were no charges placed upon him. So what was the point of it all? Bartholomew snapped back to Earth when he saw a Minifig approach his counter. From his bright blue uniform and hat, Bartholomew recognized that he was a mailman; if the clothes didn't tip him off, the giant sack of mail did. The mailman stopped at the bar counter, rummaged through his bag, and pulled out an envelope. Just for an instant, as he watched the mailman, Bartholomew Enderson had a brief relapse of all the countless envelopes that had been handed to him in this very bar to be delivered to her. "Mr. Bartholomew Enderson?" the mailman read the name off the envelope in a weary voice. "Yes, sir," said Bartholomew, "that's me." "I've got a letter for you." With that, the mailman handed the envelope to Bartholomew. Bartholomew felt a feeling of surprise mixed with a hint of amusement. All those years, he had been handed envelopes in this very diner, but not one of them was addressed to him; they were always for her. And now, he finally had a letter to himself. "Thank you," Bartholomew said with a smile. "Have a good day, sir." Chuckling softly to himself, the mailman picked up the huge sack of mail and turned to leave. "Oh, I'll have just as good a day as any other day because every day is a good day for a mailman because there's always mail that needs delivering. A good day to you too, Mr. Enderson." With that, the mailman left the bar. Bartholomew Enderson looked over the envelope. Indeed, it was addressed to him. However, what caught his eye was the return address: Dino Attack Headquarters, LEGO City. Puzzled, he opened the envelope, took out the letter inside, and read it. Dear Bartholomew Enderson, I am sorry. As much as I fear that the word "sorry" does not even begin to cover my feelings, I cannot think of another word to use. I was never particularly eloquent in speech. I am sorry, Bartholomew, for all the trouble I have caused you in the past. It's all my fault that a great burden has been placed upon you, for in order for you to be my secret-keeper, you had to sacrifice so much and not say a word about it. I have done you so much wrong, and it pains me to remember that I threatened your family just to keep your mouth shut. And I am sorry for leaving you without even saying goodbye. I've changed, Bartholomew. Or, at least, I am trying as hard as I can. For now, I've joined D.I.N.O. Attack in the battle against Mutant Dinos, in hopes that maybe by helping to save the world, I can redeem myself of all that I have done. After the war, I intend to settle down, live a normal life, and never have to pick up a weapon ever again. But I am writing to you now, for I am not certain that I will survive this war, and I don't know if I can ever meet you again, face-to-face, and tell you my feelings in person. I need you to understand something. That is, if you haven't figured it out on your own; I do not doubt your intelligence. During the time that we worked together, I was utterly alone in the world. I had no one. No one, but you. You were the sole person that I could truly trust. And, while our relationship remained strictly a business one, you might have also been the only person I genuinely cared for. Because I trusted you, you were almost like a father to me. And thus, I wish to thank you for all that you have done for me. You are now free, Bartholomew, and our business is finished. You no longer need to suffer the burden I had placed upon you. Take care of yourself for me, okay? Once again, I am sorry. Can you forgive me? With sincere gratitude, Amanda "Silencia Venomosa" Remous Bartholomew Enderson read the letter over again. Once more. Twice more. Each time, he let its words sink in deeper and deeper. "It is true, then," he murmured. "She's gone." He folded the letter, placed it back inside the envelope, and pocketed the envelope. Sitting down, he smiled to himself, feeling free at last. And yet, he could not but wipe tears from his eyes. Despite all that she had done, he really did care for her, and knowing that she felt the same way made it feel as though he had lost a daughter. Looking upward, Bartholomew Enderson nodded gently and whispered: "Yes. I forgive you." ***** Carrie Enderson limped calmly through the street, her leg wrapped in bandages. She eventually found what she was looking for- the bar, Enderson's. Reconstructed, to her surprise. Along the street were numerous buildings in varying degrees of quality. Some were still in ruins, others were surrounded by scaffoldings and workmen trying to collect all the necessary parts and figure out what went where, or in some cases waiting for a replacement for a part they could never find. But the one bar, Enderson's was mostly intact. Some work still needed to be done on the upper floor and the roof, and a couple workmen were busy taking care of that, but the building itself was mostly intact. Obviously, someone had access to a lot of good workers. Then she thought of something, and smiled. Quickly she worked her way through the door, and then she saw a familiar face at the counter, a man she recognized all too well. He was busy wiping a glass before he looked up. "Ah, hello, Miss. How can I help y-" There was a moment of silence as Carrie approached nervously. "You alright?" the bartender asked. Despite the pain in her leg, Carrie was still smiling. "Bart?" she asked. Bartholomew Enderson smiled as he stepped out from behind the counter and ran toward his younger sister, giving her a big hug. ---- December 28, 2010 Peter Abody sat with Shannon Grimton, Greybeard, Mary Rose, and Sam Throramebi, glad that he was able to find a group of familiar faces in the massive crowd of people that had gathered in the LEGO City park. Peter knew that, very soon, he had a party to attend at LEGO Island, where he was supposed to make an honorary appearance for being a LEGO Island citizen who participated in the war against the Mutant Dinos. While he was not exceptionally fond of parties, a party at LEGO Island was never something that he wanted to miss out on. The entire crowd of people attending tonight's event was gathered around the newly-built open-air theater. The famed Lorin Nelson Orchestra was all set up and ready to perform, but first, there were a few speeches that needed to be delivered. Mayor Frictionfit delivered his own speech, which he erroneously referred to as "short and sweet" when in actuality it was long and dull, and then invited four figures onto the stage. Three of them, Peter immediately recognized as Shadow, Digger, and Viper. "Who be that?" Greybeard had inquired when they were brought onstage, gesturing to the fourth Minifig. "I ne'er seen th' likes o' him while workin' fer Dino Attack Team, says I." Peter did not recognize the fourth Minifig either, but when he saw Shadow, Digger, and Viper, he quickly deduced the Minifig's identity. And when he made his way to the podium and spoke into the microphone with a familiar voice, Peter's calculations were proven correct. "Shiver me timbers!" whispered Greybeard. "I dinnae believe it - that be Specs?" "Sure looks different when he's not wearing that balaclava, huh?" murmured Peter. For most of Dino Attack Team and its allies, Specs was a mysterious figure whose very identity seemed forever bound to that mask he always wore. Now that the war was over and he had to make a public appearance, Specs apparently saw fit to taking off his famous balaclava. To his fellow Dino Attack agents, it was almost as though everything they knew about Specs was changed just by finally seeing his face for the first time. But to someone like Peter, who was used to looking at things from an analytical point of view, he could hyper-focus on Specs's eyes, see the same qualities and strengths of a powerful leader who would never give up, and know that it was the same person after all. Specs himself seemed to be aware of this as he addressed the crowd, which held many Dino Attack veterans. He explained that he had worn the balaclava because his own identity had never been important. In leading the fight against the apocalypse itself, he wanted to demonstrate that anyone could have been behind that mask. Anyone could have had the power, wisdom, and courage to step up and become the team leader. That mask belonged to no mortal man, but an idea that the entire world could rally behind. Specs's speech was equal parts awesome and heartwarming, combining all the greatest elements of every speech delivered by himself, Semick, Greybeard, and other notable motivational speakers of the Dino Attack. He briefly summarized the struggles faced by Dino Attack Team over the course of the war. He commended the entire Dino Attack Team for such bravery and honor displayed throughout the course of the agents' service. He gave thanks to Dino Attack Team's allies across the globe; not just Alpha Team and Agents Defense Organization, which helped in battle, but also to sponsors such as Octan which gladly supplied Dino Attack Team's vehicles with precious fuel. Specs even gave thanks to the allied villains: Evil Ogel, Lord Sam Sinister von Barron, the Brickster, and Lord Vladek. However, only three of the villains showed up at the ceremony. The Brickster and Lord Vladek were both basking in their glory, which Peter imagined would probably be the first time they ever received such recognition from anyone aside from their own minions, and Lord Sinister proudly announced that next year he would be going on an expedition to Egypt, where he would go on a quest to recover the legendary golden treasures of Pharaoh Amset-Ra. "Should someone break the news to him that Archibald Hale and his team beat him to it by 87 years?" Shannon whispered to Peter. Amused, Peter shook his head. "Nah. He'll figure it out on his own... eventually." Although Lord Sinister's ignorance concerning the status of Amset-Ra's treasures lightened the mood, Peter was secretly concerned about the lack of appearance by Evil Ogel. Reports had shown that Evil Ogel was somehow killed three times by Dr. Rex over the course of the final battle. However, every Skeleton Drone claimed that Evil Ogel was, somehow, still alive. Alpha Team scouts had reported that, mere minutes before the Galactic Council's quarantine on LEGO Planet was ended, a red-and-black rocket launched from the Ogel Control Center on Ogel's Island. The Space Police were unable to track the rocket, but its course appeared to be set for Nimbus System. Peter shuddered to imagine what undecipherable plans lied behind Ogel's helmet... what dreams of power and control could possibly involve Nexus Force... or the Maelstrom. After the three villains had spoken their input, Specs resumed his speech and devoted a moment of silence in memory of all those who had fallen during the Dino Attack. Peter thought of Rex, Amanda, PBB, the alpha female T-Rex, Libo, General, and, of course, Kotua and Databoard... although neither were confirmed to be killed in action, there was still no word from either of Peter's close Mission Deep Freeze friends. After Specs wrapped up his speech with a grand conclusion, the audience erupted into applause for Dino Attack Team's leader. "Feh," grunted Greybeard. "What hogwash. A moment o' silence? That be it? That be all th' due t' th' dead that he be payin'? What better time t' honor th' sacrifice o' those like Rex, an' instead he dinnae even say Rex's name!" "You do realize how many Dino Attack agents died during this war," retorted Peter. "It would be impractical to list them all, here and now, or else we'd be here all night long." "Peter's right," added Shannon. "Besides, even as we speak, there's a memorial being built that will have the names of every Dino Attack agent who died engraved in stone for all to see. Don't worry; the name Rex Alexander will not be forgotten." Shadow, Digger, and Viper gave their own speeches; while they were all well-written and excellently-delivered, none of them held a candle to what Specs had to say. It was likely that they knew what their audience wanted to get to, and they were not going to stall for much longer, for once the speeches were finished, Mayor Frictionfit handed it over to the famous Lorin Nelson Orchestra. The Lorin Nelson Orchestra performed old classics like "Sunny Hill Park" and "Baroque in Brick", and Peter relished the sound of the latter's clarinet solo. The audience was in for a great surprise when Annie Wallis herself showed up to perform her famous song, "Think I'm Gonna Build Me a Bridge Today". One can only imagine how wildly the audience cheered when "Brick Barrel Polka - Baja On The Bayouu" started playing. But the highlight of the night was definitely the final piece performed by the Lorin Nelson Orchestra: the "2010 Overture". According to rumors Peter had heard, Lorin Nelson himself had been writing the song over the course of the entire Dino Attack, with the orchestra named after him learning it bit by bit, and he had not finished until he was struck by great inspiration while listening to J. Theano covering Dino Attack Team's exploits during the final battle on December 21. If this story was true, then the Lorin Nelson Orchestra certainly did not show that they had only a few days to practice the finished piece, for what they performed was one of the greatest orchestral performances Peter had ever heard. As someone who had seen the entire history of the Dino Attack with his own eyes, Peter was surprised by how well the "2010 Overture" served as an overture for the Dino Attack. It began slow and dark, even a little sinister, but then a more patriotic motif that seemed to represent the Dino Attack Team was introduced. From there, there were fierce and intense bursts of orchestral hits representing the battle against the Dino Attack; a rather adventurous-sounding section that sounded like it could cover the Adventurers' Island mission; there was even one part where Peter swore that he could recognize Lorin Nelson quoting some of his earlier works, such as "The Jail", and it most certainly had to represent the LEGO Island mission. At the end, the song painted a picture where it seemed that evil had triumphed and all hope was lost, but then the Dino Attack Team's motif returned in full force to conquer evil and save the day in the greatest orchestral climax Peter had ever heard, backed spectacularly by a full fireworks display over the LEGO City bay. When the "2010 Overture" ended, the audience erupted into so much noise, Peter thought he would go deaf. The "2010 Overture", and the events and people that inspired it, would go down in history. Feeling a tear come to his eye, Peter was just happy that he could have been a part of it all. The orchestra finished their performance, and Magma nodded happily to himself. It had definitely been a worthy performance. He rose, and looked around the party. He paid particular attention to the three villains, Sinister, Vladek, and the Brickster. He dismissed them all one by one. The real danger was Evil Ogel. One of his first joint operations with Covert had been tracking down Evil Ogel after his rocket launched. It concerned him. He was working on an idea for dealing with Ogel, but he could already foresee many problems with the idea. Still, it was worth a try. On that note, he glanced around the party again. He found Covert - it was difficult to think of her as "Colonel Covert" anymore - speaking to a subordinate near the door. She glanced up and waved him over. "Magma! We have a situation," she said briskly. "A situation?" asked Magma. He immediately began running through possible scenarios in his mind. "XERRD remnants? The Dino Aliens have returned? The DNA device is online? They've found Ogel? Vladek's betrayed us and sacked Castle Cove?" Covert smiled slightly, but then quickly became serious again. "None of the above, but let's walk and not bother the partiers. We should be able to take care of it ourselves with some careful planning." Puzzled, Magma followed Covert away from the gathering and celebration. The noise level quickly dropped off, and soon they were alone. "So," Magma said. "Just what is going on? Care to give me a situation report?" Covert laughed for a few minutes. Magma stared at her, frustrated. A crisis was going on and she was laughing about it? "Okay, here's a situation report for you. I wanted to drag you away from all those people, and so fabricated a crisis!" Magma stared at her. She smiled mischievously. "Why?" he asked, aware even as he said it that it was perhaps a very dumb question to ask in this moment. "Why do you think?" she said, softly. The last time Covert ambushed Magma, he had not even stopped to think and reacted with deadly force. This time, he hesitated for a second or two, something that, if he had done in a combat situation, would probably have cost him his life. And then he kissed her. ***** It was many hours later. They were now in Covert's quarters in Agents HQ. Magma hadn't actually lived in LEGO City for years. She could tell Magma had been quite surprised at her impulsiveness - and to be honest, so had she. She had been surprised to realize she had a crush on Magma, her adversary in many a game of secret agent cat-and-mouse chess over the past two years, but once she thought about it, it made sense. Magma's sudden surprisingly willingness - nay, active desire - to "build bridges" between their two organizations had brought it to the fore, and, as they said, one thing had led to another. It was surprising, in a way, that it'd only been a week since their meeting after the final battle, but it had been a long week, and throughout it, the two of them had been working together almost constantly on organizing cleanup, on tracking Ogel, and on creating closer ties between their two organizations. So it wasn't as surprisingly unlikely as it might have seemed. Magma had been quiet for some time now. Covert wished she knew what he was thinking. Abruptly, he spoke. "I've been… planning something work-related that I'd like your opinion on, if you'll pardon my changing the topic," he said quietly. "What is it?" Covert asked, curious. "And no, it's fine - we can talk about whatever you like." "I don't like letting Evil Ogel get away - I'm sure you can sympathize," Magma said, his face hardening for a moment. "And I've come up with a way that can allow us to ensure he won't." "What do you mean?" asked Covert, not sure she liked where this conversation was going. "Space Police say they'll pursue him, but they don't know him, they're not experienced in dealing with him. But we are - you, me, Alpha Team, the Agents. So I think we should pursue him." "Pursue him how?" Magma smiled. "Well, we have the ruins of a very large and very advanced vehicle sitting in LEGO City under guard. It's true that airships like the Iron Hammer aren't really designed for spaceflight, but it can go suborbital. I've taken it into the upper atmosphere. So I was thinking… if we couple it with some spaceflight drive engines and generally do a lot of engineering work…" "You're planning on putting a giant warship in space and sending it after Ogel?" Covert asked. "Yes, basically," said Magma. "We have enough confiscated alien tech between us, and Dino Attack too - thanks to Reptile for that - that we can put together some powerful engines. Together, the Agents and Alpha Team can crew it and launch it, and with any luck we'll be able to find wherever Ogel is next setting up shop and bring him down for good." "You are thinking of leading this mission, aren't you?" said Covert softly. Magma looked down, and nodded. "I was in charge of the last big offensive against Evil Ogel, and we had him on the ropes when the Dino Attack happened. I will not let him get away from justice this time!" he said softly, but with intensity. Covert sighed, and looked down as well. She was almost afraid of this intensity- what would Magma do once he captured Ogel, or if he was unable to capture Ogel? Would he break down for good, and become lost to even her? But there was something she could do to make sure that never happened. "Then I'm coming with you," she said. "I'll lead the Agents portion of the mission, you the Alpha Team. You can command the ship, I'll just be there to ensure that the mission isn't completely dominated by Alpha Team politics," she said, and they both laughed. He looked at her then. "Are you sure?" he asked simply. She met his gaze. "Yes." ---- It is true that Peter Abody was not exceptionally fond of parties. LEGO Island parties were generally the exception, but they were so unique and so different from all other parties that this was not much of a surprise. But most parties, which generally involve dancing, loud music, and socializing with others, were not something that Peter usually went out of his way to go to. As he adjusted his bowtie in front of the bathroom mirror, Peter reflected upon the reasons why he was attending this party. Maybe it was the fact that Shannon Grimton was also at the party, and now that they had finally put aside their resentful bitterness, Peter was eager to see her again so that they could catch each other up on stories of what they had been doing for the past fifteen-or-so years. Maybe it was the fact that he was swept up in the post-war enthusiasm, so much so that even he could enjoy a party. Maybe it was the fact that some of the music at this party would be performed live by the Maraca Men, which was enough to make Greybeard eat his hat over his earlier statement that "Ye younglin's be not knowin' how t' party nowadays, says I!", since even the elderly pirate enjoyed the lively music performed by the mariachi band. Peter heard a toilet flush, then watched in his peripheral vision as someone emerged from a stall, made his way to the sink, and washed his hands. He was a tall man with dark hair and a well-trimmed beard, dressed in a formal suit jacket. As he went to dry his hands, the man looked up at Peter with an intrigued expression. Clearing his throat, the man asked, "Excuse me, sir, you wouldn't happen to be Alpha Team agent Frozeen, are you?" Peter blinked in surprise, but then nodded his head. "Yes, but I only go by that codename when I'm on duty. As it turns out, for the first time in maybe a couple years, I'm off-duty. Name's Abody. Peter Abody." While it was true that Alpha Team agents often adopted codenames to protect their identities, Peter really stopped caring about that since, if his identity needed to be covered, then it was blown countless times over the years anyways. The other man smiled politely and extended a hand. "It is an honor to meet you in person, Mr. Abody. Down in Antarctica, I listened to some of J. Theano's news reports, and he mentioned several times how you and other Alpha Team agents provided aid to the Dino Attack Team. Sure sounds like an exciting life; infiltrating Ogel's base one year and fighting prehistoric reptiles the next." "Just another day in the life of an Alpha Team agent," said Peter, chuckling as he shook the man's hand. "As for me," the man introduced himself, "I'm not exactly a thrill-seeker... not in that way, at least, although one can argue that I seek thrills in another way. You see, I'm a writer." Peter blinked, interested. "Really? That's actually pretty cool! Maybe I've read some of your work... what have you written?" The writer smiled sheepishly, scratching his head. "Well, actually, you probably haven't read any of my work. I'm not particularly well-known in most circles. I have published a few short stories, actually... there's one about a Martian and a scientist who travel through time, and there's another about these four men trapped in an elevator... but I feel like I need to do something bigger. A novel. My magnus opus, if you will." "Any ideas for what your novel will be?" inquired Peter. The author stroked his chin. "I've never really been fond of writing nonfiction... but right now, I feel like there's a plethora of inspiration just waiting to be explored in recent events. An epic tale about how all hope for humanity was nearly lost, but a brave group of survivors overcame the incredible odds and fought for freedom. Just imagine the sort of exciting novel that can be written... based on the Dino Attack!" Peter thought it over for a moment. "You know, now that you mention it, it does sort of feel like the Dino Attack was one big fantasy," murmured Peter. "And while everyone in Antarctica followed the Dino Attack closely by listening to J. Theano's reports," continued the writer, "a news report is very different from a novel. In a novel, you're free to tell the whole story and get to know each one of your characters. When you read a novel... it's as though you're right there, in the middle of the action." "And you want to turn the Dino Attack into a novel," deduced Peter, "so that the world can get the full story, or at least an exciting adaptation, of what happened during these eight months. Of course, you're going to need accounts from people who participated in the Dino Attack war if you want to know the full story yourself, so that you, as the writer, can get a better feel for the events that took place and the characters who are involved." "Exactly," said the writer, nodding. "I'd most likely use some artistic license and maybe make a few alterations to the story and characters for the sake of drama, and I'd probably have to cut down on some of the overly-complex and confusing backstories that predate the Dino Attack if I want to make a pragmatic adaptation... it is a novel, after all, and not a history book." "Good point," agreed Peter. "And I suppose that the reason that you're talking to me is...?" The author grinned sheepishly. "Well, yes. I was sort of hoping that I could interview you, since you helped out the Dino Attack Team, so I could at least have a starting point for my novel." Peter smiled politely. "I'm afraid that I don't know every detail and every account of what happened... if you want to know that, I'd probably recommend speaking to Dino Attack agent Andrew Anderson. I'll be seeing him later this week at the LEGO Island New Year's Party, so if you want, I can give him your information so you can keep in contact. But, I suppose, as a starting point... yeah, sure, I can do that." "Great!" said the writer, grinning. "If you don't mind calling me or shooting me an email sometime later so that we can schedule our first interview... I mean, I think you'd probably want to get back to the party right now, so I won't keep you any longer." "Yeah, sure, no problem," said Peter, nodding. "I'll see you around - oh wait!" He paused before leaving the bathroom. "I don't think I caught your name." The writer blinked in surprise, and then chuckled in incredulity. "Oh, wow. I'm so sorry!" Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a card containing his contact information. As he shook Peter Abody's hand one last time, the author introduced himself: "My name is Samuel Piaker." ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  7. Chapter 75: Denouement ---- Dr. Cyborg called Kara up. "Hey, Kara. I need your help. Zach, Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda went after Darkling. I don't know if they are done fighting or yet, but I need you to go pick them up. Track their PDA GPS signals to find them." "Okay. Hey, I need to tell you something later. In-person, though. Can we meet after this extraction?" "Sure. Call me when you're done, and I'll meet you at the UlTech office tower here in LEGO City. Good luck," Dr. Cyborg said. He signed off and called the Titanium Predator to him. He flew up about 30 feet and broadcast a message to all the XERRD members. "Attention, XERRD! As you probably know by now, the war is over! Dr. Rex has fallen, and Baron Typhonus has been banished from the LEGO Planet for real this time. No Maelstrom remains on this world except for in those of us who have chosen for it to remain in our bodies, such as myself. I have a new assignment for all of you. Most Mutant Dinos have been destroyed, except for our allies. However, a few were out of range. I need you to utilize the tracking implants in all the Mutant Dinos to track down the runners. They are most likely within a few miles of LEGO City, so that should not be a problem. Capture is the priority, but failing that, exterminate them. I also need some to meet me at the UlTech Tower. I have decided that XERRD should most likely begin working with Nexus Force again, using the valuable knowledge gained from this conflict. I need to consort with the higher ranks to decide our final course. Solomon, if you are hearing this, you need to be at this meeting. That is all, Dr. Cyborg out." ***** "Any sign of Blaire?" Rotor asked. "Not yet" replied Cabin. "They ran off down the street in that Fire Hammer." "Cortana, start scanning for Zach's PDA signal," Kara said over the radio. "We need to pick them up." "Hang on. I think I see it!" exclaimed Cabin. Cabin carefully brought the T-1 Typhoon to the ground near a battered and beaten old Fire Hammer. Down the street, the remnants of a rough skirmish could be seen, and they saw a small group of survivors remained, standing in a graveyard. One of them, the woman with the purple streak in her hair, seemed to be in pain. They landed, and Lance climbed out of the chopper quickly, rifle in hand, and looked around carefully to make sure Blaire wasn't waiting to take him by surprise. Slowly, he worked his way over to the survivors. Keeping his rifle in hand, he walked over toward the wounded Zelda and tried to put an arm around her shoulder. She simply brushed him off. "I can handle this," she said. Slowly, they worked their way back to the chopper. Zelda was insistent on walking on her own, and was subsequently the last to get into the chopper. Cabin started up the engines and the chopper took for the skies once more, flying toward the Iron Hammer to be checked for injuries. ***** Kara watched as Rotor's T-1 Typhoon took off from the pickup. She had tried to race herself there, but Rotor had still beaten her. He must have been closer, she thought. "Cortana, is there anything else on the docket as for transport?" she asked her A.I. "Well, there are some requests from XERRD operatives to be taken to the UlTech tower. Catless has called, asking for the same thing. A cargo ship has arrived at the docks with medical supplies. Take your pick. We've got plenty to do," Cortana replied. "First off, let's get the medical supplies to the Iron Hammer. I expect they need them badly there." "Right." Kara tilted the stick to the right and veered off to the harbor. She hovered above the ship and used the grav-beams to start loading crates of supplies into the cargo hold. When the hold was full, she flew towards the Iron Hammer airship in front of Dino Attack Headquarters. Kara landed to allow full access to the cargo bay by the Alpha Team agents so they could unload. ---- Commander Pharisee was irate. He marched back and forth by the T-1 Typhoon that contained agent Firecracker and the fugitive Snake. At least, it did… until Snake somehow slipped past Mallory. Apparently, there had been some growing concerns after numerous witnesses reported agent Dynamite in the scene, apparently promising to break Firecracker out of prison. Pharisee's responsibilities included monitoring dangerous drunkards like Dynamite. Up to this point, the demolitions expert had been more along the lines of a blunt instrument directed at the enemy. He certainly was dangerous, but it would be incredibly out-of-character for him to kill his own teammates to partake in a prison break; Pharisee highly doubted that Dynamite would do such a thing, even for a friend like Firecracker. But one psychotic demolitionist was not enough. Since Firecracker's arrest, reports had come in that eight people had died in his attempted destruction of the base. Three had been refugees seeking shelter from the war, one had been a doctor, another an Agents ally, and a sixth was mangled beyond identification. Their deaths made Firecracker's miscalculation all the more serious. Even with him now in handcuffs, Pharisee feared he would cause even more destruction if he broke out of prison and went on the loose again. He had held back before, but he was now willing to use lethal force. The recent deaths of the Dino Attack soldiers at Blaire Darkling's hands were an embarrassment. It was sickening that men who had survived the war would live long enough to be struck down by an enemy-turned-ally-turned-enemy-again in a senseless act of violence. In part, Pharisee blamed himself; it was his responsibility to prevent such an obvious betrayal by Darkling, and yet more agents had died on his watch. Although he would never admit it, managing Internal Affairs was too big of a job for a single man. While Pharisee dedicated his entire existence to his sacred mission, men like Darkling would always slip through his fingers. He would accept help, but he had yet to find a man who fit his standards. It was truly disheartening. These men had been through so much and, at the moment of celebration, more tragedy had struck. Now, Pharisee was angry and he vowed punishment - be it in this life or the next. "Excuse me," said a voice from behind Pharisee as he stepped around the helicopter. He turned and looked as a middle-aged man with round glasses approached him. "My name is agent Scott. I represent the Brick Street Journal. I understand you're head of internal affairs, and I was wondering if you'd be willing to say a few things for the press in Antarctica." Before Pharisee could respond, another uniformed man approached. "My name is agent Hauk," he said as he stuck his hands in his pockets. "I represent Antarctic affairs. What happened here? Looks like there was an explosion." "This plaza is filled with the result of many explosions," responded Pharisee coldly. "What makes you think this particular crater is of significance?" "Dunno," Hauk said with a shrug. "I'm just making small talk, really. The fact that you're pacing around madly somewhat drew my attention." "Do you have something to say?" growled the commander. "I have work do." Hauk nodded his head and moved to face the commander. "I'm a marshal in charge of the man by the name of Snake. I was overseeing a project in which we offered pardons to criminals in exchange for services in the team, one of them being agent Snake. I'd like to ask you some questions in regards to his... service. Can you tell me about his performance on this team?" The reference to the felon piqued Pharisee's interested. He suddenly looked up and pulled Hauk close. "I can tell you many things about Snake. I can tell you that, during his time here, he brutally attacked a fellow agent Plastic Serpent. While I was unable to apprehend him immediately thereafter, he deserted on the eve of battle with a brutal murderer and lowlife named Trigger. Once again, Snake eluded me and he escaped to attack agent Plastic Serpent again. Not until after the battle was I finally able to subdue him and incarcerate him for his crimes. He is an unrighteous son of a 4+ Figure, Mr. Hauk; now that I have finally brought justice down upon him, he escapes to once again reap misery on this Earth." Hauk was slightly taken aback by the lengthiness of Pharisee's answer. "What makes you qualified to make this claim?" "I head the Internal Affairs department in the Dino Attack," responded Pharisee. "Due to Snake's tendency to create disturbance in his wake, I have grown to have close knowledge of the man. I assure you, Mr. Hauk, that Snake is by no means rehabilitated; he is still the lowly pathetic imbecile he always was. At this moment, he is once again loose and I must go retrieve him. He escaped as a result of a few foolish souls and he will create more misery if he is not soon captured." Hauk whistled slowly. "So you really think he's that bad, huh? You say he escaped after the arrest? Perhaps using the explosion as cover to make his move?" "Indeed," said the commander. "While he is hardly the worst convict I have pursued, he is certainly unpleasant. His repeated attack on a fellow agent is disparaging. Thus far I have witnessed no heroics of any sort come from the man, so if you thought he would leave this war changed, you are sadly mistaken. He has abandoned us before; he is likely halfway across the city by now." "Au contraire," said Hauk, gesturing to the T-1 Typhoon. "I met him in here, only less than an hour ago-" Pharisee suddenly grabbed hold of Hauk and pushed him against the T-1 Typhoon. Getting close enough that their noises touched, he spoke with a ferocious authority: "And you let him escape? Where is he now?!" "He was in handcuffs last I saw, I-I swear!" stammered Hauk in surprise. "I said he could be a free man. I left him to go interview some agents on his performance!" The commander growled and pushed him harder into the helicopter before releasing him. "Fool! Snake is probably long gone by now! Congratulations, Mr. Hauk; because of your incompetence, I still have jurisdiction over Snake. Perhaps you could learn how to deal with men like him." "What's your plan?" said Hauk nervously. "Snake is dangerous," Pharisee said as he started to walk away from the helicopter. "When last seen, he was in the company of an insane man. They have all caused harm to Dino Attack agents. It is my sacred duty to apprehend him before he causes more harm." He turned back to Hauk. "I will lead you to him, Mr. Hauk. I will show you how justice is done. This is the law, Mr. Hauk; the law is not enforced by your bureaucracy, but by my knowledge of good and evil. This is the only way to judge right and wrong: through action and example." Hauk was visibly concerned and Pharisee knew it. "It is better to be feared than loved," said Pharisee. "It may not be civil and it may not popular, but it is the only effective way to bring about true justice. Something, Mr. Hauk, that you will soon learn." ---- Rotor and Cabin quickly climbed out of the T-1 Typhoon as it descended. The rotors came to a gradual stop as the occupants got out. Mac quickly grabbed Zelda, put her arm around his shoulder, and started to lead her off. He brought her toward the nearby Iron Hammer and carried her through the door. Inside, he worked his way past a few empty beds. He saw two paramedics who were busy performing a strange surgical process on one man. A young female doctor with a cross around her neck lay fast asleep on the bed right next to them. He worked his way down the corridor. A few other patients were present before he finally ran into one man that he recognized from Outpost 4. "Copper!" Mac shouted. The old doctor turned toward him. "Mac, what are you doing here?" "I got a patient," replied Mac. "She's hurt real bad. You might want to give her a hand." Copper looked at him for a moment. "We have an empty bed over here. Why don't you put her down?" Mac complied and walked over toward the empty bed Copper gestured toward, and lay the wounded girl down. Copper walked over to her. "What the Znap happened to you?" he asked as he looked at her wound. "Blaire..." Zelda muttered. "Blair?" Copper asked. "That biologist we worked with back in Antarctica?" "No," replied Mac. "Different Blaire. This guy was with XERRD, some kind of assassin or something." "Oh dear," murmured Copper. "It's alright, I'll take care of her." Mac turned back for the exit. ---- Stepping out of the T-1 Typhoon, Angel Eyes was rather surprised by two agents he noticed, one of whom he recognized: a tall man with a thin mustache and a receding hairline. Slowly, he walked up to the man. "Hauk?" Angel Eyes asked as he approached. The man turned in surprise. "Well, well, well," said Hauk as he turned in surprise. "Van Cleef. I wasn't expecting to see you out here." "Well, it beats Antarctica," Angel Eyes remarked as he placed his pipe in his mouth and took a moment to light it. "You know this man?" Pharisee asked. "Yes," replied Hauk. "He's actually my cousin, if you can believe it." Angel Eyes smiled. ***** Snake was rather surprised as the familiar faces of agents Hauk and Pharisee approached him. "Agent Snake," Hauk said. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to put you under arrest." Snake looked at him for a moment, and ran around a nearby T-1 Typhoon, only to have a pistol cocked in his face. He looked up and saw the gunslinger Angel Eyes staring right at him. "My cousin," Hauk remarked as he approached. ---- Hotwire slept like a log in the infirmary of the Iron Hammer. According the medics, the only thing he was suffering from was exhaustion. Kat wasn't particularly surprised. As far as she could tell, the only rest he'd had in the past three days was a few hours' fitful dozing on a T-1 Typhoon and several fainting spells; while plenty of other agents were doing just fine with similar experiences, the loss of his leg had undoubtedly exacerbated Hotwire's condition. It was due to those concerns that the medics had decided to keep him here for the time being. Leaving him to his hibernation, Kat picked herself up off the chair by Hotwire's bed and headed for the exit. She stopped when she spotted a familiar figure seated by one of the beds. Wright looked up as Kat walked over and sat down. Her eyes were bleary from fatigue -- or possibly tears; it was hard to tell; perhaps it was both -- but her expression was calm and somewhat hopeful. On the bed, Shiller would have appeared to be sleeping peacefully but for the heart monitor and oxygen tube. "They're saying he'll be fine, thank goodness," she said. "What about you, though?" Kat asked. "You look you got a bit knocked around. Have you let the medics check you over?" Wright paused. "I hadn't really given that much thought." Kat smirked "Too busy worrying about your boyfri--" Wright cut her off with a glare that could have frozen magma. Kat faltered and reconsidered her choice of words. "I guess that was a bit insensitive." "A bit?" "I'm sorry," Kat said, hanging her head slightly. "I've just kinda lost touch with that whole... area of human experience." "You don't say?" inquired Wright, anger replaced by curiosity. "Hotwire says he's the same way." "Not entirely," said Kat. "He and I have talked about that too, and he's never been in touch. My case is a bit odd, though -- Katerina was married, so I'm guessing I'd be able to feel that range of emotion, at least hypothetically; I simply haven't." "But you're different people, right?" "Separate? Yes. But different? Less so than you'd think." "Regardless, you and Hotwire make quite the pair," said Wright with a shrug. "If you can call us a pair," Kat replied. She stood and gave Wright an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "Best of health to the both of you, and don't ever forget how lucky you are," she said with a slight smile as she turned to leave. "Because sometimes, romantic love is the least complicated kind." ---- "For he was a jolly good fellow, for he was a jolly good fellow..." "This is Rotor. Blaire Darkling is dead, and we've picked up Zach's team and returned them to the Iron Hammer for injury overview." "80 percent of teens have moved on to rap. If you're among the 20 percent of real music fans like Rotor, put this message in your Dino Attack description." "Well, that should take care of all loose ends." "What about Señor Palomar?" "I'm sure Sam Sinister will take care of him. Chase him off into the sunset or something." "Hey guys, I'm hearing rumors that Trouble, Rex's old pet Mutant Lizard, was found dead by Dr. Gladys!" "Really?! Man, no wonder he sacrificed himself! He didn't have anything left." "Man, we really fried the coke in that battle, huh guys?" ".....what was that?" "I WAS FROZEN TODAY!" "Anybody got change?" "And the Darkitect?" "That's Nexus Force's problem." "But didn't Trouble have a mate or something? That's what the database said." "Guess somebody should find them and break the news, then." "...WHICH NOBODY CAN DENY!!" "If they survived." "Man, this chatter went to Rock Bottom pretty quickly after the battle ended." "You mean it hadn't already?" "...I hope he will never stop, or else I will be nostalgic..." "SHUT UP!" Andrew snickered as he turned off the radio. They had been trying to track Blaire's trail, avoiding wreckage and the odd wandering group of non-hostile Mutant Dinos for the past several minutes. Now he was given a relief of concern. "Well, enough of that," he said. "Let's head on over to the Iron Hammer and meet up with them. I'm sure you guys would want to be dropped off too." The other riders in the Fire Hammer - Solomon, Bluetooth, and Dr. Cyborg - nodded. Laxus and Pterisa, the latter of which had caught up with them after the split from Zach's crew, gave their agreement from the Xenon communicator. Without more debate, Andrew began steering off to Dino Attack HQ, following the PDA GPS back "home". The LEGO Islander breathed a sigh of relief. "So that's it," he said. "The conflict's finally over. It'll be good to be able to go ahead and kick back." "You mean like that LEGO Island party the chatter's been all over about?" Bluetooth asked. "Yep. You should try and come too, Bluetooth. I bet a good dance to 'Brick by Brick' should help you with Vinyaya." The technician smirked sarcastically. "Yeah, but I don't trust my dancing skills. Not by a long shot." There were snickers from within the cab. Then Laxus came in through the connection to the Xenon launcher. "So Andrew, about what we talked about regarding the future…" "Oh, yeah, that!" Andrew exclaimed. "You serious there, bud? I didn't think one could simply go into space." "Hey, all you had to do was ask," Laxus remarked. "I can easily arrange a trip, maybe even another place if you're interested." "Oh yeah, that does sound good. We'll need to talk more over that once the party shenanigans are over with." "That sounds well to me too," added Bluetooth. "Could make it much easier for us to keep in touch. I intend to get back to Futuron as soon as possible, and exempting helping to rebuild the space ports, I doubt I'll have many assignments back on Earth." "Don't you mean the LEGO Planet?" Pterisa asked. "Us non-Earthlings don't actually call it that," Laxus explained. "We prefer the more specific names, since, you know, there's LEGO on all planets, and most of them have a moon, so using proper names is preferable for them." "Indeed," Bluetooth added. "In terms of moon names, I like Luna." "Interesting..." Pterisa muttered. As Andrew smirked, he glanced out his door window at the exterior side-mirror, which had somehow miraculously survived their ordeals. He could see Pterisa clinging on with Laxus on the Xenon cannon. The thought did make him think about how his future would pan out. He had talked of liking space much in his time, and the thought of going out to see the galaxy did still appeal to him. But as he thought about living out there on another planet, like Mars or something else, the thought of Pterisa did make him a bit hesitant for some reason. It was odd, and for a few moments, he couldn't quite place it. Then he remembered how much he and the Hybrid had bonded over the past two days. He realized that what he was feeling was a hesitation to want to part with her. He didn't want to leave her, though he knew that their experiences had likely strengthened her social skills, and would make it easier to get along with Minifigkind. Still, he hoped he hadn't made her too dependent on him, such an element didn't work well for some relationships (such as Rex and Amanda; the LEGO Islander could make a good guess for her death being a sizable factor in Rex's willingness to make his sacrifice). Andrew shook his head to clear it up. He sorted the matter to the back of his mind and resolved to finish it later. Right now, there was people to meet up with, and a party to prepare for. ---- "I'll see you two later, I suppose," Vinyaya said with a smile to Zach and Minerva. "We'll still have to work out a funeral for Nazareno, and then there are all the celebrations..." "We're counting on it," Minerva said, clasping Vinyaya on the back. Dr. Martinet stood behind her with a tired smile underneath his mustache. "Still working, Martinet? I mean, you were out in the battlefield," "Aye, and now all-a the injured in one place," Martinet said, his eye continually glancing down at the clipboard in his hands. "Once most everyone is taken care of, maybe I'll take a nap, eh?" "Thanks for that, by the way," Vinyaya added. "After the last experience with the medics, I'd rather have you checking out my scars and wounds than the other medics." Martinet chuckled before gesturing for the group to follow him into the designated medical wing of the Iron Hammer. "Alright!" Martinet yelled out. "I'm going to need someone or someones to do a quick checkup of two agents!" Dr. Pierce shushed Martinet irritably. Martinet nodded apologetically. "Righto, this is a hospital after all." Zach, Minerva, and Vinyaya chuckled quietly as they continued through. It wasn't a pleasant sight to see the injured agents with scars, wounds, or lacking limbs or eyes. There was other those who didn't show any serious wounds but had still suffered, such as when they passed by Hertz being operated on by Enter and Return. Zach smiled as he knew that in probably a good few hours' time, Hertz would have his hearing back and be with Naomi Carver again. "Sorry about your friend Nazareno," Martinet said as he continued. "He was quite the man and we could've used his help here with so many people suddenly without an arm or leg. We'll be able to-a replace them, naturally. It'll probably just take a bit longer." Zach acknowledged Martinet faintly as he glanced around at the patients. Even in the morbid setting of a war hospital, many seemed to be taking their wounds in stride and were laughing with friends and family, knowing that the world would continue on. "Hey!" Minerva said in loud whisper. Zach turned his head to see Zelda sitting in a bed, waving to them as she spoke to a doctor Zach didn't recognize. With a shrug, Zach, Minerva, Vinyaya, and Martinet moved toward her. As they reached her, Zach noticed her jacket sleeves were empty and her arms were tucked inside it. "Can I speak with them a bit, Copper?" Zelda asked. "Come on. It's not like I'm about to die." Copper seemed uncertain, but let them converse. "We did it," Zelda said, with a faint, bitter grin. That was all she needed to say. Zach, Minerva, and Vinyaya simply smiled and nodded. Vinyaya went to pat Zelda on the back when she winced and shook her head, causing Vinyaya to pull back. "Blaire left his mark, though." She stood up and pushed her jacket onto the bed, revealing a white tanktop stained with sweat. She turned around, revealing the back of the shirt was stained with blood. She lifted the shirt up halfway up her back so they could see half of the dark red, jagged cut Blaire Darkling had left on her back. "Not as bad as yours, Holly," Zelda said as she slid her shirt back down and turned back to the group. "More like Minerva's on her cheek. Somewhat of a reminder of what could've been before Blaire took it away." She paused for a moment, then added, "We all seemed to be gaining scars from this battle. What about you, Zach?" "Willa the Witch used some spell to create a gash across my body," Zach said with a shrug. "I managed to heal it with the Maelstrom, but it left a purple and black scar." "You can compare scars later," Copper interrupted irritably. "I have a patient to deal with." "Indeed," Martinet said. "While your injuries are-a no laughing message, Commander Vinyaya, you're rather low priority to compared to some others. I want to check you and get you out of here so we can deal with more urgent matters." "Yes, of course," Vinyaya said. "I suppose my 'goodbye' earlier was rather pointless. See you later, Zach, Minerva, Zelda." With that, she followed Dr. Martinet to another area of the infirmary. Zach and Minerva turned to leave when they bumped into Dr. Naomi Hale and a male doctor he didn't recognize. "Martinet said you two need a checkup?" Hale asked somewhat impatiently. "Uh, yeah," Minerva said. "Probably some proper medical-" "Good enough. Bones, you deal with him. I'll handle her." The dark-haired man pulled Zach to the side. "Name's DeForest McCoy. Feel free to call me Bones. So, you're not severely injured, right?" "Yeah," Zach said. "A quick check to make sure everything's in working order. Probably clean up some wounds Blaire Darkling created." "Already on it." While Bones began to look over Zach, the latter turned his head to Minerva. Dr. Hale was removing the self-applied bandage Minerva had placed over arm. "What caused this?" Dr. Hale asked, looking at the wound closely. "A bullet grazed my arm," Minerva stated simply. Dr. Hale simply nodded and began to clean up the wound. Minerva flinched as Hale dabbed something into the wound before looking at Zach and grinning. "I think we're done fighting now." "We'll probably get sent to help round up the remaining dinos across the planet. Exterminate the wild ones and capture the rest for science," Zach said as Bones rolled up Zach's sleeve and looked at his arms. "Yeah, but that's nothing. The real fighting's over. Time to celebrate and have a good time." "There's still Athena and Nazareno," Zach pointed out. Minerva's features only saddened briefly. "Yeah, I suppose. But I doubt they want us to be moping over their deaths. Wherever Mom is, she'll finally be able to be together with Dad, Tod, and Oswald again while I move on and restart my life for the better. Nazareno's death was avenged and all of his friends and his lover are still alive from the encounter. I'm pretty sure they'd want us to celebrate." Zach smiled faintly at her. "You're probably right on that one. Time to sing carols and songs of victory. To eat as much Brickolini's pizza as you can stomach." "To laugh and rejoice in the survival of an entire race," Minerva added with a mock-dreaminess in her voice. "To dance until your feet fall off, right?" "That can be taken literally on LEGO Island, you know. It will probably happen at some point." The two laughed until they were hushed by Dr. Hale irritably. Zach looked away from Minerva as Bones wrapped up a wound on his arm in a bandage. "Anything else I missed?" Hale asked Minerva, straightening. "I got a cut on my stomach. I suppose you could look at that," Minerva said with a shrug. Dr. Hale's eyes narrowed and looked at Bones and Zach with a look of distaste. "Come with me, please," Hale said irritably. "You can hang out with your boyfriend in a bit." Hale pushed past Zach and Bones. Minerva smiled awkwardly at Zach as she followed the doctor. Zach chuckled sheepishly as she passed. Bones seemed to ignore the passing conversation. He lifted Zach's shirt and ran a cautious finger down the purple and black scar on his stomach. "Is there anything I can do about this?" Bones asked curiously. "No. I healed that myself. That's why it looks like that," replied Zach. Bones stared at Zach. Zach simply shook his head. "Best not ask. There's nothing wrong with it." Bones shrugged and stood up. "Then I'm done with you. You'll live and won't get any infections. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more critical patients to take care of." Zach simply nodded and stepped out of the way as Bones went to help someone else. Zach shuffled through the hallway in silence, hoping Hale would let Minerva go soon. After several minutes of waiting near the exit, Minerva finally appeared in his vision. "There you are!" she said, grinning apologetically. "Sorry about that." "Not to worry," Zach said as they began to exit the Iron Hammer. "Enough dreary medical-death-bad stuff. Time to see what sort of celebrations are happening outside." Minerva smirked. "Sounds like a plan." ***** Shaw slowly moaned as she shifted. She half-opened her eyes and somewhat sleepily sat up. She looked over to the bed next to her, and remembered suddenly that she had been tasked with watching Enter and Return. She felt somewhat embarrassed, realizing she'd fallen asleep on the job, but then she noticed something surprising. Enter and Return were busy cleaning up, moving all their questionable tools outside. Hertz lay there, conscious. Quickly, she got up and looked at the patient. He seemed to notice her. "You alright?" she asked. Shaw yawned slightly as she sat down on the bed next to Hertz, who looked at her with some confusion. She knew his face, and she remembered him well, but she knew he probably didn't recognize her. "I don't suppose we've met," Shaw said to the patient, not sure if he could hear her or not. "At least not properly-" "Excuse me," said a gruff voice from behind, Shaw turned in surprise to see a middle-aged man with short dark hair. "Who are you?" Shaw asked. "I'm Dr. McCoy," replied the man. "You can call me Bones if you like, Dr..." "Shaw." "Shaw, right. I'm just checking on patients here. What's up with this one?" "He's not mine, actually," Shaw said. "He was being treated by Enter and Return. I just wanted to make sure they actually helped him." "Ah, yes," McCoy said casually. "They do get the job done, don't they?" "Maybe," replied Shaw. "But given their questionable methods, a quick checkup can't hurt." "Of course," agreed McCoy. "Excuse me," said Crusher from behind. McCoy turned in surprise to see the red-headed female doctor looking at him. "I don't think I've seen you around here befo-" "McCoy. And you are...?" "Dr. Crusher." "Pleasure," replied McCoy, extending a hand. "I'm just here to lend a hand." "That's good," said Crusher. "There's one patient with a chest tube and a collapsed lung. His girlfriend hasn't left his side since. I was just going to go check on him. You want to give me a hand?" "Alright," replied McCoy, as he turned and followed Crusher. Shaw watched them leave before turning back to the patient. Shaw looked at Hertz, who stared at her, apparently uncertain of what to say. From his actions, it was hard to tell whether he could actually hear her. He could just as easily have been somewhat shocked to have his hearing back, something that would pass once he had time to readjust to it. Then again, Enter and Return may have bungled up the job. "I'm sorry Carver isn't here to see you," Shaw said anxiously. "I know that would have felt good: wake up with your hearing and first speak to the woman you love. But unfortunately, she isn't. I just wanted to make sure you were alright." ***** Kara saw Zach and Minerva exit the Iron Hammer. She ran over to them. "Hey, how'd the fight go?" she asked. "We beat Darkling, but we all took a beating for it," Zach said. "I'm glad he's dead, but I'm sorry you guys got hurt for it. Hey, I've been hearing you, Andrew, Laxus, and others talk about a party on LEGO Island. When is it, and am I invited?" she asked. "New Year's, and yes, of course you are. Everybody is," Zach said as they walked off. Kara ran back to the dropship and found it unloaded. Catless was standing by the ramp in the back. She walked towards Kara when she saw her. "You got my message?" she asked. "Yes I did. Why do you want to go to the UlTech building?" Kara asked. "I heard Dr. Cyborg was going to be there, and I need to speak to him about something," Catless said. As she was saying that, a group of XERRD members walked up, asking to be taken to the UlTech tower. Kara agreed, and all the passengers loaded the Reclaimer. "Man," Kara muttered as she took off and flew towards the building. "Everyone wants to speak to Dr. Cyborg." ---- Zach and Minerva walked through the battlefield. With no street lights, the only light in the dark came from the high beams of the Iron Hammer and the multiple bonfires created from the wrecks of vehicles and corpses of Mutant Dinos. The crowd of Minifigs on the streets grew rapidly. They passed by Dino Attack, Alpha Team, Agents, Rogue Knights, Chinese Soldiers, and Ogel Drones. United in battle, the many opposing forces of the LEGO Planet were now united in celebration over the defeat of their common enemy. "Too bad it won't last," Minerva noted wistfully. "Yeah," Zach agreed as they shuffled past a group of Alpha Team and Ogel Drones celebrating together. "The Brickster will be captured, but villains like Ogel and Vladek will retreat to their headquarters and kingdoms, rebuild their forces, and be back to causing trouble." "Such is life on the LEGO Planet," Minerva said with a faint grin. "One year gives us an almost-apocalyptic invasion of square-headed robots who held the mayor hostage. Two years later we have a mad scientist and his lackeys causing trouble and destroying stuff with a big robot. A year later, mutated dinosaurs show up. With those 'alien fleet' warnings I heard about from Bluetooth and Holly, we can probably bet on some kind of alien invasion next year." "The planet's never going to get a break, is it?" Zach chuckled. "But seeing as we have a forewarning of this alien fleet, if they prove hostile, we should be able to stop them before they cause too much damage." Zach wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her tight against his side. "Now, as tired as I am and the likelihood of me collapsing on a street to take a nap grows higher with every moment, I'm feeling up for visiting one of these little celebrations here." Minerva yawned and nodded. "Might as well." The two approached a large crowd surrounding the fiery corpse of a Mutant Dino. People were talking, laughing, and singing a variety of songs: primarily holiday carols, but with a mixture of songs expressing victory. One man had an acoustic guitar in his grip and a woman had a drum in front of her. Both had a crowd of people around them as they sang and played a variety of tunes. Zach and Minerva leaned against a Fire Hammer on the outer edge of the circle listened as the two musicians grew louder, tempting a few people into heading into the crowd and begin to dance. Zach and Minerva smiled and clapped their hands to the music before Zach was tapped on the shoulder by a familiar face. "Good to see you in one piece, Virchaus," Raine Dashworthy said, gripping his shoulder. Zach smirked and pulled Dashworthy into a brief hug. Her eyes managed to locate his metallic right hand. "I guess that need to fix you up a little bit." "A little bit," Zach repeated. "That's only the most visible thing wrong with me. Good to see you still kicking, Raine. This is Minerva Fabello. Minerva, Raine's another one of those Agents I worked with early on in the war. Less than Thad, but still up there." Minerva smiled nervously and shook Raine's hand. Raine smiled politely at Minerva before turning to Zach. "Speaking of Thad," Raine said in a low voice. "Did I hear right? You got the guy that killed him? That Matt Wherestorm or whatever?" Zach nodded. "We got him. Me, Minerva, and two others. We all had a bit of a... bone to pick with him. Thad was only one wrong Dark...er, Vhere... - whatever we're going to call him - committed not only today, but for apparently years." "Good on you, then," Raine said, slapping Zach hard in the back, causing him to grimace. "Since there won't be much of a use for the Dino Attack now, I hope you consider rejoining the Agents. We could use someone like you." Zach merely smiled. "I'll think about it." Raine clasped his shoulder one last time before jumping into the center of the circle and start to dance with a black-haired Alpha Team wearing a brown fedora. "Are you going to rejoin the Agents?" Minerva asked curiously as she glanced at Raine. Zach shrugged. "I have all sorts of ideas of what to do. Right now, I'm not really concerned about it." Minerva shrugged and they both watched a man with a fiddle join the group of musicians. The newly formed group spoke in hushed tones before starting off into a fast-paced piece that got multiple people off into dancing with a partner or significant other. Those who didn't clapped along from the sidelines. "I'm half-tempted to jump in," Zach noted. "Feel free," Minerva said. Zach glanced at her curiously. She rolled her eyes. "I'm not going in there! I've never danced in my life!" "Fine," said Zach. "Then when we go to LEGO Island and go to the party there, you can make a fool of yourself there instead of here." Minerva's eyes narrowed. He punched her shoulder playfully. "Speaking of LEGO Island, you're still moving over there now, right?" "Yep," Minerva said with certainty. Zach smiled at this. He had not failed notice Minerva's uncertainty about going to LEGO Island with him after the war when discussing it briefly a day before. "I have nothing left here and, personally, I don't want to stay here anymore. I'm interested in restarting, and LEGO Island sounds like the place to do it. Not sure how I'm going to it or what I'm actually going to do, but I'm sure something good will come out of living on LEGO Island." Zach chuckled faintly. "At least you're optimistic. Everyone on the island, especially Andrew and I, will make an effort to help you whenever you need it." Minerva smiled in silence before pulling Zach close to her as they watched their friends and allies celebrate their triumph. ---- "Titan," Stranger said to his fellow agent as he encountered him in the crowding of agents around the Alpha Team craft site. "Glad to see you lived this long." "Same to you, Stranger," Titan said with amusement, clasping hands in a hard handshake. "I've been hearing rumors from the database geeks. Never thought you of all people would follow in Rex's footsteps." "Depending on who you ask, the hat would make some think otherwise," Stranger remarked. "But frankly, my relationship with Buddy is more of a semi-large friendship. I might keep in touch, but I doubt we'll be in much of close contact as time goes on." "So you're leaving him to roam?" asked Titan. "He seems okay with that. In fact, he went off on his own after we won and everything and I told him what I heard happened over the comms. I suppose Buddy needed a moment or something, he seemed broken up over Rex dying." "What a shame." With his interest in the subject leaving, Titan started talking again. "So did you finally get any good trophies?" "That was what I was wanting to discuss, actually. You got a machete on you?" Titan pulled such a blade out of a holder on his belt. "Finally got the old thing sent over to LEGO Island just before the whole final battle announcements came in. A waste of shipping, but I was glad to get off the island. The people were re-inhabiting it already, and they were a little too zany for my taste." "They're like that," Stranger remarked. "You should see those two guys who got elite rank. Anyways, we managed to kill a T-Rex while holding out in this bar (though we didn't kill it per se, that Dr. Cyborg guy dropped in and stole the kill… a bit cheap, if you ask me), and I got the short straw for getting the head." "Can see why you need a machete with skin that thick. Well then, let's decapitate that thing." ---- Bluetooth found himself wandering through the crowd of agents around the Iron Hammer shortly after Andrew arrived back there. He was hoping to try and find Holly and see to it that she was okay, but found himself distracted as he ran into a few old friends, such as Rockford. "Bluetooth!" Rockford said when they met. "Happy to see you made it out of this mess alright!... And my condolences for Semick, I knew you two were close friends." "We were more like close colleagues," Bluetooth explained, "but thanks. It is getting easier for me, though. I've met someone I've been particularly fond of, someone female, and I think we can... work out something." "Ah, good to see love is still in the air after all that's happened," Rockford said as he patted the technician on the shoulder. "Good man. Reminds me that I have to talk to my wife soon. Ole knows she must be worried sick after I decided to leave Adventurers' Island so abruptly." The two smirked in amusement. "Glad to see you around, Rockford. Your perspective has always been insightful. I've missed you during all the little incidents we had here at HQ yesterday." "I heard about that," Rockford said as they started walking towards the Iron Hammer out of habit. "A shame I wasn't around for the traitor debacle. I'm sure I could've helped in some way to find the culprit before nearly all the Second Headquarters Squad was lost. And I was always wanting to confront French Fries after I heard he got off scot-free for what he did with the Antarctica mission intel. Though, I will say-" "I do hope you don't mean along the lines of what Rex did to that imbecile," said a voice. Rockford and Bluetooth turned to see Commander Pharisee himself passing by. "Though, judging by what I know about you, I do think that physical assault is extremely out of character for you." "Indeed." Rockford pulled on his shirt collar and, to Bluetooth, it seemed that the man was firming up in a manner similar to how he had been with regards to the like of Dust and Lutsky. "I do prefer seeing the best in people and trying to make them see the right of way, though I will admit French Fries was a bit beyond the normal reaches." "A respectable trait in a fellow part of the justice system," Pharisee said, reaching out a hand to shake. Rockford took it stiffly and shook it only once. "Interesting for you to say that, out of all people." Pharisee's face hardened a bit. "Some people are beyond talk and have to be dealt with. Especially after repeat offenses. I'll be frank: if I was you, Rockford, Mr. Thutmose would've been off that island the moment you uncovered his lies about his background. And he wouldn't have gotten away so many times as easily as he did." Rockford's eye twitched. "I suppose we just all have certain ways of doing things. Let's agree to disagree." "Very well." As Pharisee and Rockford let go of each other's hands, Bluetooth saw Holly come up to them. "Told you I'd be alright, Ryan," she said as Bluetooth came to her side. She looked at his current companions. "Rockford. Commander Pharisee. Good to see you're here and in once piece." "The feeling's mutual," said Rockford. "I heard about your confrontation with Mr. Vherestorm. Rather reckless, in my opinion, but well done. I doubt he could've been captured anyways." "No doubt," said Pharisee, "judging from what some of the Unitron people have told me. Very brave of you, Commander Vinyaya, especially after you decided to limit your group to four." "It couldn't be avoided," said Holly. "The man was mad, and desperate to get away. We couldn't hold him off long enough to have everyone in to get a good shot." "He sure wasn't like that ape tha-" Bluetooth started, but stopped himself, remembering how Rockford felt about Mur. The former lawyer tensed up at the word "ape," but quickly relaxed with a press of the shoulder by Pharisee. "This conversation's been nice," said the Internal Affairs operator, "but I best be going. I still have some careless renegades to track down. See you in the courts, Rockford." As he walked away, Rockford relaxed notably. "He's nice under the right circumstances," he muttered to Bluetooth and Holly, "but bust my bricks if I don't like his attitude on justice. It's like some bad comic book's tackle of the subject. And geez, where the heck does he work out to get that large?" "You'll always have those kinds of people in any kind of law enforcement department," said Holly. "Trust me, you learn to deal with it." "I suppose so. Well, the best of luck to you two." Rockford tipped his helmet and walked off. "So then..." Bluetooth said, turning to his current companion. "Darkling's dead, and... we're still alright. What now?" "How about we check out the celebrations?" Vinyaya said, pointing to over where much celebrations and musical instruments were going on. "Maybe we can start discussing things in better circumstances." ---- "Ladies and gentlemen, it is I! The lord of the bricks! The king of the bricks! The this of that! The brick of brack!" Frozeen glanced upward at the sound of a familiar nasally laugh. Descending upon the torn-up road was a famous criminal who was being carried by a pair of his robotic henchmen, flying around on their jetpacks. "Long live the Brickster!" he declared triumphantly. "Hello, again," Frozeen said as he rolled his eyes, then tried his best to look away. "Hey, what's the matter?" The Brickster raised an eyebrow. "Embarrassed to be around your infamous big brother? I'd think that after what happened last night, you'd be proud to call me 'brother'!" Frozeen sighed. "Yeah, actually. What you did out there... flying that T-1 Typhoon into battle and blasting that music... taking on Dr. Rex himself... I've got to admit it, you did good out there. Real good. And not to mention what I heard about your exploits at Dinosaur Island." He looked the Brickster in the eyes and smiled, patting him on the back. "You made me proud, for once." "Yeah, yeah, yeah," said the Brickster, shrugging. "Let's cut the Znap. Now, a little less of the mushy stuff, and on to the glory! Ya know, before this whole apocalypse stuff happened, if I so much as stepped out of line, they were gonna hang me and my laundry out to dry. Now, I'm thinkin' they'll probably grant me a full pardon!" "Keep dreaming," said Frozeen, smirking. "You and I both know you're not going straight." "We'll see about that," jeered the Brickster. "I heard some of them talkin' about this guy they hired and they were going to pardon him if they fought for us. Well, turns out he was an idiotic coward and ditched us on the battlefield, and it sounds like they're revokin' the pardon and lockin' him back up. Meanwhile, I single-handedly destroyed that laboratory and wreaked more havoc and destruction upon the Mutant Dinos and XERRD before taking on Dr. Rex himself! They'd be ungrateful not to give me some kinda reward! I mean, if all they're gonna do is give me the chair after this, they might as well throw in a lovely matching table for good behavior!" "You know, you're quite lucky," murmured Frozeen. "You met Dr. Rex face-to-face and lived to tell the tale, and then you fought against him and you're still standing here today. So many others... didn't make it." "Ah, yes," remarked the Brickster. "I heard about General Evil... Meh, I ain't too fond of the guy, myself. He was an obstruction to me proving my worth to Evil Ogel. Maybe now that General Evil's gone, Ogel will need a new general followin' him around. I ain't got no fancy grasshopper cybernetic suit, but hey, he can call me 'Thumper' and we'll call it a day." Just then, a Fire Hammer passed them, blasting a loud, triumphant victory march. The two Brickster-Bots standing on either side of the Brickster started dancing. The Brickster scowled. "Stop that dancing!" he ordered them. "Don't ya know what happens when you don't stop dancing? One of these days, you're gonna die dancing!" As soon as the Fire Hammer was out of earshot and the Brickster-Bots stopped dancing, the Brickster turned to Frozeen. "Well, kid, it's been nice knowin' ya," he said. "I don't think things are ever gonna be the same now that we've spent some quality time together, workin' for the same side for once. Maybe in some alternate 'what-if?' universe, we coulda been great partners in crime: Brickster and Brickthief." "Perhaps," agreed Frozeen, "but in this timeline, circumstances and fate allowed it be so that a law-enforcer and a deranged criminal could work together for the greater good. It's been good working with you, Brickster." Frozeen extended a hand, and the Brickster was honestly too stunned to do anything for a moment. Then, with some hesitation, the Brickster shook Frozeen's hand, both of them feeling as though this would be the last time they would ever do so. ---- "Dr. Shaw," a voice said from behind. Shaw turned in surprise as Pierce approached her. "I... um... have a job for you. Would you mind if I talk to you in private?" Shaw looked at Hertz, who seemed stare at her with a look of "go on." Reluctantly, Shaw stood up and walked with Pierce toward an isolated part of the Iron Hammer. There, she saw a middle-aged woman she recognized: Sarah Bishop, her teenage daughter lying asleep on the floor. Shaw remembered Sarah quickly, from the basement. Pierce had asked her to marry him. "Listen, Shaw," Pierce said. "We've got most of the wounded under control, and the others insisted I take a break. To be honest, they're probably right. Since you didn't seem too busy, I was wondering if you could do something for me." "What?" "You believe in faith, don't you?" Pierce asked. Shaw nodded. "You're the closest person we have then," Pierce said. "Shaw... this is going to sound crazy, but I'd like you to marry us." Shaw looked at him in surprise. "Me?" she asked. Pierce nodded. "I don't know what to say!" "Don't worry," assured Pierce. "Just give us a few minutes to get ready." "Okay," Shaw replied nervously, with a hint of excitement. "I've never done this before." ---- The streets were almost pitch-black without streetlights, so Helm and Giles jumped in surprise when a massive figure loomed suddenly in the glow of their Fire Hammer's headlights. Helm stomped on the brakes and reached for the communicator as Giles jumped down from the cab. "Good Builder, Winston, what happened to you?" he asked. The huge Agent was stumbling, blood soaking his uniform's right shoulder and left side. The body of his brother was slung over his uninjured shoulder. Epic Winston grunted. "Caught... in the crossfire between Darkling... and Virchaus and his friends. When I awoke, Darkling had vanished, so I found Matthias. I'd meant to give him the rites of our ancestors... but now... someone else may soon need to perform them for me as well." "Nonsense," said Giles, leading him back towards the Fire Hammer. "You're gonna make it. You'll be fine." The giant's only response was something between a smile and a grimace. ***** "Hey guys, HQ mess hall or Iron Hammer mess hall?" "Osprey? This is Helm. We found him." "Seriously? There's no way I'm eating Alpha Team rations again. Not even for old time's sake." "Okay, can someone PLEASE tell me whether or not Hotwire and Kat are an item?" "Affirmative, Helm. Thanks. We've recovered his sword. I imagine he'll be wanting that." "That's a false dichotomy. Also, define 'item.' " "I'm actually heading out for LEGO Island right now, if anyone wants to join me." ---- Shaw sat nervously in the corner, with a notebook containing a short passage she'd quickly written. Pierce emerged, dressed up as much as he could with what was available; he'd cleaned himself up somewhat and took off the labcoat, but as cool as they are, he couldn't exactly get a bowtie. Kate was nearby, waiting for this with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. One some level, she felt happy for her parents, but she knew it would be different, now having a real father. Sarah emerged soon after, cleaned up as much as she could. Shaw stood up shyly and approached them. "Should we begin?" She asked. Pierce nodded, putting his arm around Sarah's shoulder. Shaw took a deep breath and began. "Dearly Beloved," she said. "We are gathered here to-" "A-what do you think you're doing?" asked a voice from behind, Pierce turned to see the familiar mustached face of Martinet. "I'm on my break," Pierce said. "Shouldn't you be?" "I'm-a-not-a resting until all-a-the patients are recovered." "Well, the others were pretty insistent that I take a break. I'll be back in a few minutes." Martinet turned back to the infirmary as Shaw continued, holding the small notebook and nervously flipping the pages. "Uh... we are gathered here to celebrate the marriage of Dr. Alan Pierce and..." "Sarah Bishop." "Sarah Bishop," continued Shaw, clearly nervous. "Do you, Alan Pierce, take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?" "I do." "And you, Sarah Bishop?" "I do." "Then by the power vested in me, I hereby pronounce you man and wife... proceed with the execution... HEY, WHO WROTE THAT?" Kate smiled slightly. Shaw took a moment to regain her composure. "Okay, you may kiss the bride." Alan Pierce smiled and wrapped his arms around Sarah Pierce. They soon squeezed their lips together tightly. Shaw watched with a look of relief. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  8. Chapter 74: One Last Battle ---- Epic Winston darted to the side as soon as he saw Blaire Darkling raise the handgun. The bullet still struck him in the shoulder, and he hit the ground with a grunt. He began to rise, but his opponent rammed a boot down on Winston's chest and pointed the gun at his face. A faint smile flickered across his face as he placed his finger on the trigger. Winston abruptly reached up and grabbed Blaire's arm with both hands and jerked him forward. Blaire went over face-first and landed heavily on his back as Winston sprang up. His attacker was between him and his sword, but the dead Space Marauder was laying right at his feet. Blaire rose from the ground, brushing mud from his coat, and turned to see Epic Winston pointing a rocket launcher directly at him. Blaire swung his gun up and aimed it square with Winston's forehead. The Agent snarled, and the rocket launcher made a faint clicking sound. It was armed and prepared to fire. Great, Blaire thought irritably, his mouth twitching slightly. This was not going as planned. It was extremely likely that he would have to flee before getting a crack at those who had wronged him. Light was disappearing quickly. He was not interested in staying in this city swarming with Agents, Alpha Team, and Dino Attack agents. Kill those few agents that had wronged him and get out. It was supposed to be simple. And yet here he was, facing against an Agent that would not die. Half of Blaire admired his skill and his ability with the blade. Particularly since he used that massive blade with one hand. He probably didn't deserve a lackluster death like being shot in the head. Blaire shrugged off that thought, not willing to let his humanity get in the way of his goal. Blaire blinked once, thankful his sunglasses could hide that action. Perhaps... Nazareno was right. Perhaps Matthew Vherestorm was still alive. Perhaps he was taking control now as the situation demanded. Blaire gritted his teeth together angrily. No! He is no longer alive. His ghost faded with Nazareno. He should be no more, and yet they continue to bring him back up! Blaire felt like cursing. It was them. All of them. Nazareno, Frodongan, Fabello, Vinyaya, Bluetooth, and more. They would not let Vherestorm die while Darkling lives. They needed to be destroyed. Once and for all. "Leave," Blaire spoke, his old level of cold politeness in his voice. He no longer cared about this Agent at all. He was insignificant. Winston raised an eyebrow in shock. "What?" the Agent demanded, his voice hoarse. "I am sparing your life," Blaire snarled. Despite this, he never lowered the gun. He was not a fool. "I am done with this random violence. I'm finished with you. Unless your life truly has no meaning that this fight is an opportunity to escape or something." Winston stared in surprise, but the rocket launcher didn't lower. Blaire rolled his eyes irritably. Everyone just seemed MegaBlokland-bent on making things more difficult than they needed to be. Even if Blaire liked to play up the drama, he knew where to draw the line. Now he was trapped in a standoff with only one way out. Blaire whipped a katana out with his left hand and knocked the rocket launcher out of Epic Winston's hands. A sharp kick sent Epic Winston tumbling back. As Blaire sheathed both the katana and handgun, he reached down for the rocket launcher. "Nothing personal," he said. "You just happened to be caught in the crossfire." And then he fired. ***** "Hey Rotor," Mac said as he approached the pilot. "I hate to interrupt the moment, but weren't we looking for someone?" "Yeah," replied Cabin. "We were trying to find that one guy, Blaire, before we were called to defend the base." Rotor quickly remembered. "Blaire, of course. Anyone know who this guy is?" "Probably just some crazy biologist," Mac said sarcastically. Rotor was about to get into the pilot's seat when Cabin stopped him. He turned toward her, quickly cluing in to what she had in mind. "Oh, I do love you," Rotor said with a grin as he moved to the co-pilot's seat instead. Cabin took the controls. Mac got into the back. Lance was soon taking up his place as the gunner. Shotgun and Scope were on board as well, sniper rifles at the ready; after all, those might just come in handy. The T-1 Typhoon crew was joined on board with a handful of other people: the two gunslingers Clint and Angel Eyes, Maria holding hands with Andrea (the colour was starting to return to her almost-gray skin), and the real agent Fireman in a gas mask with a flamethrower whose every word was unintelligible. Soon, the chopper was in the air, and Rotor played back the recording he'd made over its speakers, calling out to Blaire Darkling wherever he was. As the T-1 Typhoon took to the air, Mac took over the radio. "Blaire Darkling, we have orders for your arrest. If you cooperate, you won't be harmed. Surrender now and turn yourself in, and no harm shall come to you. If you don't, we will open fire. I repeat, surrender now or we will open fire." ***** Andrew weighted his options. Zach and he were good friends, and he was always ready to back him up, and with this Blaire Darkling fellow, he had to admit, the guy could use all the help he could get. But he had to admit, he was tiring a bit of battle. Having achieved victory was the end of the war, officially. While he would likely be wanted a few times for clean-up jobs in case Mutant Dinos still wanted to play hostile, there was really not much left to do. And with the prospect of rest and relaxation and fun at home, he was fully ready to hang up the helmet and start kicking back. Not to mention that he did have a bit of fear about their chances of survival. From what he could tell, Blaire Darkling was highly skilled in battle. He would not go down easily, and it was very possible that at least one of them could fall to one of his weapons. After all they went through, all they survived, after seeing the demise of Dr. Rex himself, Andrew didn't want to see any more death. But he knew Zach. He had been as close to Nazareno as he was to Andrew. Not only had Darkling murdered him, but also a friend with the Agents, along with nearly killing Zach himself had Mutant Dinos not intervened. He was going to see justice done, undoubtedly. This was getting tough. He couldn't make this decision alone. He motioned for Laxus and Pterisa to come close to him to confer in relative privacy. "I don't know about this," the LEGO Islander said quietly. "Darkling doesn't seem like a guy we can stop without paying a price. And I've already seen enough allies leave us with only memories. What do you guys think?" Laxus blinked in slight amazement. "Andrew, I'm surprised. I'd figured you jump at the chance to support Zach whenever you could." "Yes, well, Zach's not being threatened here, at least not right now. He's simply going after someone's he has a grudge with. A highly dangerous someone. I just don't think this might be the best case of action." "Well, I doubt he's gonna stop just because you said no. And if that's the case, he's going to need all the help we can get." Pterisa leaned in close. "Andrew, if there's anything I've learned the most since Adventurers' Island," she said with a hint of the attitude she had back as the anonymous samurai in the Maelstrom Temple, "it's the power that friendship can bring you in tough circumstances. It's something you don't back out of once you've experienced. Blaire might be tough and be some infamously skilled assassin, but my accounts show he has his weaknesses. If we all work together with Zach's group to defeat him, he won't stand a chance." The words circulated through Andrew's mind, and within moments, his own argument fell apart. "...You're right. Indeed, it is just one man. We team up and do this right, this can all be finished quickly and we can go home happy." Andrew looked up and approached Zach. "You can count on us, buddy. We're with you." Zach clapped his friend on the back, smiling. "Good to hear." After seeing a level of apprehension in Andrew's face, Zach added reassuringly. "Just one more battle and then I can wrap a few (non-violent) loose ends here and we can head to LEGO Island for that party. I assume Laxus and Pterisa will be heading to that party as well?" Laxus and Pterisa nodded in agreement, smiling. "Good. Oh, and you have a Fire Hammer, right?" "Yep. It's a bit beat-up, but it can probably make it through one guy. As long as he doesn't have any explosives," Laxus said. "Good. You go find that and bring it over here. Even if it is one guy, I'm not taking any chances. Two Fire Hammers are better than one. And having you in the air will also probably make this whole deal a lot easier, Pterisa." She nodded agreement. As Laxus and Andrew turned to go get the Fire Hammer, Minerva, Zelda, and Dr. Cyborg were returning with two crates of ammunition for Xenon Multi-Mode Launchers and Cosmotronic Rays. As Minerva set the crate next to the Fire Hammer, she turned to Andrew, Laxus, and Pterisa, smiling. "Good to see you again, you guys." She tugged both Laxus and Andrew into a quick hug before pulling Pterisa into an embrace of her own. Pterisa smiled and returned the hug quickly before Minerva pulled away. It was at this point Andrew realized how far Pterisa had integrated into the Dino Attack Team. Joining society (perhaps one similar to LEGO Island) would be a cinch for her. "Got the ammo," Minerva said. She then reached down to her belt. "I also found something of yours." She held out the knife he had been forced to leave behind when they had been forced out of the headquarters at gunpoint. Zach smirked as he accepted the bloodstained knife. Minerva eyed it with a brief gleam of disdain that soon faded away. "Think I could fight Mr. Darkling with just a knife?" Zach asked, already knowing the answer. "You probably could," Minerva said, the barest hint of a smile on her face. "I don't know if I would." "I'm thinking we blast him up a bit and leave it at that," Zach said with a shrug. He then turned to Vinyaya and Bluetooth. "Anything worth knowing?" A deep scowl was on Vinyaya's face. "Not really. I wouldn't put it past Darkling to have tampered with his file at one point, because it's barer than it should be. But what it does say is something I could summarize in a few sentences: He's largely unpredictable. He'll repeat a few maneuvers for drama, but mostly likes to keep his enemies on their toes. He's a complete sociopath and has little issue with violence, murder, arson, destruction, chaos, and punting kittens out of airlocks." Zelda blinked. "'Punting a kitten out of an airlock'? Seriously? How it that noteworthy?" Vinyaya rolled her eyes. "It was a big deal with some humane societies. Demanded that we do more to stop him. I get that kicking a cat out into space is bad, but they apparently didn't realize who Vherestorm was and what else he did." "So we got nothing," Minerva said, clapping her hands together with a shrug. "Guess we'll have to work by the seat of our pants." "Not sure it particularly matters, considering this team's track record of planning," Zach said. "We plan, we get there, and all heck breaks loose," Andrew added. A wave of snorts and chuckles erupted through the group. "So we'll be getting that Fire Hammer. Lead the way, Laxus, Pterisa." The Martian, the Hybrid, and the LEGO Islander turned and started for their Fire Hammer. Zach watched them leave and strapped the knife to his torn uniform. He then turned to look from Minerva, to Vinyaya, to Bluetooth, to Dr. Cyborg, and finally to Zelda. He then barely wondered if this was the right thing to do. Blaire was dangerous and held a grudge; he had escaped a fiery explosion and trekked halfway across the battlefield just to kill him. Even if with the ten of them, if Blaire somehow could stop their Xenon Launchers or get them out of the Fire Hammers, he would be a tricky enemy to fight. He stepped over to Zelda. There was a look of grim determination on her face. Through her, he saw the mask of Nazareno and face of Thaddeus Brickhouse, just two of Blaire Darkling's victims. He has probably killed hundreds as a Matthew Vherestorm and could be killing more people now. One thing was for certain: Blaire Darkling needed to be defeated. "We're going to find him, Zelda," he said quietly. She didn't respond, only turning her stare to him. It was at this point that he also realized that this was the first time he was really interacting with Zelda since they were both Stromlings. "I know you... loved him," Zach continued. "I just don't want losing him to cause you to do something... rash, so to speak. Uh... catch my drift?" Zelda smiled weakly at him. "It... was kind of a shock. Like hearing what happened to my birth parents or when my adoptive sister died earlier this year. All of their deaths have been avenged. Nazareno... Kareem needs to be avenged. His... mission needs to be completed. Blaire needs to be stopped." Zach then noticed the katanas strapped to her back were Nazareno's. Zelda noticed where his eyes were and gave him a faint nod. Zach immediately understood her silent request. He smiled. "I'll see what I can do," was all he said. Zelda smiled, thankful for Zach's understanding. She then punched him in the shoulder - hard. "Besides," Zelda said, smirking as Zach rubbed his shoulder. "I still got to be that big sister you never wanted, right?" Zach nodded, happy that Zelda wasn't letting what happen change her. She then looked past him. "Oh, hello Solomon." Zach turned to see an older gentleman behind him. "Oh, this is Solomon Koplowitz, guys. He was with me, Nazareno, and Blaire before the latter two got separated from us." "Well," Zach said, stepping forward and shaking Solomon's hand. "Good to meet you, Solomon." "The same to you," Solomon said, bowing his head slightly. "Now, I believe a heard something about hunting down a certain Blaire Darkling..." ***** "Eyes sharp, men. This guy is ruthless. I'm getting reports from other squads that he's taken down at least a dozen men already." The battle had ended hours ago. The storm that had raged throughout the day had finally diminished to a simple light drizzle. Night had fallen and most of the search parties had returned to the Dino Attack Headquarters to celebrate the end of the year-long war against the mutated dinosaurs that had wreaked havoc on the world. Unfortunately for these men and women, one job still remained. "Commander! Up ahead!" one voice yelled out. "Oh man. We got multiple men down!" The search party, a mix of Dino Attack, Alpha Team, and Agents operatives, quickly moved through the darkened streets of LEGO City. Their flashlights scanned the area and quickly found the bodies of several XERRD Space Marauders and Dino Attack agents, each with different stabbing wounds. "Sheesh," one Agent said, scratching his head as he knelt down by a fallen Dino Attack agent and checked his pulse. "Gone. This guy works fast." "Builder Znap it," Dino Attack Commander Morrison muttered. "Get a crew down here to pick these guys up. Check the others and prep them for pickup." As the commander's team went about following his orders. Morrison stepped away from the scene briefly and raised his radio. "He was here, sir. Looks recent, too." "Where are you?" Elite Agent Rotor asked over the radio. "I want this man's head! If he was there recently, he is almost certainly still in the area. Over." Morrison relayed his location, then added: "He can't have gotten far on foot. Not to mention he is almost certainly injured and exhausted, as we all are. Over." "I'll have the T-1s create a perimeter around your location to watch the streets and send the other search parties to your area," Rotor said. "If these stories I'm hearing are true, then Blaire Darkling can't be allowed to escape." "I am aware, sir. But our options are limited. It's getting dark, we're exhausted, and if those stories and rumors I'm hearing are in fact true, Darkling is going to pick us apart out here." Rotor audibly scoffed on the radio. "This man is a mass-murdering traitor! He must be brought in-" "I agree, sir," Morrison sighed. "I'm just saying he has the advantage over us in the dark, even if it's just him against a hundred agents." Morrison lowered his voice. "And I'm not sure how much more fight my men have left in them. The war is over, Rotor. They want to go home." There was a brief silence over the radio, then Rotor's stern voice returned. "Keep me posted, Commander. Anything suspicious, you relay it to me." Morrison sighed again. "Yes, sir." He pocketed the radio and turned back to his men. Fire Hammers that had be converted into makeshift ambulances had quickly arrived to pick up the fallen Minifigs, as well as the wounded Agent. "Alright, I have discussed the situation with Elite Agent Rotor. The search T-1 Typhoons are forming a perimeter around this area. We are certain Blaire Darkling hasn't gotten far. In the meantime, split up into four-man squads, and search the surrounding buildings. One squad per building. You see anything unusual, reach out immediately. This man is armed and extremely dangerous, and I don't want to lose any more men." There was a muttering of "Yes, sir" among the agents before they dispersed into the streets to locate the ex-XERRD leader. "Don't know why we're still bothering with this," Dino Attack agent Vuorinen muttered to his fellow Finn and close friend Nevalainen in their native tongue. "It's dark, wet, and rainy, and I think I'd rather be spending the night toasting with our brothers and sisters that the monsters are finally gone!" Nevalainen rolled his eyes. "Aye, but people are dead, man." "I know, I know! No disrespect to the dead, but I heard the commander talkin' to Rotor. This Darkling guy is insane! And I heard that he's some kinda ninja too! Even if we find him, he's gonna kill us all in an instant!" "Hey!" tutted fellow agent Olzon. "Can you two speak in English? You know I can't understand a word of that." Vuorinen laughed. "Sorry. We're were just discussing how foolish this mission is." "I agree," Alpha Team agent Markkanen grunted behind the three Dino Attack Agents. "We are at a severe disadvantage against Vherestorm at this point and time. Waiting until tomorrow to find him isn't ideal, but-" "Vherestorm?" Vuorinen blurted out. "What kind of name is that?" The two other Dino Attack agents laughed in agreement. Markkanen shushed them quickly as they approached a destroyed storefront. "Quiet!" he whispered. "We do not want to give ourselves away to him, and we need to be aware of any sound he may make." Vuorinen rolled his eyes and muttered to Nevalainen in Finnish: "Fat chance this guy is even in here." But, heeding the Alpha Team agent's words, they entered the abandoned store quietly. The store had either never been fixed in the months in-between the initial Dino Attack and the final battle, or it had been recently ransacked by the Mutant Dino invasion led by Dr. Rex earlier in the day. Regardless of the cause, the store was in complete disarray. Shelves were tipped over and old, dusty products laid strewn across the floor. It must have been a grocery store at one point, because torn-up food products with noticeable Mutant Lizard bites were included in the mess. "The Alpha Team has dealt with this man before," Markkanen whispered as he scanned the mess for signs of life. He took up the rear of the squad to watch their backs while Vuorinen and Nevalainen led the way. "Almost half a decade ago, he went by the alias of Matthew Vherestorm. He had many titles. Terrorist, mercenary, bounty hunter. I think he was even a revolutionary fighter, if I'm remembering his file right." "What a lame name," Olzon muttered. "Matthew Vherestorm, ha. Not that 'Blaire Darkling' is much better, to be honest." "I have never heard of this guy," Nevalainen said. "Where is he from?" "No idea," Markkanen continued. "Most of his actions occurred off-planet. He was tactical and ruthless. He almost never backed down from a job, no matter how big or small. He was the Space Police's biggest headache for years until the Black Hole Gang came into prominence. Never really did anything here on the LEGO Planet except for one stretch a few years ago. It was a nightmare few months for us." "What did he do?" Olzon asked. "What didn't he do? He was all over the world, pulling off crimes, high-profile terror events, and so on. We think he even worked with Silencia Venomosa at one point, but we could never confirm it." There were some small gasps at this remark. While Matthew Vherestorm had been a mystery, Silencia Venomosa's high-profile assassinations had captivated the world. "All the chaos he caused brought that space ninja here for a while. He was an uptight guy, didn't really play well with Alpha Team while he was here. What was clear to me was that he was obsessed with Vherestorm, and Vherestorm the same with him. It was like one, long, intergalactic cat-and-mouse. I was thankful when they finally took their fight back into space." "And… Vherestorm was never caught?" Nevalainen asked. They were all engrossed in the Alpha Team agent's stories. "No. He was last seen in Galaxy City, I think." Markkanen paused to let out a short breath. "What he did in Galaxy City was–" Markkanen's sentence was interrupted by the sound of something sharp quickly cutting through skin. The three agents whipped around to see a silver blade sticking out of Markkanen's chest. His eyes were wide with fear, and his mouth open as a pained grunt escaped his lips before he was pushed off the sword onto the ground into a small pool of his own blood. Standing over the Alpha Team agent was giant man with shaggy, pure-white hair and a tan-colored trenchcoat caked in dirt and blood. His dark, reflective sunglasses reflected the agents' flashlight beams, giving him a supernatural aura. Blaire Darkling was quick. Before the Dino Attack agents could react, he lunged forward and stabbed his bloody katana into Olzon's midsection. She attempted to scream, only to have Blaire's gloved hand muffle her sounds. Blaire released his grip on his sword and let it and Olzon collapsed to the floor as Blaire marched toward the two remaining agents. By this time, Nevalainen and Vuorinen were ready. Both pulled their handguns from their belts and prepared to fire. In an instant, Blaire punched the weapon out of Vuorinen's hand and swung a fist into his cheek, knocking him to the floor. Blaire considered himself lucky as he turned around to find Nevalainen fumbling with his weapon in a panic. He raised his foot and buried into the Finnish agent's stomach, sending him across the store aisle they were in. Blaire clenched his fists. He needed to act quickly before these two idiots gave away his position. He turned back to Vuorinen, who was on his hand and knees struggling to rise. Blaire brought his heel down hard onto the Dino Attack agent's back. He heard a distinct cracking sound as the agent fell back on to the floor. Thankfully, the concrete floor muffled the agent's pained screams. With one agent surely dealt with, Blaire turned his focus back to Nevalainen, who had risen to his feet and took off running toward Blaire, his fist raised. He landed one, hard punch on Blaire's left cheek, sending his sunglasses flying into the dark. Nevalainen stumbled backwards and gasped in shock. There was no longer light shining on Blaire's figure, so all he saw was Blaire's black silhouette. What scared him was Blaire's eyes, which were bright red and seemed to glow with fiery anger. Paralyzed with fear at the monster that stood before him, Nevalainen did nothing as Blaire marched toward him and wrapped his hand around Nevalainen's throat. Blaire raised the poor fool into the air and then slammed him down on to the floor. Before Nevalainen could scream for help, Blaire stomped his boot onto his neck with all his power, silencing the Dino Attack agent permanently. With the hostiles taken care of, Blaire allowed himself a brief sigh of relief and wiped the sweat and water from his forehead. Squinting toward the floor, he carefully stepped over the store ruins toward one of the dropped flashlights. He then turned back toward Nevalainen's corpse, searching the area around him until he managed to catch the reflection of the light off his sunglasses on the floor. Thank Builder. And thank you, Dr. Provencal, for improving their durability. Blaire carefully walked back to Nevalainen and scooped up his glasses and placed them back on his head. He blinked once or twice to readjust his eyes to his light-adjusting glasses before he shut off the flashlight again, leaving him and Vuorinen in darkness. He made his way toward Olzon's body and knelt down. He carefully pulled his katana out of her body and wiped away the blood before sheathing it in his trenchcoat. He then searched her body briefly for anything valuable. He looted her firearm and ammunition from her person. He was about to rise when something on her belt caught his eye. A brown, rectangular pouch attached to her belt. Blaire opened the pouch slowly and pulled out a small computer device. A Dino Attack-issue PDA. Blaire's eyes lit up. This could be useful. Blaire's thoughts were interrupted as he heard a groan behind him. Blaire rose and moved toward Vuorinen. He carefully rotated the poor Dino Attack agent on to his back, covering his mouth to prevent his loud moans of pain from attracting attention. With the agent turned over, Blaire leaned in close and put his finger to his lips. The agent weakly nodded in understanding. Blaire gave a brief nod back and leaned back against a nearby column and slid to the ground. There was a brief silence. Then: "What the MegaBlokland do you want?" Vuorinen hissed through gritted teeth Blaire raised an eyebrow. "What?" "What do you want?" repeated Vuorinen softly. "Markkanen told us the deal. You wanted that space ninja, you got him." Vuorinen coughed and winced in pain. "Why are you still here? You got what you wanted. Just Znapping leave." Blaire remained silent. Vuorinen let out something comparable to a scoff and cough mixed together before muttering several curses in Finnish. "You think we wanna be out here hunting for you? We just won this Znapping war that you started. I wanna be with my friends back at headquarters toasting to victory and to the fallen. Instead, I'm gonna die here with my friends for your Znapping grudge." Vuorinen weakly raised his head in Blaire's direction and, with all the strength he could muster, spat at him. Blaire remained silent. Now that he had time to finally think, he couldn't help but feel so… empty. The euphoria from killing Kareem Nazareno seemed to have finally faded away. It had fueled him. Kept him alive as fought his way through wave after wave of Dino Attack agent. It was probably the only reason he survived that close encounter with the giant, bearded Agent with a sword. He closed his eyes, trying to remember and cling on to that feeling. It had been like burning fire that illuminated his Creative Spark. Higher than the highest high he had ever felt on the job as Matthew Vherestorm. So it only made sense now for the crash to hit harder. Even someone as strong and durable as Blaire Darkling had their limits. He was cut, beaten, bruised, shot, and exhausted. He had been able to shrug it off in the heat of the battle, but now his entire body ached in pain. Now that he had cooled down, he wasn't certain he could muster the strength to fight anymore. Not without some immediate first aid. Blaire knew this was best opportunity to escape. It was dark in city ransacked by the day's battle. With his Shinobi skills and abilities he learned as a mercenary, it would be all too easy. He could be out of the city before dawn. He could be off-planet in a day. And yet… His soul felt incomplete. It terrified him. He had spent close to a decade squaring off with Kareem Nazareno. Their conflict had spanned across the galaxy, in numerous circumstances with hundreds of casualties. Nazareno had been the one foe he had been unable to defeat. It kept him awake at night. It almost became his entire purpose as Matthew Vherestorm. He finally defeated him and he felt no better off. "Well?" coughed Vuorinen, irritated at Blaire's silence. Blaire paused his thoughts briefly, then said plainly, "Revenge." He could at least determine part of the reason of his emptiness. His reformation as Blaire Darkling had come to swift end. Three years of working as a Paradox Shinobi and later a high-ranking enforcer of XERRD. He believed he had turned a page and had escaped his toxic existence as Matthew Vherestorm. Only to realize in the last few days he had been deceived. He was still bad guy. Arguably worse than Vherestorm ever was. He had been a part of a plan to exterminate the Minifig race from the planet. Blaire gritted his teeth together. He had tried his best, given the circumstances. He formed a truce with the Dino Attack Team. He made a Dino Attack agent his second-in-command to ensure XERRD would continue to reform its image in the case he couldn't remain leader. He fought against Mutant Dinos, Fright Knights, Inferno Agents, even a Maelstrom Dragon. But Nazareno… he couldn't resist. It might've been his only opportunity. He succeeded, but he was unable to stop Nazareno's friends, witnesses to his death, from outing Blaire's crime and his former identity, setting off a city-wide manhunt. "What? Revenge for what?" Vuorinen asked. Blaire slowly rose to his feet. He had succumbed weakness and cost himself everything. He wasn't sure of the future beyond LEGO City, but the least he could do was pay back those that had wronged him. One last job as Blaire Darkling. "If you know what is good for you, you'll tell your commanding officers to pull back the search parties," Blaire said as he pulled Vuorinen's PDA from his belt and booted it up. "Wait! What?" Vuorinen started to panic. "What are you doing with my PDA?" "You're right, agent. This isn't your fight." Blaire searched through the PDA's functions until he found what he was looking for; a proximity beacon. "Tell them to retreat. I'll make sure to… pass the message on to your other superiors." "Wait-!" Vuorinen was cut off as Blaire punched the agent in the jaw, knocking him out cold. Blaire brushed off the dirt and blood from his coat and tossed the PDA onto the agent's chest, the beacon activated. He headed for the building's second floor to make his escape before the agent's teammates arrived. Virchaus, Frodongan, Bluetooth, Fabello, Vinyaya. They would all pay for what they had done. Nobody would stand in his way. ***** "Let me see," Pepper Roni said as he dropped to a knee. He turned on his hat's flashlight as he began rummaging through his green backpack. The famous "Dude with the Food" looked well for flying out of a shoddily-built T-1 Typhoon on a skateboard and helping take on an army of Mutant Dinosaurs. His clothes were scuffed and dirty, with one of his blue sleeves torn at the elbow. Despite this, he could not be chipper. "Have some granola bars, bottled water, assorted nuts," Pepper said, digging the items out of his backpack and handing them to his old neighbors, Dino Attack agents Andrew Anderson and Zachary Virchaus. "I think I have a can of soup or two?" Pepper continued, with a small chuckle. "The dudes distributing whatever's left from your tower didn't give me a lot of choices." Andrew laughed. "I think we'll be fine. Thanks, Pepper." "Wait, I have something else!" Pepper said as he slid out two white, rectangular boxes. "Papa made these special for you guys. I told him you guys probably wouldn't want pizza before heading out on another mission, but he and Mama insisted." Zach smiled and took the pizzas into his arms, careful to keep a grip on his lantern. "Well, I can't say no to Papa's famous pizzas." In the dark and cold, the warmth from the pizza boxes on to his arms was a welcome sensation. "Tell Mama and Papa thanks!" "Will do, dudes!" Pepper said with a salute as he slung his backpack back over his shoulder. "Good luck! Wouldn't want you guys to miss the celebration when we get back to the island." "I agree," Andrew said with a nod. "We'll make it back, Pepper." "Totally!" Pepper said, placing a foot on his signature yellow skateboard. "See you around!" He started to skate back into the crowd surrounding the remains of the Dino Attack Headquarters before turning back briefly. "And thanks for all the good work, dudes." The two Dino Attack agents waved as Pepper sped back into the crowd before turning to walk back to their friends. "Man, am I ready to head home," Zach said, taking in a deep whiff of the pizza. "I haven't been back since it all started." "I hear that," Andrew said in agreement. "Last time I was there, the island broke up into 1x1s and floated up into the sky." "Oh shoot, that's right!" Zach exclaimed, remembering the shock that had traveled through his body when he had found out his home had suddenly disappeared into the sky. "I almost forgot that happened. Feels like it was decades ago. I transferred from the Agents to the Dino Attack around that time. I remember pleading with my COs to send me back to LEGO Island, but they had another plan for me and sent me elsewhere." Andrew raised an eyebrow, curious. "Antarctica?" "No, but I did end up there later, during the riots." The two finally came upon the tent where their friends had set up operations. "I'll tell you about it later." The two stepped out of the cold drizzle and into the warm tent. At the center of the tent was a table with a map of LEGO City laid out, along with a few lanterns and radios that occasionally buzzed with new info. Standing around the table was Holly Vinyaya, Ryan "Bluetooth" Radcliff, and Zelda Frodongan. Each of them had a focused look on their faces as they scanned the map and muttered amongst themselves. They looked up from their work and smiled momentarily as Zach and Andrew entered the tent. "What were you able to dig up?" Vinyaya asked, crossing her arms and squinting her one good eye in Zach's direction. "We met up with an old friend from LEGO Island," Zach said as he and Andrew moved toward the table. Bluetooth pulled the map away as the pizzas, water, and other foods were placed down. "Grabbed us some food for energy. Mama and Papa also whipped together some pizzas for us." Vinyaya rolled her eye. "I love pizza as much as the next guy, but really? We need to stay sharp if we're gonna take down Darkling." "You're preaching to the choir here, Commander," Zach said with an amused scoff. "We didn't ask for it, Commander Vinyaya," Andrew said with a smirk. "I don't think one slice will hurt, right?" "I suppose so," Vinyaya said, grabbing a water and granola bar. "Come on everyone. Get something to eat before we go." With that, the other Dino Attack agents and allies stepped out of the shadows and started to grab a bite to eat. It had been only a few hours since the Dino Attack Team had triumphed over Dr. Rex and the Mutant Dino army in LEGO City. In the shadows of the Dino Attack Headquarters, a building that still stood tall despite the beating it took from Mutant Dinos, witches, and rogue Dino Attack agents, the remaining allied forces gathered to treat their wounded and celebrate the end of the eight-month-long war in a makeshift village of tents, broken vehicles, joyous bonfires, and an Alpha Team airship acting as a temporary HQ and infirmary for the wounded. It should be a time to relax and celebrate. However, the time to celebrate would have to wait for this group of Dino Attack agents and allies. Darkling had murdered Nazareno and fled into the desolate streets of LEGO City as Dr. Rex was defeated atop the Dino Attack Headquarters. In the hours since, Nazareno's closest friends and allies began assembling a team to hunt down Darkling and bring him to justice for his hundreds of crimes. The team consisted of a group of some of the Dino Attack's best agents and allies. Elite Agents Zachary, Andrew, Fabello, and Dr. Cyborg led the team. They were accompanied by Laxus, Pterisa, Dr. Solomon Koplowitz, Commander Vinyaya, Bluetooth, and Zelda Frodongan. All had a bone to pick with Blaire Darkling and all were willing to put it all on the line to see Darkling defeated once and for all. Zach munched on a slice of pepperoni pizza as he looked at the map. The location of Dino Attack Headquarters was circled, and lines drawn out from it, indicating the search teams that had been sent out to find Blaire. There were a few x's dotted along the search paths, almost certainly indicating where victims of Blaire's rampage were found. Zach felt his face growing hot with anger. Too many good friends had died today for more to die needlessly in the aftermath. He thought about Nazareno and his commanding officer and mentor while he was with the Agents, Thaddeus Brickhouse. Just two of dozens who were murdered by Blaire Darkling today. He glanced across the table to Zelda, who was absently teething on her granola bar as she stared at the map, occasionally glancing toward the radio next to her. Zelda had certainly taken Nazareno's death the hardest. While she had been somewhat optimistic and determined earlier in the evening after the battle was won, that demeanor had faded as the group was continually delayed from leaving the camp due to the chaos from the post-war celebrations. Zelda was easily the person Zach knew least out of the group of Minerva, Vinyaya, Nazareno, her, and himself, despite her being the only one to share the experience of being corrupted into a Stromling back on Adventurers' Island. Luckily for her, she seemed to come out of it without any long-lasting effects outside of a hair-color change unlike Zach, who found himself to almost be a completely different person sometimes. Zach prepared to lean over and talk to her when Vinyaya grabbed his shoulder and leaned in toward his ear. "Outside, now. We need to talk." Zach rolled his eyes. "Sure thing." Zelda looked up at him for a moment. He gave a brief, reassuring smile before grabbing a lantern and walking back out into the cold to find fellow Elite Agents Andrew, Dr. Cyborg, and Minerva Fabello standing in a circle with Vinyaya. "Hey there," Minerva said with a smile, punching him in the arm quickly before tucking her arms back in. "Hey," Zach said, returning the smile. "You and Doc find everything okay?" "Yes, finally," Minerva said with a sigh. "The Fire Hammers are gassed up and reloaded." "And we secured weapons and ammunition," Dr. Cyborg added. "Good to hear," Andrew said before turning to Vinyaya. "What do you want to talk about, Commander?" "This," Vinyaya said with a sigh, closing her eye. "I'm not sure we should head out tonight." The four Elite Agents traded glances. "What are you talking about?" Zach asked, incredulous. He could not believe what he was hearing. "Of course, we're gonna go get this Znaphead! You can't seriously be backing down from this. That son of a MegaBlok killed Nazareno! Our friend! We-" "Save it, Virchaus," Vinyaya snapped. "Look around! It's dark, it's cold, we've been fighting all day. We're in no shape to run back out there." "Are you serious?" Zach said, growing angrier. "We've dealt with much worse! We outnumber him ten to one. We can-" "We have no idea where he is!" Vinyaya exclaimed. "Every update we get from Rotor and the search parties indicate we are two steps behind. We outnumber Darkling, but he has every other advantage. He's out there in the dark, picking apart search parties one by one. Pterisa might be able see him in the dark but the rest of us can't. I've worked a ton of Vherestorm cases! I've talked to Dr. Cyborg and Dr. Koplowitz! I am certain trying to find him now would be a mistake." "What?" Zach shot a glare toward Dr. Cyborg. "What does she mean?" Dr. Cyborg raised his hands defensively. "Solomon and I simply reminded Commander Vinyaya of the fact that Darkling is a former Paradox Shinobi, not to mention all that 'Vherestorm' stuff. He knows how to use the shadows to his advantage." Zach scowled, leading Dr. Cyborg to sigh. "Look, I want to go out there and bring him to justice just as much as you. I've devoted tons of XERRD resources to trying to find him but we're no closer than the other search parties. It might be a good idea to stay here until morning. Get some sleep, a change of clothes for all of you, and refresh ourselves because Darkling shouldn't be underestimated." "What?!" a voice exclaimed in surprise behind Zach. He turned around to see Zelda standing behind, her expression a mix of surprise and rage. "We're not going out? What are you talking about, Holly?" Vinyaya sighed. "Look, going out just plays into Darkling's hands. I've been thinking It over- " "Holly, Nazareno is dead," Zelda said flatly. "We can just sit here and let his killer escape." "That's not what I'm saying! I'm saying- " "You're saying," Zach said, joining in with Zelda, "we should sit on our hands while a traitor escapes! If he gets away, we'll never find him again; you understand that, Holly?" "Enough, Zach," Minerva snapped, squeezing his wrist. Zach scoffed quietly but didn't continue. "No, Minerva. Zach's right," Zelda said coldly, marching up to Vinyaya. "Holly is willing to let Nazareno's murderer get away because she's afraid of what? The dark? He killed Zach's agent friend. He helped your brother murder your mom…" The group grew quiet as Minerva's expression darkened considerably. Zach shot a look at Zelda and prepared to say something to her before Minerva squeezed his wrist even tighter. "I am aware of what Darkling has done," Minerva said slowly, remaining stoic. Zelda's own expression seemed to soften as she realized she touched a nerve. "Holly cares just as much as the rest of us. You both," she said with emphasis, shaking Zach's arm, "know this. I just think we should hear out what she has to say." "I agree," Andrew suddenly said, all eyes turning to him. "We all want to bring Darkling in, but we need to think it through. We just won a war a few hours ago. It's been a long day and I can't help but think we need to reset ourselves a bit. Soak in the win a bit, you know?" "We all want to celebrate, Andrew," Zelda said, her eyes narrowing. "There's still work to be done, though." "I don't think Andrew is saying we need to start blowing everything off," Dr. Cyborg interjected. "I think he's saying that there are enough dead heroes for today. Might be a good idea to try to and minimize any potential casualties the best we can." "Right," Zach said. "But why are we just going to put our faith in Darkling not immediately fleeing the city?" "Because it doesn't fit his MO," Vinyaya said. "Like I said, I'm well-versed in the Vherestorm cases. The guy has shown obsessive personality traits for years. After meeting Nazareno for the first time, he started going to extreme measures just so he could run into Nazareno and finally defeat him. Leaking his own jobs out to draw Nazareno into confrontations. Risking everything just to get a crack at him. We even got intel that Vherestorm took the feud to the old Space Ninja homeworld. He was deeply obsessed." "So?" Zelda asked impatiently. "So if my hunch is correct, he'll hang around." Vinyaya gestured to Dr. Cyborg. "I'm not sure how much he has changed since becoming Blaire Darkling, but if he's still anything like Vherestorm, that obsessive streak remains." "Even without Nazareno?" Andrew asked. "I would think so. I'm no psychologist, but I would think he would turn his obsessive nature toward us. He killed his target, but at a cost of us outing him as Vherestorm, ruining his life. I think he'll want revenge. The intel we've gotten back from the search parties seem to indicate-" "Commander!" called Laxus. Vinyaya paused as the Martian ran up behind Zelda. "Uh, everyone else. We've got an update from Rotor and Morrison. I think you'll want to hear it." Everyone quickly shuffled into the tent and joined Pterisa, Bluetooth, and Solomon Koplowitz at the map table. Bluetooth turned to the bulky radio sitting on the table and picked up the microphone. "Go ahead, we're ready." "This is Commander Cody Morrison!" a voice crackled over the radio. "We've potentially hit a breakthrough in our search. Darkling left someone alive." "Alive?" Vinyaya asked. "Intentionally?" "So it would seem. We responded to a proximity beacon issued from a PDA and found one of my search parties. Two Dino Attack and one Alpha Team casualty. We found one Dino Attack agent still alive, but wounded and unconscious. We just got him to come to and he had a message from Darkling: Call off the search parties." "What?" Zelda said. "Exactly!" snapped the familiar voice of Elite Agent Rotor, who was helping lead search with his T-1 Typhoon. "This guy is off his brick if he thinks we'll let him just walk away from this." "Was anything else... off... about the crime scene?" Zach asked, shooting a glance toward Vinyaya, who seemed confused that her theory about Darkling was seemingly proved wrong. She returned the glance and shrugged in confusion. "Yeah," Morrison continued. "There seems to be a missing PDA from Dino Attack agent Olzon. I wonder if-" There were suddenly several loud buzzes emitting from every corner of the table. Everyone traded surprised glances. "Convenient timing," Pterisa mused. Everyone quickly pulled out their PDAs and laid them on the table. It was quickly determined that the only people to receive a message were Zach, Minerva, Zelda, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth. "Well, there you go," Zach said sarcastically. It seemed like Vinyaya may have been right after all. "What's happening?" Rotor asked. "Looks like we got a message," Zach said, clicking through the PDA. "From Dino Attack agent Olzon." "Who's 'we'?" Morrison asked. "Standard Agents Vinyaya, Bluetooth, Frodongan and Elite Agents Fabello and Zachary." "Well, what does it say?" Zach opened up the message and began to read aloud. To Bluetooth, Fabello, Frodongan, Vinyaya, Virchaus: To start, I would like to congratulate you all and your team for defeating Dr. Rex and the Mutant Dinosaurs. I was able to watch the battle from afar and it was truly a sight to behold. I wish I had been able to do more, but the obvious circumstances prevented me from doing so. Again, I would like to apologize on behalf of myself and the rest of XERRD for causing this disaster. We wanted to save the world and we nearly destroyed it. Now comes the difficult problem of dealing with what comes after the dust settles. We all have grudges with each other that I'm sure you're as eager to settle as I am. You revealed my secret and in turn have sent waves of your allies to get me. Your blind need for revenge has cost the lives of dozens of men and women who thought their troubles were done now that Dr. Rex is dead. It's frankly disappointing. So I passed on a message to one I decided to show mercy and I will pass it on to you now: Call off the search parties or there will be more blood on your hands. To show you just how mercifully I've become since my more unsavory days, I am offering a simple truce. Take the night off and celebrate your well-earned victory. Mourn the fallen. Mourn our mutual friend Nazareno. Come tomorrow morning, I will reveal my location to you so we can settle this once and for all. Just one condition: I will only deal with you five. Anyone else shows up and you will never see me again. Prepare yourselves. I will see you at dawn and we will settle this once and for all. The assembled group stared at each other for a few seconds in silence after Zach finished reading the message. "You're out of your minds if you take that truce," Rotor said. "I don't know how you can trust this guy at all." "I'm not sure we have a choice," Minerva said. "I think Commander Vinyaya has it right. We're not gonna find him and if we go out there, he'll pick us off from the shadows." "You're not just going to let him get away, right?" Elite Agent Cabin, also flying with Rotor, said skeptically. "The commander has laid out the facts to the Elite Agents here," Dr. Cyborg said. "The message fits how Blaire Darkling has acted in the past. Obsessive and not taking the rational option. "I will vouch for Commander Vinyaya as well," Solomon added. "I worked closely with Darkling as a fellow shinobi with XERRD. Although not a scientist, he showed an extreme dedication to his work as an infiltrator and strategist. I can attest to the Space Police's assessment of him being driven and objective-focused to an unnatural degree and that he is extremely dangerous, both face to face and from the shadows." "Okay but you five aren't going to seriously take him on your own, right?" Morrison asked. "I've stumbled upon similar parties of agents that went up against him and they didn't turn out great, to be frank." "I think... we have to appear to play by Blaire's rules," Bluetooth said. "At least to start." "Right," Minerva added on. "Bait him and spring the trap. So he can't escape." "If he's found somewhere to hide, then he has to be planning out an escape. We don't even know where he'll be or what you'll be walking into," Rotor said. "Well, we'll figure it out then," Zelda said, slamming his hands on the table. "We can at least plot out some strategies. You know, based on where he might be, like... like a skyscraper, a park, near the ocean, uh…" Zelda looked around desperately for someone to continue. Zach grimaced. He wasn't sure what they could really do without knowing where Blaire could be hiding except hope for the best. "Oh, wait!" Minerva said excitedly, shaking Zach's arm. "Didn't you hack into some XERRD mainframe in the fortress on Adventurers' Island?" Zach gave a confused smile. "Yeah, I think so. What would make you think of that?" "I think I saved you after you got caught and after that I think we ran into my brother…" She drifted off. "But Commander Morrison, you said you found those agents because Darkling activated a beacon. What if we could activate the beacon on the PDA he stole? Then we could figure out where he is and figure out a plan." Zach thought it over and nodded. "Not a bad idea." "I agree," Vinyaya said. "Good thinking, Minerva. Zach, can you break into that PDA and activate the beacon? Or figure out what else Darkling might have put on it." "I think I could, particularly if there is any documentation for these things around here somewhere," Zach said. "Well, if we can't find any," Dr. Cyborg added, "perhaps I could help." "Ah!" Zach said, shooting Dr. Cyborg with a pair of finger guns. "Almost forgot you're... well, a cyborg, Doc." Dr. Cyborg smiled in amusement. Zach turned back to Vinyaya. "Dr. Cyborg can interface with the PDA and we can find Darkling. I personally guarantee it." "Well, I'll hold you to it, Virchaus," Vinyaya said, smirking slightly. "You two go and get it done. The rest of us will start strategizing based on Darkling's old antics. Rotor, Morrison…" She looked to each of the Elite Agents around her. "I think all agree to give into Darkling's demands here for now. Get those search parties back here." "Agreed," Morrison said. "I suppose so," Rotor said with a hint of exasperation. "Keeping in the loop with your plans. My squad and I are willing to provide help where we can." "Glad to hear it," Vinyaya said. She leaned over the table and looked around at everyone. "We're going to get this son of a MegaBlok, one way or another. Let's get to work. The clock is ticking." Several minutes later, Andrew and Laxus's Fire Hammer rolled up to the other Fire Hammer. After quickly reloading the Xenon Launcher, Dr. Cyborg and Solomon jumped into their ride while Vinyaya took the wheel of the Fire Hammer manned by Zach, Minerva, Zelda, and Bluetooth. Pterisa jumped from the cab of Andrew's Fire Hammer and into the darkening sky, almost disappearing from sight. "Alright!" Vinyaya said into the radio, slipping the jeep into drive. "Let's catch us a certain intergalactic baddie!" The Fire Hammer started to roll into the ruined city, illuminated by the dim purple and orange flames of the previous battle. Andrew's Fire Hammer followed close behind. Zach stared at the window, his face hardening. There was one last battle on the horizon. ***** Solomon had taken the wheel and was driving Andrew's Fire Hammer, while Dr. Cyborg was manning the Xenon Multi-Mode launcher. Dr. Cyborg was a little depressed. He had survived the battle with nobody he was very close to dying, although plenty of friends had died. In the midst of victory, he found out his little sister, whom he didn't even know was in the battle, whom he had last left under less-than-friendly circumstances, had died. He suddenly had an idea of how to beat Darkling and take out some of this anger. "Hey, Solomon, can you call the others on the radio?" Dr. Cyborg said. "Yeah, sure, here you go," Solomon said as he complied. "Hey everyone, I had an idea," Dr. Cyborg said. "What is it?" Andrew asked. "If we attack Blaire Darkling from range, he'll just run up at us and start slicing." "Yeah, so what's your idea?" Vinyaya asked from the other Fire Hammer. "What if one of us fights him with melee weapons while the other use the ranged weapons?" Dr. Cyborg suggested. "I want to fight him melee!" Zelda called over the radio. "I understand your reasoning, Zelda, but listen to mine. Everybody here but me is flesh and blood. It would be pretty easy to incapacitate you. I am not so easy to stop; my systems have many redundancies built in. Plus, my reflexes are somewhat faster than the average Minifig's. Also, I have a sword that can stand up to his swords, plus a deployable energy shield. Finally, my self-repair systems work faster than a Minifig can heal. What I'm saying is: what if you attack with the guns while I distract him in a duel of sorts. What do you say?" he finished. ***** Holly Vinyaya looked back at Zach briefly. He shrugged and gestured Vinyaya to keep driving. He then turned and began to speak to Minerva in hushed tones. Vinyaya turned back to the radio to address Dr. Cyborg's idea. "We could try it, but I don't know how successful it could be. We don't know what Blaire is planning or what sort of advantage he might have. Like I said earlier, we can predict that he'll be unpredictable with his actions. But if we get the opportunity, go for it." "Alright," Dr. Cyborg said. Vinyaya returned her eye to the ruined city ahead of her. She momentarily caught a flash of Pterisa flying ahead of them. She was scouting ahead to hopefully give them a chance of seeing Blaire before Blaire saw them. Vinyaya dimly remembered her initial distrust of Pterisa in the Maelstrom Temple so many hours before. Now, she was beyond caring. Pterisa was an ally and that was all that needed to be said on the matter. Bluetooth, who was sitting beside her in the front passenger seat, yawned briefly. Vinyaya smiled faintly. "I suppose we're all going to need a little shut-eye once we've got Darkling," she said. Bluetooth nodded in agreement and smiled, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Catching up on our sleep will be one of those pleasures we get back now that this war is over. No simply lying in bed, trying to sleep but unconsciously waiting for the moment an army of Mutant Dinos to attack." Vinyaya chuckled. Indeed, the sleep Vinyaya caught on the way back from Adventurers' Island was losing its effect. Even after training that fought against weakness like this, fatigue was catching up quickly. Her police instincts to catch Darkling were the only thing really stopping her from falling asleep right here and now. That and her fierce protectiveness over the people in both Fire Hammers. Vinyaya turned her eye briefly to Bluetooth. He glanced at her and smiled nervously. Vinyaya smiled back. She had decided to give Bluetooth a chance with a potential relationship. She was, admittedly, surprised with her choice. She had her romantic fun when she was younger. She began to focus on her career once she became an officer. She hadn't been willing to develop too many close relationships in that line of work; casualties didn't come in by the truckload, but they came in enough that she hadn't been willing to go through the pain of losing someone close. And now here, having fought for her home planet, she was suddenly disregarding her old way of operating. Perhaps the situation had been such a radical shock, she didn't really know. But since landing on this planet, Vinyaya had a brief relationship with a disgruntled dinosaur hunter and had become close friends with a space ninja, a girl with a troubled past, a sarcastic LEGO Islander, and a pirate-turned-ninja. She had experienced those feelings of loss that she so desperately tried to prevent. Those feelings of loss, however, ended up giving her feelings of trust and closeness toward people she had hardly known for a week that she reserved for officer friends. Admittedly, Bluetooth was a heavy contrast to Scratch. The latter had a dark sense of humor, extremist views, and emotionally driven in his life. The former was calmer, more level-headed, and not much of fighter as far as Vinyaya knew. Despite this, Vinyaya felt herself enjoying Bluetooth's presence a lot more than she had with Scratch's. Vinyaya knew Bluetooth truly cared for her while she will never know if Scratch truly held feelings toward her or was simply manipulating her. Vinyaya glanced at Ryan Radcliff one last time. He was looking out the window, most likely keeping an eye out for Blaire Darkling. A small smile formed on her face. She found herself increasingly looking forward to getting to know him better. "So the cut..." Zach said, drifting off and pointing to the light red gash across Minerva's cheek. Minerva sighed, just the barest hint of sadness in her breath. "It was Oswald, right?" She nodded once. "And he's..." "He's dead. I killed him," Minerva said bluntly. Zach grimaced. "He also cut my stomach." She gestured to the tear in her Dino Attack uniform. "Nothing too bad," she continued with a shrug. Zach stared. She was being eerily calm about losing her family. Not so much from apathy toward the situation. More like... grim acceptance. "Uh..." Minerva silenced him with a wave of her hand. "Once this is done, I'll tell you what happened." Minerva chuckled softly. "I might not be this calm when I tell you, though. I've been sort of... holding it back. When I tell you, all the emotions that came with it will be released like a giant blob of sad, tears, and mad." Zach shrugged, smirking faintly, "I expected about as much." He tugged Minerva into a quick one-arm hug. "What are we going to do with... her?" Minerva lifted Zach's arm off of her. "Hopefully, we'll be able to contact someone in Antarctica who can make a new tombstone really quick. We'll have a short little ceremony-type thing with you and me, and then we'll head off to LEGO Island." "And Nazareno?" "We still have his body. We briefly talked about doing something for him. You, Zelda, Holly, and myself, at least. I think we'll have a more coherent idea once this is done and we get some sleep. But I think we'll try to deal with Nazareno before we take care of Mom." "Sounds like a plan," Zach said. At that moment, the radio blared to life with a message from Rotor: "We just got a report from someone who witnessed Blaire Darkling near the city park. He had been fighting 'a hairy man in a blue uniform', almost certainly an Agent, described as 'large and imposing with a large broadsword'." "Is that a Grendelwulf brother?" Zach questioned. "That's Epic Winston," Zelda whispered, as she was controlling the Xenon Launcher. Epic Winston Grendelwulf. Zach never actually met him or his brother during his work with the Agents, but they were notably enough that it was surprising if you haven't heard of them. "It doesn't sound like it ended well for the Agent," added Rotor. ***** As the windshield wipers slid rhythmically back and forth across the windshield, Solomon looked around the cabin at the other occupants. Andrew, Laxus, and Doctor Cyborg looked stoically gazed out the window without saying a word. Everyone was tired; Solomon was sick of the bloodshed and was not excited to jump into yet another fight. Although he had grown to respect Nazareno over the course of the battle, he had not joined the company to avenge his death. Revenge was something the philosopher had long since grown out of; he had joined the team to make sure the others did nothing they would regret. Blaire Darkling was a monster, and most of the occupants of the other Fire Hammer wanted retribution. While Solomon agreed that he needed to be stopped, angry determination was not the answer. He had worked closely with Darkling during his time at XERRD; on several occasions, they had been partners on missions that have provided a unique look into the man's psyche. Solomon knew what Blaire was capable of. Although he did not think he was beyond redemption, he was pretty sure it would not happen. Darkling was incredibly dangerous, and he needed to be stopped before more good men were killed. But he sensed that was not the consensus of the group. Although they did a fine job hiding it, he believed that Zach and Zelda were seething with a barely controlled rage. Anger was a poor ally in a fight, and the last thing he wanted was to have someone else die because of their rash assaults. The Fire Hammer navigated its way around a dead Tyrannosaurus Rex and turned onto a side street. Their search method was relatively random. They were depending on Pterisa's relaying of coordinates in their hunt. He was skeptical whether or not they would find Blaire using this method but, in the event that they did, there were some things that Zachary and Zelda needed to know. He adjusted the microphone in his helmet and set it to the speaker in Vinyaya's Fire Hammer. Taking a breath, he spoke a message that all could hear. "Listen, before we do this, there are some things you should know," he began, "You don't know Blaire Darkling the way I do. I can understand that you are angry and want blood, but that is a very dangerous way to go into this. Trust me when I tell you this, Darkling is cunning and manipulative, he knows how to pull your strings and make you unbalanced. Charging in there, angrily slicing away, is a good way to get yourself killed. Speaking from my experience, Blaire may be a better swordsman then many of us here…" "That's why I should go at him," interrupted Dr. Cyborg. "I can take more punishment than all of you." Solomon frowned. "Dr. Cyrista, since I've worked with you, your fatal flaw has always been overconfidence. Since your accident, your overreliance on your technological implants has only increased. Darkling is a powerful adversary, Matthew; even with your advantages, you cannot account for his unpredictability." "I still want to fight him," said Zelda darkly over the radio. "That son of a 4+ Figure is going to pay." "That's exactly what Blaire would want," responded Solomon. "He knows how to get you mad. Despite his thuggish appearance, he is calculating. Engaging him in a direct fight would be most unwise; it would provide him with an opportunity to find your weaknesses and exploit them." The silence over the radio told Solomon that Zelda was not pleased with his response. After several minutes of an awkward quiet, Commander Vinyaya spoke up: "You seem to know Blaire pretty well. How would you recommend we approach him?" "If you want my opinion, we don't give him any chances," said the philosopher "Engage him at range and stay out of reach. Don't make it any more complicated than it needs to be. Swords should not be necessary. Shoot him and get it over with before he has a chance to speak and engage your emotions. This is not the time to let lust for revenge take over." The Fire Hammers turned another corner and arrived at a roundabout near the city park. Of course, many of the trees had long since died and the grass was either lifeless or overgrown. A large gothic sculpture dominated the area surrounded by a dead fountain. "Blaire's got a bulletproof vest," Bluetooth said from Vinyaya's Humvee. "Shooting him might not be so simple." Solomon nodded. "We're still far better than if we try and attack him with swords. As uncivilized as this may be, it will probably be the safest-" The radio up front began to crackle, interrupting Solomon. "I think I see him," Pterisa said. "He's currently engaged in a battle with a XERRD Space Marauder." ***** A few seconds later, Pterisa appeared in front of the two Fire Hammers and began to lead them in the direction of Blaire Darkling. The Fire Hammers changed course and drove over the curve onto the park grass. Cutting across the field of unkempt vegetation, they advanced across the remains of the city's botanical gardens to the position Pterisa had relayed. As they drew closer, Zach could see fresh Minifig corpses scattered around: all victims of Blaire Darkling's rage, no doubt. Just inside the park's wrought iron gate, the Fire Hammers' lights shined upon two figures facing each other in the rain. Both were of incredible statue and appeared to be engaged in a standoff, with guns trained on each other. One was Blaire Darkling and his handgun. The other was most certainly a XERRD Space Marauder, a rocket launcher in her hand. Both Blaire and the Space Marauder looked as the two Fire Hammers approached. "You should get out there if you're going to do it, Doc." He wanted Zelda's plan to go through, but he was mostly fighting for simplicity. Kill Darkling and get out of here. A sinister smirk formed on Blaire's face as he seemed to recognize the occupants of Zach's Fire Hammer. Taking advantage of the distraction, he whipped a katana out with his left hand and slew the Space Marauder, dispatching her with several quick slashes. As she fell, Blaire took out his own rocket launcher. Zach saw the color drain from Vinyaya's face. "Fire!" she snapped. Blaire chuckled quietly and, taking a second to aim, pointed the rocket launcher at her Fire Hammer. "Get out! Move!" Grabbing her Cosmotronic Ray, Vinyaya kicked open her door and dived out. Bluetooth did the same. Grabbing a Sonic Screamer and a Cosmotronic Ray respectively, Minerva and Zach jumped out of the vehicle and started to run. Out of the corner of his eye, Zelda stuck the trigger of the Xenon Launcher so it would fire without human manipulation. She then backflipped off and ran as a rocket fired from Blaire's launcher. A loud explosion echoed through the quiet city as the jeep was engulfed in orange flames. Another explosion sounded off as the Xenon supply exploded as well, causing green flames to join the orange flames briefly. Zach scowled and started firing his Cosmotronic Ray at Darkling, who dodged the blasts. They were now on foot. What was supposed to be a semi-easy mission had turned bad quickly. Good thing we didn't have any real plans from the start, or this would be a lot worse than it already is. ***** Solomon recognized Blaire immediately when he turned to look at the two vehicles. Then, when the XERRD security chief smiled and defeated the Space Marauder, Solomon realized it might not be so simple. The explosion rocked the park and bits of debris rained on Solomon's windshield. He spun the wheel to avoid the wreckage of the burning Fire Hammer and skidded across the wet grass of the park to face the assassin. It figured. The best laid, admittedly vaguely-formed, plans always seemed to go to waste when someone had a rocket launcher. Solomon was already pulling out of view, likely counting on Darkling having his attention most diverted by Zach's crew. And not too soon either, as another rocket whizzed by, only just missing them by a well-guessed turn backwards to the right. The rocket hit and obliterated the gothic sculpture in the center of the park. "How many rockets does he have?" asked Laxus. "I was under the impression that they did not have bottomless magazines." "Probably only a handful," responded Dr. Cyborg as Solomon brought the vehicle to a hard left and nearly hit a tree. "He's bound to run out of rockets sometime." "Let's hope so," muttered Andrew, the elite agent checked to make sure the occupants of Zach's fire Hammer had survived before jumping over the passenger seat beside Solomon. He flinched as the Fire Hammer shot over a park bench and demolished a nearby fruit stand. "What's that fruit stand doing here?!" yelled Andrew. "Yes, it's strange that fruit would be in session during December," noted Laxus. "Yes, that's why it's strange," muttered Andrew sarcastically as he considered the war that had just transpired in the city. Blaire fired another rocket that shot past the front of the vehicle. Laxus, Solomon, Andrew, and Dr. Cyborg all ducked when the projectile exploded above their head. "Solomon, I get the wheel here," said Andrew, leaning in from the front passenger seat. "I'm a bit better at keeping my vehicles in one piece." "You think you can avoid rocket fire?" the XERRD scientist asked incredulously. "I've raced on LEGO Island tracks; I think I can handle a few rocket-propelled grenades." "Probably a good idea," Solomon quickly relented as he relinquished the wheel. He slid past the elite agent and shifted to the passenger seat to let Andrew have control again. As he got comfortable, he drove forward, driving past and around a building to come in from another angle. With the attacks Zach's group was likely sending towards Blaire's way, plus the slight mist from the rain and the slowly-but-surely decreasing light as night descended upon them, they were hardly noticeable as they made their maneuver. "Dr. Cyborg," Andrew said through the Xenon cannon radio, "If you want to try out your plan, do it quickly. Don't worry, Solomon and Laxus can take over the launcher for you." The Fire Hammer was pulled around the other side of the building and directed back towards the battle, giving them a bit of time of surprise as Andrew's crew prepared their next attack. If this worked right, it would be as simple as fighting Willa, except with less unpredictable power and more unpredictable athletics. ***** Bluetooth was fatigued, but he wasn't tired yet. Having vehicles being exploded behind you had a habit of keeping oneself on their toes. He wasn't just using a pistol anymore. He had a Z-1 Kinetic Launcher in his hands now. While not lethal, it was sufficient to stun a target enough to let other attacks have an opening. And unless Darkling had a shield on him, he doubted he would be able to withstand it. That is, if he would let anyone hit him. Watching Blaire Darkling move was like watching The Matrix fight scenes ten times over. He was rather good at dodging bullets, and he was slowly trying to make his way to his assailants to get in melee range, which is where things would likely get the messiest. But therein, as Bluetooth saw it in terms of the way he had watched PLARXX signals, lay a problem. Blaire was outnumbered 11-to-1 (and counting, if Rotor's transmissions meant his T-1 Typhoon was on their trail). Sure, he had taken out countless people already so far, but they hadn't fully known what they were dealing with. And he wasn't unstoppable; Pterisa's story about him backing away from her brethren made that clear. And that rocket launcher of his didn't have infinite ammo, he couldn't use it forever. The Futuron agent would've preferred to tell everybody to spread out, but that would mean letting Darkling know what they were doing. So he darted out on his own, avoiding methods of alerting others to his presence until just the right moment... "Remember me, Darkling?" Bluetooth cried out as he got clear to the man's right. Blaire turned, and a disturbing mix of delight and fury appeared on his face. He began moving away from Zach as he started closing in on the technician. "You shouldn't have done that," Blaire called out, distracting Zach's crew by firing another rocket at them. "You never should've exposed me..." "Yeah, well, you never should've told a techie with a communicator that you were killing him for knowing a secret of yours!" Bluetooth said, raising his Z-1 launcher, knowing that any shots would likely be ducked or sidestepped, possibly into Fabello's chest just to make him feel bad. "People like me do not forgive and do not forget!" Blaire ignored the taunts. "I shall make your death as agonizing as possible..." "Good luck with that when you've got ten others simultaneously gunning on you." Bluetooth shot his launcher, which, as expected, Blaire easily sidestepped. He rushed up to Bluetooth's face, knocked away the launcher, and was about to grab his neck when he was struck by a bolt of lightning. He grunted as he was knocked to the ground, the Space Marauder rocket launcher flying out of his hand. Bluetooth glanced briefly to see Pterisa swooping just out of view. Then he grabbed his Z-1 and the rocket launcher and started running off. Blaire recovered quickly, getting back on his feet and drawing his pistol. He was aiming at Bluetooth's fleeing figure when Andrew's Fire Hammer suddenly pulled back into view. The Xenon launcher revved up and fired away at the assassin. ***** "See anything yet?" Mac asked. "Not a thing," replied Rotor. "Give me that radio." He quickly reached for his own radio and began speaking into it. "Blaire Darkling, you have thirty seconds to surrender or else we will open fire." Quickly changing frequencies, Rotor picked up the microphone once more. "I want Blaire Darkling's most probably location right now. Over." In the back, Maria held Andrea Jackson Orange's hand tightly. Andrea was still reluctant to admit to their newfound relationship, especially her father, who was sitting nearby (then again, it was crowded). "You think we'll find him?" Andrea asked. "I don't know," replied Maria. "This Blaire Darkling sounds like one mighty tough fella. Mah Daddy wouldn't had too much trouble with him, though. He were a lawman, ya see." Andrea smiled. "My dad kicked me out of the house," she said. "I had an affair with Samantha, and he didn't entirely approve of. He didn't know the full truth, but he knew there was something strange about it." ***** Andrew brought the Fire Hammer around a sharp corner and around the block. Laxus climbed out the back window and opened fire with the launcher when the vehicle once again turned to face Blaire. Not even Blaire could stay on his feet when confronted with a volley from the Xenon cannon. The explosive shells slammed into the ground around him and sent the assassin flying across the park. Out of the corner of his eye, Solomon spotted Cyborg draw his blade. The doctor seemed prepared to jump from the vehicle as it rushed past Darkling, but Solomon grabbed his shoulder. "We have superior firepower in the jeep, Dr. Cyrista," the philosopher said sternly. "It's best if we keep this simple and attack him with our heavy weaponry. Swordsmanship is where Blaire Darkling excels, I understand you think you can take him, but I assure you that you underestimate his abilities. If we provide cover fire with the jeep, we can keep him unbalanced and avoid a more unpredictable face to face confrontation." "What about his rocket launcher?" Laxus said skeptically over the radio. "We won't fair very well if we get hit with one of them!" "Let's just not give him a chance to fire it," responded Solomon. "Let's just shoot him and get it over with. I think it's safe to say we all just want this to be over." Andrew nodded and spun around again to face the assassin. Laxus unleashed another assault with the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher that prevented Blaire from rising. Surrounded by explosions, the man was once again thrown backwards to role across the green. Andrew brought the vehicle to bear and directed it at the downed assassin. Solomon said. "Floor it." And the Fire Hammer rushed forward at Darkling. ***** The Fire Hammers came to a stop somewhere in the streets below. Rotor sat in the cockpit and watched carefully, taking a sip of coffee form a nearby mug. "Get us lower!" Rotor shouted. Cabin quickly complied. Rotor picked up the microphone. "Blaire Darkling, you have fifteen seconds to surrender or we will open fire on you. I repeat, you have fifteen seconds!" Rotor quickly took his hand off the button. "Lance!" he shouted. "Prepare to fire!" Quickly, Lance placed some extra ammunition into the gun turret in which he sat. As the T-1 Typhoon hovered there, Scope came to the edge with her rifle. Her boyfriend watched through a pair of binoculars. "He's engaged them!" Lance said. Rotor grinned. "Just as I hoped. OPEN FIRE!" Scope carefully aimed her rifle out of the chopper toward the mysterious Blaire Darkling as a Fire Hammer drove toward him. She aimed right for his chest, and pulled the trigger. At that moment, as the T-1 Typhoon got closer, Lance started to fire. ***** Zach watched as Blaire rolled to the side as T-1 Typhoon fire from above rained upon him. He nodded quickly to Minerva, and the two began firing everything they could at Darkling. Blaire took a few shots with his pistol at them before taking cover behind a jungle gym with various prehistoric vegetation growing on. "Light it up!" Zach yelled. The T-1 Typhoon fired several rockets at the playground, blowing it to bits. Zach wasn't willing to bet on Blaire being dead, however. Not until he saw the corpse himself. "Here!" Vinyaya suddenly yelled. Zach turned his head and saw Vinyaya firing several blasts at Blaire, who was rushing at her. She swung the Cosmotronic Ray fiercely. Blaire snapped it in his hand and tossed it aside before throwing a punch. Vinyaya caught the fist and swung her now-free hand out to punch Blaire, only for him to swing his arm out to redirect it away from him. "You know, I have yet to catch your name," Blaire said. Vinyaya shoved him away and raised her fists, a cold frown on her face. Blaire stepped forward and began throwing rapid fire punches at Vinyaya. The Space Police commando raised her arms and knocked away each punch that came. Blaire suddenly began to move slowly around Vinyaya as he attacked, forcing Vinyaya to adjust herself so she could attack and defend. "He's using her as a shield," Zach muttered to Minerva. Blaire positioned Vinyaya in front of him so they couldn't shoot him if they didn't want to kill Vinyaya as well. "We still have Pterisa and Rotor up there," Minerva said. Then, "I've shot Holly with a Sonic Screamer before, when you were a Stromling. It won't kill her. Then we can knock out Blaire." "Or he'll just finish her off while she unconscious," Zach pointed out. "Or forcibly use her body as a shield." "Right, bad idea. And thinking about it now, having Rotor taking them out from the sky at the moment doesn't seem bright." That was also true. The heavy weapons on the T-1 Typhoon would kill both Blaire and Vinyaya. Which was why Andrew's Fire Hammer, which was nearby, had held off its charge and its Xenon Launcher wasn't firing. Zach grimaced as he saw the weapons on Rotor's helicopter began to rotate. "I swear to Builder," Bluetooth muttered darkly as he approached the group, now holding Blaire's rocket launcher with his Z-1 Kinetic Launcher. "If he does something stupid to kill him and hurts Holly..." Zach and Minerva didn't say anything, but were silently agreeing to Bluetooth's ominous threat. It seemed someone talked some sense into Rotor, because the weapons stopped rotating. Instead, the piercing sound of a sniper fire shattered through the air. The bullet struck near Vinyaya and Blaire's feet; a little too close for comfort. "Right now," Minerva said as she glanced upward. "Rotor should leave the air assault to Pterisa." The Hybrid soared above them and rose high into the air, above Vinyaya and Blaire. A bright blue spark shot from her hands and struck Blaire's back. Instead of falling, he merely stumbled. He swung his arm into Vinyaya's chest, knocking her back as he pulled his gun out and pointed it at Pterisa. "Ah!" Blaire snarled. "The Quasifigus pterisa! It has been a while. I knew better to take on three extremely angry Hybrids rejects at once, but now…" He gestured to the agents surrounding him. "Seeing as the odds are decreasing rapidly in success, I think I'll finish the job that 'Wallace Bishop' would not!" His pistol lit up as he opened fire on the Hybrid. Pterisa performed numerous, spectacular aerobatics in the sky while firing streaks of lightning at her attacker. Zach though he saw Blaire's smirk widen briefly before Vinyaya was suddenly back on her feet and wrapped Blaire up in a football tackle. As they watched the struggle, Pterisa suddenly landed near them, clutching her right shoulder. Minerva gasped as she saw the barest hint of blood seeping down her armor. "Pterisa! Are you-" "I'm fine," Pterisa grunted as she grimaced in pain. "I think I'll live. But Mr. Darkling over here won't, soon enough." They turned their attention back to the fight as Vinyaya punched Blaire hard in the face. Frowning as a parent would to a disobedient child, Blaire grabbed Vinyaya's arm and twisted it behind her back. Vinyaya gasped and grimaced as Blaire scoffed. "How about that name now?" Blaire snarled, twisting Vinyaya's arm harder. She grimaced and sharply kicked him in the stomach. He responded by swinging his fist into the left side of her face. "Vinyaya..." she gasped, a deep scowl on her face. "Holly Vinyaya." "Well then, Commander Vinyaya, I've noticed these scars on your face. Acidic right? Rather recent, would you say?" Zach saw a flash of fear in Vinyaya's eye. "So I imagine this would hurt, correct?" With that, Blaire swung his fist into Vinyaya's right cheek. She flinched, her lip shaking as her left eye began to water. Blaire made a tsk sound, clearly disappointed. "Let me try that again." With that, he slammed his fist into her scars again. A barely audible gasp of pain escaped Vinyaya's lips. "Admittedly," Blaire said with a shrug. "I expected this to hurt a lot more." "Imagination fallout," Vinyaya snarled, her voice somewhat weak. "Dimmed the pain." "Of course," Blaire said darkly. "I'll just hit harder, then." At that point, Bluetooth was running at Blaire with a furious look on his face. He fired one blast from his Z-1 that soared over the assassin's head. Without tilting his head away from Vinyaya, Blaire punched Bluetooth in the stomach, causing him to double over, dropping both weapons. Blaire then wrapped his hand underneath Bluetooth's chin and lifted him into the air. Blaire glanced from Vinyaya to Bluetooth, an amused grin dancing across his face. "How amusing," Blaire said. "I disagreed with Michelle Gladys with many a thing, but there was one thing I could agree on: these emotions and attachments to other Minifigs are weak and foolish. I abandoned all my past connections so nothing could be used against me." He slammed Bluetooth's head hard against the wet grass of the park. Vinyaya gasped again, a mixture of fear and anger on her face. "It is only something to be used to break your morale and spirit." Bluetooth's head slammed against the ground again and Blaire released him, only to stomp on his chest. Bluetooth groaned and glared at Blaire with hatred. "Now," Blaire said, pulling Vinyaya close to him and pulling his gun on Bluetooth. "Who would be broken more if I killed the other, hmm?" Pterisa quickly jumped into the air and fired a bolt of lightning at the ground near Blaire. He flinched, allowing Vinyaya to swing her arm into Blaire's face. He dropped Vinyaya and started firing at Pterisa again. As Vinyaya helped Bluetooth to his feet and stepped back, Zach, Minerva, Andrew's Fire Hammer, and Rotor's T-1 Typhoon opened fire on Darkling. Blaire roared in anger and snapped up the Space Marauder rocket launcher that Bluetooth had dropped. As he ran and dodged the firepower, he fired one rocket upward at the T-1 Typhoon and another at the Fire Hammer. Zach didn't bother seeing if the rockets met their mark. ***** "Darnit, why didn't Bluetooth keep that rocket launcher away from him?!" Andrew only just managed to avoid being hit by the rocket fire, steering sharply backwards to the right to avoid the shot. By now, he was getting peeved. He was not feeling up to being taken down so easily by some madman thought he could just kill everything and solve all his problems. "How much ammo does that thing even have?!" Laxus asked. "To make a long explanation short," Solomon said, "Paradox guns uses a lot of experimental TRDS Load Compression fields to contain large amounts of ammo in their handful of conventional weaponry. Don't ask me how it works, it'd take hours to explain." "Whatever," muttered Andrew. Dr. Cyborg jumped off the Fire Hammer, which soon continued to fire at Darkling as someone took over the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher. He pulled behind a fruit stand and stood still. He needed to concentrate to try this new trick. He concentrated on shifting only his left hand into combat mode. After two or three tries, he finally got the shield generator out and active. He activated the shield, but not in the standard rectangle. On a whim, he made it more diamond shaped, with the two side points higher up on the shield. After some thought, he made the hard light that it was made out of different colors. The base of the shield was blue, and the rim was silver. He added some decoration to it in the form of a red bird, and a yellow triangle made of three other triangles above the bird. He pulled out his energy sword hilt, which had been stained purple from the Maelstrom corruption it once endured. To make it match his shield in the same joke, he shaped the energy near the base into wings that appeared to be part of the hilt, and made them purple. He added a yellow gem in the middle. He made the blade a simple silver, but added the same triangle near the hilt. From a distance, the sword and shield would appear to be made of metal, but close examination would reveal them to be hard light. He heard Blaire's rocket launcher stop firing for a second, and jumped out from behind the fruit stand. "Hey, Blaire!" he yelled. "How about fighting with swords?" ***** As Blaire ran, he suddenly paused and jolted in surprise as a new gunshot echoed through the air. Everyone seized fire briefly as Blaire turned his head. Zelda Frodongan stood next to Zach, a smoking pistol in her hands and a dark scowl on her face. That smirk appeared on Blaire's face again. "Tsk tsk, Miss Frodongan. Bulletproof vest, remember? You're going to have to get closer and do better than that." Zach took this opportunity to drop his Cosmotronic Ray and fire a Maelstrom fireball at Darkling. He flinched as Maelstrom slammed into his person. "Ah, Mr. Virchaus. I could guess you would be a part of this party. I suppose we do have loose ends to tie up from earlier." Blaire fired his gun twice at Zach, who blocked each bullet with a Maelstrom shield. He then tossed several more fireballs at Blaire. The former assassin dodged the blasts with ease. As the last one came at him, he extended his hand and caught the fireball. Blaire chuckled as he choked the fire out in his glove. "Disappointing, Mr. Virchaus. Hiding behind the Maelstrom?" Zach scowled, growing angrier as he sent another fireball at Darkling. He choked that one out as well. Blaire shook his head, smiling arrogantly as he fired another shot at Zach. Zach closed his eyes and watched as purple electricity shot from his fingers and struck Blaire's face. Blaire screamed in pain and fell forward to his knees. As he fell, his sunglasses fell into the grass with a soft thump in two pieces. Everyone stared for a few seconds as Blaire began to rise to his feet. Zach gasped audibly as he looked upon Blaire Darkling's eyes. There was little white around his irises. They were a light tint of red and had dark red veins with flecks of purple traveling from the corners of his eyes to his sickly pale-yellow irises that also showed the barest hint of purple. In those sickly Maelstrom-infected eyes, Zach saw nothing but pure hatred. Blaire bared his teeth, his grotesque eyes never leaving Zach's. "Imagine the pain I felt," Darkling hissed, "when the Maelstrom Temple was created almost a year ago. When the Maelstrom Crystal and the Imagination reacted... negatively. Bolts of Maelstrom energy went directly into my eyes. It was... agonizing. If not for the work of the nearby scientists, I would've gone blind from that attack. The sunglasses saved you from seeing them. Since you were so kind to destroy the sunglasses, I suppose you'll have to die with my eyes being the last thing you see." And with that ultimatum, Blaire Darkling rushed forward to attack. ***** As Andrew thought over what the next strategy might be and watched as Zach and Blaire got into a Maelstrom scuffle, he asked "So what's our plans for life after all this? Once things are cleaned up with the Mutant Dinos and everything." "Think I might return to business working with the aero tubes manufactures I work with back home," Laxus said over the radio to the Xenon launcher. "I bet with all the things needing reconstruction, corporations should be more able to install new transportation systems." "You mentioned that once, I think, yeah. Would be interesting to see those tubes cojoining the subways for quick transportation. As for me..." Andrew's thoughts drifted, not really thinking of much at first, but then he remembered one of the earliest conversations he had had with the likes of Bluetooth. "Hmm… don't really know, I'd like to travel a bit through the stars, actually. Settle on another planet, see new planets and all." "Really? Hmmm... you know, I bet I could help make that happen." "Really?!" Andrew's heart took a slight leap. He knew Laxus had friends with people up in space to be able to be on Earth when the Dino Attack, but being willing to do that... he had considered, it but thinking that Laxus would offer it first hadn't crossed him, even after all their time bonding. The cry Blaire gave while charging at Zach interrupted Andrew's moment. "Eh, yeah," said Laxus, "but let's finish that conversation later, we have other matters to worry about." ***** Scope fired another round, which seemed to hit, but did no damage. "He's got a bulletproof vest!" she said. Barry Jackson lowered his binoculars. "Try aiming for the head?" he suggested. "You think you can do that?" Scope nodded and looked back through her scope toward Blaire. Another shot was fired by Scope and missed. "Can't we just blast him with the rockets?" Cabin asked. "I'm afraid we can't," replied Rotor. "If we do that, we run the risk of hitting our own!" "I could take him!" Angel Eyes said. "There's a few of us who could get him if we can get down on the ground!" Sure enough, the helicopter came down, and a small group of people climbed out and split up. The noise of spurs echoed through the street as Blaire aimed his rocket launcher, only to get an unexpected surprise when a bullet flew right through it. He lowered the gun to see Clint Wayne with a revolver pointed right at him. Suddenly, a gun cocked behind Blaire, and he turned to see Angel Eyes, armed with a rifle. "Drop the gun," he said. Blaire's red eyes narrowed curtly as he stared at the barrel of the gun Angel Eyes' held in his hands. Zach let out slow sigh as he released the grip on the knife he was about to pull from his uniform to attack Blaire with. "As you wish," Blaire snarled. He swung the rocket launcher up, knocking the rifle away and then swung the rocket launcher into Angel Eyes' leg, bringing him down. Discarding the rocket launcher, Blaire ducked quickly as Clint Wayne fired a bullet at his head. Blaire swept his leg across the ground, tripping the gunslinger. Blaire casually stood up and kicked the revolver away from Clint Wayne. "Please," Blaire scoffed, arrogantly brushing dirt off his trenchcoat. "Like I haven't been in a situation like that before." Blaire then stepped over Wayne as several bullets from the surrounding group shot toward him. Blaire took a few careless shots with his pistol before pulling his katana out and charging at Zach again. "Shoot," Zach muttered, ripping the knife from his uniform. The smaller blade collided hard against Blaire's katana. The former leader of XERRD's piercing eyes widened and a grin of sick amusement formed on his face. "A knife will do little to help you, Virchaus," Blaire spat. He brought the katana back and swung again. Zach staggered as the blade collided with the knife. He brought the sword back to stab when Minerva suddenly burst forward and slammed her shoulder into Blaire's. Despite her small size, Blaire was unprepared for the attack and stumbled. Blaire turned and swung the katana upward in a wide arc, knocking away Minerva's Sonic Screamer. "Miss Fabello," he said politely. "So it seems the death of your mother and presumably your brother have not entirely hindered you. I admire that. To an extent." "Shut up," Minerva said shortly, her fists raised. "You're just as much to blame for her death as Oswald. You helped him break her out of Napoleon XIV. You brought her here." Darkling shrugged. "I suppose I did, didn't I? I was pitying him mostly. His insanity was rather... evident at that point." He jabbed his sword forward. Minerva quickly jerked her body to the side and swung a hard punch into Blaire's face. Unamused, Blaire swung his arm in the side of her face and prepared to stab the sword down. Minerva kicked her legs up, hitting underneath his chin. Blaire grunted in pain and brought his foot up. Minerva rolled out of the way as Blaire's boot slammed into the ground. Blaire turned to pursue her when he saw Dr. Cyborg standing before him, an energy shield and sword in his hands. Blaire scoffed coldly. His eyes seemed to brighten. "Dr. Cyrista. You never crossed me as one for swordplay." Blaire frowned. "You know, I made you second-in-command of XERRD for the very purpose that, when I killed Nazareno, you would continue to reform XERRD. Having me kill you here kinda makes the promotion redundant." Blaire swung his katana at Dr. Cyborg, who blocked it with the shield. Blaire smirked and pulled off a series of complicated attacks at Dr. Cyborg. The cyborg Dino Attack agent was apparently caught off guard by Blaire's attack and was being forced back by Darkling. Minerva shook Zach's shoulders, snapping him out of stupor. She had her Sonic Screamer in hand again. "Remember Dr. Cyborg's plan?" Zach nodded and picked his Cosmotronic Ray back up. He saw Vinyaya and Bluetooth point their Cosmotronic Ray and Z-1 Kinetic Launcher at Blaire. The plan seems to have been passed on to Clint Wayne and Angel Eyes, who both pointed their weapons at Darkling as well. "Excellent plan," Blaire said arrogantly. Dr. Cyborg recovered at that moment and launched a quick attack against Blaire. His reflexes were certainly fast thanks to his half-machineself, but compared to Blaire's, they were shockingly on par. A sinking feeling formed in Zach's stomach as Blaire blocked the blurry attacks with ease, a bored look on his face. He was naturally that quick. Blaire was also moving around Dr. Cyborg as he attacked. "Yes, have Dr. Cyrista distract me while you all shoot. How ingenious." Blaire slammed his sword into Dr. Cyborg's and brought his person closer to his enemy. With a smirk, Blaire slammed his gloved fist into Dr. Cyborg's helmet visor, cracking it. He swung his fist again, finally shattering. The organic side of Dr. Cyborg's face expressed surprise. Dr. Cyborg swung his shield against Blaire's chest, causing him to stumble back. Dr. Cyborg ran forward to attack. Blaire spun around the doctor with ease and swung his sword down. Dr. Cyborg barely turned himself around in time to stop the attack. Zach was trying to get a good shot on Blaire, but he was moving around enough to put both Dr. Cyborg and other attackers surrounding Blaire in danger. Clint Wayne squeezed off two shots, one barely missing Dr. Cyborg while the other grazed Blaire's shoulder. It didn't stop that latter, however. Blaire slammed his katana against Dr. Cyborg's sword. Blaire twisted his body and swung an elbow into Dr. Cyborg's organic side of his face. Dr. Cyborg grimaced, allowing Blaire to swing his foot into Dr. Cyborg's stomach, forcing him back. With a bored smirk, Blaire stabbed his katana forward, intending to inflict the killing blow. Only he didn't. His sword was redirected into the ground by a golden blade. Blaire's eyes widened, almost as if the ghost of Nazareno himself had stopped his attack. Traveling up the blade, Blaire's eyes rested upon Zelda Frodongan, a look of barely contained anger in her eye. A wide smirk formed on Blaire's face as he brought his sword back and pointed it at Zelda. Zelda merely reached for her second sword and pointed both blades at Darkling. "Let's finish this," she said darkly before lunging in to attack. Dr. Cyborg was the least little bit surprised. He had found a natural equal! Okay, maybe Solomon had a point. He stood slouched for a second, recovering his breath, when Zelda jumped in front of him. He squinted his eye, unused to the bright light. Having his natural face always hidden under a dark HUD visor had made his face pale and weakened his eye. When he had fully recovered a second later, he stood up beside Zelda, who was about to start round 3. "News flashes, Darkling: I don't intend to die, and I am Dr. Cyborg!" he said defiantly. ***** "Didn't quite work?" Maria said. "Time for plan B!" "What's that?" Andrea asked turning toward her. Maria smiled and turned toward Fireman, who displayed a menacing grin. Putting on his mask, and helmet, Fireman jumped out of the helicopter and started spreading his flamethrower everywhere. Maria reached for her belt and grabbed a revolver as her girlfriend's father charged blindly toward the action, shouting an incomprehensible battle cry. "You should have seen him in the fire department," Andrea remarked with a slight smirk. "He always wore those gas masks at the scene of a fire, regardless of how serious it was. I have no idea how his co-workers understood a word he was saying." "How'd he end up like that?" Maria asked. "I don't know," replied Andrea. "What do you say we get out there and give 'em boys a hand?" Andrea smiled as Maria stepped jumped out of the T-1 Typhoon and aimed her revolver toward Blaire. In all the chaos, sneaking up on Blair wasn't too hard; he was one man surrounded by several people. The real challenge was getting a hit. Andrea was climbing out of the chopper moments later with an unusual weapon, and when Blaire's back was turned, she charged toward him, holding a large red fire axe. The level of distaste in Blaire's eye seemed to grow as Fireman, Andrea, and Maria joined the fight below. "Really?" Blaire said irritably. Everyone began to approach Blaire. There was no holding back now. There may be a few injuries, but Blaire was so handily outnumbered, they had to take this opportunity to strike. "Hey!" an unrecognizable feminine voice called out. Everyone turned to see a new Fire Hammer had arrived. A woman was sitting in the driver seat with another Dino Attack agent on the Xenon Launcher. "Is it too late to join the hunt down a Blaire Darkling - oh, Builder! What's wrong with eyes?!" Blaire shot a quick glance at Zelda and Dr. Cyborg before pulling his pistol and shooting the agent on the turret dead. "You're just in time. I know my limits. We're done here." He started running toward the Fire Hammer. "Shoot him!" Minerva barked. Everyone quickly trained their guns on the Fire Hammer and Blaire and opened fire. Several shots struck Blaire in the back, but thanks to his vest, ignored the pain and swung open the Fire Hammer and shot the female agent in the chin. Climbing into the Fire Hammer, Blaire put the vehicle in drive and headed off. The reaction was quick. Fireman, Andrea, Maria, Angel Eyes, and Clint Wayne climbed back into the T-1 Typhoon while Bluetooth, Dr. Cyborg, and Zelda climbed into Andrew's Fire Hammer and Zach, Minerva, and Vinyaya clung to the Fire Hammer cab from the back with Laxus. Andrew's Fire Hammer turned sharply on its wheels and drove out of the park in pursuit of Blaire's Fire Hammer. Laxus fired the Xenon Launcher at Blaire's Fire Hammer while Zach, Minerva, and Vinyaya hung on to the Fire Hammer while firing their own weapons. Above them, Rotor's T-1 Typhoon was mercilessly firing everything it had. Zach grinned as the Xenon Launcher on the back of Blaire's Fire Hammer exploded. "We almost got him," Vinyaya muttered. Suddenly, Blaire's Fire Hammer slowed down dramatically and swung around right, allowing Andrew's Fire Hammer to shoot past him. Zach turned his head and saw Blaire's Fire Hammer continue in the opposite direction. Zach swore loudly. "What is she doing?!" Solomon yelled out, sounding irritated. Examining closer, Zach could see Zelda clinging to the side of Blaire's Fire Hammer. She must have anticipated his move and jumped out as they passed. "Andrew says to hold on," Laxus grunted. Andrew's Fire Hammer turned sharply around and sped up rapidly. Over their heads, Rotor's T-1 Typhoon, being as slow and clumsy as the large helicopters were, was still recovering from Blaire's maneuver. Laxus was more hesitant about opening fire when Zelda was clinging on to the side. "Bring the Fire Hammer over to his," a pained grunt belonging to Zelda said into Laxus's radio. With a shrug, Laxus passed on the command to Andrew. With a heavy jolt, the Fire Hammer blasted forward. Thanks to Andrew's driving skill, that managed to move to the right side of Blaire's Fire Hammer. Almost immediately after establishing their position, the cab of Blaire's Fire Hammer lit up as he opened fire on the other Fire Hammer. Dr. Cyborg and Bluetooth fired their own weapons at Blaire. Zach heard Zelda audibly swear as she pulled herself on to the cab of the Fire Hammer. "What in blue bricks are you doing?!" Zach snapped. "I'm taking on Blaire," Zelda yelled back, struggling to stay on her feet. "And if you had half a brain, you'd jump over and join me!" "Are you crazy?!" Zach yelled. "He's mad! He'll kill us all! You need backup!" "Yeah, you three! We all want of piece of him, don't deny it! Just decide, and decide quickly!" Zach shot a glance at Minerva. She gave a half shrug before giving Zelda a thumbs up sigh. Crouching down, Zelda extended her hands. Taking a deep breath and strapping her Sonic Screamer to her back, Minerva jumped. Their hands collided and Zelda pulled Minerva over into the bed of the Fire Hammer. Vinyaya carefully moved herself to Zach. With a curt nod, she jumped over as well. Zelda struggled more with Vinyaya's heavy armor as she pulled the commander over to Minerva's location. Zelda turned back to Zach and gave him a meaningful look. Zach sighed, dropped his Cosmotronic Ray, and turned to Laxus. "You know I have to, right?" Laxus smirked. "I'm not going to lie, it's not particularly smart after watching him fight. But I suppose it's rather important to you." "Yeah. Seeing as Blaire will probably break away soon, tell Andrew we'll make it back, I make that I promise." "Good luck," Laxus said. They clasped hands together briefly before Zach turned to Zelda and nodded. Zach then leaped. As he wrapped one hand around Zelda's, Blaire suddenly jerked to left. Zelda gasped as she was brought to her knees. Zelda grabbed Zach's hand with both of hers and clung to him desperately. Another jerking turn almost caused Zelda to lose her grip on him again. Swinging madly, Zach lunged out for the side of the jeep bed. He felt his fingers grab it, only to begin to slip. Minerva grabbed his hand tightly. Another jerking turn later, Zelda joined the group on the bed of the vehicle and helped pull Zach on board. "You always make things so complicated, Virchaus," Vinyaya said, though Zach could hear the relief in her voice. Zach looked around and saw no sign of Andrew's Fire Hammer or Rotor's T-1 Typhoon. "So we're really on our own." Minerva nodded and looked ahead, a panicked look on her face. "Get down!" Everyone quickly crouched down and covered their heads as Blaire went through a wrecked building with his vehicle. Bricks were being thrown down at them rapidly and evidence of office chairs and supplies smacked against their hands. Blaire shot out of the building and turned hard right, knocking everyone down. "Alright, Darkling," Vinyaya muttered irritably. "You lost them. Enough with the turns." "So now what?" Zach said to Zelda. "Since you've got us all on board." Zelda began to wrap her arms around the cab. "We go for Blaire. Holly, can you get the other side?" "Already on it," Vinyaya said as she moved to the opposite. "Good. Zach, Minerva, you get ready to shoot." Zach and Minerva nodded and ducked down. Minerva pulled her Sonic Screamer out and Zach prepared to fire a burst of Maelstrom energy. Even if it didn't do much to actually harm him, it could still stun him. Vinyaya and Zelda began to move slowly from the bed to the front door, ready to ambush Blaire. Unfortunately, he seemed to be anticipating this attack, as he veered the vehicle onto the sidewalk. "Zelda, get back!" Vinyaya yelled. Zelda flipped herself onto the roof as the side of the Fire Hammer ground against the building. The cab lit up as Blaire opened fire on Vinyaya. Blaire pulled away from the buildings and started to head for the opposite side of the street when a Mutant T-Rex suddenly burst from the intersection. Blaire slammed on the brakes, but still managed to clip the leg of the massive beast. The vehicle's tires screeched in agony as it begun to spin out of control. It burst through a steel fence and began to rattle and bounce as it traveled through a grassy area. "Get off!" Zach yelled to Minerva. They both turned away from each other and jumped from the bed of jeep. Zach rolled against the damp grass and collided with an old stone, bruising his spine. Groaning and swearing, Zach climbed to his feet and watched Vinyaya leap from the out-of-controlled Fire Hammer briefly before getting a better look at his new surroundings. It was small, contained area filled with stones. A graveyard. How morbid. Zach quickly reunited with Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda and they all turned and watched the Fire Hammer, whose tires were absolutely destroyed by all the gravestones, collide with a massive grave in the center of the area. Not saying a word, the four slowly approached the crumpled and burning Fire Hammer. As they reached the left side of the Fire Hammer, the front door suddenly flew three yards away and slammed into a gravestone. Blaire climbed out of the cab slowly and his red eyes scanned the group in silence, a deep scowl on his face. He then glanced around briefly before a smirk formed on his face. "So you were the ones to hitch a ride," Blaire snarled, his generally calm voice thinly veiled with anger. He shrugged. "I like it this way, personally. You all have a bone to pick with me and I have a few issues to settle with you." It briefly crossed Zach's mind to at least hold off and weaken Blaire for the cavalry to find them eventually. Then he looked at the three women he had become friends with in the last few weeks. They each held cold frowns on their faces and their eyes showed little mercy as Minerva and Vinyaya pointed their guns at him and Zelda held her swords out. Zach realized they weren't aiming to hold him off. They would kill him for all the lives he had taken. All the damage he had cause and all the pain he had created. Even Vinyaya, the police officer, wasn't offering him a chance to surrender. It was all or nothing. Zach nodded faintly as he pulled out his knife and extended his left hand. He didn't care anymore. They would kill Blaire Darkling. One way or another. Zach and Zelda spread out as Minerva and Vinyaya opened on Blaire. He rolled forward and kicked the Sonic Screamer out of Minerva's hand. Gripping her arm, Blaire then turned, grabbed the barrel of Vinyaya's Cosmotronic Ray and ripped it out of her hands and tossed it like a disc at a gravestone. Blaire turned to punch Vinyaya when Minerva twisted the arm holding her, following by kneeing him in the stomach. Blaire doubled over, groaning before he slammed his heavy forearm into Minerva's stomach. He shoved her away and swung a punch into Vinyaya, who caught the fist in her hand. Blaire held the position while he pulled out his katana to guard from a side attack by Zelda. Blaire then kicked Vinyaya and swung his katana at Zelda so he could move away from a knife stab by Zach. Blaire backed away from the group, his katana held in front of him. Zach fired a blast of Maelstrom that Blaire quickly dodged, destroying the gravestone. Zach snarled and fired another blast. Blaire stepped to the side, cold smirk on his face. He pulled his pistol out and opened fire on the group. The group quickly retreated behind the various gravestones. "We need to get the gun out of the equation!" Zelda shouted to Zach; they were separated by two graves. Zach nodded and turned to see Vinyaya a gravestone away from him. "Where's Minerva?" Zach called out in a loud whisper to her as Blaire quickly reloading his gun and waited for the first of his opponents to reveal himself. Vinyaya shrugged and turned to glance out from behind her stone when Blaire suddenly started firing again. Zach peeked over the stone and saw a dark red door of a Fire Hammer charging at Blaire while he shot at it. The door slammed into Blaire and fell with him to the ground. Minerva Fabello lifted herself from the door and grinned at Zach goofily. Zach smirked back and he, Vinyaya, and Zelda approached her and Blaire quickly. "Kill him now," Zach said quietly to Zelda. She nodded and gestured to the group to get ready. Vinyaya and Zach got around the door and lifted it slightly so Zelda could deliver the final blow. The door suddenly shot upward out of their hands thanks to a powerful kick from Blaire. He swept through Zach's ankles, causing him to collapse. Blaire rolled out of the way as Zelda brought her katana down in the area where his head was. He jumped to his feet, punched Vinyaya in the chest, and pulled out his katana and pointed it at Zelda. Zelda pulled out both of her katanas and swung violently and rapidly at Blaire. An amused smirk was on Darkling's face as he blocked both katanas with relative ease. "You're going need a little more skill to have an advantage over me," Blaire scoffed. As they fought, Zach began to move behind Blaire, his knife raised. A low blow to be sure, but at this point, Zach was beyond caring. Suddenly, Blaire kicked upward, knocking a katana out of Zelda's hand. Grabbing the katana in midair with his left hand, Blaire turned forty-five degrees and swung both katanas out, blocking attacks from Zelda and Zach. Blaire grinned at the both of them. As enraged as he was, it was clear he was enjoying taunting them. Minerva jumped onto his back and wrapped her arms around his throat. Blaire gasped angrily and tried to wrestle her off while holding off attacks from both Zach and Zelda. Minerva released herself and stepped back as Vinyaya lunged forward at Blaire's ankles. Stumbling, Blaire fell backwards on the ground hard. Blaire roared in anger and kicked Vinyaya in the chin, stunning her for several seconds. He blocked repeated blows from Zelda and Zach as he slowly climbed to his feet. Minerva ran at him again, only for him to elbow her in the face. Minerva grunted in pain as she fell back, clutching her face. Growing angrier by the second, Zach began to move around Blaire. Unamused, Blaire slammed his katana in Zelda's as hard as he could while sharply kicking her in the stomach. Blaire quickly turned and blocked a stab from Zach. With Blaire's attention entirely focused on him, Zach backed up as long, sharp katana blades lashed out at him. As Blaire spun out Nazareno's katana at him, Zach hit the deck, allowing Vinyaya and Minerva, recovered from Blaire's attacks, to step forward and grab Blaire's arms. As Zach crawled away, Zach could see Vinyaya and Minerva dig their boots into ground as Blaire tried to pull away from them. Vinyaya wrapped one hand around the golden katana and yanked the sword out of his hands and threw it away from him. Now furious, Blaire swung his free arm across Vinyaya's cheek, causing her to gasp in pain as he struck her scars. Blaire then swung his fist at Minerva, who brought one hand up to stop the attack. Blaire chuckled and twisted himself so his forearm could pound Minerva in the stomach. Coughing in pain, Minerva doubled over, allow Blaire to break free and pull his sword back to deliver a killing blow. His sword was soon knocked down by Zelda, who gave him a deathly glare. Zach went up to Minerva and pulled her away from the fight to Vinyaya, whose eye was watering painfully. Minerva coughed again, this time much harder, and stared at Blaire hatefully. Gripping his knife tightly, Zach moved toward Blaire quickly as he kicked Zelda in the shin, bring her to her knees. A scowl forming on his face, Zach raised his hand, summoned all the energy he could, and fired a blast of Maelstrom. It slammed into Blaire's back like a truck. He stumbled forward, grunting in pain. Stomping his foot into Zelda's stomach for good measure, Blaire started walking toward Zach, a fierce scowl on his face. Zach fired two more weaker blasts before he found himself panting. Blaire let each one strike his chest. He barely broke his pace while he swung his left fist into the side of Zach's face, knocking him to the ground. "Admittedly, you're all holding rather well," Blaire said, his eyes narrowing as he stared at Zach. "But I can see it; you're all breaking. It's becoming too much." Blaire raised his foot and stomped it on Zach's chest. His eyes bulged out of his head and he gasped for air as Blaire applied more pressure to his chest. Blaire chuckled darkly before swinging his foot under Zach's chin, knocking him back. He heard the sharp clang of metal and realized this was his chance to back away and regroup. He slowly crawled back as Zelda and Blaire exchanged blows once again. "I got you," Minerva whispered gently in his ear. She wrapped her arms around his torso and helped him climb to his feet. Zach nodded his thanks and, with Minerva's help, guided him to Vinyaya. Zelda and Blaire circled each other, staring hatefully at each other. Zelda's breathing was ragged and she seemed to stumble with every other step. "It's over, Miss Frodongan," Blaire stated simply. "You shouldn't have come after me. If it's any consolation, you will be joining Kareem very soon." "No!" Zelda spat angrily, swinging her katana in front of her. "You aren't taking... any more lives! I'll... see to it myself!" Blaire laughed coldly. "Look at you. All of you. You can barely stand there and talk to me! You think you can defeat me?" Zelda stopped moving, but didn't respond. Blaire stopped his circling as well, grinning coldly. "It appears you lack common sense, Frodongan. You will pay first. Then we'll see to Fabello, Virchaus, and Vinyaya." Zelda looked to the friends she had made in the last several days before turning back to Blaire. With an ugly frown, she lunged forward and initiated the final showdown. Zelda's katana slammed into Blaire's katana, showering the ground with orange sparks. Zelda was fatigued from the battle that ended barely an hour ago. With added battle against Blaire Darkling that was physically demanding in itself, Zelda felt as though she could collapse right now. But she wouldn't. Not until Blaire was defeated. Not until her friends were safe. Not until Nazareno was avenged and his long-time mission completed. She needed to improve her form, that much was certain. As fatigued Blaire probably was, he still had defeated Zelda twice before with relative ease. Blaire was a million times more skilled in sword combat than her, even with lessons prior to the Dino Attack and with Nazareno. Zelda swung upward for Blaire's head, an attack he blocked with ease. His brilliant red eyes expressed bored amusement as he fought her. This was hardly a challenge for him. He could probably kill her right now if he so wished. She swung the sword in her hand and delivered three quick attacks to Blaire before lashing out with a kick. Blaire smirked as he grabbed Zelda's foot in midair. "Really?" Blaire scoffed. "If you did train under Nazareno, I expected a little better." Zelda scowled before kicking herself other leg upward. It swung up in a wide arc and slammed Blaire in the cheek. He released his grip and groaned in pain, allowing her to land on both feet. Seeing her opportunity, she swept her foot across his ankles. Blaire anticipated this movement and swung his katana at her, forcing her to roll away and recover. "Fine," Blaire snarled, holding his katana in an attack position. "I'll kill you now." Blaire rushed forward, slashing his katana. Zelda's katana was quick in meeting each of Blaire's attack, but she was becoming slower and slower as he attacked. Her jacket was being slashed and torn as Zelda became slower. Seeing that she was in a bad position, she backflipped away from him. This gave him the opportunity to slice down her back. Zelda gasped in pain and backed away as Blaire came closer. Her back was searing with pain and the pain made her dizzy. Regardless, she fought past the pain. Zelda glanced back at Zach, Minerva, and Vinyaya, who were watching her with concern. "Stay back!" she hissed through clenched teeth as she blocked a horizontal sweep to her chest. "Zelda," Vinyaya snapped, her voice hoarse. "You can't take him alone. I've seen what he's done to scores of officers. You're powerful, but you're tired. With the four of us, we could-" "No," Zelda gasped as she pivoted her body to avoid a blow from Blaire. "I-" "We know you want to get him because of what he did to Nazareno," Minerva said. "We all do. We can help. Together, we can beat him." Zelda mulled over her options quickly. Blaire smirked in faint amusement. "Stay back," Zelda said finally, turning back to the group. They examined her quietly and saw the hardened features in her face lighten. Zach finally nodded sadly, an understanding glint in her eye. Zelda smiled briefly, glad they understood her message. Her smile quickly faded as Blaire's katana collided with hers. His face was barely a foot away from hers. Zelda flinched as his hateful eyes stared into hers. "It doesn't really matter," Blaire boasted. "They will all die soon enough." Zelda, unamused, resolved to spit in his face. Blaire snarled, allowing Zelda to push him back and strike back. She swung her sword upward and cut through his trenchcoat and black shirt. Zelda swung her foot extremely high and kicked Blaire underneath his chin, causing him to stumble back. Blaire wiped the saliva away from his face and roared in anger as he attacked again. This time, Zelda was ready and blocked the attack with ease. They exchanged quick, deadly blows at all angles. Blaire swung up, down, and across at Zelda, who met each attack with equal ferocity. Zelda spun on her heel and stabbed at Blaire, who barely blocked the attack. Blaire gave her a hateful look. "Why... do you... persist... with this?" he hissed. Zelda refused to respond and knocked back Blaire's katana and swung for his neck. Blaire ducked his head swung his head down and swung a fist into Zelda's chest, causing her to gasp for air. She moved to the side as Blaire stabbed his katana forward. Zelda tapped it down and cut Blaire's right arm before he could pull away. Blaire grimaced and swung with controlled, albeit angry, precision that creating a bleeding wound on her knees and thighs. She closed her eyes for a second as the stinging pain all over her body threatened to consume her. She opened her eyes quickly to see Blaire smiling maliciously as he stabbed forward again. Instinctively, Zelda fell to her back. Zelda gasped as the wound on her back screamed in protest from her action. The sword hovered over her for a second. She swung both feet up and wrapped them around the blade. Too stunned to react, Blaire's sword was ripped from his hands and flew into the air. Zelda rose to catch it, only to feel an elbow jabbed her cheek. Blaire jumped up and caught the sword and charged at Zelda. She stood there, her sword ready to attack. As Blaire reached her, she swung the blade into his hand. Blaire roared as her katana sliced into his gloved hand. Zelda swung her foot upward and kicked the sword out of his hand before Blaire barreled into her, knocking her to the side. She followed Blaire's katana as it buried itself into the ground behind her. She smirked slightly before Blaire charged at her again. Zelda flew back as Blaire's shoulder slammed into her chest. She rose quickly. This was her chance to finish him off. She ran at him, sword raised. Blaire stepped to the side and twisted her sword arm. Zelda suppressed a groan of pain and elbowed him in the face twice, forcing him to step back. Zelda swung her sword in a wide arc behind her, but Blaire jumped back before he could be hit. Zelda continued to swing at him, becoming fiercer as Blaire dodged his attacks, though he seemed to be slowing and becoming sloppier as Zelda landed a few slashes on him. She slashed her sword downward. Blaire stepped back and caught the blade between his palms. "You will not win!" Blaire barked, holding the blade tightly. Zelda tried to push the blade into his stomach, but he held it back with all of his strength. He grinned madly at her as he suddenly ripped the blade from her grip and turned it back at her. Before memories of Nazareno's demise could swamp through her, she stepped to the side as Blaire began to attack again. She turned to get Blaire's blade when he slashed through her wrist. Zelda's face twisted in pain as Blaire circled around her, blocking the path to his katana. ***** "Have you found it?" Zach hissed to Vinyaya as she scoured the graves surrounding Blaire and Zelda. "No," Vinyaya muttered irritably. She shot a glance at Zelda and Blaire, the former now without a katana. "We need to hurry." Zach nodded quickly. Zelda had said not to help her, but her eyes and face were clearing asking that he, Vinyaya, and Minerva do something to distract him long enough so he could be defeated. Right now, they were search for the Cosmotronic Ray and Sonic Screamer used by Vinyaya and Minerva respectively, though it was difficult due to reaching the point where the fire from the Fire Hammer being the only source of light. Zach himself was searching as well when he heard a frantic whisper from Minerva. "I found one of Nazareno's katanas!" she gasped excitedly. Vinyaya and Zach ran over to her. Indeed, the bright gold katana rested in her hands. "Alright," Zach said, glancing back at the duel. "I think Zelda has him distracted enough that we can slip in and kill him." Vinyaya and Minerva nodded curtly. Taking the sword from Minerva, Zach stepped toward Darkling, Minerva by his side. Vinyaya was silently moving around to Zelda's side. He cautiously watched Darkling launch after Zelda. Much of his composure was gone and seemed to be descending ever closer to insanity as he fought. Zelda shot him a brief glance as she danced away from Blaire's attack: a fatal mistake. Blaire turned around and grabbed the sword Zach was about to plunge into his back. "Oh, no, you don't!" At that point, Zelda kicked her sword out of Blaire's hand and stabbed it at him. Blaire's hand shot out and wrapped his hand around her blade as well. There was evidence of blood seeping from his palms as he held back the sharp blades. His arms shook with pain and his face twisted into his signature hideous smirk. "Why won't you die?!" Zach groaned as he pushed against the blade harder against the force Blaire was applying. No man should be able to last this long. It was almost... demonic. Blaire laughed coldly, his eyes constantly shooting from Zelda to Zach. "You are nothing compared to me! Not even the great Nazareno could stop me! I... I am Matthew Vherestorm!" Blaire's face seemed to become consumed in darkness with only his bright red eyes shining through. Vherestorm had become the mask that was Blaire Darkling, only to finally remove that mask in frustrated (and possibly insane) anger. "No," Zelda stated plainly. Zach glanced over to her and saw Vinyaya by her side, her hands wrapped around the hilt of the katana as well. At that point, Minerva also moved next to Zach and gripped her hands around the sword. Blaire stared in shock and horror. "You're dead." With all of their strength combined, the two katanas shot past through Blaire's hands and sunk into his body and out through his back, forming a gold-and-red X in his body. The light returned to his face. Blaire stared at the katanas sticking in shock. "I-I-I..." He was finally at a loss for words. The color drained from his face dramatically. His red eyes almost seemed to become stone gray. He stared from Minerva and Zach to Zelda and Vinyaya, who merely looked back with looks of pity and hatred. Suddenly, Blaire began to laugh. "These... these are his katanas, are they not?" he said, his voice becoming strangely calm. "He... always said I would fall by his blades. Even in death, his prediction came true. How... poetic." Blaire chuckled faintly. Zach and Zelda pulled the katanas from Blaire's body. Without their support, Blaire Darkling's body slumped forward and did not move. Zach swallowed calmly and looked at Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda. They stared at Blaire's body in silence. Fatigue and grim satisfaction were etched on their faces. They had done it. Blaire... Matthew Vherestorm... was dead. All the lives he had taken, including Thaddeus Brickhouse and Kareem Nazareno, were avenged. In the latter's case, he was probably somewhere smirking in approval and in relief that his friends and lover/apprentice had survived the encounter and had defeated a great menace. "Well, folks," Zach said finally, throwing the katana to Zelda. "Show's over. Time to head home." Vinyaya nodded and glanced around before running over and picking up Minerva's Sonic Screamer. Tapping a few buttons, a bright light suddenly flashed into existence from the attachment on the weapon. Nodding curtly, Vinyaya started to walk toward the graveyard exit. After one last glance at Blaire, Zelda followed. Minerva smiled weakly at Zach before the two joined the other two. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  9. Act 9: Epilogue Chapter 73: Dawn of a Newsday ---- "He's dead! That son of a 4+ Figure is dead!" "The dinos are all gone! Well, except for the ones on our side, and a handful of stranglers, but regardless..." "YES! YES!" "We did it! We did it!" "I knew we'd win this, I knew it!" "WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOO!" "Well, that's the end of that." "Somebody kiss me!" "Okay!" "Yay, it only took the losses of nearly two-fifths of our ranks!" "Oh, don't ruin the moment." "HUG ME, BROTHER!" "Group hug!" "Hugs for everyone!" "Hey, you know what this calls for? A PARTY!" "Only if there's Brickolini pizza!" "And movies to riff!" "You want a party like that? Everyone come to LEGO Island, the Infomaniac and I are making plans for a Christmas/New Year's/End-of-War extravaganza! I'll let you know what day it is later tomorrow. You've got Pepper Roni's word!" ***** A cheer went up, echoing off the buildings. Not one throat remained closed. Onboard Rotor's T-1 Typhoon, Helm let out a whoop and Giles pumped his fist in the air. Kat heard Katerina's voice inside her head. Good riddance to bad rubbish. "Oh, shut up, you," said Kat, laughing to herself. There was excitement and relief in the air as Cabin and Rotor quickly hugged each other and kissed for a second. Over the radio, one man, probably a former journalist, could be heard. "Antarctica, reception clear. Over." "Are there any newsmen waiting? Over." "Place is full of them. Over." "Alright fellas, here's your story. LEGO City, December 21, Agent Scott reporting. One of the greatest battles was fought and won today by the minifig race. Here, in one of our greatest cities, the agents faced what we hope is the final invasion by mutated dinosaurs. A man named Noah once saved the minifig race with an arc of wood. Here, in LEGO City, a few men performed a similar service with an arc of Imagination. The man responsible for the Dino Attack and many of his followers have been destroyed, but not without casualties among our own meager forces. I would like to bring some of the people responsible for our success, but at the moment our leader agent Specs is attending to demands over and above the call of duty. And now, before giving you the details of the battle, I bring you a warning. Every one of you listening to my voice, tell this to anybody wherever they are! Watch the horizon - everywhere - keep looking - keep looking. Keep watching for anything!" ***** On Zenna's T-1 Typhoon, Hotwire high-fived Andrew, Dr. Cyborg, Hertz, and Zach as well, before collapsing to the deck, sound asleep and still grinning to himself. Zenna's T-1 Typhoon moved down to land right around the area where the Iron Predator defense line had been, which was still slightly smoldering from Dr. Rex's fire attacks. The site was a grim reminder of what the battle had cost, but as of now, when victory had just been achieved and the Minifigs of Dino Attack and their allies were still celebrating, the time for mourning would be put off for quite a while. Now was a time for joy. After moving Hotwire's sleeping form aside to rest near the TALON-9 console, Specs and Reptile worked quickly to open the door and lower a rope ladder. After congratulating each other once more, the agents inside quickly began to disembark at their own pace, moving quickly to meet with the rest of the team and see if old friends were still okay. "Pepper's got the right idea," Andrew said to Zach as they touched down on the ground. "As soon as we can, I say we get all our companions together, get home and party like it's 1997!" Zach snickered. "Well, there's things I need to attend to, but I wouldn't miss an occasion like that for anything. I'm going to go look for Minerva. You gonna meet up with Laxus, I take it?" "Yep. After that, I suppose we'll need to follow Hotwire's example and get some rest and nutrition. That Imagination blast was energizing, but I suppose we'll need some sleep soon enough." "Agreed," said Zach, offering Andrew a brofist gesture. "Catch you later." Andrew nodded and completed the gesture. Then he headed through the crowd of Dino Attack agents and vehicles that were gathering back at the front area of the building. The Elite Agent passed by several agents who gave congratulations and patted him on the shoulder, and at least one person threw a bit of his water canteen over him. He passed by people he knew semi-well, like Kat, B, and Rockford, greeting them and congratulating them as he went by. Finally, he managed to glimpse turquoise skin moving through the crowd, and made his way over to intersect where his friend was going. "Laxus, glad to see you made it!" he said. "The feeling's mutual, friend!" the Martian said in return, the two of them patting each other on the back. "That was incredible, what happened over there! The finale of the Crystalien Conflict doesn't even compare in the same regard!" "Good to hear," Andrew said. "How are the others?" "Catless went off to meet up with some of her allies, but she might be back, Pterisa and her seem to have bonded a bit. Speaking of which-" "Andrew, you're okay!" Pterisa cried as she suddenly swooped in and hugged the Elite Agent, holding him in the air a bit as she did so. "Woah!" Andrew blurted out in surprise, while returning the hug in the midst of his joy rush. "Heh, yeah, glad to see you are too! I see Dr. Cyborg ensured your survival in the Imagination blast." "Yes, yes he did," Pterisa said while lowering down to the ground. "Though even if there's still Maelstrom in my body, I feel the blast has empowered my Creative Spark enough to completely resist it. I doubt I need to worry about the Darkitect's influence now." "Fantastic," Andrew said as they let go of each other. "So how'd you do it?" Laxus asked. "How did the device get empowered and working without a source of Imagination? Did someone..." The three individuals' looks turned somber at this. Andrew didn't hesitate to explain. "Yes. It was Rex. He's made the history books again, this time with the biggest accomplishment yet. Let's hope he's doing a sweet, slow dance with Amanda Claw, wherever they are." There was several more moments before Pterisa spoke up again: "Rex was one of the first people to help me feel accepted among you. I'm grateful for that, and I'm grateful he was able to pay the ultimate price to help all of us." "Indeed, we are," said Laxus. "But I don't think we should be lost in mourning for him. He's done a lot of great things for us, and the team definitely has fond memories for him." "Yes," said Andrew. "I think it's for the best that we remember the good times we had with him. His memory should be celebrated along with the victory won today by us." The mood now getting brighter, Andrew gestured towards HQ. "C'mon, let's see who else is still here for us to celebrate this occasion with." ***** The concrete sealing the sub-basements of the Dino Attack HQ could not block the ripple of Imagination. Wright, sitting with her head in her hands, suddenly felt invigorated. She looked up as Shiller gasped, and then began breathing with greater strength and steadiness than he had been earlier. Wright squeezed Shiller's hand as the medics celebrated. "We won," she whispered. Shaw's prayers were silenced when Pierce suddenly looked up. "What?" Shaw asked nervously. "It's quiet," replied Pierce. "A moment ago, there was something maddening, insane… we could hear that thing smashing into the ground… but it's quiet." "What do we do?" Shaw asked. "There's a radio in here, still. I didn't expect us to need it but we can still get an update on the battle." Pierce ran over to the radio and sat down, set the frequency, and put on his headphones. "This is Doctor Alan Pierce. Requesting update on combat situation. Over." A voice on the other end was somewhat garbled in static: "Dr... bee... dead… I repeat... octor Rex... dead." Pierce smiled. "If you just said what I think you said, you might want to get a couple of sledgehammers down to the basement quickly. Over and out." Pierce took off his headphones as his grin grew. He quickly stood up and hugged Shaw. "They did it!" he shouted. "This war's over!" Now, Shaw was smiling, too. Crusher and Copper, having overheard, ran toward him out of curiosity. On the other end of the room, Sarah Bishop smiled as well. She just hoped Kate was alright. Maybe they could be together after all. Pierce broke free of the excitement as the other doctors celebrated. He walked up to Sarah Bishop, who slowly approached him. "Sarah," Pierce asked, somewhat nervously. "Listen, Sarah, will you marry me?" Sarah's smile grew. She nodded. "Yes, Alan," she said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and kissing him tight on the lips. Elsewhere, Montoya stroked Carrie Enderson slightly as she lay on her bed. "What do I do now?" Carrie asked quietly. "What do you mean?" said Montoya. "I was his confidant for eight years," she replied. "They still think I'm innocent, but I don't even feel bad about it. There was something about him I liked." "Why don't you just stick to tending bar?" Montoya suggested. "You're a good cook, aren't you?" "Yeah," said Carrie. "You had a brother, didn't you?" continued Montoya. "The one who ran that bar we hid in." "Yes," replied Carrie. "He's in Antarctica." "He's good at his job? You should meet with him," proposed Montoya. "You two should start a brother-sister joint together." Carrie smiled. "Wouldn't that be something?" "Yeah," Montoya said with a grin. "Me and my wife will come visit." "She beautiful?" Carrie asked. "Oh yes," replied Montoya. "She is." The sounds of hammers smashing against the wall were clearly audible. Bit by bit, parts of the door started to come down, and when it collapsed, a couple of workmen with sledgehammers stepped down the stairs. Pierce looked up in surprise at the men. Shaw smiled in the back, releasing her grip on her cross. ***** Osprey and Desdemona hauled themselves out of the damaged Aerial Defense Unit, shaken by the rough landing and the Pterosaurs' lighting attacks. To Osprey's surprise, Desdemona hugged him suddenly, and they joined in the cheer. ***** Inside the swaying Dino Attack HQ, Mort heard a cough in the stairwell. He peered into the shadows and saw a form move. A step closer revealed it to be a Dino Attack agent. "Need a hand?" he offered. The agent nodded, and Mort hauled him up. "Alpha Team agent Mort. And you are?" The man coughed again, leaning on Mort for support. "Dino Attack agent Larson. Thanks for the hand." ***** It was over. Nearly a year of total, global war against an apparently unstoppable menace, ended in a single stroke. No, not a single stroke - a long, hard, protracted battle that had culminated into a single sacrifice. Somehow, the Iron Hammer had survived the battle. It was badly damaged, and Magma suspected many of the Alpha Team agents who had volunteered for this mission were wounded. They were just managing to maintain position. But they had won, despite the ridiculously stacked odds arrayed against them. Or had they? Magma stared down at the ruins of LEGO City. The corpses of thousands of Mutant Dinos. The wreckage of hundreds of vehicles, which he was sure contained hundreds of Minifig bodies. He looked at the smiling faces of the other Alpha Team agents on the bridge crew. Even Cee Dee was expressing as much happiness as his programming allowed. His brother had thrown away his life to achieve this moment, as had so many others. And he had been glad to see it achieved, but now, he realized for the first time that it would take years to clean up the mess Dr. Rex's madness had left on the world. He sighed, and stood up. I must be getting melancholy in my old age, he thought. Can't I enjoy a huge victory anymore? "Gentlemen, we have won the day, but there's still much work to be done. Sting, find a relatively unoccupied piece of ground and... take us down," Magma ordered. He pressed a key. "Magma to all Alpha Team forces! I'm sure you all already know this now, but I'm proud to be able to announce that we've won!" The volume of cheering that came back from this announcement nearly overloaded the damaged speaker system on the bridge. Magma laughed despite himself. "We've won... but there's a lot left to do today. I'm bringing this airship down to the ground to establish a temporary auxiliary HQ. I'm all for letting you all enjoy yourself after this day, but it might be nice if we could make sure Dino Attack HQ doesn't fall over before we do. Magma out!" He turned to his friends, Alpha Team agents he had been fighting alongside for years now. He thought about his brother's sacrifice again. And he reached a decision. He smiled, and for the first time in a long time, it was a real smile, not simply a facial expression suggesting that nasty things were about to happen to someone. And he said, "But once that's done, we're going to enjoy ourselves as much as everyone else out there!" Shark and Sting looked at him, quite surprised at this sudden shift in Magma's personality. But then they grinned too, and set about landing the airship with renewed enthusiasm. ***** It was the greatest feeling in the world. Zach could practically hear "Victory Celebrations" by John Williams playing in his head as he ran through the battlefield trying to find Minerva. At long last, it was over. The battle had been won. Baron Typhonus had been defeated and Dr. Rex was dead. The LEGO Planet and the Minifig species would see the dawn of a new day. The sacrifices to this war were not in vain. J.D., Tracer, Mur, Semick, Raider, Claw, Nazareno, Frank Einstein, General, Rex and many more would be smiling from beyond at their success. Zach could even see Scratch and Oswald Fabello celebrating their triumph over the Mutant Dinos, despite their lack of morals and insanity (in the latter's case especially). The only thing that could make a happy moment happier was finding Minerva and seeing her alive and well. ***** Minerva laughed happily as she jumped from Xenon Launcher on the back of the Fire Hammer and landed on the ground. They did it. They had won! Minerva ran over to Zelda, who was laughing as well, her cheeks wet with tears. They embraced tightly in a celebratory hug. As the Imagination fallout from the Einstein Device washed over them, they entered a state of giddy euphoria. For a moment, Minerva forgot that Athena, Oswald, and Nazareno were gone. All the mattered now that was this war was finally over. Minerva pulled away from Zelda and turned toward the Fire Hammer. She saw Vinyaya and Bluetooth embracing happily inside before climbing out to join Minerva and Zelda. Minerva high-fived Bluetooth and patted him on the back happily before Holly pulled Minerva into a tight embrace. Minerva smiled and returned the hug, feeling tears of joy form on her face. The end of this war marked a new beginning for her. She would leave this city and her past behind once and for all and go to LEGO Island with Zach and Andrew to start anew. Everything would be alright after all. Holly separated from Minerva, just a flash of concern appearing on her face. "Are you alright?" she asked with sincerity. Minerva knew she was referring to the emotional instability following the death of her brother. Minerva gave Holly a curious look. "Why have you been so worried about me? I'm... well, I'm not totally fine, but..." Minerva drifted off, managing to make her point as Vinyaya blushed slightly. "Oh," Vinyaya rubbed the back of neck apologetically. "Well... we're friends, right? And you had lost your mother and brother, who, from what I understand, was a parental figure to you. I figured you just needed a little support..." Vinyaya shrugged. "Sorry if it was a little... intrusive, I guess." Minerva blinked once. "No, it's alright. It's just..." She soon realized how close she held the friends that she had made during these last few weeks. She thought of Zach, Vinyaya, Zelda, and Nazareno. Not until now did she fully become aware that they had become family to her in the same vein that her two brothers had always been to her. Minerva smiled contently at Holly. "I'm fine. I feel better than ever." She pulled Vinyaya into her own tight hug. The two laughed thankful to have made it through the war's end. "I think," Vinyaya said with a sly grin. "Someone wants to see you." Minerva released Vinyaya and turned to see Zachary Virchaus running toward her, grinning as wide as he could. Minerva smirked kindly and extended her arms to accept Zach's powerful embrace, lifting her off her feet for half a second. She laughed again as she wrapped her arms around him. "We did it," Minerva whispered, a goofy grin on her face. Zach smiled happily. "We sure did." He then leaned his head toward Minerva's and placed his lips on him. Minerva suppressed another euphoric laugh and kissed him back, allowing herself to get lost in moment of victory. Everything was going to be alright. ***** As Rotor's T-1 Typhoon landed on the ground, he and his crew were surprised to be approached by a middle-aged man with thin round glasses holding a large camera, accompanied by a radio operator. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "My name is agent Scott. I'm a journalist for the Brick Street Journal." "A journalist?" Rotor asked as he stepped out, holding Cabin's hand. "Look, we don't have a lot of time. We just got to refuel and then go find this Blaire Darkling guy-" "It'll only take a moment," insisted Scott. "I do believe many of the people in Antarctica would be interested in hearing what you have to say." Rotor stared at the journalist as his partner held the microphone out toward him. "I found love," he said with a slight chuckle. Cabin smiled, her arm wrapped around his. "I'm sorry, what's your name?" "Rotor. This is my... uh... partner, agent Cabin!" "Would you hold still for a moment, Rotor?" Scott asked. He picked up his camera, put it in front of his face, and for a moment a bright flash obscured their vision. "Do you really think this is the end?" "It certainly looks like it," replied Cabin. "Now, it is my understanding that this victory was a group effort. Would you mind telling everybody back in Antarctica what happened?" "Well, I can't go into the technical stuff," said Rotor. "But a couple of the boys came up with this device - the Einstein Device, I think." "And what does this Einstein Device do, exactly? From what we saw, it took a lot of Imagination." "It certainly was," replied Rotor. "I don't know how they got all that." "Now that this war is over, what exactly is it you plan to do?" Cabin smiled. "I honestly never gave it much thought," answered Rotor. "I got so dang used to fighting. Maybe I'll get into the airforce. They could use good pilots like us. Or maybe we can get back into Alpha Team." "I quite like the sound of that," said Cabin. "Thank you very much, agent Rotor," Scott said. "That'll be all for now. If I have any more questions, I'll come ask you later." ***** Catless hopped out of the Fire Hammer Laxus had parked outside of the HQ. She saw Pterisa and Laxus go over to someone, and she followed them. She recognized the fellow Dino Attack agent as Andrew. Seeing the way that Pterisa hugged him, she could tell that he made quite the impression on the Hybrid. "Hey, you wouldn't happen to know where Dr. Cyborg is, would you?" Catless asked. "Yes, last I saw him, he was disembarking from that helicopter over there." Andrew gestured toward a T-1 Typhoon. "Why do you ask?" "I've got to tell him his sister died," Catless replied solemnly. "Oh, tell him I sympathize with him," Andrew told her. "Right. Thanks." Catless turned and left. ***** Dr. Cyborg was standing in the middle of a crowd, thinking. For a time before it was loaded into the Einstein Device, he had housed Rex's Creative Spark in his own body. It was a unique experience, housing two Creative Sparks in one body, one that does not end without changing the host. Simply put, thanks to his hybrid mechiology, Rex's Creative Spark had left a record, an imprint if you will, on Dr. Cyborg. Dr. Cyborg thought, realizing with this he could possibly memorialize Rex in the best way he could: take the record of Rex's thought patterns, and create an A.I. out of it. Even if it was a long shot, he hoped it could be possible. "Dr. Cyborg!" He heard a voice calling. He turned, and he saw X1 running towards him. He smiled and hugged her as she drew near. "It's good to see you alive!" Dr. Cyborg said. "I thought you were dead when Cyrista's Bane hit you." "Nope, just self-repairing. In fact, Bane brought me back here!" She pointed out the cyborg dinosaur that most agents were uneasily looking at. One or two were even brave enough to strike up a conversation with him. "He also brought back Dr. Inferno," she said, pointing to X2, who was escorting a cuffed Inferno. "Well, well," Dr. Cyborg said. He opened a comm to Specs's PDA. "Hello, Specs here. How may I help you, Dr. Cyborg?" Specs said. "My Infiltrators and Bane have brought back Dr. Inferno. What should they do with them?" "Have them bring him to me. I can work out what to do with him from there." "Right. Dr. Cyborg out." He turned to X1 again. "He wants you to bring Inferno to him. Follow his homing signal." "Right away, Doctor," X1 said as she walked back to X2 and the two of them walked away. He looked back at Bane, who appeared to be in the middle of an interview with an apprehensive journalist. He grinned at the thought of an interview with a cyborg T-Rex appearing in a magazine. He saw Zach, Minerva, Vinyaya, Zelda and Bluetooth in a group and walked over to them, unaware of Catless following him, yelling at him to get his attention. ***** "Okay," Vinyaya snapped with a hint of amusement. "We get it, you two are happy to be with each other." Zach pulled himself away from Minerva, both grinning happily. Zach could hear several snickers from Vinyaya, Zelda, and Bluetooth. Zach did a double-take, glancing from Bluetooth and Vinyaya, who were standing next to each other. The message the former sent to the latter flashed across his mind. "Time to keep my promise," he said with a smirk. Minerva suddenly patted him on the shoulder, an apologetic smile on her face. Vinyaya rolled her eye, her lips curled into a smile. "You're too late, Virchaus," Vinyaya said, crossing her arms. "Miss Fabello saw fit to try and get us together before the battle ended." Bluetooth gave off somewhat of an exasperated look at this statement, but smiled good-heartedly. Zach shrugged. "Whatever. So, are you two together or what?" Vinyaya scowled. "I really don't need you regulating my love life, Zachary." Zach raised an eyebrow, silently demanding a better response. Vinyaya stamped her foot in irritation. "We're talking, alright? These things take time, you know." Zach smirked. Talking was good enough. "Anyway," Zach said as he walked over to Bluetooth and clapped his friend on the back, "good to see you all made it through." He glanced from Minerva to Vinyaya to Zelda. Bluetooth wrapped his arm around Zach and shook him gently, grinning. "The same to you. Glad to see that you and the other elites managed to get that Einstein Device working." "Yeah. There's a bit of story as to how fixing that thing went about, but first…" Zach's tone grew somewhat morbid. "How did the whole... thing... with Nazareno happen? You were there, based on the PDA message." A shadow seemed to be cast over the group upon his mentioning of Nazareno. Zach blinked once. "Were... the rest of you there, too?" Minerva and Vinyaya nodded grimly. Zelda didn't respond, merely looking at the ground with a hard stare. Remember that Zelda had a crush on Nazareno, Zach imagined she wasn't taking his death particularly well. She then looked up to Zach, her eyes shimmering. "I suppose I'll start out," she said with a sad shrug. Then she began to recount Nazareno's final moments. ***** The agent interviewing Cyrista's Bane had left, and the cyborg T-Rex was now trying to find any rubble blocking important roads. Dino Attack agents in Iron Predators were assisting him in the work. In the middle of pushing a larger chunk of brick and masonry, he heard: "BAAANNNEEEE!" He looked up and saw Screech diving towards him, her wings pulled to her sides. He ran a quick calculation in his mind, and tried to put his left foot behind him to brace himself, but it was too late. Screech impacted his head, hugging him with her wings. However, the sudden impact threw Bane off balance, and he fell backwards, causing a cloud of dust to fly up. "Sorry," Screech said. Bane glared at her good-naturedly, and pushed himself up of the ground. "Why in the world did you find it necessary to do that?" he asked. "Um, because I'm glad you didn't die at the end of the battle?" "That much is obvious. Why are you so glad to see me?" At that question, Screech did what could only be described as a blush, or at least the Mutant Pterosaur equivalent. "Um, would you take 'I plead the Fifth' as an answer?" she asked. Bane was bemused, wondering how the pterosaur would know about the Fifth Amendment. "No. Now, spill." "Um, you're my friend?" "Yes, we've covered that. Now, answer my question." Screech coughed awkwardly, wondering how exactly to phrase it... ***** Dr. Cyborg saw Zach and Minerva hugging, so he hung back for a little bit to wait for an appropriate moment to come up. He continued to think over his idea of a Rex A.I. but, considering that he would be creating an A.I. recreation of someone who was ready to die, came to the conclusion that it would be a wiser choice to just let Rex rest in peace. "Ah, well, it would have been a challenge anyways," he murmured. Just after he said that, a voice came up behind him: "Excuse me." A middle-aged man with a camera accompanied by a radio operator approached him. Dr. Cyborg recognized him as the one who interviewed Cyrista's Bane. "Are you the one they call Dr. Cyborg?" "Yes," replied Dr. Cyborg. "My name is agent Scott, I'm from the Brick Street Journal. I was just wondering if you'd mind answering a few questions." "Not at all, ask away." "First off, why did you join the Dino Attack Team?" Scott asked. "Well, that is a long and convoluted answer. The shortest thing is: to make up for my past, though at the time I joined, I didn't know my past." "What do you mean?" Scott came back with. "Well, I am Matthew Cyrista, the president and founder of UlTech Industries. I was also invited to join XERRD by Dr. Rex when it was moved here. At the time, I didn't know what his, or should I say, Baron Typhonus's, plan was. When we did start creating Mutant Dinosaurs, for a time, I just ignored my conscience. Eventually, I did realize what we were doing was wrong, so I left. Dr. Rex did not like my choice, so he gave me a chance to come back. When I refused, he sent a pack of Mutant Raptors after me. I remember being overwhelmed, and then the next thing I know, I woke up in a mysterious lab in this city, only a few blocks away, about a week or two ago, although it feels like it was between one or two years ago. Anyways, I had this new look, so nobody recognized me, although elite agent Rex had battled me at the XERRD Dino Island base when they invaded. I signed up under a codename, Dr. Cyborg, because I had no memory at that point. Over the course of the mission, I eventually regained most of my memories, and got the rest back just a few hours ago. I am now truly Dr. Cyrista again, although I think I will continue to go by Dr. Cyborg. I kind of like it." "What are you going to do now?" Scott continued. "I don't really know. I have a company to run, although I can delegate that out to others. I have become the leader of XERRD, and need to help it reform. But I kinda want to rejoin Nexus Force, as Paradox and not Assembly now." "Why do you want to become Paradox and not Assembly?" "Well, I am actually immune to the Maelstrom in this body. I imagine that would be a lot of help. I also have Maelstrom inside my body, and can weaponize it in my combat mode. That might be useful to the Paradox. If I join, I'm also gonna try to convince Zach to come with me. He'd be useful as well, but I'll let him tell you why." "Do you have any family in Antarctica?" Dr. Cyborg smiled. "Yes, my parents are in Antarctica, as well as my little sister. Although, since she joined the Dino Attack team, she might be out here. I hope she is fine. If you meet someone under the codename Contest, tell her I'm alright, please." "I will," promised Scott. "So, what was your role in the defeat of Dr. Rex?" "I made some final adjustments to the Einstein Device. I also disarmed it so that is didn't go off prematurely and kill us all. I ensured that our Maelstrom-infected allies, such as myself, Zach, Pterisa, Cyrista's Bane, and Buddy didn't die." "Before you continue, who is Cyrista's Bane, and why is he named after you?" "Bane is the cyborg T-Rex you were interviewing earlier. He is named for me because I had made up the plans for him, but never made him before I left. Dr. Rex completed him and used him in the final battle. I beat him, and he joined us. As to the exact specifics, ask the Darkitect if you ever meet him, which you don't want to do." Scott gave a puzzled look, but decided not to press further. "Ah. Continue with your previous story." "The most important thing I did in relation to the Einstein Device was to extract Rex's Creative Spark." "What?" "That's where we got the imagination to defeat all the Mutant Dinos: I extracted Rex's Creative Spark and deposited it in the Einstein Device. I'll let others tell you more about what happened up there." "Why was Rex chosen?" inquired Scott. "Why not you, or Hertz, or Andrew, or any of the other Elite Agents? Why Rex?" "Rex was dying in the first place," explained Dr. Cyborg. "He also was confined to a wheelchair, which only reinforced his decision. All in all, he just was the best one to pull a heroic sacrifice." "Ah, I understand. I might come back and ask you a few more questions later, to possibly get your side of some events others might mention, but for now that is all. Do you have any recommendation on who to interview next?" Scott asked. "Yes, I would recommend talking to Pterisa, Hertz, Andrew, Greybeard, Reptile, Hotwire, or Zach. All but Pterisa were up in the lab with me, so you could talk to them and find out more about what happened." "I will, thank you." Scott turned and left. Dr. Cyborg heard Zelda telling about Nazareno's death, and he decided to listen to her as well. He didn't know the ninja as well as others, but he was still friendly with him. ***** Doctor O'Brien of XERRD snarled angrily as he fired his hi-tech Space Marauder blaster at a rapidly-approaching Blaire Darkling. Beside him, Doctors Syme and Parsons and three Dino Attack agents named Artemis, Loki, and Mercury also attempted to down XERRD's former leader. It was pathetic, really. All they could do was shoot until they realized that they were doomed. Blaire slammed his katana into Artemis's chest with a grim scowl on his face. As she gasped for air, Blaire had his handgun out and shot down Mercury with painful ease. Kicking Artemis from his sword and placing it in his trenchcoat, Blaire began to run toward the XERRD scientists shooting at him. Blaire dodged each shot with surprising speed and grace for his build. As he passed Loki, he grabbed the Dino Attack agent's collar and pulled him in front of Blaire, taking a shot from Parsons to the head. A few more shots blasted Loki before Blaire dully shot Syme in the chest. Putting his gun away, Blaire hosted Loki into the air and swung him at Parsons, pinning the Space Marauder to the ground. Blaire quickly ran over to Parson, ripped off his helmet, and threw it at O'Brien, knocking the gun out of his hands. As he scrambled to find his rocket launcher. Blaire slammed his foot as hard as he could into Parson's face. It wasn't a pretty sight. He tugged his katana out of his trenchcoat and walked toward O'Brien, who had the rocket launcher in his hand. He adjusted his glasses, refusing to show any fear. "I can't say I expected this turn," O'Brien said. "I knew you were powerful, Darkling - that's why you were in charge of security in our facilities - but I'd never expect this." "I'm glad you're impressed, O'Brien," Blaire said with a bored shrug, holding the katana in a defensive position. "You're done, Darkling. Heh. I'll be the guy who finally finished off Matthew Vhere-" O'Brien jolted in shock as Blaire sank his katana through the Space Marauder armor into his chest. O'Brien stared in shock before his eyes rolled back. Unamused, Blaire kicked the corpse from his sword. "How terrible," Blaire snarled O'Brien's corpse. "To survive this whole wretched battle, only to be killed in the aftermath." He looked back it his carnage. He had kept to his word. Anybody that crossed his path was dead. He turned his head to the central tower of Dino Attack Headquarters, where the Dino Attack Team had finally defeated Baron Typhonus and Dr. Rex. Blaire was relieved to see that this planet would last another day, even if he was viciously murdering the people that had helped make victory happen, but he was truly beyond caring. In a short time, the Galactic Council would end the quarantine on the planet. He could escape into space and reinvent himself once again. In fact, he was hardly even obligated to stay in this city now that the war was over. Yet he stayed. His momentary loss of temper had passed. Blaire's level head returned, and he began formulating a plan. Nazareno was dead and his secret was revealed. There was nothing he could do the salvage the identity of Blaire Darkling. It would be best to lay low at this point or flee. Instead, he was making his massacre very clear. He hoped that his actions would goad a few... select... individuals out into finding him. They were the true target of this rampage of revenge now. Find them, kill them, and then leave. Perhaps, Blaire scowled as he saw a few T-1 Typhoons pass over his head. I need to make my message clearer. ***** Walking through the area of assembled agents, Andrew's group was looking to see if Zach had met up with his friends when they were stopped by someone coming the other way. "Excuse me?" said an agent carrying around a camera, being followed closely by another man with a radio and a microphone. "I take it you're Andrew, given your most noticeable companions here?" Andrew snickered. "Yeah, I seem to have a habit of meeting people like that. What do you need?" "Well, I'm agent Scott, journalist for the Brick Street Journal. Been giving the odd report here and there straight from the field. My friend here and I have been working quite well on and off this battle." "Hmph, wow," remarked the guy with the mic. "That pterosaur girl, Pterisa, right? Nice look you got there." "You really think so?" Pterisa blurted out, partly out of surprise and partly out of flattery. "See? Even some people like themselves a Minifig/Mutant Pterosaur Hybrid," Andrew remarked to her before turning back to Scott. "Be sure to put a good word in for her in the paper. Given how people might treat Mutant Dinos in post-wartime, she could definitely use the good publicity." "You have my word," said the reporter, making a saluting gesture. "So how about you answer a few questions about what you did during the battle for the benefit of our followers in Antarctica?" "Sure, why not?" Andrew asked, a bit giddy at the idea of being interviewed for a news story for the first time outside L.E.G.O. Radio. "We do have plenty of time, pardoning how long your equipment can last in the rain." Scott snickered. "Don't worry, I have that covered. Now, Mr. Cyrista told us much about what happened during the battle, in regards to the Einstein Device assembly process. What was your role in that?" "Oh, not much, I mostly helped with gathering parts from the Teleport Pad we had up there, along with rebuilding the launcher we used. And Hertz and Zach were of good help with that. You can talk to them to learn more, though Hertz went deaf during the earlier attacks, as you might've heard, so you might need someone with a notebook or something." "Interesting... anything else?" "Well, I did help Dr. Cyborg, Viper, Digger, and Shadow save Zach from and detain Willa the Witch. That was pretty epic, all of us ganging up on her, breaking her stuff (I shot her hat off!). Oh, and before Rex... you know, sacrificed himself, I gave him a good speech about all he's done for us and how we'll miss him. I think it did pretty well to help him accept his fate, in the end." "Sounds like quite the story," said Scott, looking impressed a bit. "We should talk later about that in better interview conditions once I finish my on-the-site ones. As for you," he said to Pterisa, "I think I could also arrange for an extended talk with you. Could definitely help to let the public know you're not like the other Hybrids." "That doesn't sound like a bad idea," Pterisa replied. "Good to hear. See you tomorrow, perhaps. Or something, I'll message you and let you know." Scott and the mic guy then wandered off in another direction, looking for more people to talk to. "And I get ignored again," Laxus remarked sarcastically. "Heh. Ten years ago, you Earthlings couldn't get enough of Martians. Now, we're as normal as cable." Andrew smirked. "You're still important around us, Laxus, and that's all that matters. C'mon, let's go see if we can find Zach." ***** As soon as Mac had placed the remaining cans of kerosene into the chopper's tanks, Rotor was just about to climb into the pilot's seat when Cabin pushed him aside. It took a moment before he got the hint, and smiled. "I do love you," Rotor remarked as Cabin climbed into the pilot's seat, Rotor quickly got into the co-pilot's seat. Cabin only took a moment to start up the engines before she brought the chopper into the air. "We got to find that Blaire Darkling," Rotor said. "He's probably taken advantage of recent circumstances. Cabin, I'll need you to broadcast that message I recorded. Whoever it was back there that knew about this guy, I want you to tell me everything you know!" ***** "Now it's all well and good to talk about the boys on the battlefield, but there's a lot more that went into this team than that. After all, this is a war, people will no doubt get hurt, and without someone to patch up their wounds they don't fare too well. With me at the microphone is some of the medical staff who participated in the final battle, starting with the head doctor Alan Pierce." "Hello," Pierce said casually. "Dr. Pierce," Scott said, "how long have you been in this profession?" "A good twenty or thirty years now," replied Pierce. "You worked in medicine before the war?" "Yes," answered Pierce. "I worked in LEGO City." "If I'm not mistaken, there was a controversy just before this war. You appeared for the prosecution toward another doctor. According to the reports, you were a strong supporter of his medical license being revoked." Pierce rolled his eyes. "He took unnecessary risks in what was meant to be a simple procedure and practically removed a man's entire skeleton," he said. "Does that sound like the kind of guy you want in your hospital? He's dead now, though, so he'll at least he won't cause any further trouble." "Was he the only medical casualty?" "No," responded Pierce. "There was at least one other man - Dr. J.D. back on Adventurers' Island." "I'd like to bring to the microphone some of the other doctors who helped. Is this everybody, Dr. Pierce?" "No," replied Pierce. "Two of them are out in the field. Another one, Dr. Carver, took the portal to Antarctica." "Alright then," said Scott. "I'd like to introduce you to some of the doctors here who helped one at a time, Dr. Naomi Hale, Dr.... Noomi Shaw, is that right? Good. Dr. Richard Copper, and Dr. Gates Crusher. Hopefully, later we'll get to meet the two in the field." ***** While the rain still drizzled down like a torrent of cold gloom, the mood of the team was anything but somber. The thunder that had once sounded like the gloomy toll of church bells now seemed to echo the sound of jubilant drums and fireworks. Although the ground still was littered with bodies and burning wreckage, the screams of despair and anguish slowly transformed into shouts of celebration. Although Hertz could hear neither the sound of thunder nor the screams of ecstatic glee, he felt the worm aura of bright emotion flowing across the field of battle. He let out a euphoric shoot of elation as he jumped from the deck of the T-1 Typhoon and onto the pavement of the headquarters' plaza. He slipped on the bloody water gathering in the puddles below and tumbled down with a splash. In most cases, he would have cursed his clumsiness, but at this moment he was too filled with joy. While the people around him danced and sang songs of celebration, Hertz seemed to watch from the sidelines. As if he dwelled on his own plane of existence, he walked among the fray of cavorting agents. While the focus seemed to be the noise and shoots of victory, Hertz felt it, he saw it, he experienced it. The bodies littering the ground seemed to be forgotten. They were everywhere; their dark shadowy forms seemed to litter the plaza in all directions. No one seemed to notice the fires still burning and the blood-stained streets they danced on. The agents were lost in their euphoria, and the cost of victory seemed to be forgotten. Hertz envied them; they could experience the joy in ways he could not. He was forced to be observant and, as a result, he noticed things they did not. While others turning their gaze to the heavens, Hertz's eyes were cast to the ground as he navigated his way among the wreckage. He wished he could be distracted by the songs being sung. He wished his attention could be pulled away from the horrors at his feet. He had no intention to ruin the moment, he was as happy as the next agent; the difference was he felt the costs in different ways than them. A woman in a business haircut and red blazer navigated her way toward him and held out a microphone. Her lips moved as she phrased her intrepid question, but all Hertz could do to respond was shake his head. The reporter apparently decided interviewing a deaf man was not worth her time, and she scurried away among the crowd. Not far away, Rotor's clown-car helicopter unloaded its occupants into the rain. Cabin, Snake, Mac, Lance, Solomon, Giles, Kat, Helm, Winston, Firecracker, Andrea, Maria, Clint Wayne, Angle Eyes, Elizabeth, Maynard, Fireman, Shotgun, and Scope all disembarked to join in the festivities below. Hertz found Solomon among them and shook his hand warmly. The battle had taken a toll on both men. Solomon's shoulders moved awkwardly to accommodate for the gunshots and burns he received. Hertz himself still wore the tattered cast that had been with him since the Temple of Creation. Despite the pain of fighting with a broken arm, it had not stopped him from wielding a pair of Sonic Screamers when fighting Dr. Rex. The top four floors of the base were miraculously still standing. Obviously, being stood upon by a giant Mutant Tyrannosaurs Rex would cause some collapse, and the fires had certainly damaged its structural integrity, but agents above had still been able to walk among the charbroiled remains. The roof, teleportation lab, and most of the elite agents' bedrooms had been destroyed in Dr. Rex's rampage. His armor still remained atop the monolith surrounded by the ash of his fires. Before the helicopter had landed on the ground, Hertz had seen rain wash over the final battleground and cascade over the sides of the ruined building. The rain felt good. It no longer felt cold and foreboding, but rejuvenating. It was a life-giving water and, although it smelled like smoke and sulfur, the wet liquid tasted sweet as he let it trickle down his throat. As if to mirror the feelings of the agents below, the moonlight started to shine through the dark clouds covering the city. Although the rain continued to fail in waves, it was more similar to a spring shower than a vicious storm. Despite the gasoline fires still burning in the streets, a chill now started to nip the air. It was getting cold, which was a welcome change from the tropical island where Solomon had spent the last few months. Although Hanukkah ended four days ago, Dr. Koplowitz acknowledged that Christmas was only four days away. Ordinarily, by this time of year, snow would be covering the ground, and holiday lights would be strung across the street. Despite the lack of festivities, the mood among the team was no less merry. From his position in Rotor's helicopter, Solomon had witnessed the fall of a tyrant. The T-Rex king was a mad monster, and his presence would not be missed. Although Solomon believed in redemption, he never expected it from his former boss. No one would grieve the death of Dr. Rex. He could not blame them; he knew he would not. Despite the coldness of his sentiment, he did not feel ashamed to metaphorically dance on Dr. Rex's grave. It was remarkable to consider how much he changed over the span of his life. He had been an idealist once, someone who believed that people were inherently good, but despite the opportunities to do right, people would almost always choose wrong. He still thought of himself as something of an Idealist but he viewed it realistically. People probably were good, but they certainly could not be trusted to make the right choices. Solomon probably bid Hertz farewell as he walked away to find Dr. Cyborg. The elite agent had little knowledge of the philosopher's exploits over the last few hours, but he had received news of Nazareno's death and Cyborg's inheritance of the XERRD organization. Blaire Darkling apparently had been in control for most of the battle but, after he had murdered Nazareno, command had fallen to Dr. Cyborg. Hertz did not know Nazareno well, but he had heard that Solomon had fought closely with him during the battle. His death needed to be avenged, and the former XERRD scientist probably had much to say to Dr. Cyborg and Zelda. Across the field, he spotted the T-2 Typhoon that had carried Pharisee and Grimton. The craft had been outfitted with salvaged components of the Renaissance and it carried all the grandeur of the helicopter he had ridden on Adventurers' Island. But it lacked something special, something that made the craft unique. It and the helicopter flown by Zenna deserved to be remembered and immortalized in history. The typhoons would go down in history as the crafts that defeated Dr. Rex and carried the Einstein Device. Somehow, T-1 9122 and T-2 8950 hardly seemed fitting. He withdrew the orange spray-paint from his utility vest and shook the can vigorously. Although the sides of the T-2 Typhoon were wet from the rain, he sprayed a word along its side. Rex He then moved over to the vehicle he had ridden on. The craft flown by Zenna that the Einstein Device had been fired from sat amongst the wreckage of the battlefield. At its wheels lay the sleeping form of Hotwire. The windshield wipers slid back and forth across the cockpits, and the cabin lights seemed to form a halo around the craft. This was the vehicle that had killed Dr. Rex. On this vehicle, Rex had sacrificed his Creative Spark for the sake of all humanity. He had allowed himself to die because he had nothing left; in an act of selflessness, he had volunteered because the others still had things to live for. The rapid aging of the man had disturbed Hertz, it was a painful way to remember him, and the memory of his sacrifice would always be remembered. It was important to remember why Rex had done what he did. His inspiration could never be forgotten. Hertz wanted the world to remember who he was. It was not right to remember him as some force of nature or infallible entity. Rex was man, a great man, one someone could aspire to be. He nodded his head and wrote the word that meant the most to Rex. Amanda Pharisee stepped out of the Rex and onto the pavement below him. He had grown to really hate the rain over the last few hours but, at this moment, he could tolerate it. He felt that a great evil had been banished from the planet and his soul felt uplifted as a result. Dr. Rex was dead - an entity so evil that it was beyond even Pharisee's comprehension. The commander had witnessed much wickedness in his career and, although some of it came close to Dr. Rex's malevolence, the maliciousness of the scientist-lizard's crimes was greater than Pharisee had before experienced. Justice had been done tonight. The lizard king was dead, but at the cost of good and righteous men. Rex needed to be remembered, as did General. Once again, the commander found himself conflicted. Twice today, he had met men whom he could not categorize as simply good or simply evil. General, in many regards, was no better than his brother Ogel; he was a villain and had admitted it for much of his diabolical life. Pharisee had only tolerated the involvement of the cyborg in admittance to Spec's wishes. If it had been the commander's call, General would have been locked away to rot inside his metal shell. But his sacrifice created own more patch of grey in Pharisee's world. His theology has never before wavered, but on this day, he found himself questioning his ideals. As he walked among the jubilant agents, he spotted two individuals among Rotor and Cabin's coterie. His conflict was forgotten as he strode across the puddles of rain and blood to the men he spotted. Calibration aside, he still had a job to do. ***** For a brief moment, the cries of celebration were deafening to Shaw as she stepped out of the base, helping Pierce with a stretcher. Copper and Hale were working with another wounded agent. Behind them, Montoya helped Carrie Enderson out the door; the latter was limping heavily, and her arm was wrapped around the former's shoulder. As soon as the doctors were out, Sarah Bishop walked out of the base and looked around among the crowd of agents, before she finally spotted her daughter stepping out of a T-1 Typhoon. "Kate!" Sarah shouted as she approached. "Mom!" Kate said, startled as she ran up to Sarah. The two of them quickly hugged. "The wounded patients have just been brought aboard this vehicle," Scott was saying over the radio. "The doctors here do anything and everything they can to help their patients. Even a little faith can help sometimes, as shown by one doctor who has agreed to speak to you all, but she has asked to be left anonymous. Doctor, here you go." "Thank you," Dr. Shaw said nervously. "Doctor, how long have you been working here?" "Only this particular battle," replied Shaw. "I was in Antarctica before this." "And I understand you believe in faith?" "Yes," answered Shaw. "Any particular kind?" "Not really," replied Shaw. "I just find that praying gives me comfort." "I see," said Scott. "Would you say that it has worked?" "Well, we're not trapped in a basement anymore." "That's true," noted Scott. "Thank you very much for your time." ***** Firecracker looked around skittishly as withdrew his stick of dynamite. He liked dynamite; unlike plastic explosives like C-4, dynamite had a much more bass sound. Compared to the pop of C-4, dynamite created a beautiful guttural boom. Dynamite was also considerably unstable and could detonate through impact alone. When heated, it sweated nitroglycerin - which was always fun. Ordinarily, he would have struck the wick on ground, but the wet pavement prevented such a reaction. Instead, he pulled the cigarette from Clint's mouth and promptly lit the stick. Now, all he needed was a target; seeing no apparent object for annihilation, he decided to simply throw the explosive to his left. As Firecracker raised his arm to cast the dynamite in the northerly direction, a powerful hand grabbed his wrist. Still holding onto the lit dynamite, his aggressor spun around to face him, and the explosive maniac was confronted with a fearsome sight. The massive man stared down at him like some unearthly entity. Despite the dark night, he wore sunglasses that seemed to hide any hint of a soul. Holding onto Firecracker's wrist tightly, he glanced at the dynamite as the fuse slowly moved closer to the bomb. Firecracker shifted uncomfortably as his explosive moved closer and closer to detonation; he struggled to unhand the bomb, but Pharisee was unyielding. "As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." The black pits of Pharisee's sunglasses burned deep into Firecracker's mind. The fuse burned closer and closer to the stick, and sparks burned more vividly with every passing moment. Pharisee spoke softly but with authority. "You are an imbecile, Firecracker, a man devoid of foresight and simple knowledge. Your idiocy resulted in the near destruction of the base and possibly the death of innocents residing within the premises. I do not tolerate foolishness, I do not tolerate your lack of insight or rapport, I do not tolerate you!" Firecracker watched as the sparks moved further down the wick. He shifted uncomfortably and attempted harder to escape, but Pharisee's grip only tightened. "Standard Agent Firecracker, you are under arrest for gross negligence, carelessness, and the attempted destruction of the Dino Attack HQ in addition to the attempted manslaughter of agents inside," said Pharisee. "May the Creator have mercy on your soul." The fuse was now inches from the dynamite, and Firecracker squeezed his eyes shut. Pharisee casually blew out the fuse and twisted the wrist of Firecracker until it was on the verge of breaking. Firecracker apparently was too surprised about being alive to resist, but it did not stop him from wincing in pain as it was twisted behind his back and handcuffed. ***** Hotwire was shaken awake. Momentarily disoriented, he looked up to find himself sitting at a TALON-9 console. Kat was standing next to him. "Wake up, you lump," she said. "There's mopping up to be done and fun to be had later." She handed him a crutch and pulled him up from the seat. He gaped momentarily. "They told me what happened... I was afraid you were dead." Kat snorted and shot him a good-natured smirk. "You should know by now how hard it is to get rid of me. Now c'mon. We--" She paused as Hotwire swayed dizzily for a moment. "Scratch that, new plan. We're headed for the Iron Hammer. They're setting up a fresh infirmary in there, and you don't look so good." Hotwire merely nodded and yawned as Kat helped him down from the deck to the ground. Leaning on her shoulder for support in the event of another dizzy spell, he allowed himself to be led towards the Alpha Team airship, sitting majestically amidst the urban wreckage. "Excuse me," said a voice from behind. Hotwire turned around in shock. "My name is Scott, I'm a reporter for the Brick Street Journal. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about the battle for our listeners in Antarctica?" "What?" said Hotwire. "Oh, yeah, I guess so." "Excellent," said Scott. "Your name is...?" "Hotwire. Er, that is, Dave O'Neal. Um. Elite agent Hotwire. Yeah." Kat snickered. "This isn't live, is it?" she asked. Scott glanced at her. "And who would you be?" he asked. "The answer to that is too complex for a soundbite." Scott rolled his eyes and returned his attention to Hotwire. "So how long have you been with the Dino Attack Team?" "Um, pretty much since the beginning, really," Hotwire responded. The reporter nodded. "Is that when you lost your leg?" he asked, gesturing towards the prosthetic attached to Hotwire's left knee. "No, that actually was just a few days ago--" "Which is why we have to be going now," Kat interrupted. "All that seems to be catching up with him, so we're headed to the infirmary in the Iron Hammer." She began to guide Hotwire away. "Well, congratulations on the victory and best of luck for your recovery," said Scott with a nod. "Thanks for your time." ***** Elsewhere in the battlefield, Snake navigated his way through the debris and bodies to a nearby Urban Avenger. As he turned the corner to get to the vehicle, he was clotheslined by a powerful arm. Snake splashed down in the puddle and looked up in surprise at his attacker. He drew his gun and pointed in at the muscled, black, trench-coated man bearing down on him. It was kicked aside and slid across the cement. The black boot of the commander slammed down on his wrist as he reached for the weapon and he yelled in anger. Reaching down and grabbing him by the collar, he pulled Snake to his feet and looked him in the eyes. "Snake, you were sent here for a chance to reform," said Pharisee darkly. "Now, I ask you truly, have you learned anything?" Before Snake could respond, Pharisee's fist hit his face. ***** "... and... they kissed," Vinyaya said with little emotion to Zach. He turned to Zelda, who was back to looking at the ground in silence. "That was it. He died shortly after that." Zach swallowed painfully. They had recounted their finding of Nazareno in the headquarters fighting against Blaire, how Bluetooth and Zelda had attempted to help, and Nazareno ultimately receiving his fatal wound. Knowing that any potentially close relationship between him and Zelda had been cut short because of a petty grudge sickened Zach. "I'm... sorry, Zelda," he said shortly, unsure what to think. Zelda didn't say anything, merely sighing sadly. Zach could've seen himself in the same position not long ago when Minerva went after Oswald. He thought of Rex and what had happened to him after Claw had died. The Maelstrom hardly had a sway over his emotions at this point, but undeniable anger was boiling over in his head. "Before we talk about what to do with Darkling," Bluetooth interjected, detecting Zach's anger, "what happened in the tower?" Zach let his anger die down for a moment. "We (the Elite agents) pooled together our talents and disarmed the prematurely activated Einstein Device and made necessary modifications to it so it would only destroy enemy Mutant Dinos, not our allies with the Maelstrom in their system. We also took apart the Teleport Pad and built a new launcher out of it." "We need Imagination to destroy the Maelstrom," Minerva stated. "Where did you get that?" Zach sighed. "Rex, who was apparently dying from Maelstrom poisoning anyway, volunteered his Creative Spark. Doc Cyborg and I used our powers (and Greybeard his pistol) to get the spirit out. Rex's body sort of... withered away to dust after losing the spirit. Like an action-adventure movie I watched one time." A stunned look appeared on each of their faces at this revelation. Then Bluetooth spoke up. "His sacrifice saved us all." "His passing deserves to be honored," Vinyaya said with certainly, wrapping her arm around Bluetooth. "Without him, we might not have learned of XERRD's existence before it was too late." Minerva and Zelda merely nodded in agreement. Despite Rex believing he had done nothing significant, Zach was more certain that ever that without him, this war might have gone on several more years or ended even worse. "Now," Minerva said, a cold gleam appearing in her eye. For the first time, Zach noticed a cut running across her left cheek. He would inquire about it later. "About Darkling." "We're going after him," Zelda and Zach said simultaneously. Zach continued off the statement. "I made it clear earlier up in the thirteenth floor that I was going to make sure he is defeated once and for all. I was imagining you three going along for the ride." He gestured to Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda, who each nodded curtly. "And you wanted in as well, Doc?" Zach gestured to Dr. Cyborg, who had joined the party silently. He nodded as well. Pausing, he then turned to Bluetooth. "Willing to come along for the ride, Bluetooth? If this guy's reputation is as accurate as it would seem-" Surprisingly, both Bluetooth and Vinyaya nodded in confirmation. Then Zach remembered that Bluetooth, as a Futuron technician, had most likely heard of Matthew Vherestorm in comparison to most Earthlings. "Since his reputation is as accurate to what Nazareno has probably said," Vinyaya continued, pulling her arm away from Bluetooth. "We can use all the help we can get in defeating him. So will you help us Ry-er, Bluetooth?" Bluetooth was considering his options. He definitely wasn't a fighter, even after all he'd gone through this war. But he had personal investment in this, and though he knew Holly was more able at protecting herself than he was, he still didn't want to let her go into such a risky fight alone. And besides, he had proven that there was more to defeating a foe than simple weaponry. "He might have a grudge for what I did to him," he said finally, "so I'm sure he'll want to get a chance at me. But who knows, maybe we can take advantage of that... one thing's for sure, I'll gladly join your party." ***** Epic Winston plodded through the broken streets of LEGO City, attempting to retrace his movements to the place where his brother Matthias had fallen. His attention was diverted by the sounds of a disturbance around a corner. He crept forward, unslinging his sword, and peered down the street just in time to see a white-haired man in a pale trenchcoat run a katana through the chest of a Space Marauder. The fresh corpses of three Dino Attack agents and two other Space Marauders lay behind him. The man stepped back and glanced around as a pair of T-1 Typhoons passed overhead. Enraged, Winston charged at Blaire Darkling, who turned at the sound of quick footsteps. Momentarily startled by the giant Agent bearing down on him, the man regained his composure and raised his katana. With a hoarse, primal howl, Epic Winston struck. Blaire brought his katana up as fast as he could to block the massive sword coming down at him. Blaire felt his entire body vibrate as Winston's sword collided with his own. Kicking the bearded Agent away, Blaire stepped back and quickly examined his newer, clearly powerful opponent. He was bulkier than Blaire was by a small margin and had a wild, angry look in his eyes. Blaire continued to back away as Winston regained his composure and sliced the air with his massive sword as he approached XERRD's former leader. He glanced briefly at his own katana. Even if it was stronger than the generic katana, another strike like that would damage it heavily. He would have to change his tactics. Blaire ran at the massive brute and ducked underneath a sweeping blow that would have split his torso in two had it connected. He fell to his knees and slid across the wet pavement as the Agent stabbed his sword downward, narrowly missing him. Blaire swung his katana out, striking the Agent's leg. Winston snarled and kicked Blaire as hard as he could in the back. Blaire fell flat on his stomach, but quickly rolled back on his feet. It would not benefit him to slow down for a second. Blaire then sheathed his katana and gestured for the Agent to attack. Howling in anger, Winston charged. Blaire stepped to the side of the sword and grabbed the sword arm. Unfortunately, the wall of a man collided with him, sending him sliding slightly on the bottoms of his feet. Ignoring the pain in his shoulders, Blaire slammed his fist in the hairy man's face and pulled the sword from his grip and threw it to the side. Winston swung his forearm into Blaire's face, knocking him to the side and tilting the sunglasses on his face. Quickly straightening his spectacles, Blaire ran at the Agent and tackled him to the ground. Blaire threw punch after punch into the man's face before an uppercut sent Blaire flying back. Blaire quickly rose to his feet and saw Winston continue for his massive sword. Blaire rolled his eyes behind his tinted sunglasses and had his katana back out as the Agent charged at him again, sword raised. Blaire simply wasn't willing to let that sword land too many blows on his katana. So, as Winston's broadsword reached out toward him, Blaire decided to simply duck or jump back, which was a challenge on its own due to the Agent's sword length. The XERRD armband was sliced off, and several more tears were created in his trenchcoat and cuts in his skin as a result of this tactic. But Blaire wasn't without his own attacks. When Winston relented briefly enough, Blaire would launch his own furious attack on the agent, managing to cut up part of his uniform as well. Winston jabbed his sword out at Blaire. He quickly swung himself to the side and elbowed the Agent in the face. Blaire spun his katana in his hand and prepared to slam into the Agent's chest when a fist slammed into his spine. Muffling the pain with a mere groan, Blaire swept his foot out, causing the Agent to stumble. Blaire quickly spun around and planted a foot in Winston's stomach, knocking him to the concrete. Blaire brought the katana down as quickly as he could when the Agent brought his broadsword back up, knocking the attack away. Scowling irritably, Blaire stabbed for the Agent's head, each attack being blocked by the broadsword. Roaring in anger, Blaire kicked the sword out of Winston's hand. He responded with his ankles being attacked with a sharp hit, sending him tumbling to the ground. Winston delivered a quick kick to Blaire's chin. Blaire raised his sword and thrust it toward the Agent, who rolled away to recover his own sword. Blaire rose to his feet and sheathed the katana. "I am always one for playing out the drama of a situation, but I'm running out of time," Blaire muttered as he reached for his handgun. "I'm not taking any chances with this one." He pointed it square at the Agent's shaggy head. Never the torso. Instinctively, Blaire reached into his trenchcoat and plucked out the bullet fired by the Dino Attack agent he believed was named Bluetooth and tossed it to the ground. With that, he cocked the gun and fired. ***** Firecracker was quickly tossed into one of the helicopters alongside Snake. With the base in its current state, Pharisee really had nowhere to put them, so he simply posted a guard named Mallory outside the T-1 Typhoon to watch them until they could be disposed of properly. Snake reached into his pocket and drew a cigarette, placing it into his mouth. Mallory smiled. At that moment, the shouting of a nearby person was heard. "KA-BOOM!" Firecracker and Snake glanced out of the helicopter and watched Dynamite riding by on the back of See the Mutant Raptor. "Off t' a maximum-security prison, eh?" called Dynamite. "Aye, I doubt that'll hold yeh long, Firecracker!" "Maybe, maybe not," replied Mallory. "But we're not letting them off so easily. That's not how this story goes." Firecracker smiled and tipped his fedora. "So long, partner," he said. "I'll see you again one day, no doubt." "I'll be waitin' fer yeh with a whiff of the ol' brimstone!" promised Dynamite, saluting Firecracker with one hand and taking a swig of some alcoholic beverage with the other hand. See gave an enthusiastic roar, proudly grinning with his sharp teeth. Then the Dino Attack demolitions expert and his Mutant Raptor steed rode off into the figurative sunset as the T-1 Typhoon crew prepared to depart for prison. "Agent Snake," a familiar voice said from behind. Snake turned around to see a familiar face leaning against a nearby T-1 Typhoon, and a helicopter nearby that had just landed. The tall, older man was clad in black, and had a receding hairline and a thick mustache. "Hauk," Snake muttered. "That's me." "You going to release me?" "That depends," replied Hauk. "The paperwork is ready to go; I just need to check with your superiors. You did your job, as I hope you did, you're a free man. If not, well, we'll see." And with that, Hauk turned and left the helicopter. Snake turned and, not wanting to wait around to find out the answer, looked for a way out of his handcuffs without Mallory noticing. ***** Reptile waved away the agent warning him not to enter the remains of their HQ and headed straight for his laboratory. He had joined Greybeard and the others who had been with them in that final moment for an initial celebration. He would then have joined his friends, but Tail had teleported to Antarctica and Coral was dead... so he decided it would be best to see what remained of his research here before joining any more post-battle celebrations. Once he got there, he was pleased to find that the reinforced walls had apparently done their job in, well, reinforcing the walls. He keyed himself into the room and looked around. Much equipment was damaged, but as he tapped the computer keys and began downloading a backup of all his data, he could see himself returning to work here in a few weeks or months. Dino Attack still had a purpose, after all: keeping tabs on the lesser Mutant Dinos, doing some research and publishing some of all the information they'd gathered on the Maelstrom, Creation Energy, Mutant Goo, indestructible metals, vehicle designs... and, well, with the death of Rex, Reptile was one of the more senior Elite Agents they had left. On the other hand... while once he had been interested in herpetology and studying the properties of these Mutant Dinos (in fact, this interest is what had led him to sign up), he was now a lot more interested in some of the exotic high energy physics Dino Attack had been messing with lately. He couldn't help but wonder if maybe they would have been able to develop an alternative power source for the Einstein Device, had they had more time. Had he been more versed in the physics of the project. He had thrown himself into the role of tactician and battlefield commander, which was simply not who he was. He was a man who wanted to find out more about the universe he lived in. He decided he'd stay with Dino Attack for now. But maybe in a couple months' time, he would return to the lab of his mentor, Dr. Formula. Maybe. For now, Reptile decided, he'd take life as it came. He exited the ruins of Dino Attack Headquarters and looked around for where he might be needed. "Excuse me," said a voice from behind as Reptile stepped out of the headquarters. "I'm agent Scott. I represent the Brick Street Journal. I was wondering if you'd mind me asking a few questions about the battle for our listeners in Antarctica." Reptile blinked owlishly at the reporter, and then nodded firmly. "Certainly, what would you like to know?" he asked Scott. "Well, let's see… our reports say you led the aerial defense of HQ during the opening stages of the battle. How did you feel about that, and the ultimate outcome of the battle?" Reptile blinked again. "I felt like I had to pay attention to everything at once to keep our T-1 lines from crumbling. And ultimately, my leadership, and the leadership of the other Elite Agents who I was working with, wasn't enough to keep our T-1s in place… at the time, I was afraid we were finished. Now, I'm just relieved we survived." "You are a well-regarded scientist by training, not a soldier or special agent. Why did you join the Dino Attack Team, and end up commanding wings of T-1 Typhoons in combat operations?" "I joined… because I wanted to know about these Mutant Dinos. I wondered where they came from, I wondered what technological or biological cause resulted in their presence on our world. I wanted to know more. I think I found out more about violence and combat and war than I'd ever have wanted to know - and I found that I was a pretty good leader of warriors - but the science is why I stuck around." "What are your plans now that the invasion is over? Will you stick with the Dino Attack Team or go back to your lab?" Reptile sighed. "As you said, I'm a scientist, not a soldier. I think I'm going to work on some of my long-neglected research. Probably for whatever the Dino Attack Team has become at least for a time, but in the not-so-distant future I'll probably retire back to the lab of my mentor, Dr. Formula." "But surely you have some thoughts about the future of the Dino Attack Team, and the future of the LEGO Planet now that this invasion is over?" Reptile sighed again. Politics was never a favorite subject of his, but he thought he may as well make his views known. "Over there," he said, pointing to the Iron Hammer, "is an Alpha Team craft. Groups like Alpha Team and the Agents have been, and continue to be, the first lines of defense for our world against villains, tyrants, demons, otherworldly invaders, dark armadas and evil armies - and they've served us pretty well. "Now, we were a special task force forged to deal with the unique threat of the Dino Attack. But now the Dino Attack is over, and I don't see any reason we should complicate the politics of the world further. There's some mop-up work to be done, of course. "Though… who knows? Perhaps I'm wrong, and there is a role for us to play alongside Alpha Team, as a more scientifically-minded and perhaps more idealistic organization. But if you want to know about that, talk to someone like Specs, or Viper - or Magma or some other senior Alpha Team agent." For as he was talking, Reptile saw Magma walking out of the Iron Predator. He waved over at the Alpha Team agent, but a distracted Magma did not wave back. Scott nodded. Reptile couldn't tell if he'd annoyed the reporter or not, but he suspected reporters like this man did not get annoyed very easily. Or were just very good at hiding their feelings. "Well, thank you, Elite Agent Reptile. Best of luck to you in your future research or other pursuits," the reporter said. Scott turned away and began saying something else into the camera, but Reptile didn't bother to listen to it. He was already thinking about the contents of the next paper he was going to publish as soon as he got home on the DNA Device - he'd had a most interesting idea just now about how they might be able to reverse engineer some of the technology. He couldn't wait to get started. ***** Magma had left the Alpha Team operation under the command of his friends, made his report to Specs, and then quickly left the ship for an urgent conversation. He needed to do this now, before it became much too late to do it. He'd been meaning to have this conversation for a few months now - but somehow it had never worked. He knew where his target would be: she would be with the Agents forces, who had set up a small command post in the shadow of the Iron Predator and Dino Attack HQ. Most of the tension between the Agents and Dino Attack had dissipated over the past few months, but there was still some residual pride left. So while the Agents forces would happily join the Dino Attack and Alpha Team troops in the airship, it would simply not be proper for them to not have established some visible presence on the battlefield. And it would take a high-ranking Agents officer to man such a facility. It was true that the Agents had many high-ranking officers. But Magma had cheated and, after deducing all this, had run a scan from his ship to determine that his target was actually here. He entered the command post and, for the first time in dealing with Agents for a long time, did not immediately find a gun pointed at his face. Instead, he found Colonel Covert of Agents Intelligence casually sitting in a commandeered desk chair, watching data on a computer terminal and, of all things, playing with her black hair. The rest of the room was empty - from looking at it alone, one would see no signs that a war had just gone on outside. "I thought I might find you here," Magma said. Covert didn't even look up, and merely replied, "I thought you might think you might find me here." She sounded amused. "We've beaten Dr. Rex," Magma said. "Our two organizations helped make this happen, in the end. We can agree, I think, that when the Agents first showed an interest in the Dino Attack Team, things did not turn out well." "That would be one way to put it, yes," said Covert. She still was not looking at Magma. "However, once… shall we say, certain Agents and Alpha Team personnel set their personal differences aside and realized what kind of a threat they were facing, they began working together much more smoothly and in a much friendlier kind of rivalry. Would you not agree again?" "I think I would," Covert said. "So," Magma said, and hesitated. "I owe you an apology. I still think your initial… ah, attempt to arrest me was arrogant and ridiculous and deserved some kind of retaliation. But I think after two years crusading against your interests, we're even, don't you? So… I'm… sorry for my initial overreaction." "Apology accepted," Covert said softly. She was staring at her computer screen now. "Before we get on to the next piece of business, I have to ask. Didn't you realize that by… ah, attempting to thwart me at every turn, I'd just make things worse between our respective organizations?" Magma asked sharply. Covert looked up and met his stare. She then laughed. "Because it was fun?" She smiled. "But even though it was… because I thought, maybe, if I could beat you, I could gain your respect - if I could show you I was as good as you, if not better than you, you'd respect my organization and my own abilities?" "My… you wanted my respect?" Magma said slowly. "When I tried to arrest you, you humiliated my team and almost killed several of my men. You made us look like clowns, and… well, Magma - you, Zed, Dash, Subzero, Databoard, Frozeen - you're all considered heroes in this business. We - I - may consider Alpha Team unprofessional and sloppy, but I know you have some extremely talented people. And you're among them. So if I was trying to show you up and establish some basis for mutual self-respect between our intelligence forces… maybe you can understand why?" Magma stood there, stunned. He had always assumed Covert must have hated him specifically for some reason, but… what was she saying? A terrible thought entered his head - a thought that he quickly tried to dismiss. As is the nature of such thoughts, this attempt failed, and instead sparked a few more. The first thought was: Love and hate are the same sides of a coin. The second thought was: The only reason I'd hated her was because I thought she had hated me. The third thought was: Now that I come to actually think about it, she is rather pretty. The fourth thought was: Maybe I should stop trying to dismiss these kinds of thoughts. He shook his head, irritated. First things first. "Uh…" he stammered. Covert waited, smiling slightly. "Uh, well, in that case, I guess that makes this offer a lot easier. I'd like to propose an actual alliance between our two organizations," Magma said, regaining a bit of professional dignity. "Specifically between our intelligence groups, that is." "What would the nature of this alliance be?" Covert asked. "Well, for one, the two of us would no longer attempt to actually sabotage each other's projects. For another, we'd share data and collaborate on covert operations and work together in fighting enemies rather than separately. We'd also work on locating the movements of villains, like Ogel, whose absence should really be investigated." "I suppose one goal of this would be to avoid a situation in which one lone black ops agent is ambushed by a hit squad from the other side when both are attempting to eliminate some high priority target, and end up fighting each other instead of the target?" Covert asked innocently. "Yes, exactly like that," Magma said, eyes narrowing at this reference to how the two had first met in 2008 when attempting to stop Dr. Inferno. He glared for a few seconds, and the Agents colonel continued to look innocent. Then they both chuckled for a few minutes. "But yes, that's the goal. So, what say you?" "A question: are your superiors aware of this proposal?" she asked him. "Not yet," said Magma. Covert hesitated, and then nodded. "Well, they will be soon - as I accept. Let's finalize the details and then inform our respective superiors of our, ah, decisions." Magma nodded as well, and the two quickly got to work. ***** Pierce turned in surprise as Sarah Bishop walked into the Iron Hammer, accompanied by her daughter. Kate seemed unsure of what to be thinking. There was a mix of things: fear, relief, sadness, and she certainly had a right to it. Anyone would have been scared by what had just gone down. PTSD was no doubt going to emerge in a few of the agents, and someone like Nicholas Saran might have to help. She had learned some unpleasant truths about her family, and she had the right to be upset about that too, but there was some relief in the thought that it was all over, and maybe, just maybe, things could get better. Pierce smiled as he wiped his hands. Kate quickly ran up to him and embraced him. He could not help putting his own hands around her before they finally let go. Sarah walked up to the two of them. Pierce could not help but feel a certain rush of joy. After all these years, he had finally met his own daughter, and now they were going to be together. "I see you've already met your father," Sarah remarked, casually. Kate looked at her, somewhat surprised, but knowing what she meant. "Oh yes," replied Pierce. "She was with us on Adventurers' Island. She was a real badbrick. You know, she once constructed a bomb just to scare off a Pterosaur attack using only items on a T-1 Typhoon." Sarah looked at him. "Really?" she asked sarcastically. "Yes," Pierce said with full seriousness. Sarah looked at him blankly, but just went with it. Pierce looked at Kate eagerly. "We made it through," he said. Kate looked at him uncertainly. "I don't know," she said. "I don't even know what I want to do with my life." "We'll figure it out," assured Pierce. "I promise you I'm going to get you into college, and you will find something, sooner or later." ***** "Alrighty then," Zach said, rubbing his hands together. "We'll make some preparations, have a bite to eat maybe, and we'll head out in a half-hour or so." "You sure we shouldn't leave now?" Vinyaya asked, crossing her arms. "He probably knows he's wanted now. I'm sure he knows he can't salvage his identity as well. In fact, he might have already fled." "He isn't leaving," Zelda stated simply. Everyone looked at her. "I have a feeling... he might be looking for us. Knowing his habits, he'll want revenge on all us for ratting him out. He'll at least try to kill us before leaving." "Even with the Imagination boost from the Einstein Device," Minerva said, "it would probably a good idea to get some food or rest a bit. And as much as I love to operate and come up with a plan simultaneously, we should probably work out some sort of plan against Darkling." "But I don't think we should wait too long," Dr. Cyborg said, gesturing to the sky. Whatever natural light that was breaking through the clouds that were shrouded over the city was fading rapidly. If they waited any longer, they would be forced to find Darkling in the dark. Bluetooth grimaced. "We don't have much time at all, really. Once it goes dark, we can probably bet Darkling will flee. This is our best chance to stop Vherestorm/Darkling once and for all." Zach nodded in agreement. "So I'd say we find some ammunition and reload our weapons and the Xenon Launcher and head out. As much as a bite to eat sounds good, we have to act now." "Dr. Cyborg, Zelda, and I will get the ammunition," Minerva said, stepping forward and gesturing to Zelda and Dr. Cyborg. "You guys come up with a plan. We won't be long." As she passed by Zach, she smiled at him and patted his shoulder. Before they got too far away to get ammunition for the Darkling hunt, Dr. Cyborg was approached by Catless. "Dr. Cyborg, I've got something to tell you," she said. "Okay. Zelda, Minerva, go on ahead, I'll catch up with you later." Dr. Cyborg gestured for Zelda and Minerva to continue while he talked to Catless. Deciding not eavesdrop, Zach turned back to Vinyaya and Bluetooth. Vinyaya pulled out her PDA. "This gets an internet connection, correct?" "I imagine it does to get messages to other PDAs," Zach said sarcastically. Vinyaya frowned at him. "I don't need your lip, Virchaus," Vinyaya snapped. "The point is we can use my authorization to get into the Space Police database to peek into Vherestorm's file. There should be an analysis of his tactics that we can use to come up with a plan to fight him." She walked over to the Fire Hammer, the tiny light of the PDA illuminating her scarred face as sat down next the tire, crossed her legs, and began to quick press her hands across buttons. Zach glanced at Bluetooth, an amused grin on his face. Bluetooth shrugged and went over and sat by Vinyaya. Zach smirked in amusement and was prepared to say something when someone calling his name caught his attention. Turning, he saw Andrew, Laxus, and Pterisa walking toward him. "Hey!" Zach said happily. "Glad to see you two make it!" He gave Laxus a high-five and extended a fist toward Pterisa, who responded with her own. "The same to you," Pterisa said, smiling. Laxus nodded to Zach before glancing over his shoulder. "Good to see you as well, Bluetooth!" Bluetooth acknowledged Laxus, Andrew, and Pterisa with a wave and smile before looking back down at Vinyaya's PDA. They were talking in hushed tones, both occasionally cracking a grin and laughing quietly. Andrew smirked, quickly interpreting the situation between Vinyaya and Bluetooth. "What are they doing, exactly?" "Hopefully finding some info we can use to hunt down Blaire Darkling," Zach explained, turning back to the group. "Yeah, we heard about him and Nazareno," Laxus said, looking apologetic. "Sorry." "What matters is that we complete Nazareno's goal and beat this guy once and for all." Zach then turned to Pterisa. "Have you ever encountered Blaire Darkling? White hair, sunglasses, trenchcoat? Maybe a katana?" Pterisa paused to think. Then her wings flinched in remembrance. "Ah. I believe I saw him when Tyrannus, Velosis, and myself were attacking XERRD operatives in their lab. He was sending guards after us and trying to kill us. He never directly approached us, preferring to stay back and shoot at us from afar." "I would say he was cowardly, but I'm thinking he decided he couldn't take on three Hybrids with the powers of Mutant Raptors, Pterosaurs, and T-Rexes alone with only mooks," Zach said with a shrug. "That's how he operates, as far as I can tell. Back away from situations out of his control. That's how he's survived so long, in addition to his skill. If we weren't thinking he wanted to kill us, he might have left already, knowing how in-over-his-head he is now." Zach then looked at his three friends that stood before him. He shrugged. "Why not? You guys want to come along and capture a terrorist? One last exciting, dramatic bit in our lives before finally getting to relax?" ***** Samuel Race surveyed the damage. Luckily, his years in training as a helicopter pilot allowed him to make the crash-landing of the Joseph's Heir as smooth as possible. The tail rotor was all but completely melted away, and the T-1 Typhoon's armor was scorched and charred from battle amongst the flames. It had suffered some other damage between the fight with Dr. Rex and the crash-landing. However, overall, the Joseph's Heir looked like it could be repaired with ease and, one day, fly again. "I'll make you proud, Dad," promised Race as he looked over the helicopter. "Hello again to all our listeners in Antarctica!" Sam Race raised an eyebrow and turned around, and he was surprised to see a man approaching him with all sorts of equipment for broadcasting radio signals, and he was speaking into a microphone. "You're tuned in to WDNO - Dino Radio, and I'm J. Theano, reporting live from the battlefield of Dino Attack Team's final battle, bringing you interviews with some of Dino Attack Team's greatest agents who worked together in achieving the greatest victory LEGO Planet has ever known! With us today is one of Dino Attack Team's elite agents, who flew a T-1 Typhoon straight into battle against the evil Dr. Rex and lived to tell the tale!" Sam Race grinned sheepishly. "Actually, I'm not an elite agent. I just work with the team; I'm not actually an official member." J. Theano did not break his stride as he was corrected by Race. "I hope you all heard that, because you don't have to be a Dino Attack agent to be a hero. This is Prince Samuel Race of the Space Knights, hailing from Castle Cove and a champion of numerous LEGO Racers championships! So then, Prince Race, to all our listeners in Antarctica, tell us... what was it like to take on the evil-" Before Theano could complete his question, they were approached by a middle-aged man with thin round glasses holding a large camera, accompanied by a radio operator. "Excuse me," said the man, "my name is agent Scott, and I'm a journalist working for the Brick Street Journal. I hope you don't mind if I ask you a-" "Sir, you'll have to wait a moment," said Theano, frowning. "I'm conducting an interview here for WDNO - Dino Radio, and all our listeners in Antarctica are surely eager to hear what Prince Race has to-" "Um, who are you again?" Scott raised an eyebrow. "I joined this team because there weren't any journalists up north reporting on the action." J. Theano was aghast at this statement. "Now, see here, Mr. Scott! I've been following Dino Attack Team for months and providing all the news for everyone down south! I saw them fight off a herd of T-Rexes trying to destroy a small power station, and I was there when the new Iron Predator stopped a raptor rampage in its tracks! And you just show up out of nowhere, and-" "Welcome back! Seymour Brickstein here, reporting live for the LEGO City News!" J. Theano and Scott both turned around to see another news crew approach the crash site of the Joseph's Heir, this time lead by a Minifig in a beige trenchcoat and wearing a brown fedora. "Here we are at Ground Zero, mere minutes after the defeat of the Mutant Dinos, and with us today is a Dino Attack elite agent-" "Who are you?" interrupted Scott. "I'm Seymour Brickstein," the reporter introduced himself. "Haven't you heard of me? I've been doing the LEGO City news for years, and I've always known where to find a good story!" "Oh right," said Sam Race, nodding in remembrance. "Yeah, you were that guy who covered the Robot Chronicles last year." "But LEGO City was evacuated just before the battle," noted J. Theano, frowning. "You shouldn't be here; this is a classified area." "You're one to talk," scoffed Scott. "At least I officially signed up for this team." "You're just jealous because I just got back from interviewing all four founding members," proudly boasted Theano. "Yes, even Specs! Good luck finding a better news story than that!" Scott furrowed his brow. "Now, wait just a second, I'm giving attention to the unsung-" "Hi, this is your reporter, Lotta Brix, and we are reporting live from downtown, where the Dino Attack Team has just emerged victorious in an epic struggle against the Mutant Dinos!" Yet another news crew approached the scene, this time lead by a female reporter in a red jacket with black-rimmed glasses. "Where are all these news crews coming from?" gasped Scott. J. Theano threw his arms up into the air. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "the Mutant Dino invasion is over. Bunker down, though, because the news reporter invasion has just begun!" "I'm more qualified at delivering this story than all of you combined," declared Brix. "While you're all bickering, I'll get right to the heart of the story and be there to deliver the news to all our viewers! I would have come a little earlier, too, but my news crew refused to follow me into the battle." "With good reason," said Brickstein, shrugging. "That sort of thinking will get you abducted if you're reporting on an alien invasion!" "You're one to talk," retorted Theano. "You're the one who nearly got run over by a racecar, got your news van towed during a report, and almost got stomped on by Dr. Inferno's robot mech!" "Theano," sighed Brix, "please keep your oversized chin out of this." As J. Theano, agent Scott, Seymour Brickstein, and Lotta Brix argued, bickered, and debated over who would get to broadcast the news story, Sam Race leaned against the hull of the Joseph's Heir and watched the scene with increasing amusement. They had forgotten about him, and the champion LEGO Racer inside of him enjoyed seeing the competition between all the reporters. ***** Strangebrick handed a test tube to his daughter, now cleaned up and wearing a gleaming white labcoat. The bruises were still visible on Jenny's face, but she seemed in better spirits. Dr. Joel Fuchs stood across from him holding a notebook, writing in everything he could as Strangebrick combined chemicals. Fuchs had been relocated to Antarctica for a reason: his own protection. He had taken what little information was left by J.D. and created a working cure to the Maelstrom. Under the circumstances, it was important that this be perfected, lest the Maelstrom should ever become a threat again. A few other scientists were helping out, using the notes Fuchs had made back on Adventurers' Island and the binders from Adventurers' Island, the ones Kate had stolen earlier. At that moment, fellow scientist Dr. Lowell stepped into the room. "Guys!" he shouted. "I got good news." "What?" Fuchs asked, looking up from his work and adjusting his glasses. "Come on!" Fuchs quickly put down his notebook and stepped outside, following Lowell into the next room where a television was playing. A headline read: "New reporters get into fight over interviewee". A number of people were seen arguing with each other as a newsreader commentated. "That wasn't it," Lowell said. "They were saying the war is over." At that moment, Strangebrick stepped into the room, his young daughter following. "What's going on?" Jenny asked, nervously. "War's over," replied Lowell. "Only a matter of time before we can get out of here." ***** "... an' sore I be t' hoist me colours on th' likes o' that, so instead I take me hearty into th' pub, but between th' squall an' me dead deadlight, settin' a course fer th' tavern be not quite as easy as ye think, savvy? So thar, we waited, fer nei'er o' us be willin' t' dance a fine dance out in th' rain quite yet, fer dead men tell no tales. Avast all o' them blaggards! Aye, we sent them all down t' Davy Jones's locker, but I be gettin' ahead o' meself. An' once me mateys arrived, aye, that be when me an' me shipmates scuttl'd th' ol' cockroach. An' I suppose th' poop deck must have been scrubb'd very recently, says I, fer then like a ship at sea on a stormy night, I find meself a man o'erboard. But before th' scurvy scum could shiver me timbers-" "Okay, okay, okay," Scott said, shaking his head. "I think that's enough; I'm afraid we're all out of time for this interview. Thank you, Mister... err... Pirata." He then muttered to J. Theano: "I've had enough; you interview him!" Greybeard laughed as the reporter scurried off. Clearly, his pirate accent was far too much for the reporter to handle. Greybeard limped over to the crash site of the Joseph's Heir. There, he found Prince Samuel Race, helped by Bill Ding and a few other mechanics, in repairing the damage caused to the T-1 Typhoon during the final battle. The old pirate was relieved to see that Sam was doing better since the untimely death of his father. He gently tapped Sam on the shoulder, and the LEGO Racer flinched in response. Upon seeing Greybeard, he caught his breath and shook his head. "Oh, come now, Greybeard! Don't sneak up on me like that!" "Sorry, matey," Greybeard said with a shrug. "I just want'd t' check up on ye. Ye be a brave man, flyin' that ship into th' flames o' Dr. Rex himself! Yer father would be proud t' see 'ow much ye grew up, says I." "Thanks for your kind words," Sam said. He smiled and nodded, but his eyes had a very sad look. Greybeard noticed that Sam Race was wearing earbuds connected to one of those fancy new gizmos for listening to music that Greybeard had occasionally seen during his time working with Dino Attack Team. Gesturing to the iPod, the old pirate inquired, "So, what be ye listenin' t'? Some sort o' victory music? A lot o' 'em Dino Attack agents, such as Williams an' Zimmer, be playin' loud an' triumphant victory songs." Sam sighed and shook his head. "Right now? 'Soldier Side' by System of a Play." "System o' a Play?" repeated Greybeard, with the raise of an eyebrow. Sam Race chuckled. "I know, it doesn't really seem like the sort of music I would listen to. Sam Throramebi is fonder of the band than I am; he's more into that style of music, I guess. I'm not a huge fan of System of a Play, but compared to most bands of that genre, I daresay, I personally think System of a Play is actually pretty tolerable. The singers don't always scream, and instead of just thrashing their instruments as loudly as they can, they actually play distinct and, sometimes, even pretty melodies." "Avast," snorted Greybeard. "Ye can keep yer System o' a Play. I be listenin' t' me Beatles, Eric Clapton, an' Yes." Sam Race laughed. "Yeah, those are some pretty awesome bands." Then, the laughter and smile disappeared as Sam looked down at his iPod and sighed solemnly. "You know, the thing about 'Soldier Side'... I never truly understood what it was about. Then again, I'm not sure what most System of a Play songs are about, anyway. But now... after the final battle... I feel like I truly understand what 'Soldier Side' means. When you go to war, you don't come back... because even if you survive, what you have seen has changed you forever." "An' ye?" Greybeard bit his lip, concerned. "Ye feel that way?" Sam nodded grimly. "I'll never be the same. Not after seeing my father die in war. I've always enjoyed competition, and I just thought of the Dino Attack war as just another competition. But now... now, I can understand why my father did all in his power to keep the Space Knights out of the many wars that have taken place in Castle Cove. War is MegaBlokland. Sons go to war, never to return. Families wait for their loved ones, never coming home. And even after I finish my scheduled sessions with Dr. Saran... I'll never be the same again. I'm done, Greybeard. I'm done." "So what be ye goin' t' do?" inquired Greybeard. "What if thar be 'nother Dino Attack? What if Castle Cove be in danger?" Glancing up at the night sky, Sam murmured, "I think... perhaps the best thing to do is to leave Castle Cove and LEGO Planet forever. We Space Knights certainly have the technology to form our own satellite colony off of LEGO Planet. There, we'll be out of the way. We won't have to worry about the wars in Castle Cove. We won't find ourselves in danger of another Dino Attack. It might sound extreme... but I don't want anyone in my kingdom to know firsthand what I know now." Shrugging, Sam Race added: "I might pop in once in a while for a LEGO Racers Championship or something, but... I think this is the last time in the foreseeable future that we might be able to hang out together, Greybeard." "If that be what ye think be best fer yer kingdom," said Greybeard, "then fair winds, me hearty." Greybeard and Sam Race embraced one another, and Greybeard whispered in his ear: "No matter what ye do, I know yer father be proud o' ye. Dinnae forget that." "I won't," promised Sam Race. ***** "As you know," Catless told Dr. Cyborg, "I was on a Fire Hammer with Laxus and Pterisa during the final battle. We had stopped to fix the Fire Hammer, which was coming apart. I had heard something, a cry of pain. I followed the noise, and I found someone, a woman. She had been injured fatally by a pack of Dinos, and she died after telling me something." Dr. Cyborg's eyes widened. "No, no, you're wrong. You can't be talking about who I think you are, you can't be!" Dr. Cyborg exclaimed. "I'm afraid I am. Dr. Cyborg, I saw your sister Elizabeth die," Catless finished sadly. "No!" shouted Dr. Cyborg. "I thought I had escaped the battle with almost nobody close to me dying! And now, in the midst of victory, I find I'm wrong! I can't use this anger on Dr. Rex, but I can channel it into hunting Darkling." Dr. Cyborg stormed off, catching up to Zelda and Minerva. Catless turned away, sad she had to break the news. She walked back over to the main group, almost as down as Dr. Cyborg, since retelling the story brought on a fresh wave of sadness over her friend's death. Pterisa walked over to her and gave her a sisterly hug. "You alright?" she asked Catless. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Thanks for the comfort." ***** Wade turned toward Marco Martinet. They were sitting in their ambulance, the vehicle having come to a stop on the side of a road. "We did it," Wade said, with a slight grin. "We made it through. You know, I gotta say that I met a few combat medics back in the army. You might well be one of the best I've seen in action." They started the converted Fire Hammer up again and drove throughout the city, hearing the cheers and celebrations of their teammates, until Marco Martinet slowly pulled the ambulance to a stop near HQ. He and Wade climbed out to see a group of reporters, one of whom, a tall, thin middle-aged man with glasses and holding a large camera approached them. "Excuse me," the man said. "My name is Agent Scott, I represent the Brick Street Journal. I was wondering if you'd mind answering a few questions." "Sure," replied Wade. "Excellent," said Scott. "Let's get this to the boys in Antarctica before the others get here. I mean, there's that one guy whose boasting about meeting all the Elite Agents - he probably hasn't given much thought to anyone else, and of course he's arguing with all the other reporter s- and you mind if I get a photograph?" Wade and Martinet posed slightly as Scott held up his camera and took a quick shot. "Thank you. Now from the looks of it I take it you two are doctors?" "A-yes," replied Martinet. "I think one of your colleagues might have talked about you two. You're the ones who went on the field, right?" "Yes," affirmed Wade. "Fascinating, tell me, um..." "Wade." "Wade, what exactly motivated you to take such a risk?" "Well," explained Wade, "I was in the army, you see. I used to work as a field doctor. I figured with my experience there it was only fitting I help out here." ***** The massive Iron Hammer airship dominated the Dino Attack Headquarters' plaza. At its base were the wreckages of several Dino Attack vehicles and the carcasses of many Mutant Dinosaurs. The shadow of the ship fell over the carnage and created a strange dissonance with the surroundings. As if someone had casually tossed their toy among the landscape, the colossal Iron Hammer seemed out of place among the distraction surrounding it. This was not to say the craft shown no sign of battle; burns and bullet holes peppered the fuselage of the ship, and scarring was certainly evident. Although the armored ship had fared better than other craft, it was far from spotless. Hertz stepped over a dead dragon that had once carried a Fright Knight Windship and around the scattered remains of smaller Flying Machines. He had received word that medical care was being provided in the bowels of the Iron Hammer, and he figured a checkup would be nice. What had begun as a hairline fracture in his left arm had worsened to a complete break. Hertz figured it would need to be set before he permanently lost its function. He no longer felt any pain; the stinging sensation had ceased about two hours ago, and this was probably a bad sign. Hertz was no doctor, but he guessed he probably had nerve damage. In retrospect, wielding a duct-taped pair of heavy Sonic Screamers with a broken arm had probably been a poor choice. It had helped to bring down Dr. Rex, but he knew he would certainly hurt in the morning. The strange echoless void he no lived in was evolving into a high-pitched moan. His ears rang with phantom sounds, and he nodded his head in acknowledgment to every agent he passed. Odds are they were congratulating him on being alive, but he could return no such tidings. Instead, he walked awkwardly among the bodies at his feet. The rain was chilling. For moments, he swore he felt something harder than water plop on the back of his neck. The cold December weather was freezing the water to ice. Soon, snow would fall from the sky and finally cast the city into its long overdue holiday life. As the winter clouds gathered above, Hertz reflected on the nature festive spirit thieving among the agents. He could not hear the inevitable Christmas Carols or the sound of sleigh bells. Although no snow was on the ground, the feeling of winter plus the defeat of Dr. Rex could only result in childish happiness. Hertz would miss out on the sounds of the season, but the days were no less sweet. He located the polished boarding ramp of Iron Hammer and made his way up the incline into the ship. The interior of the Iron Hammer was drab and bellicose. The designers had not wasted time making the ship comfortable; instead, they had developed it with practical precision. Stepping under the white lights, he passed the exposed bulk heads and industrial piping. The stark, narrow hallways of the ship were slightly difficult to navigate, so he relied on the hastily stuck on directions to find the medical bay. Following a wet trail of rain water and blood, he stepped down a flight of steps into the area of the ship that had been converted into a hospital. It was disorienting not hearing the clank of his feet on the riveted steps or echoes of voices on the iron walls. People's faces were contorted in pain from their injuries, but the milieu was far less off-putting then the grime of the basement. Unlike the previous medical ward, the infirmary was sterile and organized. Although there were dozens of beds, they were arranged in neat rows that allowed plenty of space for the doctors to work. A doctor called to Hertz, but he was only able to recognize him when he waved the elite agent over. Once he stepped off the catwalk and onto the sanatorium, he quickly identified him as Dr. Pierce. The chief physician of Dino Attack Team appeared to have suffered his own injuries. He was covered in grime and sweat and appeared to have several gashes on his forehead. Despite his injuries, he walked with a cool determination. The doctor sighed and reached for the pocket containing Hertz's notepad. The techie shook his head and indicated he had lost it in battle. Shrugging, Pierce slinked over to a clipboard and pulled a pen from behind his ear. What brings you down here, Hertz? he wrote. Hertz felt he was starting to get the hang of speaking in an acceptable volume. "THE WAR IS OVER, YOU SAID YOU MIGHT BE ABLE TO HELP WITH MY HEARING." "The fighting might be over," muttered Pierce. "But the wounded are certainly still here." In contrast with his normal polite persona, Dr. Pierce was acting rather grim. He was clearly getting sick of all the wounded and, for all intents and purposes, the war was still going on for him. Kate and Sarah had probably increased his mood. The two women were visible standing on catwalk overlooking the medical bay. Hertz could understand how they improved his attitude, but he had yet to see the spring in the doctor's step he had witnessed before the battle. It was unlikely he would see that until the last remnants of the war were gone. Hertz raised his eyebrow as the doctor continued to mutter. Seeming to realize his impoliteness, Pierce wrote down another message on his paper: I can have someone help with the arm but you'll have to wait longer for the implants. He paused. Sorry. Hertz frowned; it was all he could expect. The odds of having appropriate cochlear implants were extremely slim and, since the surgery was anywhere between 1½ to 5 hours, chances are the doctors had better ways to spend their time. It was a sacrifice Hertz was willing to make for the sake of those in greater need than he. He was escorted to a vacant bunk by Doctor Giovanni Wade. For the third time in the last week, his arm was recast. The skin beneath was red and swollen, but apparently was not beyond repair. Doctor Wade assured him that it would not need to be amputated, but it would certainly need time to heal. Hertz promised that he had no intention of getting involved in any more action after today. As fresh wrappings were applied, he spotted two doctors in spotless white uniforms carrying a large shrubbery across the medical word. Apparently satisfied with it, the placed the bush in the center of the medical infirmary and disappeared down a hall to find another random object. He could not help but smile when Enter and Return returned with a live shark. Clearly, the fish objected to being carried, and it flopped around madly and attempted to eat Return's head. Enter apparently realized their predicament and went to fetch a kitty-pool. It was incredible that the two doctors still had their medical license. Considering the two were harmless, he really saw no reason to revoke it. Thus far, their success rate was spectacular, and they had yet to kill a patent from repeatedly beating them with a shark. As remarkable as this was, Hertz was in no hurry to be treated by the two. Enter returned to the medical bay carrying a mailbox. He set in beside the tree and withdrew a small brown package. Hertz could not help think that it was a good thing they brought that mailbox. Now, if the need presented itself, they could mail a letter. He truly never got tired of Enter and Return's whimsy. Return shook the package excitedly as Enter held his breath in anticipation. Finally undoing the ribbon Return tore open the package. Enter jumped up and down with glee in anticipation of his brother's reaction. By this stage Hertz had deducted that Enter had brought the mailbox so his brother would receive his Christmas present. It was certainly considerate of Enter to mail the package to the mailbox they brought with them. Return opened the box and his countenance lit up with delight. Apparently, it was just what he wanted, and he happily withdrew the Cochlear implants from their case. Hertz jumped from his bed and tripped on the bedsheets. He tumbled forward and knocked over a nearby table and Doctor Wade. By the time he undid himself from the mess, he spotted Enter and Return attempting to apply the implants to the shark. Followed closely by Doctor Wade, Hertz crawled over excitedly and grabbed hold of Return. Careful to avoid the snapping and thrashing shark, he yelled enthusiastically. Apparently, his jubilant babbling was incoherent to the two eccentric doctors. Enter and Return looked at Hertz with a look of perplexity, but were distracted enough to cease their current endeavor of operating on a deaf shark. Hertz looked over at Doctor Wade. He raised his eyebrow and his lips moved utter some pithy remark. After a moment of brief consideration, Enter and Return stared down at Hertz and smiled. Ordinarily when one is stared at by Enter and Return, one has reason to be concerned. But considering the current state of things, Hertz would take anything he could get. Hertz lay down in the operating room of the Iron Hammer. Return stepped into the behind him, carrying the implants and a megaphone. The doctor flicked on the operating light filling the room with a white ambiance. Giovanni Wade had his own priorities. He had offered to do the operation himself when his work was done, but Hertz was impatient. He wanted to hear again as soon as possible and, in a rash decision, he had allowed Enter and Return to do the operation. Enter nodded to Hertz and wrote a word on a nearby whiteboard. Anastasia Anastasia? thought Hertz. Anesthesia, perhaps? Not enough to regret this decision but enough to make me concerned. Enter walked around the head of Hertz's table and withdrew a red and white umbrella. He caught a brief view of the parasol being opened before Return shoved a mask on his face. His vision clouded over and the world became blurry as the anesthesia set in. Not knowing how Enter and Return worked was probably for the best. Hertz really had no idea what Return was planning to do with the parasol and the megaphone, and he really had no desire to find out. He had taken a lot of risks in the last few hours; he could probably afford to take one more. His eyes started to roll back to slumber. The rest would be nice; he had not had a good night's sleep in days. Whether it was the drug or fatigue, Hertz truly felt tired. Even the anticipation of regaining his sense could not hold back his heavy eyelids. How remarkable it was that he had only lost his hearing mere hours ago. It felt like ages of torment. When he awoke, he would hear. He would join in the celebration, he would call Naomi, and he could take part in the songs of the season. He would wake up with a new life, a fresh outlook, a fresh beginning. He had reassessed his values in life and, when he awoke, he would be hearing things and voices he had never appreciated before. He finally tumbled into blackness with smug grin on his face. Stepping through the rows of wounded patients, an exhausted and still somewhat unsettled Shaw was surprised to notice Wade picking up some dropped equipment. Quickly she got to the ground and helped him put the syringes and scalpels back on the table. What surprised her was what she saw on the next bed over. Enter and Return, the two twin paramedics she only vaguely recognized from the medical wing, were operating in a most unusual manner that involved putting a shark over the patient's head. "What's up with that?" Shaw asked. "They're a bit crazy," replied Wade. "Actually, if you're not too busy, could you keep an eye on them? Just to make sure they don't accidentally murder him." Shaw nodded as Wade walked away. She took a seat next to the bed and watched the strange procedure. The process was something she could not describe, but it involved a megaphone, a pineapple, a DVD copy of The Hurt Locker, a basketball, two lumps of sugar, a steering wheel, a baseball bat, a film camera, a mailbox, a pine tree, a shrubbery, a herring, 16 tons of TNT, a frying pan, a model train, a bicycle wheel, a single dollar, a map of LEGO Island, a book on aeronautics, a toy car, a lunchbox, a suitcase, a spoonful of honey, a banana, a pointed stick, a fedora, running into each other and then arguing over whose clothes were whose, a sandwich, a copy of the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft, a bag of nitroglycerin, a rolled up magazine, a few raspberries, a chicken leg, a turkey dinner, another bush, a brick, a can of soda, a wafer-thin mint, a slip of paper, and a Jolly Roger. At least, that was as much as Shaw could make of the whole thing, being too tired to really pay much attention; sitting terrified in a basement for as long as she did, not knowing when or if you'll come out, can do things to a person. She clutched her cross and muttered a silent prayer for the man who lay there. Once or twice, the shark tipped slightly, and she could vaguely see his face - Hertz, the man from the fire, the one who Naomi Carver left with, and who convinced her to leave for Antarctica. But she was much too tired to think of much of it. Her eyes grew heavy, and she tried to stay awake, but after some time of watching Enter and Return, she soon found herself lying on the bed and falling asleep. "Anything new?" Pierce asked as Wade walked up to him. "No," replied Wade. "Enter and Return are looking after one patient, using some strange methods, but Shaw's watching them." "Good," said Pierce. "Look, we're all very tired. You and Martinet actually went out and endured the worst of it; why don't you to get some rest in the back?" "You sure?" Wade asked. "Yes," replied Pierce. "Crusher, Copper, and I can take care of the rest of them for a while. Shaw's busy watching Enter and Return. Get a couple hours' rest, and then you can relieve Copper and Crusher." "What about you?" Wade inquired. "I'll be fine," promised Pierce. Wade nodded and turned toward the back of the Iron Hammer. He tapped Martinet on the shoulder. The mustached doctor looked up from the clipboard. "A-what is it?" he asked. "Pierce says he wants us to get some sleep," Wade said. "There's some space in the back." Wade turned and left for the back of the vehicle to find a good spot to lie down. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  10. Chapter 72: At War's End ---- Through the purple mist clouding his vision, and the agonizing pain and unbearable suffering that shook his entire form, Dr. Rex looked upon Dino Attack Headquarters. Despite the valiant efforts of Dino Attack Team, Alpha Team, Agents, and other factions, the base was now infested with Mutant Lizards, stalked by Mutant Raptors, bombed by Mutant Pterosaurs, and even now the Mutant T-Rexes had reached the building. The sight both pained him and pleased him. Dr. Rex still felt horrible that everything... everything he had ever worked for... all his dreams and wishes... were nothing more than a lie, and this was all the doing of Baron Typhonus. But he had already resigned himself to his fate, for there was nothing worth fighting for any more. Talia rejected him... Catherine renounced him... XERRD abandoned him... now, Dr. Rex's only hope was that the Darkitect would be merciful enough to grant him a swift death. And the last thing that stood between him and that escape he so desired was this insufferable team and their pathetic headquarters. The sun sets, Ronald. They continue to fight, despite all that they have lost so far. But now... it is time. Dino Attack Headquarters shall fall. Kill them all. Dr. Rex barely had the strength to nod. "Let us end this," he agreed, the sound of his voice scarcely more than a guttural growl from the back of his throat. With that, he slowly mustered the strength to take one step towards Dino Attack Headquarters, then another, then another. The sounds of his footsteps, complemented by the echoes of thunder as lightning streaked across the sky, served as the very song of impending doom. ***** Rex stared out a window, looking out at the battlefield below. Despite the Mutant Dinos that were infiltrating the building, T-1 Typhoons, Iron Predators, and other vehicles led by Shadow, Digger, Viper, Rotor, and other elite agents kept the Mutant T-Rexes at bay. Rex could even tell which one was driven by Digger, since its weapons would never fire until at the last possible second, and Viper's vehicle was undoubtedly the one that was moving the fastest, challenged only by another T-1 Typhoon piloted by Sam Race. Alpha Team and Agents provided back-up, and the Brickster's T-1 Typhoon was certainly doing damage... Behind him, Rex knew that Specs, Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, Andrew, Zachary, Hertz, Kate, and Shannon continued to work frantically on the Einstein Device. They were close to completion, and thanks to Dr. Cyborg, they needn't worry about the device going off prematurely and killing everyone. Frozeen and Greybeard both volunteered to guard the stairwell, and as it turned out, their assistance was very much needed due to the Mutant Lizards that were trying to access the thirteenth floor. But Rex saw the ruins of the battle-scarred city, with some buildings engulfed entirely in flames that reached high into the sky like the fires of MegaBlokland. The devastation of this battle made the initial Dino Attack pale in comparison. Rex swallowed hard as he saw three Mutant T-Rexes tear apart an Iron Predator while an Agents Aerial Defense Unit, in its attempt to help, was shot out of the sky by a flock of Mutant Pterosaurs. Down there, Dino Attack, Alpha Team, Agents, XERRD, Rogue Knights, and Skeleton Drones were dying. They held their ground, but were inevitably being pushed back by the overwhelming number of Mutant Dinos. There was no way Dino Attack Headquarters was going to stand much longer... not against this. It wouldn't be enough. And then Rex saw him. Through the darkness and the heavy rain, Rex could still see him, as his body was illuminated by the fires of war and the flashes of lightning; in the shadow, only his red eyes could be seen. Dr. Rex was marching towards Dino Attack Headquarters. And there was no stopping him now. Rex clutched his chest in pain. It was agonizing, as though a claw was ripping through his torso. His heart pains were worse than ever, and Rex had no doubt that the Maelstrom in his body had to do with it. He knew that everything was about to come to an end. Everything. "We're running out of time," Rex whispered. When the chest pains subsided, Rex repeated his words in a louder voice so that the others could hear. "According to my watch," murmured Specs, "it is now 5:36 PM. Sunset." "Remember Dr. Rex's declaration?" said Shannon, frowning. "He said that Dino Attack Headquarters will fall when the sun sets." "That was a short day," remarked Hotwire. "I mean, this battle does feel like it's been going on for weeks, but sunset already?" "It is the winter solstice, after all," Andrew pointed out. "Although it may not look it, considering that it's a thunderstorm. I wonder if maybe XERRD got ahold of Evil Ogel's old weather-manipulating pipe organ and used it to raise the temperature high enough for the Mutant Dinos to fight in." "Whatever the reason or cause," muttered Reptile, "it is clear that we have to finish the Einstein Device now or never. We may never again have another chance to strike at Dr. Rex." "But wait!" exclaimed Dr. Cyborg. "We still don't have the Imagination! Sure, we managed to fix up the weapon so that it won't obliterate every Creative Spark in the blast radius, but that means that it still needs Imagination to counter the Maelstrom... and I don't think we really have any Imagination stored in this building, do we?" "I don't believe so," Reptile said, shaking his head. "Even when we had Dr. Einstein working with us, we never were able to keep an ample storage of Imagination. And even if we did, where could we find it? You cannot just smash a LEGO model and expect orbs of Imagination to just fall out; this isn't Nimbus System, where Imagination is far more bountiful from what I hear." "IF EINSTEIN HAD DESIGNED THIS THING TO OPERATE ON RADIO WAVES," Hertz spoke in an unintentionally loud voice, "IT WOULD BE FAR EASIER TO FIGURE OUT-" "Well, I don't think we're up for a last-minute reprogramming," said Hotwire, shrugging. "I'll do it," decided Rex. Hotwire raised an eyebrow, slightly bemused. "Come on, Rex. I appreciate the offer, but I don't think you're exactly the most qualified for reprogramming the Einstein Device to-" Rex shook his head. "No. I'll do it. I'll power the Einstein Device." The realization of what Rex meant washed over the Dino Attack agents as they fell silent. Rex sighed. He knew that the Einstein Device might very well be their salvation, and Reptile was right: it was now, or never. They could not afford to waste time considering the options; they had to act. "You... you cannot be serious," Andrew said as he shook his head. "Rex, like it or not, you're a little too valuable to this team to-" "To sit around in a wheelchair and do nothing while everyone else is dying out there?" retorted Rex. "But you're like a hero!" said Dr. Cyborg. "Everyone looks up to you, and-" "And what good am I?" snapped Rex. "PBB, Aster Oid, Adventure... Amanda... even Trouble... they've all died because of me. Me. A so-called 'ropes expert' who can't do anything without endangering the lives of others and relying on deus ex machina to save the day if the cavalry doesn't arrive in time. And in our darkest hour, when you need a hero the most, where was I? Giving in to the very madness and lust for death that Dr. Rex and Baron Typhonus live for. I failed you. I've failed you far too many times." "Get ahold of yourself, Rex," said Reptile, frowning. "There must be another way that does not require an unneeded sacrifice." "And how many more deaths shall it take?" Rex raised an eyebrow. "How many more friends shall perish on the battlefield? How many more family members in Antarctica will be waiting for their beloved to return home, only to see a pair of Dino Attack agents forced to solemnly deliver the tragic news?" "What be all this?" Greybeard barked as he and Frozeen approached Rex. "I'm ready, Greybeard," declared Rex. "I'm ready to die." "You're going to sacrifice your Creative Spark to empower the Einstein Device?" said Frozeen, blinking. "Rex, you know... if you do that... there's no going back. I'm still confused about the circumstances that followed after Dr. Rex killed me, but I think it's because my Creative Spark was still alive that I was able to be reborn. Without a Creative Spark, you will... cease to be. There's no return." Rex sighed solemnly. Slowly, he shook his head. "Return was never an option, and I hope we all knew that when we signed up for this team." "Belay that!" declared Greybeard. "Rex, listen t' me! Dinnae be foolish, an' think this through! Ye be young, an' e'en if ye think yer world be o'er after th' death o' Amanda, thar be much more t' live fer. I be old; I liv'd me life! I be... alone." Grimly, Greybeard stared at the Einstein Device. "It should be me. I be th' one whose Creative Spark should be sacrificed, not yers." Rex locked eyes with Greybeard. "I have thought this through. It's the first time that I've been able to think clearly since my ill-fated marriage earlier today. With my Maelstrom infection, I do not have much longer to live, and even if I do survive this battle, what little life I have left will be full of pain and suffering and, in the end, benefit no one. But what if I can be useful? What if I can use what I have left to do something good? What if I have the chance to make a difference? What if I can do something meaningful and save everyone, rather than continue to bring pain and death upon all those whom I love dearly as my comrades, my family? Well, Greybeard, I have that chance. I can be useful. Just as Trouble used his dying breaths to kill Michelle Gladys and save countless from her deranged ideas... just as J.D., Tracer, and Einstein sacrificed their Creative Sparks for the greater good... I shall not let my death have little consequence. I can do good; I can do the right thing... and if I must die a few weeks early, then I shall accept the bell's toll." Resting a hand on Greybeard's shoulder, Rex whispered: "And you're not alone, Greybeard. There is someone down in Antarctica who is, right now, praying that her dear granddaddy, the one thing she has left, will come home safely." "Mary Rose," said Greybeard. Rex nodded. "You still have family. As for me... this is my destiny." "I should 'ave known," whispered Greybeard. "Them dreams I had... they be about this moment." Greybeard swallowed hard. "Rex, me hearty... adios." After a short pause, Rex noticed: "You're crying." Shaking his head, Greybeard declared: "Shiver me timbers, I be not cryin'! It just be... th' rain. Thar be... err... a leak in th' roof, if ye... 'aven't... noticed." Still, the old pirate was clearly choking something back, and everyone was able to call his bluff. Frozeen patted Rex on the shoulder, but was at a complete loss for words, for try as he may, the Alpha Team agent just could not think of anything he could say. He settled for a handshake, and as Rex and Frozeen clasped hands, Rex murmured: "Thank you, Frozeen, for so much. Tell Chompy... tell Chompy that I said 'goodbye'." "I will," promised Frozeen, nodding. The sound of Mutant Lizard screeches came from the stairwell, so Frozeen and Greybeard were forced to depart and return to their duty. Rex turned to face the other Dino Attack agents... Specs, Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, Andrew, Zachary, Hertz, Kate, and Shannon. "Together," announced Rex, "we have fought through this war and lived through so much. It's... truly been an honor to have known all of you. Now, we are at war's end, but it is up to us to decide how it ends. As for me... I've made my choice. "Reptile, Hotwire, Andrew, Hertz, and Grimton, ready the Einstein Device to load Imagination. Zachary, I hope your Maelstrom powers can come in handy for this... I'm going to need you to just keep the Maelstrom in my body at bay while Dr. Cyborg extracts my Creative Spark. Specs... if you wish, I would suggest calling Viper and letting him know that, if he wants his dream to come true, he better come here soon." Glancing out at the looming shape of Dr. Rex in the distance, Rex whispered under his breath: "I'm ready. Let's end this." ***** It was a standoff. Cyrista's Bane had collared Dr. Inferno's mech, but Inferno had returned the favor. The flamethrower arm of the mech came up to Bane's head, starting to glow. With a whoosh, it ignited and sprayed liquid flame all over the metal side of Bane's face. With a roar, Bane turned his head and bit the flamethrower, melting it with his internal furnace. "Hey, Dr. Inferno, don't fight fire with fire. It usually doesn't work," Bane said. "It does for me!" Inferno replied. At that moment, he got a transmission from Dr. Cyborg. "Hey Screech," Bane said, "the doctor wants your help back at HQ." "Right, I'm on way," Screech replied as she turned and left. Bane kicked out, tearing the legs from the Inferno Mech. It finally let go of Bane, and Bane pulled Dr. Inferno out of the cockpit, keeping him prisoner as he walked back to HQ, his current mission done. ***** "Well, that was anticlimactic." "Yeah, but it was still totally awesome." "So, the mech is gone, and the cyborg is on our side. All the distractions are just about over!" "Hey kid, don't get cocky!" "It feels like it's been months since the Maelstrom Temple. It's only been a few days, how amazing is that?" ***** Kate turned to where her mother was standing. "Look, Mom," she said. "I'm eighteen, I don't need you watching me every minute. I know you love me, and I appreciate that you don't want to see me hurt, but I can take care of myself now." "Kate," Sarah said, a few tears swelling in her eyes. "I don't want to lose you!" "You won't," promised Kate. "Listen, Kate. Don't try to be a hero, okay?" "Mom," said Kate, "this is a chance for me to do something with my life. You can be helpful elsewhere. Go on!" Sarah looked at her daughter tearfully. "Go help Dad," Kate said. "Get down to the medical bay and give him a hand." Sarah nodded. "You love him too, don't you?" Kate asked. Sarah nodded again. "Well then, help him too. When we're done here, we'll be together again. Tell Pierce I said 'hi'." Sarah smiled and turned toward the door. Kate watched her mother leave with a look of uncertainty before turning back to her work. "Dad?" Zenna repeated. "Yeah," replied Kate. "Turns out Pierce was my dad this whole time." ***** Rotor turned toward Zelda, who was busy talking to Helm. "Look," Rotor shouted, "I hate to interrupt this reunion but we got more important things to be worrying about right now!" Zelda turned toward Rotor, pulling her bandana back over her mouth. "Well, excuse me!" Zelda snapped, crossing her arms. Rotor's face started to turn red with anger. "I'm trying to tie up a loose end here. I am fully aware of what's going on. I just rather go to my grave with amends made." She then turned back to Helm. "Well, will you help defeat the psycho half-god controlling the Mutant T-Rex in silver armor?" Helm wiped his eyes and nodded grimly. Zelda clasped him on the shoulder reassuringly before backing away. Kat clapped her hands together. "Alright," she said, giving Zelda a brief, curious look. "Let's keep this fight up, shall we?" "Indeed!" Solomon muttered loudly as he sliced through a Mutant Lizard's head, clearly back to focusing on the battle. Epic Winston nodded in agreement and joined him. Just before everyone was about to continue fighting, Lance Williams the surfer suddenly spoke up, having returned from the T-1 Typhoon he had been riding in. "Elite Agent Fabello's given the order for all ground forces to pull back to the headquarters for the final defense. They're all to hold back the Mutant Dinos so the superweapon-thing can be completed." Kara Wise looked up to the sky grimly. Mutant Pterosaurs were divebombing Dino Attack Headquarters. "I think it's best we get back into the sky, Rotor, Cabin. Try to hold off those Pterosaurs." Zelda nodded faintly, a sick knot forming in her stomach. If this "Einstein Device" she was hearing about was completed soon, they were finished. "Let's get going." With that, she and the rest of the group began to retreat back to the headquarters. As she ran towards the helicopter, her thoughts drifted back to Nazareno and Blaire. They still haven't returned, she realized, growing worried. ***** "Everything ready?" Pierce asked. "I think so," replied Copper. "Now it's just a matter of what happens above us." Shaw sat in the back of the room in fear. She held her cross tightly in her arms and prayed - only this time, she said it aloud, she wasn't embarrassed to be doing so, and at this point it seemed they needed all they could get. A little faith couldn't do much harm under the circumstances. Pierce was surprised when a familiar face stepped inside: a woman in her forties with long brown hair, equipped with a shotgun/flamethrower. He smiled. "Sarah!" Pierce ran up to her and hugged her tightly, Sarah dropping her weapon on the ground. "Your daughter say hi," she said. "How's Kate doing?" Pierce asked. "Fine," replied Sarah. "She told me to come down here, figured maybe I could help you." "Well," said Pierce, "at this point, we're starting to think about sealing this place off. Our only option right now is to take our chances down here." "You didn't want to take the teleporter upstairs before it was dismantled?" "With the base the way it's in now," Copper said, "we weren't taking any chances." "We have the equipment in the back," Crusher explained. "Maybe you and Montoya could give us a hand with the sealing process." "What about Kate?" "If they fail here," replied Pierce, "she'll get brought back to Antarctica where she'll be safe. When this is done, we'll be together again." "That's what she said to me," said Sarah. Pierce smiled. "Looks like we'll have to ride this one out down here," Wright murmured to Shiller's still-unconscious form. The elevator was naturally not working, and there was no way Shiller could be carried up the stairs, so all that could be done was keep him within the infirmary as Pierce and the others sealed them in. Sarah Bishop slowly worked her way up the stairs with a bucket of cement, Montoya behind her. The door was shut, and it was time to make sure it stayed that way. She dipped her brush into the bucket and started to run it along the edges. The hope was that it would keep the worst of things out; air could still be provided through the vents, but until they ran short of supplies, they'd have to hope that Mutant Dinos were unlikely to break in. ***** Hotwire drew a careful breath. This would be the third time in the past week that he would see a Creative Spark ripped from its owner and used for some other purpose. He tried to force the thought from his mind and concentrate on the Einstein Device, as Zach and Dr. Cyborg busily tried to figure out how to target it to Dr. Rex specifically. There is nothing I can do, I suppose, Andrew thought, in regards to Rex. He's made his choice. Guess I can only do what I can to make this easier. It was horrible to think about the sacrifices that had to be made for this battle, and the battle itself at this time certainly wasn't helping. Still, Andrew understood how necessary it was, and had been. Mur and Einstein during the last mission had made that clear. And despite all Andrew could think of to say Rex still had to live for, he understood that he wasn't merely throwing his life away. He was doing what he could to stick it to Dr. Rex and the Darkitect for good. The team in the lab began gathering together around the Einstein Device. Zach and Hertz were carrying their modified launcher, along with a boxful of parts they might need for the device proper. As they began the work they needed to do, Andrew tapped Zach on the shoulder. "Looks like it's almost over," he said to his battle-bonded friend and neighbor. Zach sighed. "Yeah. I just hope it's all worth it in the end." "It will be, it will be. Remember what I said during our little scuffle at camp? There's still a party waiting for us back home." "Heh, yeah," Zach said with a smirk. "If there isn't, I'm going to send whoever dictates our near-future a strongly-worded letter about his angsty-art obsession." ***** Semick's mind was in overdrive. The battle was growing harsher and harsher, and Semick, Attack, and Defend were nearly overloading their weapons. The Mutant Dinos were hitting hard now, and weren't taking any easy effort to stop. They were slowly overwhelming the ranks. He checked in with their allies over radio. "Osprey! How's your forces?!" The voice that came back was strong, but resigned. "Most of my men are gone. Dashworthy and most of her squad were downed, and Brickhouse got shot by a sniper earlier. We're on our last legs." He switched over to the Iron Hammer's frequency. "Magma! What about you?" "Our fighters are still numerous," said the Alpha Team agent, "but there's just too many of them. I'm afraid it's near the end for us." Semick was tired of pessimism. "Don't say that! We can win this! Specs and the others will have the Einstein Device ready; we just need to give them more time!" "Tell yourself what you have to, Semick," Swerve said over the Elite Agent frequency. "We need all the motivation we need right now." "Listen to the comm, the men clearly have it." "They're acknowledging that they're likely about to die." "Exactly." A chilling silence of voices came over the intercom and Semick's T-1 Typhoon. The Elite Agent turned to look at his crew. "Euh... Semick?" Bluetooth asked from the TALON-9 system. Semick had been thinking about it quietly ever since he had spoken with Andrew about possible ways to beat Dr. Rex. He had thought long and hard. About all he had done with the Power Miners and his foreman job (much, but he could've done more). About all he had done as a Dino Attack leader (plenty, but nothing that didn't qualify much until LEGO Island). About his role in life and desires for the future (not much, only jobs and bills and a handful of not-very-close friends). And finally, he had considered what his men had done, and why. Pointman stuck out in particular. His only problem was that his timing was off, Semick thought. He was too early; the stakes weren't properly high enough for it. Now, however... "Crew, if you don't want to be a part of this," the former Power Miner said as he lowered the T-1 Typhoon, "go right ahead. There's parachutes close to the door." Bluetooth simply stared. Attack and Defend, after looking at each other, quickly decided to get up and get their parachutes. "Uh, yeah," said Defend. "You're a good leader, Semick, and we've had fun, but I'm not sure we want to pull off such an act." "Agreed," said Attack. "I fully understand," Semick said to his gunners. "You have my wishes for the best." The men nodded and jumped out. Bluetooth still hesitated. "Well, Bluetooth?" Semick asked. The technician was muttering about something. Something about a message and Commander Vinyaya. "Er... yeah, I feel I should go, too," he said while grabbing the last parachute. "I know someone I don't want to leave." Semick nodded. "The world has too many widows and widowers. Go out there and be a family man." "I will." With a smirk, Bluetooth jumped out as well. Semick closed the door behind him. Then returning his attention to the radio, he prepared to give one last radio speech. ***** "Stay strong, men! If we have to give it all up to give us our chance, so be it!" "You heard the woman, stay strong!" "Ach! Darnit, Duke! Why'd you have to fail so bad?!" "They're pushing hard! I don-*KTZZZZZ* "That's it! No more 'Mr. Nice Guy'!" "Give it all you got! This is the end!" "About time." "I'm ready to die, dinos. Just try and scare me." "Come get some." Dino Attack team was in its final standoff. Willa the Witch was captured, Dr. Inferno was down for the count, and XERRD had called a truce, but the Mutant Dinos pushed on. Nearly two-thirds of their numbers had been killed since the start of the battle about ten hours ago, but still they were not giving up. Nor was Dino Attack. United with what was left of Alpha Team, Agents, and XERRD's attack forces, they were continuing to fire all they had at the charging mutant overgrown reptiles. They were dying by the half-dozen, true, but it only strengthened their resolve by now. Gone was the fear they had felt when they had first met the massive enemy force across the river. They knew that if they gave up now, all they knew would be lost. There was no other option that would leave any Minifig's Creative Spark free of guilt. It was do or die. The final countdown. The eleventh hour. They had their weapon. Up above, in the creaking remains of the besieged Dino Attack Headquarters, the bulk of the Elite Agents were finishing their efforts to finally take out the Mutant Dinos' current ringleader. They were almost there now, just a little bit longer. Just a little bit longer. "Bye-bye, Babylon." "You magnificent friend, I read your book!" "We're not going to die! We're going to live, rebuild everything into a golden age of peace, have grandkids, and Ole knows what else! We're not going to die!" "I'm going to see Atlantis with my own eyes if it's the last thing I do!" "Live or die. It doesn't matter now. Nobody's a redshirt. We're all heroes." "I don't even care about references anymore. 'Yippie-ki-yay, motherZnappers!'" "That's the attitude we need! C'mon, this is just a game to us! Let's show these cocky evildoers that heroes really do always win!" Out there, in the front side of Dino Attack HQ and the remains of the blocks of LEGO City around it, every agent made their final stand. Laxus continued to drive his team's Fire Hammer through the ranks, ramming Mutant Lizards and Raptors by the dozen. The front side was a banged-up wreck, but he charged on. The more these creatures went down, the better for him to survive and help ensure there was a world for him to continue the work he had started as a young Martian on Mars so long ago. On the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher, Catless and Pterisa continued to man the cannon with extreme devotion. Catless had lost a very dear friend today, and she was not going to let that death be in vain. Pterisa was determined as ever to survive and begin a good life with Minifigkind, to make clear that her kind was not pure chaos. They were united in their task, and they weren't backing down now. Running hard through the hordes armed with only a pistol, Bluetooth joined the ranks of agents literally on their last legs. He ran through, handgun blazing in one hand while PDA beeping in the other, as he strove to avoid death. Finally, a Fire Hammer pulled up and let him in, and the Futuron technician hopped in to meet up with Holly Vinyaya and Minerva Fabello in their own standoff against the hordes. Together, Bluetooth felt his future chances brighten quite a bit. In the ruins of the Enderson's pub where Pharisee, Trigger, and Amanda Claw's stories had intersected to their climax point, Stranger and countless other Dino Attack snipers thinned the ranks with each shot. They were sending dozens of Mutant Lizards and Raptors to the floor, but still they came at the main forces. Their activity was soon to lose its privacy though, as a Mutant T-Rex had caught sight of them and was wandering towards them. But for individuals like Stranger, who was having the time of his life and was hoping for that one perfect trophy for his new living room wall, and Buddy, who was ready to do what he needed to make clear that his kind could live through this with some hope for the future, it was just another obstacle to jump. Driving the mysterious black-and-teal Urban Avenger, Sherlock sent Mutant Dino after Mutant Dino flying. He was redeeming himself from his folly during the schism with each passing shot, and the vehicle he drove gave him a sense of focus on fighting the monsters all around him, metaphorically and literally. There was no stopping him now. Up above in one of the T-1 Typhoons that had come to reinforce the team earlier, bringing back Zenna and Rosalie Mercedes with them, was another old ally. Titan had returned with them from guard duty at LEGO Island to join the reinforcements for the final battle. He was stern and near-unemotional as ever, but he knew perfectly well what was going on, and if his future meant being hit by a lightning bolt as his world came to a crashing halt, so be it. He would do his part. Also in the air was the rising former lawyer who was about to meet his grandest case yet. Rockford had understood the gravity of the situation, and had joined the ranks of those coming back home to support the team. He was still not a fighter, but he knew where his place was when the call came, and where the leaders were expected to be. He was ready to face the final battle, and all the darkness he might encounter for joining. In a two-seated Urban Avenger, three men fought with guns blazing through the ranks of enemies. One, agent Walker, was in near-psychotic rage as he fired his pistol into his crowd of Mutant Raptors, screaming about something to do with a credit card. The other, agent Lovhaug, used a unique kind of laser pistol that had the body of a pirate flintlock, and occasionally punched Mutant Lizards in the gun while screaming about his manhood. Supporting them was a cackling mad XERRD scientist by the name of Dr. Insano, who was clinging to their rollbars while pointing strange scientific devices at the hordes, decimating them in the process. Together, they seemed quite humorous, but they were undeniably doing much damage in their final stand. They were all united in one task: Fighting to finish off the Mutant Dinos' attacks for good. "This is for all the friends you've killed!" "This is for the Second Headquarters Squad! Give 'em MegaBlokland, boys!" "This is for Condr, Sereve, Rev, Claw, Redshirt, Mur, Louis 'Dryptosaurus', and every other agent you monsters have led to the loss of!" "This is for all the damage you've done to our world!" "This is for how stupid your designs all are!" "This is for ruining my family reunion!" "This is for all the misery you've wrought for the past year!" "This is for LEGO Island!" "This is for the Goo Caverns!" "This is for Fort Legoredo!" "This is for World City!" "This is for LEGO Studios!" "This is for Antarctica!" "This is for Adventurers' Island!" "This is for Mount Bricklake!" "This is for the rest of the world!" "This is for the LEGO Planet!" "THIS IS FOR EVERYTHING!" "This is Elite Agent Semick. Men, women, persons of indeterminable gender, I want you to know how proud I have been to serve you in this war. You've all done good, and I couldn't be more grateful for how well we've fought. I want to take this moment simply to say goodbye, and to not grieve with my departure, merely know that I fight to prolong our final stand, and to ensure you can keep fighting in my name and memory. So long, and thanks for all the fun." ***** Now alone in his T-1 Typhoon, Semick could see the closing-in figure of Dr. Rex, finally coming in to finish the job at last. The former smiled a grim smile. Now was the time. He fired his XL-4 Voltaic Launcher cannon, doing nothing but cause slight bother. But it was enough. The beast's attention was caught. It charged at the T-1 Typhoon, but Semick flew up, narrowly avoiding the Maelstrom's tendrils. The monster seemed to want to just ignore it and moved back to face HQ. Semick responded with another barrage of firepower to the creature's head. "YOUR FIGHT IS WITH ME!" Semick cried. "C'MON, GET YOUR REVENGE FOR WHAT I DID TO YOUR SUBWAY SURPRISE!" The creature was definitely focusing his rage on him now. Semick turned around and flew back out towards said ruined subway exits where the beast had arrived hours earlier. The Mutant T-Rex followed close behind, roaring as it slowly caught up. Five tense seconds passed. He was ten yards from the T-1 Typhoon's tail. Five more seconds. Dr. Rex began closing his maw on it. Semick hit the reverse and threw his T-1 Typhoon backwards into the dinosaur's maw. The vehicle wedged its back right in Dr. Rex's mouth, and for several seconds, managed to choke the beast out of surprise and mouth pains. But it didn't last long. The Maelstrom furnace of his mouth began making quick work of the T-1 Typhoon, and the teeth quickly clamped down on it, quickening the process. From the cockpit, Semick looked back to see the hot furnace enveloping his T-1 Typhoon, and the Maelstrom tendrils sweeping upwards towards him. For a brief moment, he flashed through his decently long life. His school years. His time playing in sandboxes. Watching the Space Race in action. Starting his work in the mines. Saving Josh Burke's life in the cave-in. Becoming a foreman. Learning of the Rock Raiders. The earthquakes that brought him to the Power Miners. The Mutant Dino attacks. Joining the team. His encounter with Zero. Becoming an Elite Agent. Serving on Adventurers' Island. The final battle. Randal "Semick" Tennoly smiled and leaned back in his chair, and looked out his cockpit window as the Maelstrom tendrils wrapped around the view. "It's been a good life," the veteran man said happily. A shroud of purple-black and what felt like eons of pain later, he was gone. ***** Nazareno was climbing the stairwell to the second floor of Dino Attack Headquarters, clashing swords with Blaire. Even with one sword, Blaire was not giving away anything. Nazareno felt sweat drip down his cheek. Their duel only stopped to cut away Mutant Lizards that came to close to their proximity; even if they were rivals, their goal of saving this planet remained. Blaire stepped onto the second floor carefully. "Time is running out, Kareem," Blaire said irritably as he blocked Nazareno's katanas with relative ease. "We need to wrap this up. This is the final stand." Nazareno swung hard at Blaire's neck. The former assassin brought his blade upward and held back Nazareno's blow. Nazareno was already swinging his other sword when Blaire lashed out and grabbed Nazareno's arm. A sharp kick to the stomach later, Nazareno's left sword was sent spiraling down a hole back to the first floor. "More evened odds, wouldn't you agree?" Blaire hissed with relish, his smirk. Nazareno adjusted his style quickly and continued the fight. They exchanged rapid blows, showering sparks everywhere. Purple fire reflected off of Blaire's sunglasses. He wouldn't give anything. Blaire wanted to finally kill the great Kareem Nazareno while Nazareno wanted to final end the terror of Blaire "Matthew Vherestorm" Darkling. "You claim to have changed your ways," Nazareno snarled, smacking Blaire's katana upward. "But you truly haven't. Matthew Vherestorm is in control, not you." Blaire's face twisted into an ugly frown. "If you truly wanted to do good, you would stop this petty fight and be back out there holding the line!" "I am not Vherestorm!" Blaire roared, swinging his sword hard. Nazareno responded with his own swing. The swords collided with an ear-ringing clang and were sent flying in different directions. The two combatants clutched their hands in pain. "He is dead!" Blaire snapped. "The man I see before me is most certainly Matthew Vherestorm," Nazareno said, clipping the side of Blaire's fist with a punch, sending him tumbling into a ruined wall. "Let go of this, Darkling. Once you do, Matthew Vherestorm will truly be dead." Nazareno wasn't sure what he was doing. Perhaps he could see that there was good in Blaire Darkling, but it was being overshadowed by an old persona threatening to rise back in control. As much as he hated the man, he would give him the chance to redeem himself. Blaire rose quickly and sent two punches toward Nazareno. The space ninja swung his arm upward and blocked one, but his cheek was hit hard by Blaire's other punch. Blaire then gripped his shoulders and slapped his forehead into Nazareno's. Nazareno stumbled back, surprised by the sudden ferocity of Blaire's attack. "I am in control," Blaire snarled, gripping Nazareno's forehead tightly. Nazareno sent a punch straight to Blaire's midsection, knocking the wind out of him. Nazareno kicked his lower chin, sending XERRD's leader back. Blaire quickly recovered and wrapped his hand around Nazareno's throat before slamming him against a wall. "You are a fool, Kareem Nazareno. I will take great pleasure in finally ending your life. But first..." Blaire was cut off as Nazareno wrapped his hands around Blaire's throat and squeezed hard. Blaire retched and swung his forearm into Nazareno's head. Before the space ninja could rise, Blaire curb-stomped his back, sending him smashing into the ground. With one foot on his back, Blaire lifted Nazareno's head upward by the neck. "It's time to see the face of my greatest opponent," Blaire snarled. He quickly tightened his grip around the top of Nazareno's ninja cowl and, before Nazareno could throw him off, yanked it off of his head. Nazareno jerked his body abruptly, causing Blaire's foot to slip. Nazareno flipped himself over and, with little mercy, gripped Blaire's boot and shoved it away. Blaire flew back and went crashing through a wooden desk. Nazareno rose to his feet and glared at his fallen opponent. Blaire was soon back on his feet. A smirk formed on his face as he threw Nazareno's cowl to the side. "Well, I'm not sure what I was expecting." Nazareno's head was wet, not from rain, but from sweat. He was completely bald and cleanly shaven; not a hair was on his head except for his lightly-colored eyebrows. He had small, piercing black eyes and numerous creases around on his cheeks and around his mouth. Despite being in his early thirties and being extremely flexible and athletic, Nazareno's face gave off the impression of someone much older. He wasn't really attractive, but he was hardly ugly either. Nazareno wiped sweat away from his mouth, which was quickly forming into hateful, venomous stare as anger began to boil inside him. The only time his mask was ever removed was when he was in medical care. And to have it removed by his rival made the action even more insulting. "Maybe I was expecting some handsome badbrick with long flowing blond hair?" Blaire said with a shrug. "A bit lackluster appearance, Kareem. Anticlimactic, if you will." Blaire smirk began to fade away as he could finally see how visibly angry Nazareno was. Before he could make a comment, a fist that felt like a ton of brick was thrown at his head, sending him smashing into another wall. ***** "Mac, you want to take over flying this thing?" Rotor asked as he jumped back into the helicopter. "Sure thing," replied Mac. "I haven't flown one of these things in three days." "Alright then," said Rotor as Mac climbed into the cockpit. "What do we do?" Cabin asked. "You and I stay back here. I think we'll get a better view of the battle here and it'll be a lot easier to give orders. Besides, it's practicality. I figure you and I could use a short break from flying, Mac here hasn't gotten a chance in the cockpit at all." Snake was thrown against the back. "You, with the purple hair!" Rotor shouted. "What's your name again?" "Zelda." "Zelda, right," said Rotor, then pointed to Snake. "Watch him close. I don't want him causing any trouble." As Kara Wise climbed into the copilot's seat of the T-1 Typhoon, Mac brought it into the air. "Get us toward HQ," Rotor said. "Yes sir," replied Mac. There was a moment of silence before Cabin spoke up. "Aren't we forgetting something?" she asked. "What?" asked Rotor. "The music?" "Music?" repeated Rotor. "Of course! Mac, take a look through that radio's library. See if you can find me some Wagner." "I got a bunch of things here," replied Mac. "Get me 'Ride of the Valkyries'," ordered Rotor. "Scares the MegaBloks out of everybody." "Coming right up," said Mac. He hit a switch, and a moment later those opening notes played, and within seconds, the iconic tune of "Ride of the Valkyries" echoed through the city. ***** As Semick's T-1 Typhoon erupted in a ball of flame, Swerve yelled over the comms. "Now, while he's busy! If you're in range, hit him with everything you've got!" Volley after volley from the Cryothermic Cannons and Xenon Multi-Mode Launchers struck Dr. Rex, but the shots hardly affected the monstrosity. ***** Dr. Cyborg shot the window out. Normally this would seem insane, but when there is a Mutant Pterosaur right under the window helping you, it's sane. He hopped right onto Screech's back and soared away. He saw Cyrista's Bane running towards headquarters with Dr. Inferno in his claw. He jumped off Screech and landed on Bane's head. "Don't mind me Bane, just getting a Maelstrom sample. Nice job capturing Dr. Inferno, though," Dr. Cyborg said. "Thank you, Dr. Cyborg," Bane said as Screech picked up Dr. Cyborg and they left. Screech and Dr. Cyborg flew over the battle, looking for the other Maelstrom-corrupted parts of the team. They saw Enderson's bar being attacked by a Mutant Dino, but Dr. Cyborg could sense a Mutant Lizard inside. He dropped down onto the enemy Mutant T-Rex, since the bar was filled with snipers who were ineffective in close combat. He switched over to Hypermode and shot the T-Rex in the head, instantly killing it. He ran up to the bar. Stranger thanked him, but he waved it off and ran up to Buddy. He touched the Mutant Lizard's back, extracting a small sample of Maelstrom from him. He ran back out, jumped on Screech and flew out of the area. He saw a Fire Hammer driving towards HQ with Pterisa and Catless on the back. He flew alongside them. "Pterisa, I need you to fly alongside me for a moment. I need to take a sample of your Maelstrom," Dr. Cyborg said. "Okay, Dr. Cyborg," Pterisa said as she jumped out of the Fire Hammer and glided. Dr. Cyborg reached over to her hand, and extracted a small bit of Maelstrom. "Thank you!" he said as he flew away back to the headquarters. However, on a whim, he jumped off of Screech onto the back of Dr. Rex! Dr. Rex roared and tried to throw him off, but not before he pulled some Maelstrom off of his back. He ran up Dr. Rex's back and onto his head, and just as Dr. Rex reared back and roared, he jumped off. Screech picked him up in midair, and he steered her towards the lab. He jumped back in the window of the lab. He discharged the Maelstrom samples into holding tanks in the Einstein Device and hooked up sensors to distinguish the signatures. He put the panel back on, sealed it up, and put it back on the table. "The Einstein Device is ready!" he announced. The Elite team was hard at work now. Specs, Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, and Kate were working hard now on the final mechanical and programming tinkers with the device to make sure it was completely and utterly ready. Zach was in a meditative-like stance, focusing his energies for what he would need to do with his Maelstrom abilities. Hertz and Andrew were making the final adjustments to the launcher, improving the barrel and trigger to ensure a better launch of the Device. Dr. Cyborg was preparing his tools for the finer integration of the Maelstrom and Rex's Creative Spark into the device, including preparing a device to acquire the latter. Rex himself stood aside with Frozeen and Greybeard, a somber look on their faces. Looking at them, Andrew figured that they were taking in what time they had left together to the best of their abilities, considering the latter two were still busy guarding the entrance from the intruding Mutant Lizards. Frozeen was perhaps Rex's last friend from the beginnings of his tour of duty that was still alive or active, and Greybeard perhaps knew the Elite Agent better than Rex knew himself, considering how alike they seemed at times. He probably preferred to keep to himself for now, but if Andrew was good at one thing besides building, pop-culture references, and being a walking encyclopedia, it was talking to people and trying to help out with their problems. And now was as good a time as ever. There would not be another chance soon. Andrew scrawled a note on Hertz's notepad, saying: You can handle this for a bit, right? There's something I need to do. He gave it to him, and his deaf comrade nodded in acknowledgment. Taking hold of the Einstein Device proper and starting to go through the parts, Hertz took over the device while Andrew walked over near the exit to the lab. "Hey, uh, Rex?" Andrew asked. "Hmmph?" the Elite Agent said, looking up from his chest. "Something wrong with the launcher?" "No, it's going well. I just... I need to talk to you about something." "Don't bother trying to change my mind," Rex said dismissively. "I've made it up, I'm going through with this." "I know, I know, it's not about that." "Oh?" Rex said, his eyebrow raised. "What is it then?" Andrew took in a deep breath. "Rex, before you go do... you know, follow in Dr. Einstein's footsteps and all, let me just say how much I hold in respect to you. "You've left a bigger impact on this team like no one else. You were one of the first to join the team and become an Elite Agent. You were the one who intervened the most during the early days' biggest events, like Kotua's bout of crazy and... every other crazy thing. You gave strength to the idealist goals of taming Mutant Dinos and bringing out their good side. You got the attention of everyone in this team when your status as a T-Rex in a Minifig disguise was revealed. You and your brother were the ones who uncovered at last the mystery behind who caused this whole attack. Your return and participation in the power station crisis was a sign of hope and rallying when people like Databoard, Zero, and Kotua had disappeared or been let go. "By the time of the Goo Caverns, your name and quotes were in the recruitment pamphlets they handed out in Antarctica. You may think you've really done nothing for us in terms of real value, that your actions have only led to the death of others, but trust me, that isn't true. Your name still brings up feelings of respect among the team gossip. You're among the few agents that people can name off the top of their head beyond the Founding Members. There's a song circulating around the refugee camps about how much of an awesome man you are. You've been valuable to the war effort in more ways than we know. And we love you for it. "I know you haven't gotten to know many of us personally. At most, we're comrades, or just battle-bonded friends. But we know you, respect you, and treat you nicely not just because of what you've done, but for who you are. You've been accommodating and resilient throughout all we've faced. Learning you were meant to be a tool to sabotage us from the inside, surviving on your own with Amanda as Mutant T-Rexes, surviving and escaping Dr. Rex himself, being captured, constantly escaping battle without a hair out of place, losing your leg control, and now everything that this battle has thrown at you. That you're here now, that you're doing this. You've stayed strong, and while your personality may've changed, your idealism thrown down to earth and stomped on for good measure, you're still the same man we've known for the past few months. "We will never forget what you've done. I swear, if no one else does it, I will make sure your name is known. We'll have statues of you, books about your story, documentaries featuring your accounts high alongside others, and places will be named after you in eternal memorial. King Jayko, Artimus Rhodes, Johnny Thunder, the Infomaniac, the LEGO Maniac, Pepper Roni... Rex. You're going to go down in legend, I just know it. "All I can say now, I suppose, is this. Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done, and know that you and all you cared for will not be forgotten. And when you do what has to be done by you and help your comrades to defeat the enemies, do it knowing that we all will miss you." Andrew stopped for a moment to catch his breath and catch a reaction. From the looks of it, Rex didn't look too moved, but he had a slight, almost sad smile to his face. "Thanks for the kind words, Andrew," he said. "You're welcome. Oh, and if you see Baron Typhonus, tell him I said 'F-'" "ANDREW, WHERE DOES THIS PART GO?" The LEGO Islander turned back, long used to Hertz's inability to have an indoor voice now. The communications expert was holding up one of several near-identical 1x1 studs with a look of confusion. Andrew couldn't blame him. So many parts used that shape in near-identical form it was hard to tell what they were often meant to be. "Heh, guess I'm needed again," Andrew remarked. "And I know you'll be needed too, Rex. Good luck out there." "You too," said the veteran Dino Attack agent. They had both used different meanings of the term "out there" - Rex referring basically to outside and the rest of the world and the young man's life, and Andrew referring to whatever awaited the T-Rex-turned-Minifig beyond the mortal realm. With a nod of farewell, Andrew jogged back to Hertz's side. ***** "We're coming in close," Mac said. "Rotor, what's your plan?" "Get us on the ground," instructed Rotor. "Obviously, some of our guys here would be better down there." Mac brought the helicopter into a small empty road about a block away from the front of the Dino Attack Headquarters. Zelda, Helm, Solomon, and the rest climbed out of the chopper. Quickly, Rotor grabbed Snake and pulled him to his feet before throwing him out. "Why don't you take him with you?" Rotor shouted. "Put him to use." Snake groaned slightly as he got up. There was suddenly a slight hissing noise coming from nearby: a Mutant Lizard, which started to approach before it suddenly exploded. Rotor looked up, at the top of a nearby building. There was a rough-looking one-eyed man riding a scarf-wearing Mutant Raptor. "KA-BOOM!" he shouted. Out of the smoke stepped another man, a man with a long white trench coat and a gray mustache. He was chuckling wildly. "Don't look now, but I think we've just got reinforcements," Rotor remarked. Amid the smoke, a group of other figures emerged. Among them were two gunslingers: one a tall man with a thin beard and a brown hat, the other clad in black with a thick dark mustache. There were three women: one was a pirate accompanied by a naval officer, another looking like a gunslinger, and a pale-skinned accompanied by an older man wearing a firefighter's helmet and carrying a flamethrower. "Y'all will have to forgive Firecracker here," Maria said. "That there man loves to make an entrance." Firecracker smiled. Angel Eyes stuck his pipe into his mouth and lit it. "Indeed," replied Angel Eyes. "They call me Angel Eyes. This is my partner, codenamed Blondie." Clint Wayne stared at the others, only moving to spit for a second. "I know you," Clint said as he bit down on a cigar, staring straight at Rotor. "I thought we dealt with you already." Snake slowly got to his feet and started to run. Clint drew his revolver and fired, and quickly the man stumbled to the ground. He walked up to him slowly, his spurs echoing in the empty street. As Snake started to get up, Clint turned him around and grabbed him by the collar. "Snake? I thought you were dead," Clint remarked. "I'm agent Rotor," the elite agent introduced himself to the Third Headquarters Squad. "This is my second-in-command Cabin, fellow pilot Mac, gunner Lance Williams-" "Lance Williams?" Angel Eyes asked. "The surfer?" ***** Zach rubbed his wrists gently as Dr. Cyborg finished the final preparations. Things had suddenly become extremely morbid. Word came over the radio in the lab that Semick had been killed by Dr. Rex. Everyone was more determined than ever to finally defeat Dr. Rex and the Darkitect. From the radio, Zach was happy to hear Minerva's voice. There was sense of reclusiveness in her voice as she commanded the agents to pull back and defend the direct perimeter of the headquarters. She made no mention of any of her ordeals. He could only assume that Oswald was dead. He felt a shred of remorse for the older Fabello's death, knowing how much the Dino Attack truly broke him. He turned his stare to Rex, who was talking to Andrew. Zach swallowed hard. First Semick, and now Rex would die. Andrew would have something good to say. He usually did. Nothing he could say would stop Rex from surrendering his Creative Spirit to the Einstein Device, but he doubted that was Andrew's intention. His one last blow to the Darkitect would save the entire planet. Zach thought to people like J.D. and Tracer, who had given their Creative Sparks to save the likes of him and Zelda. Rex was saving the entire Minifig race with his sacrifice. He was almost tempted to say something to Rex, but couldn't find anything really uplifting to say that wasn't already probably being said by Andrew. He cracked his knuckles. The Maelstrom in Rex's body would try to prevent his Creative Spark from leaving. He would do everything in his power to hold it back so that spark could be extracted. You're finished, Darkitect. Zach thought with determination. ***** B ran. He saw the jeep outside LEGOLAND Special Forces HQ. Right past the men and women fighting for their lives. Tempest ran into the building. B followed. He bashed his way through the front door and caught a glimpse of a body heading up the stairs. He followed his adversary. "Time to pay the price, Tempest," said B. B sprinted, his energy seemingly limitless. He knew that he was killing himself, but he had one single objective. One last mission. Ironic that my last mission is the first one that I really ever got. The stairs seemed endless. He could hear Tempest, maybe a flight ahead of him, clearly getting tired. A door slammed above him. The end was near. B opened the door. "Déjà vu. Right, Tempest?" he said. "Exactly, Benton. Except for one thing." Tempest drew his sidearm, and in one swift motion, cocked it, and shot B in the chest. And suddenly, sense returned to B's body. It was like being slammed repeatedly into the ground by a person twice your strength. It pulsed, like his heart, struggling to keep up. And he fell. ***** Chris had lost track of how many Lizards he had slashed and sliced with his sword. He looked back and surprised, saw B running towards the LEGOLAND Special Forces HQ. He turned away from the battle and ran. The other members of his squad noticed as well, and they followed. Dino Attack agents yelled at them, incredulous, but they took no notice. As they entered the HQ, they noticed something. "Blood," whispered Chris. Ezekiel was the first to act. He ran, sprinting up the stairs, following the irregularly shaped patches of blood. The rest of the squad followed, trying to keep up. Ezekiel managed to outdistance the rest of them, and reached the roof. A minifig stood on the edge of the roof. "Hello, Ezekiel," said Tempest. "Peter," replied Ezekiel. "Interesting to see you again. You certainly managed to keep busy since we last saw each other. Interesting that your name is what it is." "What, Tempest?" asked Tempest. Ezekiel shook his head. "No, Peter. Your actual name. Three betrayals, Peter. First, you betrayed Ogel more than ten years ago. Then, you betrayed Spec Ops. And finally, you betrayed me." "How?" said Tempest, but then he paused as he remembered. "Oh, right. You had a thing going where you were trying to kill this guy! You're mad that I stole your kill, right? Well, he's not dead yet, so you can shoot him if you want." He gestured towards B's unmoving body. Ezekiel locked eyes with Tempest. "Peter, did we ever learn each other's last names?" "No, we didn't. Just first names," replied Tempest. "Well, then let me introduce myself properly. I am Ezekiel Kabrinsky, and this agent is under my protection." Tempest looked at Ezekiel with a look of true fear in his eyes. Ezekiel ran and tackled Tempest. They fell. As the ground came closer and closer, Tempest chuckled. "Well played, old friend." "Oh, it was my pleasure, Peter," replied Ezekiel. "You always did like the bits of my plans that you didn't see coming, right?" "Absolutely correct." Impact. ***** Minerva smiled faintly as Bluetooth climbed into Fire Hammer. They had responded to his message rather quickly. "Good to see you alive, Bluetooth," she said. "To you two as well," Bluetooth said. Minerva nodded and continued to work. She was surprised to see everyone pulling back to guard the headquarters under her orders. They needed it now more than ever, as the Darkitect decided to stop waiting and sent Dr. Rex lumbering toward the headquarters. Semick had already perished from the beast and, although being peppered with fire, Dr. Rex continued toward the headquarters mostly unfazed. Minerva fired at a group of Mutant Lizards swarming a medical Fire Hammer. Near the side of the jeep was Doctor Marco Martinet and Elite Agent Rosalie Mercedes, both fighting fiercely against the oncoming waves of Mutant Dinos. They stayed extremely close to each other as Marco swung his hammer into a Raptor's skull and Rosalie paralyzed another with her Sonic Screamer. Not far from them, a rainbow-haired woman who Minerva realized was Raine Dashworthy, another Agents friend of Zach's, was fighting against her own pack of Mutant Dinos with a group of Dino Attack, Agents, Alpha Team, and XERRD members. Minerva turned her head briefly to Vinyaya. Even with the light of the world fading into night, she could see the Space Police Commando blushing. She clearly wasn't prepared to talk with Bluetooth. Minerva remembered Zach's sentiment about getting Vinyaya and Bluetooth together after this battle. Now's the best time, she thought with a smirk. "Hey Bluetooth," Minerva said as she turned around in her seat. "Why don't you take control of Xenon Launcher from here while I go back and use a Cosmotronic Ray? I've become rather skilled at using them." Vinyaya shot Minerva a look of incredulousness. Minerva merely smirked. "Uh, sure," Bluetooth said. Minerva nodded and climbed into the back while Bluetooth shifted to the front seat. Minerva picked up a Cosmotronic Ray and started aiming at Mutant Raptors while Bluetooth took control of the Xenon Launcher controls up front. "So, Commander," Bluetooth said, just the barest hint of uncertainty in his voice. "How's your... ah..." He gestured to the right side of his face. Minerva suppressed a chuckle as she saw Vinyaya's cheeks turn an even brighter red. For all her combat skills, Vinyaya seemed very insecure of herself, romance-wise. "Oh, it's fine," Vinyaya said, retaining an air of calmness in her voice. "I just took a few more pills that suppress the pain in the scars. Trying to adjust with shooting primarily with my left hand, but I still find myself using the right." Vinyaya chuckled quietly. "Should you really be driving?" Bluetooth asked curiously. Vinyaya scoffed slightly. "They didn't want me out here in the first place. I'm sure the doctor that wanted me to stay behind would split a brick if he saw me driving a jeep around." They two laughed at this statement. Minerva allowed a small smile to form on her face. They were talking with no awkward stammering or anything. The weird tension was lowering. "So, about your message you sent earlier..." Vinyaya began, finally touching on the subject that was ultimately making her somewhat on the edge. "Yeah, you saw that?" Bluetooth responded, scratching the back of his head with one hand as he fired upon a group of Mutant Lizards. He seemed somewhat embarrassed, probably stemming from that he wrote that message when he believed he was about to die. Vinyaya smiled faintly. "Yeah, I saw it. And so did Miss Matchmaker back there and her partner." She jerked her thumb back at Minerva, who smiled apologetically at Bluetooth. "It-it's alright if you're not up for it," Bluetooth said hurriedly. "I-I mean like I said in the message... we're probably just better as friends, commander. We-" He sort of drifted off as he saw Vinyaya laughing quietly. "First," she said, "you can call me Holly, if you'd like." "Uh, okay, Com - I mean, Holly." "Now," Vinyaya continued, becoming more reserved once again. "Bluetooth... Ryan... I never said I was opposed to..." She shrugged. "Trying something, so to speak. Getting to know you better as a person instead of a technician-turned-Dino Attack agent who happens to be a part of a group that I lived with as a teenager." Vinyaya's features turned hard and took a quick look back at Minerva, who was smugly watching her. "After we send Dr. Rex to MegaBlokland, we'll talk more about this, I promise." Bluetooth smiled weakly. "I... I think that will work." All three of them suddenly jumped as something landed on the hood of the vehicle. It was the body of a Fright Knight dressed in a coat of armor. Another body quickly landed on the hood and kicked the body off. Vinyaya's face twisted into a scowl. "What are you doing?!" she yelled out the window, rain smacking her in the face. The figure suddenly ducked down, revealing the face of Zelda Frodongan. Vinyaya raised an eyebrow, but stopped the vehicle so Zelda could climb in. "I'm glad I found you guys!" Zelda said as she closed the door quickly. "Zach's up in the headquarters?" "Yeah," Minerva said, surprised by the woman's sudden appearance. "What's going on? Where's Nazareno?" "I just got a lift over here. I was hoping to find you because..." She stopped, her features becoming more serious. "I think Nazareno's in trouble. I think Darkling's betrayed us." ***** The joy of seeing Zenna again quickly disappeared as soon as what Rex said dawned on Hertz. The elite agent had not been able to hear what Rex had said but the heartbreaking truth dawned on him when he felt the elation of seeing an old friend shift to a somber mood. Hertz did not want to say anything. He did not want to acknowledge that Rex would be willing to sacrifice himself; while he had never been close to Rex, he respected him deeply. It pained him to watch the icon of the Dino Attack Team fall into depression. The details were a mystery; he understood that Amanda was gone and his heart went out to him, but no one had yet told Hertz about Rex's few weeks to live. That crucial detail was still lacking in the techie's mind, and he found himself pondering why no one else could make the sacrifice. Rex was a hero to the team and, if he died, victory would feel far less sweet. Hertz had not made many friends since joining the Dino Attack Team. He had yet to experience the loss of someone he cared about. Raider and Mur had only been acquaintances. He had worked with Zenna briefly and, although her near-death was horrible, he always gave himself comfort that she was alive. Now elite agent Zenna was back, and Rex would be the first person Hertz truly knew to die. Followed by the other elite agents, Zach and Hertz lifted the Einstein Device from the table and over to the last remaining flight of stairs. Reptile and Doctor Cyborg followed them, carrying a box of extra parts that might be needed if the weapon failed. The plan was to take the device aboard a T-1 Typhoon when they could have a clear shot at Dr. Rex and the battle below. Viper was expected to meet them there so he could have the honors of pulling the trigger. As Hertz waited for Hotwire and Kate to lift Rex's wheelchair up the flight of stairs, he nodded to Zenna. "GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK, ZENNA," he said. Ha! Nailed the voice volume! Elite agent Zenna smiled but raised her eyebrow at Hertz's speech. "Why are you talking so loud? What happened to your arm?" Hertz shook his head. "WHAT?" "What happened to your arm?" Zenna asked again. Andrew tapped Zenna on the shoulder. "He can't hear you Zenna," he said. "He's deaf as a doornail. There was an explosion earlier today and he lost his hearing. The arm's a long story." Andrew paused. "For the record, Zenna, it is good to have you back. We thought you were finished at the fortress. It was hard for all of us, seeing you hooked up to those machines." Zenna shrugged. "Geez, I was only out for four days." She playfully elbowed Andrew's arm. "But thanks for caring." The exchange between Andrew and Zenna was enigmatic to Hertz. He was getting used to being left out of conversations. He had been for a lot of his life. The only difference now was that he could no longer eavesdrop. Hotwire and Kate had taken Rex's wheelchair up the flight of stairs and were opening the door to the roof of the building. Hertz felt the cold rain rush in and drench the occupants of the stairwell. Thankfully, the Einstein Device was waterproof. Dr. Cyborg had taken the liberty of adding extra plates to protect it from the leaky roof. Hertz felt a helicopter pass by overhead. Most agents heard it, but Hertz felt the change in wind direction when its rotors spun above him. Looking past the agents in front of him, he spied the craft hover near the landing pad that was currently occupied by Zenna's T-1 Typhoon. The pilot, apparently annoyed by the lack of a parking space instructed the occupant to disembark from the craft and land on the wet roof. He tightened his black trench coat and ran across the storm to the cover of the stairwell. "Some fool parked their helicopter on the pad," muttered Pharisee. "I would have preferred to land my Typhoon but someone took my place. Oh, hello Zenna." "What brings you up here, Commander?" inquired Specs flatly. "I thought you were out gallivanting across the city on your own personal mission." "My job has been fulfilled," said Pharisee stone-faced. "Trigger is dead, there is one less unrighteous soul on this planet. Only one more great evil remains to be struck down this day. I would have come sooner, but understandably the battle was somewhat of a distraction when bringing my helicopter." Hertz saw Specs roll his eyes through his balaclava. "We don't have time for your self-righteous sermons, Commander. If you actually want to contribute something worthwhile to this day, go and help clear the base of mutants. Graybeard and Frozeen are buying us time; go find them and clear these halls as best you can when we activate the device." Pharisee nodded and brushed his muscled form past the agents on the stairwell. "It is my duty to protect the sanctity of this organization, Specs. I live to protect the righteous from the forces of darkness beseeching them. My duty is to minifigkind, and I serve minifigkind today by striking down those who wish to destroy it." The commander pulled his ridiculously oversized handgun from beneath his coat and walked purposefully down the stairs. "You are all good men and women; it is for the likes of you that I commit the sins I do. I will do what is necessary to ensure your futures." The commander disappeared down the flight of stairs. Spec's muttered something incomprehensible about pious sons of 4+ Figures before stepping on to the roof of the outpost. Hertz was vaguely aware of the lightning flashing above them when they moved closer to the edge of the building. The battle was in full swing below them as the ground burned with one-thousand fires. Hertz smelled the smoke billowing from below, and the hairs on his arms stood on end when he came in contact with the Maelstrom-rich air. Everything was so surreal, almost dreamlike. The death and misery below him had yet to sink in. He did not know the names of many of the agents dying, and he expected he never would. It would be days until a full list of casualties could be made. Even then, everyone below would still be just a number to Hertz. He regretted not knowing their names. Even the Fright Knights and Inferno agents had an identity that Hertz could never comprehend. He had killed today, but it all felt so unreal, as if it were some sick video game. Only the smells and taste of the air anchored the elite agent to reality. He nodded to Andrew and Zach, and the three knelt by the railing to position the device. Hotwire was probably on the radio with Viper, although Hertz could not hear the conversation. Thirteen stories below, Hertz watched the helicopters twist and spin like leaves in a tempest. A T-1 Typhoon veered from its course and was obliterated by Raptors below. Hertz barley flinched; how much had he grown desensitized to violence? In the last few weeks, Hertz had seen so much death, now it all felt so normal. Had the war made him more mature or more apathetic? Would he ever be able to watch an action movie and experience the excitement of an explosion, or would he forever be desensitized to the horror? The war had changed everyone. Hertz knew that he had been transformed in the last few days, but he wondered into what. Had he matured and become a man, or was he as stuck in the world of casual violence as ever? Would he end this day as a better man, only to realize it had changed his life for the worse? Hertz's face remained flat and emotionless as he surveyed the scene below. At some point, Doctor Nicholas Saran had joined them on the roof and was observing the events transpiring around them. Everyone present would be hailed as a hero. Rex would be a martyr. While Hertz had stayed because he wanted adventure and be hailed a hero, he was no longer sure he wanted that title. Sure, the Einstein Device would not kill minifigs, but causing so much devastation at the push of a button hardly felt heroic. But it's not about me, thought Hertz, It's not about any of us. It's for the planet, the universe, for those we love. He thought about Naomi. This is for peace; it's for creating a world where we can live together without the fear of chaos and death. We may have made mistakes, we may even have lost that quality that mad gave us our humanity, but for the sack of the minifigs everywhere and those fighting blow us, I would do it all again. A mutilated helicopter flew overhead, followed by a swarm of Pterosaurs. Lightning flashed and rain continued to fall in the tempest around them. Agents fought and died, and Hertz felt something he had rarely felt before. Hope. ***** Sam Kabrinsky was the first one to reach the roof after Ezekiel. He ran out of the stairwell to see them fall. He then turned his gaze to the body of his brother, which was lying just to his side. Swearing profusely, he grabbed bandages and attempted to treat the wounds. As the other three arrived, Sam motioned to Kevin to help him. "There should be some needles of painkillers in my bag," said Sam. "How much?" asked Kevin. "All of them!" snapped Sam. "Are you sure you made it out of med school?" asked Rob, attempting to lighten the mood. Sam was unamused. "Look, he probably won't make it. I just want him to not hurt at the end. There, the wound's patched up as best as I can do it. Kev, looks like a good job with the painkillers. Now, I think all we can do is wait." ***** "We're done here," Montoya said as he stepped back into the infirmary. "The basement's sealed off. Nobody's getting in or out for a long time." "So we're just going to stay down here?" Sarah asked. "I'm afraid so," replied Pierce. "Now we're going to need to start thinking about rations. We got to conserve our supply to last as long as possible. Sooner or later, we'll run out and we'll have to break out onto the surface. I don't know about you, but I'd rather that didn't happen in the middle of a rampage." Shaw was close to tears in the back as she shouted her prayers loudly, her eyes closed tight. None of the other doctors even bothered questioning it now; they all could use the comfort of her faith. "For now, we'll sleep in shifts," Pierce said. "Until we can get things worked out. Shaw and I will stay on duty now and look after the patients. Copper, Crusher, why don't you two get some sleep? I'll come wake you in a few hours and you can take over." Reluctantly, Crusher turned and left the room, Copper following behind. "What about Kate?" Sarah asked. "I don't know," replied Pierce. "There's nothing we can do. I love you, Sarah, I always have, but you can't have her depending on you all the time." Slowly, Pierce hugged Sarah. That hug quickly changed as their arms tightened and their lips joined tightly. When they were through, Pierce turned toward his panicked and frightened colleague, sitting down next to her and slowly putting an arm over her shoulder. ***** The Fire Hammer tore through the ruined streets, splashing up mud and water everywhere as it shot toward Dino Attack Headquarters. "Are you sure they're in the HQ?" Vinyaya asked, a sense of urgency in her voice. "From what I could hear through the mic in Nazareno's mask, it sounds like Blaire's trying to wrap up the fight so he can get back on the battlefield," Zelda explained. "Except... everything sounded distant. Like he lost the mic. Or..." It was a strange thought, trying to imagine Nazareno without a mask. The Fire Hammer blasted through a pack of Mutant Lizards and turned sharply so the passenger doors faced the gaping hole in the front of the headquarters. Minerva, Zelda, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth quickly filed out of the jeep armed and headed into the building, blasting Mutant Lizards and Raptors. Minerva felt somewhat bad about abandoning the battle for one person, but she wasn't willing to lose another person close to him. "Sorry about this," Vinyaya muttered to Bluetooth. "This just isn't something I'm willing to let sit down." "No problem. Is there some sort of feud between Nazareno and this 'Darkling'?" "Yeah. Darkling used go by the name of Matthew Vherestorm." Bluetooth's eyes widened in realization. "Him? Didn't he go missing a few years ago?" "Turns out he's been with the Nexus Force, reforming. Though the truthfulness of that statement is in doubt. Which reminds me," Vinyaya redirected her attention to Zelda. "Did Nazareno tell you?" "Tell me what?" Zelda asked, raising an eyebrow of confusion as she cut away a passing Mutant Lizard. "That he-" She was cut off by the sound of two people fighting a floor above them. They could easily recognize one set of grunts as Nazareno's. "Hurry!" Vinyaya commanded, running to the stairwell. Bluetooth and Minerva followed until the latter noticed Zelda stop. "What's wrong?" Minerva asked, concerned. Zelda lifted a golden katana up from the ground: one of Nazareno's. Minerva swallowed uncomfortably. "Come on. There's no use standing here." Zelda nodded slowly and they both picked up their pace up to a run to keep up with Vinyaya and Bluetooth. They climbed the stairs quickly. The sounds of Nazareno's and Blaire's fight grew louder and fiercer. The group reached the second floor at the same time and could clearly see what was happening. Blaire stood over an unmasked Nazareno, one of his gray katanas in hand. A cold, malicious smirk was plastered on his face. He raised the katana to deliver the final blow. At the same time, Bluetooth raised his pistol and fired. The bullet struck Blaire Darkling in the chest. He grunted in pain and stared at the newly formed hole in his shirt. Nazareno took this opportunity to kick Blaire's chin and to sweep his foot across Blaire's ankles, knocking him to the floor. Nazareno climbed to his feet and turned to the group, wiping sweat from his bald head. There was a look of surprise on his face. "How did you know I was up here?" Nazareno asked. "Your mic in your mask," Zelda said. "I heard the fight." "Call in reinforcements?" Blaire snarled, rising to feet and backing away from assembled group, his katana at the ready. "How disappointing, Nazareno. I expected better." "You just got shot!" Minerva snapped. "Why-" She was interrupted by a cold laugh. "Please, Miss Fabello. When you've been in my line of work long enough, you wear a bulletproof vest. Always." "He's unmasked," Zelda muttered, staring at Nazareno's head in surprise. "Indeed," Nazareno said, his face twisting into a scowl. "Darkling doesn't wish me to remove his sunglasses, however. How hypocritical." Blaire dodged the statement. "I do thank you for coming, Miss Fabello, Miss Frodongan, and Commander. I was afraid I'd have to go and search for you myself. I can't let you get my secret out. That won't do." Blaire turned his head toward Bluetooth. "And of course, he probably knows my secret now as well. So he will have to be disposed of as well." "You will not harm anyone else, Vherestorm," Nazareno hissed. "I AM NOT VHERESTORM" Blaire bellowed, charging at Nazareno. Nazareno rolled out the way of the attack. Instead of stopping, he continued his charge toward Vinyaya, Minerva, Zelda, and Bluetooth. Zelda stepped forward and raised Nazareno's sword to knock away the blow. Blaire's katana slammed into Zelda's weapon hard and, with an elegant spin, had the sword fly from her hand. "You can't even hope to match my talent," Blaire snarled. He raised his sword to attack when Minerva, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth opened fire on him. Blaire spun out of the way as bullets shot through his trenchcoat and fled across the ruins of the second floor. Blaire turned back, his own handgun out of his pocket and fired his own round upon the group, causing them to spread out. Minerva, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth ducked behind several overturned desks as Zelda ran at Blaire, her katanas in hand. Nazareno had picked up the sword Zelda had brought up and charged at Darkling as well. Zelda and Nazareno swung their three katanas at Darkling quickly. Blaire spun and brought his lone sword down on theirs, knocking the blades to the floor. "Get back!" Nazareno commanded to Zelda as he began to force Blaire's sword back. "He's too powerful!" "I can help!" Zelda said with assurance, aiding Nazareno. Together, they threw Blaire's sword upward with such force that he needed to step back. "I admire your courage, Frodongan," Blaire scoffed. "But dear Kareem is correct." Blaire elbowed Nazareno in the face and slapped his sword upon one of Zelda's. To her shock, the katana, weaker than Blaire's or Nazareno's, shattered from the collision. Blaire kicked away her other katana and then wrapped his hand around her throat, choking her. "You should not be messing with me. A shame, really. So much potential, and now you have to die." Blaire pulled the sword back and prepared to lodge it in her chest when Nazareno knocked the blade on the ground hard. Nazareno then swung a punch into the side of Blaire's face, forcing him to drop Zelda. She slumped to the floor and backed away as Nazareno swung at Blaire's shoulder. Darkling was quick in blocking the attack. "You will not harm her," Nazareno stated coolly, icy hate dripping from his words. Blaire smirked again as he looked from Nazareno to Zelda, the latter being covered by Vinyaya, Bluetooth, and Minerva. "I see what this is." Blaire laughed coldly. "The great Nazareno... never expected... you have changed, old friend. The Nazareno I knew never would have such attachments." Blaire pushed back Nazareno's sword and launched a sweeping attack against the space ninja, forcing him to step back. "It is weak. Merely leverage to use against you. I'm sure those other three and Mr. Virchaus up above are close as well?" Blaire tutted in disappoint and shook his head as he stabbed his sword forward, leading Nazareno to step to the side. "You have changed." "For the better," Nazareno snarled. "Your 'change' is merely a ruse created by Vherestorm. Do not deny it." Blaire bared his teeth, but didn't say anything as he launched a frenzy of attacks against Nazareno that the space ninja blocked with relative ease. "This is a waste of time and detrimental to saving the planet!" "The only thing I care about at the moment is finally killing you!" Blaire snarled. He kicked Nazareno in the stomach and wrapped his foot around Nazareno's ankles, tripping him. "After many long years, this stalemate will end!" Nazareno rolled to the side as Blaire slammed his sword down. Blaire howled as the force of his attack rebounding into his arms. Nazareno jumped to his feet and attacked. Minerva watched the battle with a mixture of shock and awe. Nazareno's battle with Stromling!Zach and spars with Zelda were nothing compared to what she was watching. Both katanas were almost like blurs. Sparks surrounded the group. Shooting Darkling while he was distracted was out of the question; he and Nazareno were moving fast enough that a shot could easily hit Nazareno instead. Nazareno's blade crossed with Blaire's. Nazareno's other hand suddenly launched out at Blaire's sword arm and twisted it. Blaire roared with anger and pain and begun to back away as Nazareno's sword cut his chin. Blaire wiped away the blood casually and charged at Nazareno. The space ninja's hand grabbed Blaire's forehead and, with all the force in his being, slammed Blaire down on the ground. Nazareno slammed his foot into the side of Blaire's head. "This ends!" Nazareno barked, cold anger etched in his face. As he brought the sword down, Blaire's foot suddenly shot upward, knocking the sword upward. Blaire rolled up to his feet and quickly picked up his sword. "This guy will not give up," Zelda grumbled. Indeed, Darkling seemed MegaBlokland-bent on destroying Nazareno. Both combatants were panting heavily. Fatigue was setting in. Nazareno twirled his sword in his hand and knocked Blaire's katana away with ease. Without a word, Nazareno thrust his sword forward. Blaire jerked his body to the side, but much of his right hip was cut by the attack. Blood began to stain his light-colored trenchcoat. Blaire groaned and his knees wobbled, but he did not fall. Nazareno glared at XERRD's leader, never letting his guard down. He began to pull the sword away to deliver the final blow. Blaire's right hand shot out toward the katana's hilt while the left, with half of the strength left in his body, punched Nazareno in the cheek, loosening his grip on the katana. Blaire yanked the sword from Nazareno's grip and spun it one hundred and eighty degrees. Nazareno's hands hovered above his chest and halted the blade from reaching his body. "Not this time, Nazareno," Blaire hissed. With the final half of strength still in his being, Blaire broke Nazareno's barrier and plunged the sword into his chest. Time slowed down. Minerva could faintly hear Zelda screaming while Vinyaya and Bluetooth could only stand there in shock. Blaire and Nazareno were barely three inches apart, separated only by the hilt of the sword that had buried itself into Nazareno's chest and shot out the back. "I win," Blaire muttered, panting heavily. He drew the katana, dripping in its owner's blood, from Nazareno's body and flung it to the floor. Blaire patted Nazareno's bald head in an almost comforting matter, the sick, twisted smirk never leaving his face. Nazareno could only stare on in shock. With one last pat, Blaire forcibly shoved Nazareno to the floor. Minerva, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth reacted at the same time. Each raised their weapons and opened fire. Two bullets clipped Blaire's shoulder, but he ignored the pain. Clutching his bleeding hip, Blaire picked up his katana and fled down the ruined hallways until he disappeared in a shroud of purple flames. Nobody bothered chasing after him. All four agents ran up to the fallen form of Nazareno. Zelda dropped to her knees and lifted Nazareno's back up while trying to cover up the bleeding wound with her hand. Nazareno coughed hoarsely, staring at his wound with bemused shock. Minerva bit her quivering lip. For the first time since her mother's death, tears were forming in her eyes. They were nothing they could do. Unlike when Zach shot him what seems so many years back, Blaire had made sure to make the wound fatal. "Nazareno... no..." Zelda whispered, tears streaming down her face as she cradled Nazareno's head in her arms. Out of the corner of her eye, Minerva saw Vinyaya grip Bluetooth's hand tightly as a single tear form in her left eye. "Nonono. You... can't..." Nazareno coughed again, sounding more pained than ever. "Holly... Minerva... I..." He couldn't seem to find the words to say to them. Vinyaya merely nodded, suppressing a sob. "Thank you," Minerva managed to mutter, her voice shaking all the while. "For everything." He had been one of her closest friends during Zach's Maelstrom issues. To lose him was more than she could bear. Zelda was sobbing quietly. Nazareno turned his weak stare directly to her. "I'm sorry... Zelda... for what I did... what I said..." Zelda looked at him, her eyes shimmering with tears. "I wish... I could've told you sooner... I... I love you." Zelda wrapped her hand around Nazareno's. "I love you, too," she said, barely above a whisper. She leaned forward slowly and pressed her lips against his. Nazareno jolted in the surprise, but returned the kiss weakly. They held the position for the longest time. Vinyaya was sobbing openly now while Bluetooth attempted to comfort her. Minerva was doing everything in her power to hold back her emotions, but tears and sobs still managed to break through her. Nazareno and Zelda's lips parted slowly. Nazareno sighed weakly. Zelda held him tight, never wanting to let go. Nazareno gazed into Zelda's face as tears dropped slowly from her cheeks to his. His breathing was becoming more ragged and strained. With one final, painful sigh, his chest suddenly became still. Kareem Nazareno was dead. ***** Awareness. B now knew he was awake, and surprisingly, feeling nothing. He looked up and saw his brother's face. "Ow. How long was I out for?" groaned B. "About two minutes," replied Sam. You're really drugged up right now, and I don't know if you can make it." The numbness was back. B's head was clear again. "Alright, now what's the plan?" "We get you to wherever you're safe," said Sam. "No," insisted B. "We said that if any of us died, we would be KIA. I will not die in a bed when I could go and get myself killed fighting for a cause I believe in. Besides, I can last long enough to get to the fight, as long as the painkillers last." B got up on his feet. He looked and saw neither his uncle Ezekiel, nor Tempest. He looked quizzically at his brother. "They're both gone. They fell," Sam said. B sighed solemnly. "When we left Spec Ops, we promised each other that we would find him and kill him. Now that the mission has been completed, we need a new pact." "We fight," said Kevin. "For Dad," said Sam "For Ezekiel," said Chris. "For family," said Rob. "For us," finished B. And with that, they followed B down the stairs to rejoin the final battle. ***** The scene of Zelda and Nazareno's final seconds together made Bluetooth cringe, and reminded him horribly about what Semick has said just before he had left the Elite Agent: "The world has too many widows and widowers." While technically, the two fighters had likely never married (or even proclaimed their love for one another until now) before their separation, unlike poor Rex and Claw, the point still stood. Here was yet another example of a blooming relationship cut short by a lethal injury. Another notable casualty for the list. Bluetooth glanced at Vinyay - no, Holly - as she let her grief out, with his arms around her for support, and thought about how they had been nearly in the same situation, except with even more words left unsaid. Bluetooth figured Semick wouldn't have given him the chance to choose to die, but the late man once again surprised him, had given him this chance that he had wanted. And now they were fighting together, with the promise to try and sort things out after the battle... if they made it. But things like the dead space-ninja in front of them was not helping the hopes for a bright future. After several more moments of silence, as everyone took their time calming down from Nazareno's passing, Holly sniffled and motioned aside Bluetooth's arms. "Well..." she said, grief still at the back of her tone, "we best leave his body to the medics' care in the basement." "Assuming they haven't bunkered up yet," Bluetooth muttered. "I heard them alerting everyone to them taking their chances by sealing up and preparing for the worse. If that's what happened, we won't get to them without a whole bunch of power tools." "Well, whatever we do," said Fabello, "we'd best return to the battle soon. I don't want this building collapsing on our heads. We're almost at the end here." "...There's also a bigger problem," said Zelda, getting up from over Nazareno's body. "We've let Darkling get away. He seems to be shaking off the injuries we've dealt him. He's still the leader of XERRD. And he seems intent on killing everyone who knows he was Matthew Vherestorm, including us. And..." She glanced at her master and lover's body. "...I doubt even a bunch of us are a match for him." The mention of this suddenly stirred a strong emotion in Bluetooth. An emotion that he had not too long ago felt when he had encountered the idiocy of ex-Elite Agent French Fries. It was hate. Hate for the senseless disproportionate retribution on individuals for petty and contrived reasons. Sentencing a man to death for unreasonable or irrelevant cause. Punishment for disobeying orders that put allies at risk was one thing. Punishment for questionable or outright monstrous ethics that one has since tried to make amends for was another, but for merely possibly knowing the two identities of a man who they may or may not be familiar with (despite his notoriety, not everyone knew who Matthew Vherestorm was, especially Earth citizens) was an outright horrible act that the Futuron technician was angered by. Bleutooth could imagine someone like Andrew, coming home one day from a long day of work, years after the end of the Dino Attack, ready to relax with family or friends, only to be surprise by a figure in the shadows that, before he can react, has swung his sword and sliced his head clean off, his last thoughts being of surprise, confusion, and horror, likely not immediately remembering the man who had been, for a time, XERRD's leader and had revealed to also have been a notorious murderer. And then Bluetooth thought of it happening to Fabello or Zach. Or himself. Or Holly. This. Could. Not. Happen. "No," Bluetooth muttered. Anger and a need to do something rose in him. He reached into his pocket and retrieved his PDA, selected the "Messages" option, and started typing. "What are you doing?" Holly asked. She and the rest of the agents present were staring at him with a bit of confusion. "Blaire Darkling thinks he can cover his past with just a few silenced voices," said the technician, a stern tone in his voice, as his digits moved quickly and swiftly, "but the thing is that he assumes that people won't talk about it. If he had kept silent about his plans, maybe, but since he told me right in my face that he wants to kill me, you, and everyone else that knows his secret... Heh. Well, you know what they said in wartime about loose lips." He held up his PDA for everyone to see. "I've just prepared a message. It's an All Agents Bulletin, meaning every Dino Attack PDA will get it, along with the main database, and all the outpost databases, including the one in the Antarctica refugee, which Alpha Team keeps a close look at. Basically, everyone's going to get this message." "Yes, but how can that-" Fabello suddenly stopped, and slowly smiled. "Ooooh. Clever, Bluetooth, clever." "And SENDING!" Bluetooth cried has he pushed hard on the Send button. In three seconds, the indicator came up on the screen saying "Message Successfully Sent," and to confirm the point, Fabello and Zelda's PDA's chirped, signaling their reception of the message. The former quickly checked hers, and held it out for the others to see as well. "Yep, looks like it worked." The message read: Attention all Dino Attack Agents! The current leader of XERRD, Blaire Darkling, who has been exposed to have been the notorious intergalactic assassin Matthew Vherestorm, has just killed our Space Ninja ally Kareem Nazareno! There is no word yet on whether or not he will continue to serve as XERRD's leader, or if he intends to turn on any Dino Attack personal other than those that know his identity as Matthew Vherestorm, but as of yet, agents are to remain on alert! Agents are advised to apprehend Blaire Darkling/Matthew Vherestorm, on sight! Be wary, as he is extremely adept at evading death and assassination, and will not be stopped easily! As well, hostilities are not permitted against XERRD personnel in light of this event! What Blaire Darkling/Matthew Vherestorm has done and said does not reflect the intents of XERRD as a whole! XERRD personnel are advised to redirect command recognition to Elite Dino Attack Agent Dr. Cyborg, or Dr. Matthew Cyrista. -Standard Agent Bluetooth "This is why you don't mess with a man with a communicator," Bluetooth remarked with a grin. ***** "Where'd that purple-haired girl go?" Rotor asked, suddenly looking around. "I don't know," replied Helm. "She seems to have run off somewhere. Should we go find her?" "Not much time for that," replied Rotor. "I think we got other things to worry about right now! What was your name again?" "Helm. I think I just got something on my PDA," Helm said, reaching into his baggy pants and pulling his electronic device. He quickly passed it to Rotor, who only took a moment to read it. "Blaire Darkling, huh?" Rotor asked. "Matthew Vherestorm. Anybody heard of him?" "Yeah," Snake replied as he reached into his pocket and removed a cigarette. "Who is he?" Cabin asked. "What makes you think I'm going to tell you?" Snake said with a slight smirk. Rotor quickly pulled the man to his feet and threw him into the chopper. "Everyone, get on board," Rotor said. "Kara, Mac, you two still able to fly?" "Yeah," replied Mac as he started up the engines. The rotors on the helicopter started to come to life. Quickly, Rotor got in, followed by the new arrivals, Cabin stepped in after him, Lance in the gunner's seat, with Elizabeth, Maynard, Firecracker, Helm, and the others climbing in. Arriving moments later were two snipers, one of whom Rotor recognized quickly. "Shotgun!" Rotor shouted. "Yeah," replied Barry Jackson. He motioned toward his female companion, also in camo. "Let me introduce you to agent Scope." "Pleasure," said Rotor. "We've got to catch a dangerous man. We might just need a few snipers on this one. MAC! GET US IN THE AIR!" The chopper slowly started to lift off the ground and into the sky. "Any idea where to find this Blaire Darkling?" Mac asked. "Not yet," replied Rotor. "Unless someone can get Snake to talk - that's him in the back there, with the eyepatch." Snake grinned as he inhaled on his cigarette. Quickly, Rotor worked his way over to the microphone, and set it so it would project his voice outside. "We might as well start out simple," he said before he put the microphone to his mouth and hit the button. "Blaire Darkling, this is Elite Agent Rotor. I have orders to take you in by any means necessary. I suggest you do not attempt to resist or there will be serious consequences. I repeat do not resist or else we will open fire." He waited a moment, then set the machine to broadcast the recorded message repeatedly. "No sign of this Blaire Darkling yet," Rotor remarked. "Snake said anything back there?" There was a moment of silence before one man approached Rotor. "I think I might be able to help you," he said. "I know the guy far better than he ever did." "Is that so?!" Rotor shouted. "Well, why the Znap didn't you say so? We could have caught him by now!" ***** Minerva smiled shakily at Bluetooth. "Good thinking, Bluetooth. Darkling's being pushed into a corner." She was still trying to keep all her emotions under wrap under a somewhat optimistic face. Just a little longer. She told herself repeatedly. She could breakdown later. Her mom, her brother, and now Nazareno. Who else was going to die in these last moments? Minerva looked toward Vinyaya, who was looking back at her. Vinyaya could see she was on the edge and had the same glint of concern in her eye like she had before. Minerva's lips curled into a weak smile to try reassure the Space Police commando before gesturing her head weakly to Zelda, who stared at Nazareno's body in silence. Minerva motioned toward her. "Zelda?" Minerva said quietly to her. She resonating greatly with the mixed feelings radiating from Zelda's person. Lost, sadness, shock. Minerva had like this and more all day and whatever deity out there seemed MegaBlokland-bent on having her watch her loved ones die. "I'm okay," Zelda said, sadness in her voice. Tears streamed freely down her face. "I can't believe it..." "None of us can," Vinyaya said as she and Bluetooth joined them. "You... we can't let this stop us. We need to get back out there. Finish this fight." Zelda nodded slowly. She then slowly bowed down to close Nazareno's blank eyes. "When this is done," Minerva said with certainty. "We're going to finish what Nazareno started: hunting down and stopping Darkling." "He has nowhere to hide and no one to hide him," Bluetooth added. "He'll be found and will finally pay for his crimes." Zelda bit her lip and nodded again. Finally, she moved away the body and picked up Nazareno's sword that he had been killed with. She looked at it with cold, malicious eyes before wiping the blood of the blade with her jacket. After a quick search around the floor, she found Nazareno's other katana. Dropping her silver sword to the floor, Zelda put both swords in the sheaths on her back. "I think..." Zelda said, her voice growing stronger. "He would want Blaire to fall by his own blades." Minerva, Vinyaya, and Bluetooth nodded in silence. Zelda then turned to Nazareno one last time. A sob was choked back in her throat. She then wrapped her arms around his and begun to drag him to the side. Minerva and Holly soon ran up to her and helped her carry Nazareno to the side, where they placed boards of wood over his body to conceal him. "If the building still stands after this," Zelda said as she turned away, wiping a tear from her cheek. "I want his body to be safe." Minerva nodded in agreement. Hopefully, he would be ignored by the increasing number of Mutant Dinos entering the building. Hopefully, he wouldn't be turned into a snack for some lizard. "Now," Zelda said, her voice growing stronger. "Let's get back out there." ***** Zach stared at the PDA in shock. No. That's... impossible. Kareem Nazareno couldn't be dead. That would be absurd. And yet, here it was in a message from Bluetooth. Nazareno was dead. Slayed by the only one who could truly match him in sword combat. His longtime rival. "Motherznapping 4+ MegaBloking MegaBloker!" Zach muttered, curses directed at Blaire Darkling. Grief was being overshadowed by an undeniable rage. He had killed Thaddeus Brickhouse and now Kareem Nazareno, one of the closest friends he made in the Builder-forsaken war. Zach looked at his right hand. The gold sheen seemed to have dimmed with passing of its creator. He was just going to hold back because of the alliance between the Dino Attack and XERRD. Not anymore. Blaire would pay for the lives he's taken today, Zach was certain. "Doc Cyborg!" Zach snapped, sounding much harsher than he had intended. Dr. Cyborg turned to him, a definite look of sadness on his face as he learned of Nazareno's death. "You need to take control of XERRD. Now." "That was my intention," Dr. Cyborg said, cracking his knuckles. Under his breath, Zach thought he heard Dr. Cyborg mutter. "So that's what he meant by something 'regrettable'." Zach ignored it. "With XERRD reforming, hopefully they'll take your command without question." Zach paused to consider the next move. "Tell them that, should they come across the Blaire, they lead him on into thinking he's still leader. Contact me if they find him." "What are you going to do?" Dr. Cyborg asked. "Gather up a couple of friends." Off the top of his head, Minerva, Vinyaya, and Zelda came to mind. "We're going to teach Blaire a lesson for killing our friends and betraying out trust." Dr. Cyborg nodded grimly. "I'll see to it. Just one thing," Dr. Cyborg said before Zach walked away. "I want in as well." "I'll think about it," Zach replied. Dr. Cyborg turned to the window. He looked outside and climbed up to the roof, as the stairs were blocked. He grabbed a wire attached to the radio mast and split his normal hand into wires, leaving his cannon active. He put the wires with the radio wire and sent a voice and text message across the city to XERRD, although Dino Attack could also receive it. "Attention all XERRD members! As you may or may not know, Blaire Darkling has shown his true colors as Matthew Vherestorm, dangerous assassin! All XERRD personnel are ordered to disregard any orders he gives you! His authority and command code have and will be terminated! I am XERRD's full leader now! I will choose a second later. Right now, I need all XERRD members to come to the front of the Dino Attack HQ! I have one final mission of the war! Hold back Dr. Rex as long as possible! To the ones who will die in this, I thank you for your service! Dr. Cyborg out." He let go of the wire and reformed his hand. He climbed back into the lab, where he grabbed a toolkit. He pulled out a small screwdriver and opened up an access hatch on his cannon. He then started reconfiguring its hardware and software to extract a Creative Spark and hold it for a few minutes. Zach nodded appreciatively and turned away, placing his hand firmly over his head, letting out a long sigh as his eyes began to water. A different kind of fatigue was setting in. He was tired of this. The death. The destruction. Not knowing if your friends will live through the day or not. It was draining. They were moments from firing the Einstein Device and stopping Dr. Rex. Fate seemed to decide that, in these last moments, to start picking off people close to him at this moment. Semick and Nazareno could just be the first. Who was to say Zach didn't lose the friends he had made during this war in the last minutes? "Are you okay, Zach?" Andrew said suddenly, moving in close to Zach. Zach removed the hand from his face and looked at Andrew. He could see that his fellow LEGO Islander's features suggested sadness as well. He had also lost a friend in Semick and, while he didn't know Nazareno particularly well, grieved the loss of the space ninja as well. "I'll pull through," Zach said, lifting up his glasses up to wipe the tears out from under his eyes. "I'm just ready for that party you mentioned." Andrew smiled faintly. "When we don't have worry about whether or not we'll see our friends again." "I was thinking about joining the Nexus Force after this all was done," Zach said wistfully. "Seeing as how deeply involved I've sort of become with this. Now... settling down for a little while sounds a heckuva lot better at this point. Take a break, so to speak." Andrew nodded. They both stared at into the battlefield in silence, watching as Dr. Rex moved closer and closer. "I suppose you should get ready to help with Rex." "Yeah," Zach said, stretching his arms. Most of his energy from his fight with Willa had been restored. He was ready. All that mattered now was getting that Creative Spark out of Rex. It wouldn't be pleasant, but it was necessary. One quick procedure, then the Einstein Device would be ready. The end would finally be here. "That Einstein Device ready yet?" Hotwire looked up as the voice burst from the radio. It was Swerve. He glanced at Hertz and Dr. Cyborg, and said, "Another minute, at best?" They nodded in agreement. "Not sure you've got that long. Dr. Rex shook off Semick's kamikaze maneuver in no time flat, and it looks like Doc Cyborg's little stunt made him even madder." There was a pause. "Tell Frozeen it's been great knowing him, and Rex... well, that's nothing short of an honor. Oh, and Hotwire?" "Yes?" "You did good, kid. You did real good." ***** Swerve turned to Mort. "Get out of here." The pale man's brow furrowed. "Excuse me?" "Get out," Swerve repeated. "You're too smart to die here. Get to HQ." "The headquarters is hardly safer than this. Dr. Rex is likely to raze the place." "Not if the guys on the roof have the time they need!" Swerve cried. "And that's what I'm gonna get them." "You'll die." "Already dead. Or something. Y'know, all these years we've been fightin' 'em, and I still dunno how that works for drones." Swerve chuckled. "Guess I'll find out. Now GO!" For the first time almost any living mind could remember, Mort's face showed emotion. Grudgingly, he climbed down from the turret. He looked back at the man who, he had to admit, was his only true friend. Swerve was fiddling with the maintenance panels at the base of the cannon. Mort dropped to the ground. Sappy lines like "I'll never forget you" did not occur to him, as words would have been rather trivial. He hurried towards the base behind another group of agents, including a giant swordsman in an Agents uniform. As they reached the doors of Dino Attack HQ, Mort stopped and glanced back again. For the first and only time, Swerve's Iron Predator broke from the defensive line and shot towards Dr. Rex. The armored beast was closing in quickly, blowing clouds of purple flame to clear his path. It was little more than a second before the tank-like vehicle struck him in the legs. Dr. Rex, too startled to dodge, stumbled, but before he could hit the ground, the Iron Predator exploded. It was larger than expected for such a vehicle. If he had to guess, Mort would say Swerve had plugged the power cells for the Cryothermic Cannon into themselves, creating a massive short circuit. Dr. Rex's Maelstrom flames could only have exacerbated the reaction. He spared a small smile. Dr. Rex himself had been knocked back nearly twenty feet, and was struggling to rise. The Maelstrom bands around his body seemed to squeeze tighter yet, and hauled the T-Rex upward. Wobbling slightly, he charged once again. Not willing to wait any longer, Mort ducked inside. "Well, you've got your minute," he muttered, glancing upwards. "I certainly hope it's enough." ***** Blaire Darkling gnashed his teeth together as he cleaned up the wound on his hip and applied a bandage to it. All he had to do was find some downed Fire Hammer in this Builder-forsaken battlefield. Naturally, there had been a first-aid kit inside. Even though his side stung, Blaire allowed himself to grin. He's had won. A battle that had lasted the better part of a decade was over. Kareem Nazareno was dead. He would congratulate himself on tying up that loose end from his past except... Minerva Fabello, Zelda Frodongan, Zachary Virchaus, the Space Police officer, and the other agent knew he was Matthew Vherestorm. And with Nazareno's demise, they would certainly spread the fact. Blaire had been relying on them focusing on winning the battle, but they would certainly reveal him now. He jumped down from the Fire Hammer and made sure his lone Shinobi katana was placed neatly in his trenchcoat. He could work around this. As Matthew Vherestorm, he had navigated past unforeseen obstacles before. He could do it again. Somehow. Blaire had to admit things were looking grim for him. As he flipped his wet hair out from in front of in sunglasses, Blaire saw several Space Marauders suddenly run at them, their guns and rockets pointed at him. Blaire raised an eyebrow. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Save it," the voice of Gary Oak snarled. "You're finished, Darkling. Or should I say, Matthew Vherestorm?" Blaire held back his surprise with a curt laugh. "What are you talking about, Oak?" Blaire snapped, crossing his arms. "Who is Matthew Vherestorm?" "We got the message from Dr. Cyrista," another Space Marauder hissed, a rocket pointed directly at Blaire's chest. "And there's another message from some Dino Attack agent named Bluetooth. You betrayed the alliance you helped create!" Blaire didn't say anything. "Don't worry, Blaire," Gary said. "XERRD will keep reforming, just like you intended. Without you. Now drop any weapons you may have." Blaire gave Gary a curious smile that hid an undeniable anger. Not that his leadership from XERRD had been revoked. He couldn't care less about that. In the background, he could hear a voice emitting from a helicopter. "Blaire Darkling, this is Elite Agent Rotor. I have orders to take you in by any means necessary. I suggest you do not attempt to resist or there will be serious consequences. I repeat do not resist or else we will open fire." His cover had been blown. After three years, everything was suddenly coming out. He had resolved to kill the five people that knew earlier. Now, hundreds knew who Blaire Darkling had been. And they wanted his head. Blaire's body straightened up. "You do make reformation so difficult." Blaire said with a half-sigh. "What are you-erk!" Gary was cut off as the blade of Blaire's katana sunk into his chest. Before they could react, Blaire had his handgun out and shot down the Space Marauders one by one, feeling no remorse as they dropped. He then ran at the remaining three. One Space Marauder managed to avoid his fire and launched a rocket at him. Blaire rolled out of the way and fired again, clipping his arm. The Space Marauder howled in pain and clutched his arm, dropping his weapons. Blaire walked casually over to the Space Marauder and shot him dead with his own weapon before returning to Gary. The Space Marauder stared at the katana jutting out of his chest. "How-" he gasped. Blaire shook his head in pity. "You are a fool, Gary Oak. And you've paid for it. But... I'm feeling merciful." Blaire's hands wrapped around Gary's head and sharply turned it. There was sharp crack before Gary's eyes rolled back. Blaire pulled the katana out the Space Marauder's body as he collapsed to the ground. Wiping the blade clean of Gary's blood, Blaire looked on to the battlefield. He had tried to reform. He tried to go good. It seemed fate itself was against the very prospect. Blaire shrugged and began to walk out into the battlefield. Matthew Cyrista and Bluetooth had made the worst mistakes of their lives. Everyone knew his secret. Everyone was a target. He would escape later. A new identity could be formed and his secret could be hidden again. Blaire Darkling would be no more in a matter of hours. It was his last hurrah. He would slaughter everything that crossed his path. XERRD, Dino Attack, Alpha Team, Agents, Mutant Dinos. They would all die should they cross him. There was a reason why Matthew Vherestorm's priority level to the Space Police only dropped after the Black Hole Gang rose to power, two years after he disappeared; he was a one-man army. Without Nazareno to challenge him, he wouldn't be stopped. He would kill until he grew tired of it. And the best part? He would feel no sympathy. ***** "My T-1 is in position. You ready, Voltage?" "Roger that, Cobra. We've got to stop this incoming horde of Mutant Pterosaurs from reaching the base. HQ needs all the air support they can get in this final hour." "Hey, don't count me out! Just because I wasn't originally in At War's End doesn't mean I'll be missing the Director's Cut!" "Uh… right. Glad to have your company, Slash. Have you heard back from Kotua?" "Seems he was feeling a little nostalgic for his old Urban Avenger and decided to give it a spin." "For old time's sake." "Let's see if we can get the whole crew back together. Hyrode, Kai, Snake of Spades, you there?" "Agent X here, sorry for being late. I was having… computer problems." "Give them everything we've got! It's all or nothing at this point! This is it!" "Things are really heating up out here, that's for sure." "Voltage, watch out! That Mutant Brontosaurus is charging its EMP! Get out of there before you go down!" "I'm trying, but the Pterosaurs have my T-1 surrounded! Our exit is blocked off!" "Well, boys, it's been a fun run. At least we'll go out with a bang. See you all on the other side." "Wait, looks like we have backup…" "What's going on up there, Cobra? I can't see from street level! Wait, I wonder if my Cyber Matrix comes with binoculars…" "Another T-1 just swooped down from the sky, guns blazing. Took down the Bronto and helped clear away the Pterosaur flock." "A bit over-the-top, perhaps, but suitably dramatic." "Huh. Who could it be?" "Coming back for one last run. This is elite agent Databoard, reporting in!" ***** The end had come. Dr. Rex lumbered towards Dino Attack Headquarters, his pace quickening with every step as he was more determined than ever to raze it to the ground. Down below, a Dino 4WD Trapper driven by agent Anubis struggled to catch up to Dr. Rex while avoiding the tendrils of destructive Maelstrom energy. The idealist hailing from Egypt might not have been one of the team's most famous members, but he had seen a lot during his time in the war, from what he perceived as the ghost of Rev Raptor to elite agent Zero giving in to madness; from the last stand of Atukam to a Maelstrom-infected brick in Digger's office. Anubis had seen Semick's grand sacrifice and Swerve's kamikaze maneuver, and knew that no matter what happened in the end, even a moment's delay could help buy the headquarters just enough time. All he needed to do was to create that delay. In a valiant effort, Anubis unleashed the hook and cable of the jeep in one last attempt to replicate the strategy he had developed with the LEGO Racers. After hooking it on Dr. Rex's foot, Anubis drove in a tight circle around Dr. Rex, hoping that the rope would trip the Mutant T-Rex and stall him just long enough. He knew it would not work, but Anubis was determined not to go down without a fight. As Dr. Rex faintly felt the cable tugging against his shin armor, Anubis's plan was given away. Growling, Dr. Rex raised one foot, snapping the cable as he did so, and slammed it down upon the hood of the Dino 4WD Trapper. Then, he opened his maw and engulfed the vehicle and its driver in a jet of purple-tinged flames. Anubis forever departed from this world. His chains pulled by Baron Typhonus to make sure that he kept going, Dr. Rex unrelentingly closed the distance between himself and Dino Attack Headquarters. A group of Iron Predators gathered at the base of the building to defend it from the Mutant T-Rexes. Dr. Rex clawed his way through his fellow Mutant Dinos to get close enough, then paused as a dozen Cryothermic Cannons pointed at him. In a single blast of his fire breath, he incinerated the Iron Predator defense around the base of the building. There were no survivors. A flash of lightning illuminated the area, and thunder rumbled from the heavens. Up above, the clouds began to swirl into a vortex-like shape. Staring up at the center of the vortex, Dr. Rex bared his teeth and then delivered an inhuman roar. He was not sure what drove him to do so, but he felt compelled to climb up towards the heavens. He buried his claws into the wall of Dino Attack Headquarters, and the tendrils of Maelstrom energy began to cling onto the building's side to give him even greater grip. Then, placing claw over claw, foot over foot, and tendril over tendril, Dr. Rex began to scale Dino Attack Headquarters. ***** The end had come. Rex had made peace with his fate, and nothing could sway his decision. He was ready to meet his destiny. Still, the knowledge that this was it… everything had been building up to this moment… everyone who had lived and died fighting this war was fighting for now… and it was all about to come to an end at last… With this knowledge in mind, Rex could not help but feel tears forming at the base of his eyes. It had only been eight months, but it felt like nearly eight years to Rex as he reflected upon all that had happened during the Dino Attack. He had learned of his unique origins on Adventurers' Island. He discovered that he was part of a XERRD gambit to destroy the Dino Attack Team. He had tamed Mutant Dinos, starting with his dear friend Trouble. He worked with close comrades such as Frozeen, PBB, and Chompy. He fought against a mind-controlled Kotua and saved Dino Attack agents in peril such as Databoard, Turahk-Kal, and Glide. He went on adventures with Zero and Phantom. He met, fell in love, and ultimately married Amanda Claw. He battled some of the most famous villains and later allied with them. He discovered the Dino Island Laboratory and altered the very premise of the war. He teamed up with Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, Greybeard, and Fullmetal in the Goo Caverns mission. He fought alongside Coral and Semick for the fate of LEGO Island. He met Andrew, Dust, Zachary Virchaus, Dr. Cyborg, and Hertz in the battle for Adventurers' Island. He looked into the eye of the Maelstrom and challenged the Darkitect himself. Everything he had experienced was building up to this moment. And then, after so long, it would finally end. Andrew's words had truly moved him. Although Rex was aware that he had gained quite a bit of reputation among the team, after enduring so much pain, feeling so much darkness, and seeing so much death, Rex's heart was warmed by Andrew's praise. It made it just that much easier to accept his fate, with the knowledge that his life really meant something. Thunder rumbled, and Dino Attack Headquarters shook with the force of impending doom scaling its wall. The battle was longer than Dino Attack Team could normally endure, so many had died, and those that were still alive were weary. It seemed as though they did not stand a chance, but Rex knew that as long as Dino Attack Team carried the heart and courage that it had shown these past twenty-four hours, they would keep on fighting to the end. It was all so very powerful to Rex. Rex thought of everyone who had fought for the Dino Attack. The founding members: Specs, Shadow, Digger, and Viper. Those that had disappeared, such as Kotua, Databoard, Zero, and Fullmetal. Those that had perished, such as Amanda, Adventure, Semick, Nazareno, and Swerve. And those that were still fighting today: Reptile, Hotwire, Rotor, Zenna, B, Andrew, Hertz, Zachary, Dr. Cyborg, Frozeen, and Greybeard. The greatest people anyone could have ever known. "Thank you," whispered Rex as tears welled up in his eyes. "Thank you all." Rex turned to see Zachary Virchaus and Dr. Cyborg staring tentatively at him. Rex noticed that the latter had reconfigured his arm cannon to resemble a XERRD injection saw, presumably for the extraction and containment of his Creative Spark. "Are you ready?" inquired Zachary. Rex quickly surveyed the area around him, locking eyes with everyone present, starting with Reptile and Hotwire, and ending with Frozeen and Greybeard. It was a mutually understood communication; an unspoken but heartfelt goodbye. Then, turning his attention back to Zachary and Cyborg, Rex nodded slowly. "Remember, Zach. If I'm right, the Maelstrom will do everything in its power to prevent my Creative Spark from being extracted." "I'll hold it back," promised Zachary. After a brief pause, he noted: "I… think that might have been the first time you called me 'Zach'." Rex smiled, sadly. "Goodbye." Then, at peace, he slowly shut his eyelids and raised his arms to a T-position, allowing Zachary and Dr. Cyborg to do their work. As Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, Hertz, Specs, and Grimton prepared the Einstein Device to receive its payload, Dr. Cyborg and Zachary nodded towards each other, and then Zachary made his move. Zachary concentrated upon the Maelstrom energies in Rex's body. He could feel their presence, and they had taken up root so deeply in his body that they could never be extracted. However, Zachary could also sense a source of pure Imagination: Rex's Creative Spark. The Maelstrom could not bear to be too close to the Imagination, but while it was kept at bay, it licked at the Imagination like fire biting at dust in the air, and almost seemed to be attempting to constrict it. Pooling his energies, Zachary focused in prying the Maelstrom energy away from the Creative Spark. It was a slow process, like attempting to remove boulders from an avalanche without triggering another rockslide; if he moved too quickly, Zachary knew the Maelstrom would retaliate. Rex was still alive, after all, and his features hardened ever-so-slightly as he felt the Maelstrom in his body shifting around. Slowly, the Maelstrom gave way, clearing a path to Rex's Creative Spark. "Now…!" whispered Zachary in a strained voice. Without hesitation, Dr. Cyborg made his move. He planted his reconfigured arm cannon into Rex's torso. Rex's body stiffened and he made a muted grunt, but he relaxed his form. Dr. Cyborg began to extract the Creative Spark, and the injection-cannon began to glow a brilliant blue as it was filled with Imagination. Just as Dr. Cyborg completed the process, the Maelstrom retaliated. Tendrils of Maelstrom energy, much like the ones constricting Dr. Rex, sprung out from Rex's body, and Dr. Cyborg jumped back just in the nick of time before they could grab him. Rex's eyes suddenly shot open, but they were completely blank and lifeless. He opened his mouth and produced a bloodcurdling laugh. "It is too late! This is the end! And now… you will die!" The other Dino Attack agents gasped and looked upon Rex with horror. Maelstrom energy swirled around Rex as more tendrils burst out of his body. He set his cold, dead eyes upon Zachary and Dr. Cyborg, and shambled towards them. The Maelstrom tendrils stretched and, before Dr. Cyborg could react, wrapped around him and began to constrict his form. Stop him! whispered a voice, just barely audible enough to be heard. Greybeard snapped out of his stupor first. He fired his flintlock pistol at Rex, who stumbled and let go of Dr. Cyborg, dropping the scientist to the floor. This bought Zachary just enough time to control the destructive powers of the Maelstrom energy and turn it against itself. Before their very eyes, Rex's body aged at a horrifyingly rapid pace. His hair turned white, his body turned frail, and his face was covered with wrinkles. In only a second, he appeared eighty years old, the true age of Dr. Rex. Even then, Rex continued to age and wither, and his Dino Attack uniform disintegrated as his skin decayed. A mere second later, Rex was little more than a skeleton, and then that too crumbled into dust. Only then did the Maelstrom energies collapse upon themselves and vanish for good. For a moment, everyone was only able to stare at the space where Rex had once stood. If seeing Rex forever crippled, watching him give in to madness, and learning that he was about to die were not disturbing enough, what had just transpired left everyone shaken. At last, Andrew found his voice. "It… wasn't Rex. Without his Creative Spark, the Maelstrom just turned his body into another puppet for the Darkitect." "That's right," said Kate Bishop, nodding. "Rex is in there." She gestured towards Dr. Cyborg's right arm. Dr. Cyborg looked down upon his arm cannon. He furrowed his brow and bit his lip. With Rex's Creative Spark contained in his body, Dr. Cyborg suspected that any of Rex's last words or thoughts would be projected through him. And yet, while his HUD confirmed that there was indeed Imagination stored in his system, it was silent. There was no turning back now; Rex was dead, his essence contained inside the injection-cannon, and his body turned to dust after becoming a tool of the Maelstrom. Still, Andrew and Kate's words brought some sort of comfort to the Dino Attack agents, as they knew that Rex's Creative Spark was still pure enough to do the trick. Hotwire and Hertz finished preparing the Einstein Device as Dr. Cyborg approached Reptile. Working together, the pair of scientists loaded the Imagination into the Einstein Device, and then Specs, Hotwire, and Hertz sealed the device. Andrew, Zenna, and Zachary held up the newly-reconstructed launcher, while Specs took the completed Einstein Device and looked it over. "We are ready," Specs said as he nodded firmly. ***** As Dr. Rex scaled the side of Dino Attack Headquarters, placing claw over claw and tendril over tendril, he was constantly harassed by T-1 Typhoons. The Dino Attack helicopters had kept the Mutant Dinos at bay long enough; now that Dr. Rex himself had arrived on the scene, it was time to slow him down by any means necessary. "Ride of the Valkyries" and "Brixter Boss" blasted through the air as Rotor and the Brickster opened fire upon Dr. Rex with everything they had. Shadow and Digger blasted Dr. Rex with XL-4 Voltaic Launchers and Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters. Sam Race's T-1 Typhoon darted around too quickly for Dr. Rex to react in his numbed state, which was not helped by the combination of sonics and loud music ringing through his ears. Although the sonic attacks rattled his brain and the high-powered compressive power cells of the Voltaic Launchers were powerful enough to nearly cause him to lose his grip, he kept going. Even if the Maelstrom possessing his body did not force Dr. Rex to keep climbing, his anger, his hatred, and his determination pushed any thought of defeat out of his mind. After all, his silge armor protected him from most of the attacks, so in the end, the T-1 Typhoons could only slow him down… they could never stop him. Still, annoyed by the efforts of the T-1 Typhoons, a jet of fire erupted from Dr. Rex mouth, consuming the ninth floor of Dino Attack Headquarters in flames. Thanks to the high specific heat of silge and the mind-numbing pain he was already suffering, the fire barely affected him, but it would spread quickly, destroying all in its path like a wildfire. Dr. Rex continued his unrelenting ascension of the burning building. Nothing could stop him. ***** Fire and smoke were not the only things that were rising to the thirteenth floor of Dino Attack Headquarters. Right on cue, a T-1 Typhoon arrived at the scene, and Viper could be seen hanging out of the cabin. Again, since Zenna's T-1 Typhoon was occupying the helicopter landing pad, Viper had to jump down to the floor. Balling his hands into fists, Viper shouted: "Alright! Are we ready to show these scales who's boss or what?" Hertz could not hear anything, but he could feel Dino Attack Headquarters shaking beneath his feet and was starting to become uncomfortably hot. He glanced through a broken window and noticed the smoke rising. Peeking out, he saw that the lower floors were on fire, and Dr. Rex was still climbing; even with the T-1 Typhoons slowing him down, he was unrelenting. Trying to control the volume of his voice while retaining the necessary tone of urgency, Hertz screamed: "LOOK, GUYS, THIS BUILDING ISN'T GOING TO STAND MUCH LONGER ONCE DR. REX GETS UP HERE. IF WE'RE GOING TO FIRE THAT THING, WE'D BETTER DO SO FROM A T-1 TYPHOON IN FLIGHT, JUST TO BE SAFE." "Don't worry," Specs said reassuringly as he shook his head, "we've got a perfectly qualified pilot right here… if you're up to the job, agent Zenna." Astounded, Zenna was at a loss for words, but was able to nod her head once she regained control of her body. "Just remember," Viper told Zenna, "you've got to fly the Typhoon so I can get a clear shot at that big bad beast. It all does kind of depend on you… but hey, no pressure!" "Don't worry," Andrew said with a grin. "She's an ace pilot. She can handle this easily." He patted Zenna on the back, hoping that would give her a good confidence boost. Not that she needed it, since she was always plucky and ready to go. As Frozeen and Greybeard called for assistance, Andrew, Zachary, and Hertz finished dismantling the Super Teleport Pad in order to scavenge for bricks. They quickly assembled a blockade to keep the Mutant Lizards at bay; even though it would not hold for long, it might just be long enough. While it concerned him that this left everyone trapped in LEGO City, Specs knew that it was necessary to destroy the Super Teleport Pad before any Mutant Dinos could use it to travel to Antarctica, or else all would be lost. Zenna sat in the pilot's seat and reacquainted herself with the T-1 Typhoon controls. One by one, everyone started climbing aboard the T-1 Typhoon. With so many elite agents, the helicopter cabin quickly grew crowded, so a T-2 Typhoon was quickly summoned to carry those that could not make it aboard the first one, such as Pharisee, Kate, Saran, and Shannon. As Frozeen was helping Shannon load her wheelchair into the helicopter, the makeshift barricade exploded as fire, Mutant Lizards, and Mutant Raptors poured out. Although Greybeard unsheathed his cutlass, General shook his head. "Did you forget about me? I've got the G.E. Body exosuit, and unless one of these mutants is carrying a Panrahk XP, I'll make it through. Leave this to me." Frozeen knew that General was right, as he once knew the perks of the G.E. Body. "We'll provide air support," said Frozeen. "Come on, Greybeard." With that, the Alpha Team agent helped the old pirate step into the T-2 Typhoon before climbing aboard himself. No sooner had the T-1 Typhoon taken off and the T-2 Typhoon pull away from the building that the entire thirteenth floor became engulfed in the fire. General struggled to see through the fires, but as he turned away from the helicopters and faced the Mutant Dinos, he grinned and eagerly murmured: "I always wanted to use these." He pulled out four Space Knights laser sabers, a gift from King Joseph Race during their time working together in the Portal Operations Team. Igniting the futuristic swords, General battled in the flames against the Mutant Dinos, with movements more like a graceful dance than a fight to the death. Mutant Lizards, Mutant Raptors… it did not matter, for a few quick strikes with his laser sabers would incapacitate any of General's foes. Still, he appreciated the aid of the T-1 and T-2 Typhoons, which circled around the rooftop and provided cover by firing at the Mutant Dinos. From the T-2 Typhoon's cabin, Frozeen watched the battle and nodded approvingly. After so many years of being General's archnemesis, it was immensely satisfying to see him fighting on the same side. "Come on, General," he whispered. There was a flash of lightning immediately followed by a great thunderclap, but General could barely hear it over the terrifying sound of a bloodcurdling roar. Narrowing his eyes, General saw a great figure rise up from the flames and loom over him. In the darkness and through the flames, all General could see was a great shadow with a pair of glowing eyes, but he knew who it was. "Dr. Rex," General narrowed his eyes. Dr. Rex looked down upon General and bared its teeth. "You…" he growled. "You were the one… who turned Talia… against me!" Seething with fury, Dr. Rex opened his mouth and poured out a jet of fire. General jumped out of the way in the nick of time, his agility never failing him. However, in the process, he dropped three of his laser sabers, and they were swallowed by the flames. "That's right!" said General. "Your fight is with me! Now, let's end this!" Dr. Rex roared and charged towards General like a bull, shaking off the combined firepower of the two Typhoons, which were now joined by a third belonging to Rotor. General leapt to the right, but Dr. Rex was surprisingly quick to react, swinging his tail low and knocking General to the floor. As soon as General was back on his feet, Dr. Rex swung his tail again. This time, General was ready and grabbed Dr. Rex's tail. General climbed up onto Dr. Rex's back and ran along his spine whilst dodging the tendrils of Maelstrom energy, laser saber at the ready. Upon reaching the base of Dr. Rex's neck, General found a schism in Dr. Rex's armor where the helmet and neck met, and tried to pry it open with the laser saber. Although he successfully loosened the helmet, General was unable to pull it off before Dr. Rex reacted by shaking his entire form. In his attempt to dodge a lashing tendril of Maelstrom energy, General lost his balance and fell off. In mid-fall, General threw his laser saber like a javelin aimed at Dr. Rex's exposed eye, but the weapon was swallowed in the Maelstrom energy and disintegrated. No sooner had General hit the floor did Dr. Rex slam his foot down upon General's form, as though he was crushing an insect beneath his heel. He watched with surprise as General, struggling but still capable, slowly pushed the great weight of an armored T-Rex foot off of himself. Like the myth of Atlas, General managed to stand, lifting Dr. Rex's foot above him with all four of his hands. Out of the corner of his eye, General noticed that Viper and Specs, aboard the T-1 Typhoon, were now loading the Einstein Device into its launcher. "Well, here we are," muttered General, hoping to buy some time for Viper. "Two enemies, immortalized by our impenetrable armor, locked in epic battle until judgment day." "Perhaps," snarled Dr. Rex, "but when Ogel… designed you that… cheap suit… he should have… made sure… nothing… was exposed!" Tendrils of Maelstrom energy snaked down Dr. Rex's leg. General realized what was about to happen, but was too late to do anything about it. The Maelstrom shot into the eyeholes of his helmet, the only exposed part of his form, giving the tendrils access to his weak and vulnerable body within. As Maelstrom energy poured into his G.E. Body, General could only scream as he suffered impossible pain. Despite all the firepower of the two T-1 Typhoons and the T-2 Typhoon, nothing could move Dr. Rex as General's legs buckled and he collapsed under the weight of the foot. "No!" cried Frozeen, staring in horror at where General once stood. "General!" Rotor's T-1 Typhoon circled around Dr. Rex, blasting everything the helicopter had. As Dr. Rex tried to focus upon the helicopter, the Brickster's own T-1 Typhoon arrived at the scene and rained MegaBlokland upon Dr. Rex, with so much explosive firepower that even Dr. Rex was knocked back. As a swarm of Mutant Pterosaurs divebombed the Brickster's Typhoon, the T-2 Typhoon provided cover and shot the pterosaurs out of the sky. Sam Race's T-1 Typhoon flew past Dr. Rex so quickly, the mutant tyrant lizard king barely had enough time to react as Rotor went in for another round. This time, Rotor ordered his gunners to fire at where General had loosened Dr. Rex's armor. A volley of XL-4 Voltaic blasts rained down upon Dr. Rex, and his helmet went flying into the air and disappeared as it fell off the roof of Dino Attack Headquarters. "Now's our chance!" Hotwire shouted. "Zenna, take us in so we can fire at his exposed head!" However, having a weak point revealed only made Dr. Rex even more dangerous. Roaring furiously, he tore a chunk out of the Brickster's already-damaged T-1 Typhoon. The T-1 Typhoon was engulfed in flames as it flew through the fires of Dino Attack Headquarters. However, as the burning wreckage fell down to the streets below, Frozeen was relieved to see the Brickster jump out in time, escorted by two Brickster-Bots with jetpacks. Zenna attempted to fly in the T-1 Typhoon close to Dr. Rex to give Viper a better shot, but the helicopter was bombarded by a flock of Mutant Pterosaurs. Reptile and Hotwire fired their weapons at the Mutant Pterosaurs, but they were too many in number. When the T-2 Typhoon attempted to provide cover, it was struck by Dr. Rex's eye beams. While it remained in flight, it temporarily spun out of control. Hertz grabbed a pair of Sonic Screamers in the ship's cargo, duct-taped them together, and released a combined sonic pulse that knocked more of the Mutant Pterosaurs out of the air. Rotor's T-1 Typhoon went in for another attack, and only some quick maneuvering skills by Sam Race's T-1 Typhoon kept Dr. Rex from tearing both helicopters out of the sky. Sam Race went in for another pass, but flew a little too close and ended up with his tail rotor on fire. By the time the Mutant Pterosaurs were cleared, the T-2 Typhoon was back in control of its own flight, but Rotor was having problems against Dr. Rex. The Mutant T-Rex tore off Rotor's XL-4 Voltaic Launcher and disabled one of the Quintronic Sonic Emitters with his laser vision. An Alpha Team Helicopter and Agents Aerial Defense Unit tried to provide cover, but a bolt of lightning knocked the latter out of the skies while the former was consumed by Dr. Rex's fires. Zenna circled her T-1 Typhoon around the roof of Dino Attack Headquarters. Sam Race knew that his burning T-1 Typhoon would not remain in flight for much longer, and so he recklessly decided to go in for one last pass. He served as a distraction to Dr. Rex while Rotor's T-1 Typhoon unleashed another volley of attacks. While Sam Race looked for a safe place to crash-land the helicopter, another T-1 Typhoon arrived, piloted by Shadow. Even as a Mutant Pterosaur attacked the helicopter, Digger was lowered by the cable and fired a handheld PLARXX Radar Ray at the last possible second, scrambling the Mutant Pterosaur's senses and knocking it out of the sky. The newcomer T-1 Typhoon flew towards the roof of Dino Attack Headquarters and opened fire on Dr. Rex. The T-2 Typhoon joined Rotor and Shadow's T-1 Typhoons in a joint attack upon Dr. Rex. It was a valiant effort, but Dr. Rex was growing tired of the ordeal. He breathed fire at Rotor's T-1 Typhoon, fired laser vision at Shadow's T-1 Typhoon, and then slammed the bulk of his mass against the hull of the T-2 Typhoon. Greybeard stumbled and fell out of the T-2 Typhoon's cabin. Frozeen acted quickly, grabbing the old pirate's hand and saving him from a fiery fate, but their combined weight threatened to throw them both out of the helicopter. Kate wrapped her arms around Frozeen's waist and Dr. Saran did likewise with Kate, but their combined weight was not enough, as they began to slide out of the cabin. It was not until Pharisee grabbed Saran's shoulders with his great, strong hands that they were stopped from falling out. But before Pharisee could lift the others back into the helicopter, Dr. Rex raised his head to the T-2 Typhoon and opened his maw. His teeth were mere inches from Greybeard's position, and the old pirate felt his hand slipping out of Frozeen's grip. Feeling Dr. Rex's hot breath, Greybeard locked eyes with Frozeen. "If I let go…" he whispered, "ye can make it…" "Don't let go!" cried Frozeen, even as Mutant Pterosaurs circled overhead, waiting for the kill like a wake of vultures. "The war ends…" hissed Dr. Rex, as another jet of fire was about to erupt from his maw and consume the T-2 Typhoon. "Now!" shouted Reptile from Zenna's T-1 Typhoon. Specs and Viper traded glances, then locked eyes upon Dr. Rex. Zenna's reputed piloting abilities had proven themselves, for they were now at the perfect angle to get a clear shot at Dr. Rex's exposed head while he was distracted by the T-2 Typhoon. "The Mutant Tyrant Lizard King…" announced Specs. "… now extinct!" declared Viper, grinning as he pulled the trigger. Time seemed to slow as the Einstein Device was fired from its launcher. Flashing lights on the device appeared to leave a trail of blue light in their wake. The projectile flew through the flames and the debris of the wrecked thirteenth floor. Viper's aim was true, and nothing could block its path. Out of the corner of his eye, Dr. Rex saw the incoming Einstein Device. He felt the Maelstrom tendrils tugging on his armor like chains, yanking him with full force, struggling to pull him out of the way before it was too late. He heard Baron Typhonus screaming in his mind, a voice full of rage and panic, ordering him to destroy the Einstein Device as it came closer and closer. No, Dr. Rex decided as his final act of free will. I shall not move. He knew that it was moving too fast and already too close to dodge. Instead, Dr. Rex slowly took in a deep breath that he knew would be his last. This was it. This was the end. Everything he had worked for was over. But despite this knowledge, Dr. Rex felt a strange sense of relief in his final moments. It was over. He knew not what lied beyond the grave, but no matter what waited for him after death, he would finally be able to escape his cruel life. He would finally be freed from Baron Typhonus's control. No one would have to suffer anymore. It would all… end. Thank you, thought Dr. Rex, with sincere gratitude. When the Einstein Device hit, it detonated, releasing its payload. A great wave of Imagination, magnified in volume by the programming of the device, exploded outward, consuming Dino Attack Headquarters in an aura of blue light. It was too bright for anyone to look at, forcing many to avert their eyes or squint. The sound was also deafening, like a mixture of a whirlwind, an earthquake, an explosion, and a tidal wave all mixed into one. Faintly, one could hear the cries of thousands of Mutant Dinos caught in the blast radius. The effect of the Einstein Device upon these creatures was that of a mercy kill. The Maelstrom in their bodies was simply too much, and by destroying the dark energies, their Creative Sparks were extinguished in the process. As the T-2 Typhoon raised its altitude, the Minifigs caught in the blast radius were unharmed. Rather, they were filled with rejuvenated energy and life, and with ease, Greybeard was pulled back aboard the helicopter. Rex, the one whose Creative Spark powered the Einstein Device, was only dimly aware of his surroundings. When the Einstein Device detonated, he knew that he would cease to exist, since his essence would be spread so far that it could never possibly come back together. But he did not regret his choice. Instead, as he reflected upon his life and thought of all the lives he would be saving… Reptile, Hotwire, Zenna, Rotor, B, Andrew, Hertz, Zachary, Dr. Cyborg… he felt at peace. For everyone. And so, when everything Rex knew became a white void and he heard a mysterious voice proclaim, "It is time," Rex was ready to accept his fate. It was, indeed, time. I'm coming… Amanda… And then, Rex was gone. ***** It was over. When the light faded away, all that remained of Dr. Rex was his armor, cast about the debris like a broken toy. The storm had subsided; while it was still raining, it had calmed to a light drizzle, and there was no longer any lightning. Dino Attack Headquarters still stood. It had taken more damage than one thought it could bear, between Firecracker's explosives, the destructive Mutant Dinos, and the wild fires of Dr. Rex, but as though it were a symbol of Minifigures' ability to persevere, it still stood as a monument to Dino Attack's triumph. Most of the Mutant Dinosaurs, which were invading Dino Attack Headquarters at the time, were caught in the blast radius of the Einstein Device. Those that remained, scattered around the torn-up streets and wrecked buildings, were now masterless as Dr. Rex had perished and, through him, Baron Typhonus had been banished for good. They were left confused and aimless as they tasted freedom for the first time, and as such no longer seemed to pose a threat to the remaining allied forces. Similarly, with their leaders captured during the battle, the Fright Knights and the Inferno henchmen quickly surrendered. Specs breathed a sigh of relief. "It's over, at last." "No," Reptile said, shaking his head. "This isn't the end. This… is a new beginning." The cabin of the T-1 Typhoon exploded in triumph. Andrew and Zachary laughed and patted each other on the backs; Hotwire gave Reptile a high-five; Dr. Cyborg nudged Hertz, grinned, and gave a thumbs-up. The radio was abuzz with cries of victory and a number of famous movie quotes. Specs and Viper nodded to each other. Everyone knew that they could never have done it without each other. Only by working as a team could they prepare the Einstein Device and win the battle. On the T-2 Typhoon, the passengers were celebrating their own victory. Greybeard had already proclaimed, "Drinks all around!" Dr. Saran was recalling some sort of amusing anecdote to Shannon and Kate. They received confirmation via radio that Rotor and Sam Race both survived the battle, and as they passed Shadow's T-1 Typhoon, they caught a glimpse of Digger, still swinging on the cable, whooping excitedly. Frozeen stood apart from the rest of the celebration in his cabin. As the fires were already dying down, he jumped down from the helicopter and landed back on the thirteenth floor. He ran through the wreckage and the debris until he found what might have once been Specs's office. There laid General, half-covered by a large piece of debris. Grunting, Frozeen pushed the rubble off of General's form, who cried out in pain. "Oh my Builder," whispered Frozeen as he surveyed the damage. Even if G.E. Metal could withstand so much, General looked to be in terrible shape. "Frozeen…" he whispered. "Please remove… my helmet… Cannot… breathe…" Nodding, Frozeen pulled the G.E. Body's helmet off of General's head, exposing his face for the first time in a decade. His skin, which was already wrinkled with age and scarred by burns, was now blackened and charred after what the Maelstrom did to him. General took in several deep breaths. "Ah… to breathe again…" he murmured, "for the first time so long… without a filter… to feel the rain… against my face…" Sighing, General locked eyes with Frozeen. "I'm not going to make it… will I? Tell Talia… I love her… and I'm sorry." "You did good," said Frozeen, nodding. "You did real good." General chuckled, and they clasped hands. Then, General lightly brushed one hand against Frozeen's cheek. "Your father… would be proud…" General whispered, a smile crossing his dry and broken lips. Frozeen took his hand, even as he felt it grow limp in his grip. General sighed one last time as he stared off into nothingness, passing away. Greybeard approached Frozeen from behind and gently laid a hand on the Alpha Team agent's shoulder. "He be dead, but not in vain," murmured Greybeard. "Much like Rex, he be gone… but ascended t' a higher plane o' existence. They now live on in all o' us now." Frozeen nodded his head solemnly. After seeing so many die in the past twenty-four hours alone, Frozeen felt no sadness or grief over the death of General… only grim acceptance. The deaths of Rex, General, and so many more were not to be mourned, but to be celebrated, for they gave their lives to save others, Frozeen realized. The Alpha Team agent stood as he gave one final goodbye to the brother and general of Evil Ogel. It was over. At last. ---- Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/
  11. Chapter 71: Working In Unison ---- "Well, if we need more bricks, you can count on me," said Andrew to his fellow Elite agents. "Even in this environment, I'm sure we can find all the necessary parts. Though I think we may need to sacrifice the Teleport Pad at some point for some of the parts..." "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," said Reptile. "Now once Zach gets up here-" "Znap!" Viper suddenly cried out. Everyone turned to see him talking into a radio in the room with concern. "How is he?!... Drat, as if Dr. Rex wasn't bad enough... Yes, we'll take care of it." "What was that?" Shadow asked as Viper put the radio down. "You know that witch that showed up? Willa, I believe? She apparently destroyed Zach's Dino Air Tracker, but he managed to get off. Now the two are fighting their way up in this direction, both of them throwing Maelstrom energy all through the base." "Even with his knack for survival, I doubt he'll be able to handle it well alone," Specs muttered. "Them tearing up this area of the building isn't exactly a good thing either. We need to get him some bac-" The thirteenth floor rumbled from several loud blasts, while from somewhere near the area of the stairways, purple energies were glowing visibly in and out. "Save your breath, Specs, we'll get on it," said Shadow. "Digger, Viper, grab a weapon. We're going to show that witch that 'muggles' aren't as inferior to her as she thinks." As the commanding agents grabbed various weapons from a side wall and headed out, Shadow turned to the gathered agents and announced: "And if any of you want to lend a hand, come follow us, though we won't wait for you." "I'm in," said Andrew, drawing his laser rifle. "I'm always ready to come to Zach's defense." "So I've heard," Shadow said with a smirk. "Anyone else?" "I'm in," Dr. Cyborg said. ***** B ran up the stairs, jumping over bits of rubble as he neared the roof of the building. His mind was focused. His plan was terrible. And, with the exception of the one mission in his mind, he felt a large amount of apathy towards everything else around him. It was a technique he had learned back in special forces: block out the rest of the world to do your job better. Well, thought B, this isn't even my job right now. This could be counted as desertion, or whatever. I have one shot at this. Tempest, for all I know, might not even go for it. He might not do it. The one variable in a mission, and it's the one that guarantees success. Unacceptable, that's what he'd say. B reached the top of the stairs, and cautiously walked onto the roof. A minifig by the edge of the roof turned and faced him. They regarded each other warily, neither daring to move any more. "So," said Tempest, "you've certainly gotten better at avoiding sniper fire." "If you'll recall," said B, "that's one of the things I was actually good at. Either that, or you just suck at aiming. I mean, how did you manage to hit perfectly between my feet? That takes some serious skill. Either that, or you just were trying to get my attention." Tempest nodded. "You pick up quick, Kabrinsky." "Ooh," scoffed B, "referring to me by my last name! I'm in trouble now!" "Now, what do you want, B?" asked Tempest. "Well," said B, "you were the one who invited me here." "Incorrect," replied Tempest. "I invited you to the diner, where I planned on ambushing and killing you. You must have a reason for coming all the way up here." B shrugged. "Well, the fact that you were trying to kill me does put a damper on my actual plan, Tempest." "And what's your actual plan, B?" pressed Tempest. "Well, you always said to give up when you lose," said B. "I thought I might as well give up. You said that if I ever 'straightened out my ideology', you could have a job for me." Tempest blinked in surprise. "You... You're serious." "Dead serious," said B. "In fact, here's a piece of tech that just came in from our R&D. Rob said to check it out, and I think you might be interested. Here, catch!" B tossed the remote at Tempest. As it flew through the air, time seemed to slow, and then Tempest caught it, and placed a firm grip on it, pushing the button. B grinned. "Four words, Tempest: Znap off and die." ***** Cortana could tell that Kara was listening to something as she flew the ship, shooting down Mutant Pterosaurs as she went. "What are you listening to?" she asked Kara. "A motivational speech called 'Get mad! Fight back!' that was recorded back in the eighties. It's quite good. You know, it might help morale to hear it. Cortana, change radio frequency to team-wide and broadcast audio file P2," Kara said. "Yes ma'am," Cortana said as she complied. "When life gives you lemons, don't make lemonade! Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! Fight back! I don't want your Znapping lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?! Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give me lemons! Do you know who I am?! I am the man who is going to burn your house down! With lemons! I am going to get my scientists to invent a combustible lemon, and burn your house down with it!" "Yeah! Yeah! Burn his house down! I like this guy! He says what we're all thinking!" "Hey, what did I say about not using the comms for references?" "How dare you! 'Get mad! Fight back!' is so much more than a reference! Hundreds of MP3s of it are sold every day! The entire team's morale will increase from hearing it!" "Fine, no references over the comms except 'Get mad! Fight back!'" ***** The Inferno Mech was a tough opponent. Luckily, Cyrista's Bane had not been injured as of yet. For that, Screech was thankful. If he had, she would have been worried for the battle. Definitely the battle. Not for Bane any more than a friend. So far, Cyrista's Bane and the Inferno Mech had an inventive way to fight: they had torn tall light poles out of the road and used them as swords! Bane had the advantage in speed and agility, but the Inferno Mech had greater power and could take more hits. The Mech swung its "sword" at Bane's head. Screech gasped, or at least as much as a Mutant Pterosaur can gasp, and started to divebomb the mech to distract Dr. Inferno. Luckily, Bane blocked the swing with his own "sword". However, the Mech's "sword" bent around the other due to the force, so they were both useless. Instead of pulling out new ones, they simply changed to hand-to-hand combat. The Inferno Mech ran at Bane, intending to punch him with its claw. When the claw was a few feet away from his head, Bane grabbed the wrist joint and started to twist the Mech's arm around. When he had twisted it upside down, Bane grabbed the wrist with his other arm, and tossed the Inferno Mech down the street. The Mech slid up against the building and got back up. Bane fired his grappler at the cockpit, intending to break the glass and grab the pilot. At the last moment, the Mech leaned to the right. Bane's grappler slammed into the side of the building, embedding itself into the wall. The Mech pulled it out, and Bane reeled in the slack without thinking. With the chain taut, the Mech was able to use it to sling Bane over an office tower into the next street. As the Mech ran around the building, intending to finish off his prey, Bane was able to get up and recover. Using his arms and grappler, he was able to scale the office building he flew over not too long ago. When the Mech got to the side Dr. Inferno was expecting to see Bane on, Bane jumped off of the building and onto the torso of the robot. Using his internal furnace, he melted the glass over the cockpit. However, he was thrown off at that moment. He got up and fired his grappler at the pilot, where it got a hold on his neck. Unfortunately, Dr. Inferno was able to use that moment to grab Bane's neck using the mech's claw. It was a standoff. ***** Suddenly, the blast of Maelstrom shrank away back to Willa the Witch. Zach fell to his knees, panting. He looked up to the witch, who was gasping and holding her wand in shock as she floated on her broomstick. He could see a slight crack on the starhead of the weapon. Much the structure in the floor had been heavily damaged by the Maelstrom. "How?" Willa gasped, looking from her wand to Zach. "How can you match my power?!" Zach rose to his feet, dizzy and winded. "I know how to use it. And if you do that again, you are going to kill us all, you moron!" Zach struggled to scream out the end of sentence. Willa the Witch scowled and fired another blast at him. Zach reached out and absorbed the blast in his hand. "Would you quit it?!" Zach said, leaning a metal beam for support. The witch responded with several more blasts of Maelstrom energy, each absorbed by Zach. He felt a painful knot form in his stomach. Too much. He wondered if he absorbed enough, he would be corrupted again. Not willing to bet on it, Zach turned and fired several Maelstrom fireballs out of his hand through the wall in the building and into the rainy sky. The knot faded slightly, allowing Zach to turn around and have the witch fire an electrical streak of energy at him. Zach quickly knocked the blast down and fired another fireball that Willa the Witch tossed through the entire floor of the building, causing the building to shudder and groan in agony as more of its supports were destroyed. Zach growled, growing angrier. The witch cackled madly at his visible frustration and prepared to fire another blast at him. At that moment, several laser blasts struck near Willa the Witch. She gasped and formed a protective shield around her, deflecting the rest of the fire. At that point, Zach could see at least Shadow, Viper, Digger, Andrew, and Dr. Cyborg jump down to the floor, weapons raised at the Fright Knight witch. "More agents?" The witch sneered, rising higher into the air to the tip of her hair almost brushed against the ceiling. "So be it!" Willa the Witch spun in the air, waving her wand. A circle of Maelstrom energy shot out from around her and struck ever agent present and caused even more damage. Zach laid on the ground, his head spinning and throbbing dully against his skull. As he pulled himself to his feet, he could see the other agents doing the same. The witch was screaming in anger as she looked at her wand. "Why aren't you dead?" Willa complained angrily, almost like a child. "That blast should have killed you all! You should be dead! Why aren't you dead!" Zach looked at the witch's wand again. The crack on her wand had a weak glow to it and it seemed to growing. The wall of Maelstrom energy Willa had thrown at him that he had reflected earlier had severely damaged her wand. Her power was weakening. Zach cracked his knuckles. He had back up now and the witch's power was weakened severely. He smirked coldly. The odds had been evened. "Euh, that's why I hated working in Castle Cove," Digger muttered quietly as he recovered from Willa's blast. "Too unpredictable." "Well, they may know a lot about magic," Andrew replied, "but I'm betting that they couldn't handle combat especially in a state of mind like hers. She seems to be losing it." "Her wand seems busted from the blast I threw back at her," Zach added. "I'd say the odds are more even for us now." "That would make her nothing more than a particularly strong pest that needs exterminating," said Shadow. "Spread out, we'll overwhelm her with numbers." The stairway walls, along with several other walls on the tenth floor, were extremely blown out by the fight, making it easy for Andrew and the rest of his Dino Attack colleagues to split up and take cover. Screeching mad, Willa took after them. Andrew took cover behind an only-just stable column and took a look at what the witch did. She first went after Dr. Cyborg, appearing to be acting on the instinctual "Magic vs. Science" grudge. The scientist was resisting most of her weaker Maelstrom blasts thanks to his cybernetic build, and was throwing EMP Sonic Screamer shots at her when she was leaving herself open. Resisting the blasts and focusing her attention on the cyborg robbed her awareness long enough for Andrew to take a shot at her with his laser rifle, barely missing her but at least taking her hat off. "You dare take off my hat?!" Willa cried. "YOU MUST DIE!" She threw a fireball at him, which Andrew jumped out of the way of. The blast hit the column he was behind, putting a dent and scorch mark in it, but not leaving it destroyed or on fire. The weakening of her wand and good fireproofing could be thanks for that. In a rage, Willa flew at Andrew, but was knocked to the side as a Z-1 Kinetic Launcher shot was made at her, and the witch barely held onto her broom. Viper stepped closer from behind a desk of a ruined dormitory room and took another shot. Willa was ready for this one, and managed to make another protective shield as she got back on her broom. Andrew noted that she was knocked back slightly even with the shield, the blast managing to pierce it slightly. "Hey, remember me?" Zach cried out to Willa near the stairway. She turned and screamed again as she fired several Maelstrom blasts at him. In the moment Zach deflected them out the hole in the stairway roof, a Cosmotronic Ray hit Willa squarely in the chest, stunning her long enough for Viper to hit her again and knock the witch right off her broom. The enchanted cleaning tool floated for only a moment before it fell to the floor. "I never miss!" Digger cried out as he came charging for the broom. Willa reacted quickly, hitting him with a fireball he only barely managed to jump under. The only damage was fire catching on the back of his uniform, which he made a quick effort to roll over to smother. However, this left him vulnerable to a Maelstrom blast that knocked him several feet away. Willa cackled again and turned to grab her broom, only to be hit by Andrew's laser rifle fire, Shadow's Sonic Screamer, Dr. Cyborg's EMP Screamer, and Viper's Z-1 Kinetic Launcher. With a cry of pain, she was knocked to the ground again, though her hand still had a tight grip on her wand, in spite of its weakened state. Shadow approached her broom and grabbed it. As the witch got up, she barely noticed the other agents having her guns drawn on her as she watched the Founding Member glare at her and split the broom in two on his knee. "Welcome back down to Earth, witch," said Shadow. ***** Magma glared at the battle before him, as if by observing it intently enough he would be able to change it. Unfortunately, the observer effect didn't actually work like that, but at this point Magma would be willing to try pretty much anything. Specs's order had just come over the comm line. They had lost. Dino Attack was giving up… or was it? They were evacuating everyone and preparing some sort of superweapon in what little was left of Dino Attack HQ. The Iron Hammer had fought well, and accounted for many a Mutant Dino, but it simply had not been enough. Maybe if they had finished work on the hangar bays, if they had had a few more of these ships, if the Voltage had been there… maybe then, but as it stood, they simply did not have enough firepower. A handful of T-1 Typhoons had formed up around the airship, seeking shelter. Certainly, every Dino in range was much more likely to attack the massive, deadly airship than much smaller helicopters. The rest of the vehicles were either clustering around HQ, buying time, or were fleeing. Then, Magma spotted a lone T-1 Typhoon emerge from the cloud of vehicles still around HQ and dive into the enemy swarms. Just when he was sure it would be destroyed, it dove back out of the Pterosaur swarms, cutting a path through them with radar rays. It circled back to the tower, and then emerged again for another potentially suicidal attack. He thought he recognized something in that maneuver, something... well, he barely dared to hope. But before he could open a channel to the pilot, his attention was abruptly occupied by a large Pterosaur swarm attempting to knock the airship out of the sky. ***** Coral - Glacier - cursed his bravado. Once upon a time, he would have retreated, left the battle, and joined the winning faction. Once upon a time, he would have lived to fight another day. Why had he decided to throw his life away? It wasn't as if one T-1 Typhoon would do much good against the enemy they now faced, and even if it did, there was no guarantee Specs, Reptile, and the rest would actually be able to do anything. He had done it, he realized, because if the Mutant Dinos won there would not be another day to live for. It would be the beginning of the end of all life on the LEGO Planet. But there was more to it than that… after dozens of years of essentially being on the run, of not knowing who he truly was, of living an… empty life, he was tired. He hadn't accomplished much. He had done a few minor deeds for Alpha Team back in the day, but what had that actually accomplished, in the great war on Ogel? Probably not much. And as for the Pirates? Well, there, he had done a bit more, yes. But for what? They had saved the LEGO Planet from Skeleton Pirates so it could be destroyed by Mutant Dinos. And in the process, he had had some fun, some nice adventures… but it all seemed so meaningless in retrospect. So Glacier had decided to stay, to fight, to buy Reptile and the others precious time to get the Einstein Device online. Suddenly, as he dove back into the enemy for the third time, a panel sparked. Alarms went off in the cockpit. He glanced at the control panel. It looked like a T-Rex strike had destroyed his PLARXX Radar Ray control. Which meant… He realized exactly what it meant as a dozen Pterosaurs divebombed his T-1 Typhoon. The vehicle was simply not maneuverable enough to survive that kind of an assault. To his credit, Glacier managed to bring the vehicle to the relative safety of Dino Attack HQ, where a few others targeted and wiped out the Pterosaurs behind him. But he couldn't prevent the crash, and that, in the end, was what did it. ***** Magma stared grimly as the T-1 Typhoon that he had been watching dropped to the ground. "Open a channel to that downed vehicle, now!" he ordered in a tone even harsher than usual. Cee-Dee, fortunately, obeyed without question. "This is Alpha Team Special Agent Magma…. Are you… are you alive?" he asked, hesitantly. A grim chortle that turned into a cough came back over the line. "Not for long, Magma." "So it is you," he breathed. "Glacier…" "Yes, you finally found me, didn't you," his brother replied over the line. "And now you'll lose me yet again." "We can send people to get you out of there, we can use the teleportation systems…" "No," Glacier said quietly but firmly. "Don't waste the time trying to save me - I don't want to be saved! Besides… personal's not the same as important… you have to win, don't lose because you pulled out to... 'rescue' me." Magma blinked rapidly. "Then, then… please, Glacier, you are forgiven. You are forgiven… be at peace." There was a soft noise, then nothing but silence for a few minutes, after which Cee Dee respectfully closed the channel. The tears that had begun to form in Magma's eyes were outpaced by sudden fury. His brother was dead. His brother, a rogue who, once upon a time, he had spent years hunting, was now dead - Magma's last link to his life before Alpha Team, one of the last people who had known who Magma really was, underneath the hardened Alpha Team agent - dead. Dead, at the hands of some oversized lizard and failed genetics experiment. Dead, before Magma could have tried to reconcile with him. He'd known Coral was serving with the Dino Attack Team, and he was pretty sure that Coral and his brother were one and the same. But he had been far too busy coordinating Alpha Team's role in various Dino Attack-related operations to approach him... and now, it was too late. Several minutes passed before Magma next spoke, and when he did, he sounded eerily emotionless. "We're going to Dino Attack HQ, and we are going to buy the Dino Attack Team time to activate their device. I don't care if we have to single-handedly fight every single thing on the planet to make it happen - we're going to make it happen." The crew did not object to his orders, instead getting right to work as they steered the Iron Hammer towards the base. "They are going to pay for this," Magma added quietly. And this was much worse than the normal way in which he simply shouted at people angrily. Much, much worse. ***** Willa the Witch was surrounded. Any sane person would surrender. However, when one is influenced by the Darkitect, "sane" is not an accurate adjective for said one. Before the witch died, she wanted to kill someone. Anyone. Acting again upon the aforementioned "Magic vs. Science" grudge, that someone turned out to be Dr. Cyborg. She quickly raised her arm and shot a larger-than-normal Maelstrom fireball at Dr. Cyborg. Given that there were a few yards between Willa and everybody else, he had time to react. He dropped his EMP Sonic Screamer and caught the sphere of Maelstrom. Normally, when the Maelstrom touched his hand, it would have been absorbed into his body. But, acting on a theory he thought of in the Maelstrom Temple but was never able to test, he activated his shield generator. He directed the field to the palm of his hand, and used it to suspend the Maelstrom above his palm. He swung his arm back around and threw it at Willa. She tried to absorb it into her wand, but it was too much. With a snap, the crack in her wand began to grow... ***** Minerva Fabello and Holly Vinyaya were driving at the wrecked vehicle that Oswald Fabello was hiding behind at a fast pace. The Fire Hammer easily tossed away the vehicle as they collided, causing little damage to the jeep itself. Unfortunately, Oswald was nowhere to be found. Minerva quickly turned her head and saw her brother rising from the ruins of a building, his weapon raised. "Duck!" Minerva yelled. They hadn't rolled up the passenger side window, so bullets began to fly through the cab and over their heads. Vinyaya swore irritably and blindly drove out Oswald's firing range. As Minerva raised her head, she saw Oswald screaming in anger in the side mirrors. He fired his gun, striking an agent driving a Steel Sprinter. Oswald jumped onto the ATV and started to chase after the Fire Hammer. There was no real doubt. He wouldn't stop until he killed Minerva. She herself had no idea what was driving her to face him, but she knew she had to. Her arm stung from where one of Oswald's bullets grazed her. She still didn't know if she had the nerve to kill him, but she would at least incapacitate him. Holding a Sonic Screamer she found in the Fire Hammer, Minerva pointed it out the window behind her and fired several shots. Oswald swerved out of the way of the sonic blasts and fired several rounds at Minerva's door as he continued to gain on her. "Use the Xenon Launcher!" Vinyaya barked, turning sharply. The Fire Hammer skidded hard before it stopped, facing Oswald. Minerva turned to the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher and began firing at Oswald, intending only to destroy his vehicle. Oswald screamed again and drove around the blasts with ease. He fired his machine gun at the windshield, causing sufficient enough cracks to blind Vinyaya. "MegaBloking MegaBloks!" Vinyaya growled. She slammed the gas pedal and started to drive toward Oswald. Minerva saw what Oswald would do and came up with her own idea to counter it. Gripping the Sonic Screamer tightly, Minerva pulled the door handle, loosening it. "Fabello!" Vinyaya snapped. "What are you doing?" Oswald drove to the ride side, passing by Minerva's door. She threw the door open and dove at her brother. They both flew from the Steel Sprinter and hit the hard pavement. Minerva was quickly on her feet, ignoring the pain emitting from her body and began firing the Sonic Screamer at her brother. Oswald rolled away and fired his much more lethal weapon at her. Minerva dove behind a mailbox to use as cover and began to fire several retaliating shots. One shot found its mark, striking Oswald in the chest. Oswald screamed in pain, dropping the weapon to clutch his ears. As he fell to his knees, Minerva began to slowly approach him, never lowering her weapon. When she was a yard away from him, she whispered gently, "Oswald?" She was stepping back as soon as she said the words. Oswald's arm swung at her as he rose to his feet. His face showed he was very clearly in pain from the sonics, but was ignoring the urge to fall into unconsciousness to attack Minerva. She clutched her stomach with one hand as Oswald spun his knife in his palm. He had sliced at her stomach and had torn her uniform. Minerva could feel the skin underneath. Looking at her hand, she saw small traces of fresh blood on it. She looked back to the knife, an undeniable rage growing in her stomach. She hated that weapon. Excluding her mother, everyone in her family had fallen because of a blade. Now, Oswald intended to have her join Isaac and Tod, but she wouldn't have it. She ran toward him. Knocking his knife arm away, Minerva punched him hard in the face. Oswald stumbled back and gave Minerva shock looked before charging at her as well. Minerva slammed her Sonic Screamer into Oswald's arm, but not before he delivered his own punch into her cheek. Her mouth became numb quickly. She stared at Oswald, her eyes growing wide. She knew he was trying to kill her, but being physically attacked by him had still shocked her. Minerva swung her Sonic Screamer into his head. Oswald ducked and kicked Minerva's shins. She winced in pain, fighting back tears. She kicked Oswald in the stomach and fired another Sonic Screamer blast at him. Oswald howled in agony like a wild animal. His eyes were practically bulging out of his head. He lunged at Minerva's neck and gripped it tight. He brought the knife close to her throat. "There's no hope," Oswald, his glare piercing Minerva. "We're all going to die. Nobody is safe. We're doomed." Minerva spat into his face and kicked him hard in the gut. Oswald roared again as he released his grip upon Minerva. He swung a foot at her ankles, knocking her to the ground. As she rose, she saw him fleeing into a ruined, tan-colored building. Minerva blinked in shock. She recognized the building. It was their old apartment they had lived in after they could no longer support living in their house thanks to Athena's insanity. She and Oswald had hidden out there for a week after the Dino Attack began, when their only concern was to survive. Minerva felt herself running toward the building. She could hear Vinyaya yelling her name, but she ignored the Space Police officer. Her conflict with Oswald was about to come to an end. In the very building where she lived through the first week of the Dino Attack. Gripping the Sonic Screamer tightly, Minerva began to ascend the steps to the front door. ***** "Well played, B," conceded Tempest. "Well played. It seems, now, that you win. Goodbye." With that, the octanitrocubane in the duffel bag exploded. Both B and Tempest were launched into the air by the force of the explosion, and the building crumbled. Gee, thought B, maybe I used too much. Aw, MegaBlok. B pushed a button on his robotic arm, and a hook and cable shot out of it, aiming at one of the taller buildings across the street that hadn't been damaged by the explosion. It caught, and B started swinging towards the building. Out of the frying pan, and into the... brick wall. Znap it all. And with that, B smashed through a brick wall and slid across the floor of the second story of the building next to the diner. B lay still for a few seconds, and then sat up. Morpheus, what the Znap did I do to you? Why am I still conscious? And... I'm not feeling anything. At all. That would be why. Let's see. Concussion: almost certainly, no broken bones? This armor saved me in that respect, but it probably crushed and bruised a lot of my internal parts. Look at this anomaly: I'm not even bleeding. I just hate to think what's going to happen when my nervous system wakes up. I better get back to base before that happens, and this time Yena won't be there to save my MegaBloking butt. Let's get up... There we go. Steady? Steady. Let's move. B got up, and made his way to the stairwell, and then walked to the entrance of the building. He walked outside, to see a jeep drive away. The minifig inside it turned and made a rude gesture as he drove away towards the Dino Attack HQ. "Well, this is just getting ridiculous," muttered B. And despite what B knew he was doing to his body, he ran. ***** Shaw stepped forward in the lab. "Do you think we should get the wounded up here?" She asked. Hale looked at her irritably. "No, Shaw," she said. "It's too dangerous. We're not transporting the patients up thirteen floors of an unstable building, and I got a feeling Pierce will agree that it'll be safer for them where they are." "Supposing we lose here…" said Shaw. "They seal themselves in," replied Hale. "Take their chances underground, wait for things to cool off. When we're low on supplies, we'll come out, and start over, turn our former patients into fighting men, and this team will be reborn! At least there'll be some way to carry on our race." ***** Willa the Witch screeched in anger. Her hat was gone, Shadow had broken her broomstick, and her wand was splitting from the Maelstrom's power. Once the wand was gone, Willa would just be a frail, powerless, old crone. "NYAAAAH!" Willa roared, waving her wand. The sound of cracking whips filled the air as sharp, lightning strikes of Maelstrom energy blasted Andrew, Zach, and Digger across the story. Shadow snarled and fired his weapon rapidly. Willa disintegrated each blast, allow Dr. Cyborg and Viper to step forward and blast the witch with the EMP Sonic Screamer and Z-1 Kinetic Launcher. The witch screeched in agony as the sonics collided with her and she was thrown across the room. She spun around wildly and unleashed another massive wave of energy that threw the Elite agent and founding member to the side. As she began to walk toward them, Digger stepped up behind her. Digger fired several Cosmotronic Ray shots at Willa the Witch. She gasped as the first shot struck her back and quickly turned and blocked the rest. She was forced to step back as the rest of the shots slammed into her shield. Scowling, Willa swung her wand at Digger. A fiery blast shot toward the Founding Member, who quickly dodged it. Willa fired another blast as he was recovering. Zach rose to his feet and saw what was happening. Reaching his hand out, a blob of Maelstrom shot out of his hand and formed a barrier in front of Digger. Willa's Maelstrom collided with the barrier was absorbed into it. Willa's head turned sharply toward Zach. "You!" she snarled. "I'm getting rid of you!" She waved her wand rapidly, shooting small, electric blasts of Maelstrom at Zach. He absorbed each blast with ease, raising an eyebrow all the while. Willa cackled madly and then waved her wand diagonally in front of her. Zach formed a Maelstrom shield around him. However, he was too late. Zach grunted in pain and threw the Maelstrom barrier at the witch in anger. She flew back, screaming. Zach leaned up against a wall, clutching his stomach. He glanced down and saw a large, diagonal tear in his uniform. Placing his right hand slowly into the cut, Zach winced in pain as saw his golden hand become stained with red. "Ow," he murmured. He looked up and saw the Willa glaring at him. She laughed again and pointed her wand at Zach, only to be tackled by Shadow. In that time, Andrew ran up to Zach. "Are you okay?" he asked, his rifle trained on the brawl between Willa and Shadow. "I think I'll be fine," Zach grumbled. "If I had been less than a second slower in pulling up that shield, I think I'd be a lot more critical at the moment. I think a visit with a medic is in my future. Again." "Considering how mad the witch is looking, both emotionally and mentally, she can't last much longer," Andrew said as he and Zach began to walk toward the brawl, where Dr. Cyborg, Viper, and Digger were already surrounding the fight. Zach kept his left hand over the middle of his torso. He could feel warm blood touch his hand. They both reached the fight. Shadow was easily overpowering Willa, who was firing Maelstrom fireballs everywhere trying to strike him. "Squishy witch," Zach and Andrew said simultaneously, before smirking at each other. Then Willa kicked Shadow in the gut and threw him off of her. As she stood back up, Willa stamped her foot on the ground irritably. "You can't defeat me!" she screamed in anger. "Impossible!" Zach could see the crack on her wand growing larger. "Nowhere to run, witch," Digger hissed, his Cosmotronic Ray point at the witch's head as helped Shadow back to his feet. The witch cackled madly and spun her wand in the air. Then, she slammed it into the ground, creating a massive shockwave that threw everyone off of their feet. She then began to spin her wand around herself, forming a small tornado around her. "She's trying to escape!" Viper realized, firing his weapon. It had no effect on the witch. Zach grimaced. The witch was trying to teleport out of the battle. Zach shot a blast of Maelstrom lightning at Willa. The lightning joined the tornado and began to unravel it. Willa the Witch howled in anger and redirected her Maelstrom at Zach, intending to kill him once at for all. They held the position for a while. No wall of Maelstrom, just one concentrated streak that bounced between them. Between that and getting cut up by her spell, Zach was beginning to drift into unconsciousness. Then the sound of several blasts filled the room. Willa screamed again as the Dino Attack agents began to fire at her with everything they had. As he continued to hold the blast, he saw Dr. Cyborg gesturing to him. Zach nodded in realization. Zach turned his hand slightly and directed the blast in Dr. Cyborg's direction, who began to absorb the blast. Willa the Witch gasped as she cancelled the strike. With the Maelstrom energy in tow, Dr. Cyborg fired one large fireball at the witch. Zach threw his own Maelstrom fireball. The two fireballs, plus the firepower from surrounding Dino Attack agents charged at the witch Willa the Witch attempted to form a shield to block the fireballs. However, Dr. Cyborg and Zach's attacks were clearly too much. There was an audible crack, then a fiery purple ball surrounded Willa the Witch. As the smoke cleared, the Dino Attack agents saw Willa Hylia Izralda lying in a heap next to a wall, her wand completely shattered. Digger approached the hag and examined her quickly. "She's still alive. Guess she has enough magic to keep her alive from that. But unconscious. I don't think she'll be much of a problem anymore." Zach breathed a sigh of relief. He was extremely disorientated from the whole experience and was still bleeding, but that could be dealt with. "Good," Shadow grumbled, lifted the unconscious witch on to his shoulders. "Now, how about getting back to work on that Einstein Device, eh?" "Sure, but I'd better get some stairs built," said Andrew, making sure Zach was alright as he moved off to collect a loose 2x4 brick from the rubble. "Willa sure did a number with the old ones." With some help from Digger and Dr. Cyborg for gathering parts, Andrew managed to quickly build the group a simple 2X6-stud stairway back up to the thirteenth floor. The brick size made the steps a little bit tall and hard to walk up, but the team was able to manage. Within a few minutes, they had returned to the lab. "Zach!" Hotwire said when they arrived. "Glad to see you managed to get out of-oh!" "It's nothing," said the LEGO Islander. "I just need..." He wobbled a bit from the strain the loss of blood was giving him. He had only a makeshift bandage from a piece of Willa's skirt Shadow had torn off for him. "... I just need a bit of medical help." "I'm on it," said Shaw, quickly coming to Zach's side and guiding him away to some First Aid supplies. "Finally, I have something to do." "Well done helping him out, agents," said Specs to the returned arrivals. He moved to a table under a makeshift tarp, shielding it from the rain coming in from the open roof, and gently placing the Einstein Device upon the table. "Zach, I want you to listen while Shaw's treating you; this is very, very important." "I'm all ears, I haven't lost one of those yet," Zach remarked as Shaw was applying treatment to his wound. "Very well." Specs began talking in a low and serious voice, and, in a bit of forethought, had Dr. Cyborg project his words on a side of the table for Hertz to read. "Agents, you've all fought long and hard these past few months, and I understand how some of you may not be taking well to the news that we are close to defeat. I know people like Semick are preferring to risk it all to keep most of the Mutant Dinos at bay for the time being. I wish him, and all our agents and allies, the best of luck in that, though I doubt we have much left." Specs gestured to the device. "As you might've heard or deducted, this is indeed the Einstein Device, renamed from the Doctor Device after the sacrifice of our dear friend Frank. We've worked on it for months now, as a last resort to try and stop the Mutant Dinos. We've designed it to strike the creatures via the Maelstrom in the body, to eliminate it and effectively nullify the threat they pose. However... in spite of all our work, we still haven't managed to completely negate a risk that could result in the elimination of all the Creative Sparks within the bodies of everyone within a mile of the area. "It's not perfect, but with Mutant Dinos intruding our base, Dr. Rex made nigh-invincible by the Darkitect, and our building a shell of its former glory, we have no other choice. Furthermore, one of us…" Specs didn't look at anyone, but Andrew noticed Viper twitch uncomfortably. "… accidentally armed it in a premature attempt to hit the enemy. So we have three time limits on us: How long the base can stand, when the Mutant Dinos reach us, and when the device detonates. "This is where you all come in. Neither I, nor many of us Founding Members, have worked closely with you to a major extent during this war. And we've sometimes done things in the team's best interests that have been quite hurtful for some of you." Andrew noticed Rex and Reptile shift uncomfortably. "But that doesn't change the fact that we know you're the best our team has to offer, and that you've contributed much to our effort against the Mutant Dinos. Be it simply helping your teammates in times of need, keeping each other informed and connected, being a fantastic leader, helping us uncover our true enemies in the war themselves, or simply surviving and contributing to countless missions, you've earned every single bit of praise and notoriety you have among us, and the rest of the world." An inhuman roar came from somewhere in the battlefield outside. "Now let's speed this up," Specs said as he moved over to a workbench to grab a box of instruments and tools. "Elite Agents, comrades, friends, this is our final challenge. I want you all to help us tweak, fix, perfect, and prepare the Einstein Device for use against the Mutant Dino army, or at least Dr. Rex. With all of your own skills and styles, I believe we can make it work better than what our scientists could do on their own." "As well as work out a way to be able to actually take it to him without interference," said Viper. "Though I'd suggest you remember that we're going to be involved with it as much as you are. After all, I'll never get a shot like this again..." "And besides, it's now or never," Shadow added. "So do you think you're ready for this?" Andrew gulped. This was indeed a great burden being placed upon them. Perhaps the greatest one they would ever have. After a second's hesitation though, he nodded. And his fellow agents quickly followed suit. "Good," said Specs, with a hint of a smile showing in his balaclava. "Now let's get to work. Come over and look at this Device, and see what you make of it." ***** Carrie Enderson winced slightly as a needle poked through her skin. "Calm down," Copper said as he proceeded. "It'll hurt like MegaBlokland for a while, but you'll live. No serious tissue damage." Finally, the thread was cut, and Copper stepped away. "Try not to walk too hard on that leg. Maybe get some rest here." Carrie nodded. She was surprised to see Pierce approach them. "How's she doing?" he asked. "Some minor tissue damage," reported Copper. "Could have been worse. Some minor scarring, but she'll be alright. What about the other one, Montgonel?" "He'll live," replied Pierce. "If they'd waited any longer, he wouldn't have made it this far. We've stabilized him and stopped the bleeding. All we can do is wait and keep an eye on him, which Crusher's doing right now. That reminds me: you haven't seen Shaw, Carver, or Hale, have you?" "Not since they left to check for wounded," said Copper. Pierce paused for a moment and sighed. "Great," he muttered. "Where the heck did they get to now? Do we have a radio in here?" "There's one over there," replied Copper, pointing toward some equipment in the back of the room. "I don't know if you can make it work down here, but you can try it." As instructed by Copper, Pierce sat down at the radio, remembering a bit of his last time using one on Adventurers' Island. He fiddled around with the knobs while speaking into the microphone. "This is Doctor Alan Pierce, calling from our relocated hospital. We are missing three of our staff: Doctors Crusher, Shaw, and Carver. Has anyone seen any of them? Over." ***** Shaw silently mouthed something as Zach lay on the floor. There wasn't much she could do with what little she had - mainly, just trying to stop the bleeding and bandage up the wound. "There's not much more I can do," she said. "You sure you don't want to go to the sickbay and get assistance?" Zach simply nodded. Shaw slowly got to her feet and stepped back. Slowly she walked up to the table where everyone was working on the device. Hale was by the door, clearly frustrated by the distraction. Among the crowd, Shaw quickly noticed the familiar face of Carver. They exchanged glances for a moment, but the situation at hand kept them from any real conversation Kate, meanwhile, looked at the Einstein Device in awe. "So small," she said to herself. "And yet it's the most powerful weapon here," Dr. Cyborg said comfortingly to Kate. "It's proof that even the smallest thing can be important and make a difference." Kate agreed, and started to look more encouraged. She started smiling slightly. Just as everyone was congregating around the Einstein Device, the door sizzled and was broken through. A medium group of Mutant Lizards came into the room. As most people were starting to draw their weapons, Dr. Cyborg said, "I've got this. Keep working on the Einstein Device." He walked towards the Lizards. His visor slid down and locked into place. Purple lines started glowing on his skin and arm cannon where his power conduits were, and his visor glowed purple as well. He raised his cannon, yelled "Hypermode!" and started shooting. Every hit killed a Lizard, even hits in the arms, legs, or tail. His shots had a distinct purple cast to them. "Oh, clever," Zach murmured to Specs, who was also watching the fight. "What's clever?" Specs asked. "Earlier, when we were fighting Willa the Witch, I deflected a Maelstrom blast at him. He absorbed it, reformed it, and shot it at Willa. However, he apparently kept some in his body and sealed it off with Imagination. He allows it to regenerate at a fixed rate. He takes some, metabolizes it into a different form, and powers his weaponry with it. Like I said, this 'Hypermode' idea of his is clever." The last of the Mutant Lizards were dead. Dr. Cyborg went to the door. He shot the stairs out. The purple light faded from him, and he shifted out of combat mode. "Let's get to work," he said. "So what is the plan, then?" Kate asked. "We'll need a few of you to go back into the field," replied Specs. "Keep the dinosaurs at bay. Shaw, since you're here, you might as well help, or perhaps you can get back into the basement and start moving the patients up." "That's going to be risky," Shaw said. "I don't think Pierce will allow it." ***** The Maelstrom Dragon howled in pain as Kareem Nazareno dug one of his katanas into its hide. Hanging on to the golden weapon, Nazareno flipped himself upward onto the back of the dragon and pulled his sword from the dragon. From this vantage point, he could see how the other three were fairing. Solomon Koplowitz and Zelda Frodongan were spread out, striking against waves of Mutant Dinos that threatened to overwhelm them and continue their charge for Dino Attack Headquarters. One Mutant T-Rex lay dead from the combined prowess of Koplowitz, Frodongan, Darkling, and Nazareno. Zelda cut through the throat of a Mutant Raptor before turning to join Solomon in taking on the last Mutant T-Rex. Nazareno then turned his head and saw Blaire Darkling facing the other Maelstrom Dragon. Despite being a rather bulky man, Darkling was quick, dodging the dragon's short blasts of purple flames while managing to get close enough to cut up its legs with his Paradox Shinobi katanas. Nazareno looked away from Blaire and grabbed onto one of the dragon's scales as it began to thrash around, attempting to throw the space ninja away. He scowled and ran along the massive, fire-breathing lizard's neck, making deep cuts as he went. The dragon bellowed in anger before bowing down and leaping into the air, its mighty wings flapping. Nazareno flinched and swung both his katanas into the dragon's back and clung on tight. Out of his peripheral vision, he could see the same Blaire being lifted into the air by the dragon. The space ninja jerked his katanas to the left. The dragon bellowed in agony, turned toward its partner, and fired a stream of purple flames. The other dragon roared and released Blaire. Throwing one sword to the ground, Blaire used a free hand to grab the dragon's talons and hoist himself on to its body. "Thank you, Nazareno," Blaire called out, his polite atmosphere not hiding his irritation. "For trying to get me roasted alive." "Shut up and cut their wings!" Nazareno snapped. Pulling his katanas from the dragon's back, Nazareno edge slowly toward the right wing, which was blowing gusts of air at him. Using a katana as an anchor again, Nazareno used the other to tear a hole into the wing. The dragon screamed and began to spin in air. Nazareno stabbed his other sword into the dragon as spun. To his luck, the katanas didn't slide out of the dragon's skin as Nazareno bumped against the dragon's back as he spun. Finally, the Maelstrom Dragon straightened back out, with its right wing flapping more frantically. "Excellent work, Nazareno," Blaire called from his dragon. "You taught a dragon how to do a barrel roll. Unfortunately, I'm not really up for teaching that to my dragon." "It's the only way we're going to get back to the ground in one piece! Now do it!" Blaire shrugged and began to swing his katana through the dragon's wings with wide, sweeping motions. Nazareno did the same. Despite the wing speeding up, the dragon began to descend rapidly. Nazareno nodded curtly to Blaire and both leaped from their respective dragon's backs. Nazareno rolled on to the ground as the Maelstrom Dragons crashed into several buildings, leveling them completely. Nazareno then ran toward the downed dragons and quickly killed them with several well-placed strokes. As he leapt from a dragon's head, he saw Blaire walking toward him, adjusting his trenchcoat and flipping his wet hair out of his eyes, a smirk on his face. None of his katanas were in sight. "Excellent work, Nazareno," Blaire noted, looking to the two dragons. "Perhaps you should consider joining the Nexus Force? Or should I say, should've." It was quickly apparent as to what Blaire was speaking about to Nazareno. And he was talking about there being no hope in winning the battle. Pointing both katanas at Blaire, Nazareno's eyes narrowed. "I knew you wouldn't let me go." Blaire laughed coldly, crossing his arms behind his back as he flipped his hair again. "You haven't lost your touch, Kareem. I'm glad you knew I was going to finish our little grudge." Nazareno's swords didn't lower. "I had expected you to make some level of change in these past three years, but I've personally been waiting for this moment for a long time." "Let me assure you, Nazareno. I have changed. I aligned XERRD with the Dino Attack Team, have I not? My second-in-command is one of your elite agents. I do want to save this planet, but..." Blaire shuddered involuntarily as he and Nazareno began to circle each other, the latter never averting his eyes. "Matthew Vherestorm wants one last crack at his old adversary. One last loose end, and he will finally be laid to rest." Blaire shrugged. "Truthfully, you brought this upon yourself by showing your... ah... mask to me." "Let me assure you, Darkling," Nazareno hissed, "you'll never get that opportunity to truly discard Vherestorm if you decide to fight. I will see to it that you will never roam this universe again. Even if you kill me and escape, you will be hunted to the end of the world." Blaire laughed again. "Really, Nazareno? So confident that, if you die, they'll immediately pin it on me? Fortunately, I have already anticipated this. Let's see...you, Virchaus, Fabello, Frodongan, the space cop, and a few more agents. All can be easily dispatched after I've finished you. Make it look like the Mutant Dinos got to them. Maybe one got stabbed by a Fright Knight. Another shot by an Inferno agent. I don't really care. I'll deal with XERRD's crimes. Vherestorm's crimes were always meant to be buried." Nazareno stared at his former rival coldly. "From what I'm hearing, Matthew Vherestorm is still in power and using Blaire Darkling as a mask," he countered. Blaire's posture shifted dramatically. He placed his gloved hands inside of his trenchcoat. Other than his small frown, he gave nothing away of his emotions. "Believe whatever you wish, Kareem. It won't matter in a few moments." In that instant, the two Shinobi swords shot out of Blaire's trenchcoat and landed in his hands. He placed the bottom of each hilt together, cause a small click. Spinning the double-bladed katana is his hand, Blaire made one step toward Nazareno. "I've made a few upgrades to Paradox's technology, if you can't already tell. Now, let's finish our little rivalry, once and for all." Nazareno nodded before lunging forward, his katanas raised, finally ready to defeat his most powerful opponent. ***** After Dr. Cyborg dispatched the Mutant Lizards, Rex overheard Specs whispering to Digger while rubbing his forehead: "To be honest, I'll be glad once this war is over to return to a normal life. At heart, after all, I am only a scientist. Hopefully, once the war ends, I'll be able to conduct even greater studies of the remaining Mutant Dinos rather than having to worry about the entire team resting on my shoulders." "We do have an impressive team," murmured Shadow, as he glanced out at the battlefield. "They do me proud," said Specs, nodding. "I was hoping to reduce the casualties of this battle and increase their chances of survival, which is why I ordered the rookies and suggested that the standards evacuate immediately. Instead, they have shown only the greatest bravery and dedication to our cause. It may be a foolish choice, and it may be the last decision they ever make... but I cannot help but feel proud of them." Clearing his throat, Specs raised his voice to a more audible level as he announced that, due to his technological engineering background, he would assist the other elite agents in helping to design the Einstein Device in any way that he could. However, Shadow, Viper, and Digger (who, although he was a paleontologist, was not a technician and enjoyed the thrill and excitement of battle) would assist other elite agents such as Rotor in defending Dino Attack Headquarters. Rex sighed. "I'm neither a scientist nor a technician," he declared, "and so I am of no use to anyone here if I'm sitting here wasting my time while the rest of you are working on the Einstein Device. With all due respect, I believe it would be best if I rejoined the battlefield. We need every hand we can get to destroy those abominations." The other Dino Attack agents traded glances. Many of them were put off by Rex's sudden change in character, and it worried them to see a respected elite agent in this state. Then, Dr. Cyborg stepped forward, with a concerned expression on the organic half of his face. His robotic eye scanned Rex's body, and Dr. Cyborg frowned. "Rex," he said, "there's a dangerous level of Maelstrom energy in your body. It's... not enough to infect you or anything, but it's potentially lethal to your system." Digger coughed, a little nervously. Specs took notice and narrowed his eyes, while others raised their eyebrows in surprise at Dr. Cyborg's revelation. "I don't believe that this is the work of Attila Huntsman?" Digger inquired. Rex shook his head as he clenched his teeth. "No, it's not. For once, that cowardly traitor did not have a hand in this. You know whose fault this is? This is the fault of that armored abomination who is now leading an army of monsters to kill us all. And where has this foolish experiment of his gotten him? Possessed by the MegaBloking Darkitect! It's his fault, and he's going to pay for it!" "Why didn't you tell anyone?" Dr. Cyborg raised an eyebrow. "I fear it might be too late for even me to extract it. Maybe with Zachary's help..." Zachary looked down at the bandages on his stomach. His battle against Willa the Witch had weakened him, and he did not know if he could extract the Maelstrom energy from Rex's body. Still, now that Dr. Cyborg had pinpointed its source, he could feel its presence. "I don't need your help," snorted Rex. "That's all everyone ever wants to do - help someone because they pity them. Well, I don't need anyone's pity right now! Pity is not going to slay every last one of those Mutant Dinos! Get back to work and focus on that Einstein Device!" "Rex," Zachary said in an attempt to rationalize Rex's behavior, "this isn't you talking. The Darkitect is trying to stir your irrational emotions-" "Listen to me, Rex!" insisted Dr. Cyborg. "This is dangerous! If we cannot get that Maelstrom out of your body, then you... then you might die!" "Then so be it!" snapped Rex. "Let me die!" Rex began to wheel himself towards the exit of the lab, but Greybeard stepped in the way and blocked his path. "Belay that!" barked the old pirate. "Ye be stayin' 'ere!" Although his tone was harsh, Greybeard masked empathy towards Rex. To be young and think yer life be over with the death of yer dearly beloved, thought Greybeard. It feels like only yesterday. "Looks like we're headin' back in the field, then," Rotor said. "No problem boys. I'll take anyone who can still walk and shoot straight. Cabin, you coming with me?" Cabin nodded. "I'll fly with you." Rotor smiled. "You know what you're getting into." "Yes," replied Cabin. "The same thing we've been doing for months. I kept your back on Adventurers' Island, you think I'm going to ditch you now?" Rotor put his arms around her shoulders. Quickly they put their arms around each other and pulled themselves tightly, their lips interlocking in a powerful kiss. She soon pulled herself away, though. "We got a job to do," she said. "Indeed, we do," agreed Rotor. "I'll go with you," Mac said from nearby. "Same here," added Lance. "You're going to need a gunner out there." "Very good," replied Rotor. "Specs, I just need you to tell us what to do and we'll get the job done for you!" ***** Minerva entered the lobby of her old apartment. It looked the same as it did when the Dino Attack first began. Overturned chairs, gaping holes in the walls, and rubble everywhere. She slowly walked through, her Sonic Screamer raised. Oswald was hiding somewhere. He was here, waiting and watching for her. An angry yell echoed through the lobby as Oswald Fabello jumped from behind the front desk, his knife raised. Minerva quickly stepped out of the way as Oswald dug his knife into the floor. Standing up and pocketing the knife, Oswald pulled a small handgun from his Dino Attack uniform. Minerva flinched and ran out into the hallway as Oswald fired several bullets in her direction. She launched her own sonic attacks in his direction, but once again, he ignored the pain. What does he hope to achieve by killing me if he thinks we're all going to die anyway? Oswald was clearly unable to rationally think anymore. Minerva ducked into a room as more bullets whizzed past her head. She slowed her breathing and waited for Oswald to arrive. She didn't wait long. Oswald burst into the room and swung his knife at Minerva. She backed away and kicked his stomach. Oswald howled and tackled her to the ground. "It's over, Minnie!" Oswald growled, the knife shaking in his hand as he pinned Minerva to the ground. "We're all going to die anyway, might as well just accept it." Minerva felt the same pit of boiling anger rise in her again. "Don't you-" Minerva threw her brother off of her. "-ever call me-" Minerva punched Oswald square in the nose before wrapping his head into her arms. "-that Znapping name again!" Minerva punched him hard in the stomach before throwing him against a wall. Oswald went through sheetrock and fell into the next room. Picking up her Sonic Screamer, Minerva stepped into the next room, only to get punched in the cheek by Oswald. He grabbed the collar of her Dino Attack uniform and slammed her against a wall. He then gripped Minerva's forehead and slammed it against the wall multiple times. Disorientated, Minerva suddenly found herself in a flashback. A small, dark-haired toddler was wrestling with her much older, blond-haired brother. They were rolling on the floor, laughing as they tried to overtake one another. In the background was a blonde-haired woman, who was making sure nobody got hurt. She was smiling and laughing as she watched her children play. Snapping back to reality, Minerva punched Oswald in the chest, sending him stumbling back. They were fighting, but unlike when they were both children, Athena Fabello was dead and Oswald was trying to kill Minerva. Minerva picked up her Sonic Screamer and blasted Oswald again before retreating out of the room to the stairwell. Oswald's angry screams echoed throughout the entire building as Minerva shuffled past rubble and other debris as she reached the second floor; the floor where Oswald and Minerva had lived. Minerva could hear Oswald stomping up the stairs. Minerva continued to run until she found it: their apartment. Minerva ducked into their old living space. It was torn up and in ruins, like any other building. Minerva could vaguely see an old, dusty photograph of herself, Oswald, and Tod as she passed into the kitchen. Oswald unleashed another roar, followed by the sound of three gunshots as he ran through the hallway. Minerva shuffled through old cooking materials. Her Sonic Screamer wasn't going to knock him out, so she would have to work with something else. As she threw open cupboards that were barely on their hinges, Minerva saw a frying pan. A bit clichéd. Probably somewhat sexist, but she didn't care. She picked it up and turned to confront Oswald when she saw him standing in the kitchen his knife raised. Minerva swung the frying pan as hard as she could at Oswald. He bellowed in pain as her pan collided with his knife hand, throwing the knife back into the living room. She was about to swing into his head when his other hand shot out and grabbed the frying pan and threw it away from the both of them. Oswald's fist then connected with the side of Minerva's head. Minerva fell to her knees. Her entire world was spinning from both Oswald's blows and the blood loss from cut he had made across Minerva's stomach earlier. Minerva grunted as Oswald's foot collided with her stomach. She fell to the ground, breathing heavy. Oswald flipped her over on to her back with his foot. Oswald glared at her, his eyes practically bulging out of his head. "It's over," he hissed, stomping his foot across her chest. Minerva gasped in pain again. She looked up at him again. She could see his gun clipped to his belt, just waiting to be pulled out and used on Minerva. This gave her an idea. Minerva kicked Oswald in stomach with both feet. He groaned and doubled over, allowing Minerva to kick his chin sharply with her boots. With Oswald stunned, Minerva climbed back to her feet and shoved Oswald back into the living room. She hit his chest before nailing his stomach, her free hand brushing his hip briefly. Her attacks were cut short as Oswald grabbed her hair. Screaming, Minerva felt her head get pulled up to Oswald's level. Scowling darkly, Oswald then punched Minerva underneath her chin twice before punching her cheek. He then threw her against a ruined couch. Thankful for the soft landing, Minerva climbed back to her feet and faced Oswald, only to stop to cough out large globs of blood. Wiping her mouth, she raised her fists at Oswald. "No more fighting," Oswald snarled. His hand reached for his belt. "You're just going to die…" He drifted off. Looking down, he saw that his gun was missing. "Where-!" He looked to Minerva. She held the gun in her hand. She pulled out the magazine and spilled the remaining bullets on the floor before throwing the gun into the kitchen. "YOU!" Oswald screamed, pointing a shaking finger as his sister. "YOU LITTLE THIEF! I GUESS SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE, DO THEY?" Minerva was absolutely silent. She had stolen, let alone pick-pocket someone, in a long time. Unlike long before, she felt no euphoria at how easy it had been to swipe the gun. Only a sick knot in her stomach as her brother screamed at her. "I don't why I even bothered trying to save you. I should have killed you both right there. You and Mom." Minerva scowled. "Shut up about her! You don't know anything about her!" And with that, Minerva tackled her brother to the ground and continued the fight, growing more and more willing to end her brother's life. ***** Montoya sat down next to Carrie Enderson. Pharisee stood silently and solemnly in the back of the room. Montongel was semi-consciously lying on one of the beds. "What happened to him?" Carrie asked as soon as Copper was out of earshot. "He ran off and then-" "He's gone," replied Montoya. "They shot him." Carrie slowly started to cry, trying to suppress her tears, but clearly unable to control them. "I can't believe it," she muttered. "He tried to use you as a hostage," Montoya said. "Isn't that right?" "No," replied Carrie, a smile briefly breaking through the tears. "It was all fake. The gun was loaded with blanks." Montoya looked at her curiously. "He said he loved me," Carrie continued. "I've known him for eight years, and now he's gone. I used to be his confidant. I collected information, set up meetings for him, helped him get out of jams and I still don't regret a single moment of it." ***** As Shadow discussed their methods of attack with Rotor while Specs assisted Reptile, Dr. Cyborg, Grimton, and the others in working on the Einstein Device, Rex skulked to himself in his wheelchair. It irritated him that Dr. Cyborg was so concerned about the Maelstrom in his body that he was ignoring the hordes of Mutant Dinos, each one with Maelstrom in its body, at their doorstep. That, and the fact that Dr. Cyborg had so carelessly revealed that which Rex was trying to keep secret during Dino Attack Team's darkest hour did not improve the situation, for every now and then one of Rex's teammates would look upon him with worry, concern, or - worst of all - pity. Greybeard had no intention of letting Rex go just yet, and Rex had a feeling that Rotor would be too stubborn to recruit a wheelchair-bound individual such as himself. Crossing his arms, Rex sat back in his wheelchair and stared off into space. That was when he noticed someone familiar standing in the darkness, with a sneer plastered on his features, and the madness in his eyes showing through the shadow cast by the wide rim of his top hat. Rex seethed at the sight of him. Feeling his heart pounding, Rex pointed a finger at the figure and shouted: "This is all your fault! How dare you, wretched monster! You are out to make my life as miserable as in your power! Well, you've succeeded! I hope you're happy now, because it will be the last time you shall ever feel happy as long as I am alive!" Baron Typhonus laughed in response. "Tick, tock," he echoed. "Tick, tock." "Uh, Rex?" Rex noticed that the others were staring at him in confusion. "Who are you talking to?" Frozeen inquired as he raised an eyebrow. "Are you all blind?" snapped Rex. "He's right there, in the shadows! Baron Typhonus, the Darkitect himself, has come here to mock me!" "There's... no one there," said Reptile, frowning. Dr. Cyborg looked at the shadows where Baron Typhonus stood and proceeded to scan the area with his robotic eye. "I'm not detecting any signs of any living lifeforms," he reported, "nor do I see any Maelstrom levels here. Zachary, do you feel anything?" Zachary Virchaus shook his head in response. After one last worried glance at Rex, everyone went back to what they were doing, completely ignoring Baron Typhonus as the Darkitect gloated at Rex from the shadows. "I'm not mad!" insisted Rex. "He's there! The sick 4+ Figure is standing there, and he's mocking me! He's been out to get me this entire time! He revived Dr. Rex! He killed Amanda! He killed..." "Belay that, Rex," muttered Greybeard. "Thar be no one, an' I be not needin' both o' me deadlights t' see that much." "But..." Rex trailed off, as he stared at Baron Typhonus. Was it possible that the Darkitect was not truly there? No, of course it wasn't! He could see Typhonus as clear as day! But... was it as clear as it seemed? Was it true? Frank Einstein's words echoed in Rex's mind: "Sometimes, he would tell me that he saw a dark figure wearing a top hat in the same room as him. Sometimes, he would make such a claim while I was in the same room and could plainly see that there was no such person." Rex's heart raced, and he clutched his chest due to the pains. But what had occurred to Rex was far worse than the physical pain. The Darkitect was there, but not actually there... rather, only in his mind. Rex was seeing things that did not truly exist, and these things were the very same things that Dr. Rex, who feel deeply into insanity after his little Maelstrom experiment, had seen. I'm becoming more and more like Dr. Rex. Rex continued to clutch his chest, but practically shivered as the cold realization washed over him. The anger and lust for revenge cleared from his mind as Rex whispered in terror: "Oh my Builder... I've finally gone mad." Andrew stared at Rex with concern, but managed to shift his focus for a moment back with the group hovering over the Einstein Device. Currently they were discussing the idea around how to ensure the safety of the effects of the device's detonation. "Perhaps giving it so much of a range is too much of a problem," said Dr. Cyborg. "Perhaps we could narrow it down, even make it only target Dr. Rex somehow?" "There's still the issue of the countless Mutant Dinos still out there," said Reptile. "They're not all going to stop when their 'leader' falls." "Well, we do have to consider the effects it could have on some of our allies," Andrew added. "I mean, Zachary has Maelstrom in his system, and we still have several tamed Mutant Dinos tracked and untracked out there that've resisted the Maelstrom's influence. And there's Pterisa's situation, as well. Who knows if she and others like her can survive if the Maelstrom is suddenly purged from their system?" "Hmm... fair point," said Specs. "I'll admit, from what I've heard from the radio, we've might've taken out a significant number of the Dinos they had to start with, and with Dr. Rex, Willa, and Inferno down, we could pretty swiftly cover the rest of the forces with the help of our allied organizations. It's risky, but if we can't make the device tell the difference between Maelstrom and Creative Spark essence, it might be in our best interest to just make its radius large enough to target one individual. One very large individual." "The question is though," said Hotwire, "how can we do that? One does not simply wire or program a device to affect one target. It'd have to be a part of whatever energy source we're using to stop him." "I suppose directly injecting some Maelstrom energy could make it recognize its target," said Zach, "and then we could program it like a heat-seeking missile. Only with Maelstrom, of course." "I've done some hacking into Paradox files when I was a part of XERRD," Dr. Cyborg said. "I think it is possible to encode information into Imagination and Maelstrom. We might be able to use that to help specify which targets to affect." "That sounds reasonable," said Andrew. "But I'm a builder, not a scientist, so what do I know? Regardless, I suppose one thing on my mind is how this bomb's going to disrupt the Maelstrom within Dr. Rex, exactly." "From what I've gotten," said Specs, "the device should counteract with the Maelstrom in a molecular/plastic level. Very complicated with a lot of chemical, electrical, and a hint of atomic reactions. It's the best we could do without any samples of Imagination." "Couldn't that Maelstrom cure formula I managed to pass on to the medical/science teams help?" offered Zach. "I don't know. I don't think the scientists working on it had time to integrate it with all the plans we've been making with Dr. Einstein." "We did work on that," Carver remarked on hearing the mention of the Maelstrom cure. "Crusher and another guy, Fuchs, managed to create a crude replication and we got it to work on Zelda." Shaw turned toward Carver in confusion. "It was on Adventurers' Island," Carver explained. "Maybe if it would help we could get Crusher up here! She could give you guys a hand." "You mentioned research on the Maelstrom?" Shaw asked Carver. "Yes," replied Carver. "It was a scientist named Fuchs. He's not here right now though." "You think there's any record?" Shaw asked. "He must have something, notes, files, something containing everything he found." "Though as you mention that," said Grimton, "I do wonder if it would work best if we could somehow get a sample of Imagination into it." "I think it would be of a great help," said Reptile. "But where do you suppose we get it from?" Grimton patted her chest. "Dr. Einstein showed us a way," she said grimly. The conversation turned silent. Everyone knew what he meant. But no one seemed to want to speak of it further, or even think of finding a volunteer for such a solution. "... Well," Andrew said at last, "Whatever we do with it, I suppose we might want to getting the device ready for modification. And I think we might want to start, Andrew pointed at one of the flashing lights on the device, "with perhaps disarming this thing before it goes off prematurely?" ***** Kat hit the ground and rolled as a fireball sizzled through the space she had occupied less than a second before. She popped up into a kneeling position and battered the Mutant Lizard responsible for the incendiary assault with shots from a Sonic Screamer, retrieved from the wreck of Tracer's Vindication. Beside her, Giles whipped one of his scarves around another Lizard's neck. It slipped out of the loop and charged. Giles interrupted its advancement with a sudden kick to the face. As the beast's neck jerked back, he dropped into a crouch with the scarf stretched out above his head. The unfortunate dinosaur brought its head back down onto the length of lethal knitting, and with one quick motion Giles slit its throat. Helm and Epic Winston were nearby. The latter had pulled the Fire Hammer's heavy-duty Cosmotronic Ray from the wreck, and was wielding it as a handheld weapon, despite the fact that the barrel was over six feet long and nearly a foot in diameter. With his sword in his other hand, and Helm at his back with a normal-sized Cosmotronic Ray, the two were busy incapacitating Mutant Raptors. Soon, the four of them made their way back together. "I'd suggest we make our way back to HQ," said Kat. "Though it's not looking so great right now, it's probably one of the safer spots around here at the moment." "I don't know about that," Giles put in. "They're looking pretty safe right now." He gestured down the street at two katana-wielding agents carving their way through dinosaurs and Fright Knights alike. ***** "You can count on us," Rotor said eagerly in response to Shadow's instructions. "That son of a 4+ Figure Dr. Rex is going down!" "We should get a move on," Mac said. He turned toward the door. Rotor followed, accompanied by Lance and Cabin. They worked their way up to the rooftop. One T-1 Typhoon was still there, and they climbed inside, Rotor taking the pilot's seat with Cabin taking her place as his co-pilot. They started up the engines and began to take off. Flying away from the base, they kept watch for anything, any agents in action; after all, that's where they'd find the mutant dinosaurs they needed to destroy. "I think I got something," Mac said from in the back of the T-1 Typhoon. "A couple agents below us. Looks like some of them are wielding katanas or something." "Right," replied Rotor. "Lance, open fire on the mutant dinosaurs. I'll try and get us closer!" ***** "How long have they been gone?" Pierce asked. "An hour, maybe," replied Copper. "What's going on?" Crusher asked as she approached the doctors. "Shaw, Carver, and Hale," said Copper. "They've been gone for a full hour now." "What?" asked Crusher. "You sure they're not just delayed or maybe had to take care of a patient or som-" "If they needed to take care of someone, one of them would at least come back to tell us," replied Pierce. "Get some assistance, a stretcher, or something." "Well, what do we do, Pierce?" asked Copper. "We can't just leave the patients already here." "He's right," agreed Crusher. "But we got to find them." "We'll have to split up again," decided Pierce. "Crusher, you come with me. Copper, you and Clickitt wait here with the patients. If there's anything at all, we'll find a way to let you know!" Quickly, Pierce turned and left the infirmary, Crusher tailing him. ***** Nazareno swung his swords fast, knocking back and countering each of Blaire Darkling's swings. Nazareno had never encountered the former terrorist use a doubled-bladed weapon such as the one he was using now, so he was forced to adapt his style so he could hope to challenge Blaire. Blaire was easily the most accomplished and skilled opponent that Nazareno had ever faced. Darkling worked around his larger build. His athleticism didn't match Nazareno's, but he made up for it in surprising speed and brute strength. Blaire was focusing on defend himself while Nazareno launched attack after attack. "Just like old times, eh, Nazareno?" Blaire mocked. He spun his weapon in front of him fast enough to turn it into a dark circle with a thin purple line running through the center. It scraped the ground occasionally, showering the two combatants in orange sparks. "Except that, in the end, you're not escaping," Nazareno said coldly. With that, he sent both his swords forward in an upward arc into Blaire's spinning weapon. Both men jerked as Nazareno held the blades' spinning with his own. He could practically see the old spark of amusement in Blaire's eyes through his reflective sunglasses as he smirked. I suppose Paradox makes these blades stronger than a standard blade. "Believe whatever you wish, Nazareno," Blaire boasted. With that, Blaire disconnected his two katanas and continued the fight. Nazareno knocked away one swing to the head and another to his hips. He then launched his own rapid assault against Blaire. XERRD's leader blocked each blow with relative ease, but the furiously of the attack was forcing him to step back. As Blaire parried a blow to the stomach, Nazareno launched himself into the air over Blaire. As he landed, he swung his katana at Blaire's neck. The brute turned sharply on his boat and brought one of his swords upward. His blade held Nazareno's away from his neck about an inch. "Once again," Blaire said as he swung his other katana in a sweep motion toward Nazareno. The space ninja brought his free sword down and blocked the attack. "I'm glad to see you still have that old fire, Kareem. I would hate for this battle to be easy." "The same to you, Blaire," Nazareno grunted before bringing his foot up sharply, connected with Blaire's stomach. Darkling gasped and shoved Nazareno's swords before taking a step back. Sloppy, Nazareno mused as he put his katanas in a defensive position. A kick? Blaire reconnected his katanas and held it out in front of him, gesturing Nazareno to continue. He obliged naturally. As they fought, Nazareno made his attacks quicker and harder to dodge. He felt deep satisfaction in the brief look of frustration appear on Blaire's mouth. He couldn't let the XERRD leader win. Partly because of wanting to finally beat Darkling. Partly because of Blaire's threat he had made earlier. At least Andrew, Laxus, Zachary, Minerva, Holly, and Zelda knew that Blaire was Matthew Vherestorm. Darkling wanted to keep his past a secret and would murder anyone who knew. If Nazareno failed, more people would be killed. A pang of worry traveled through his body as he thought of Zelda. Now that he acknowledged his feelings for her, he couldn't let her fall victim to Blaire's attempt to cover up part of his crimes. Blaire Darkling would be defeated, one way or another. Their swords smashed together. Blaire was holding both of Nazareno's blades back from slicing through his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye, Nazareno saw a Fire Hammer drive by. Blaire smirked again as if to tell he saw it too. Blaire threw Nazareno's swords back and disconnected his katanas before making a wide, sweeping arc around him. Nazareno backflipped to dodge the blow, giving Blaire enough time turn and jump on to the back of passing Fire Hammer. Nazareno swore silently and began to run after the jeep. Blaire climbed on top of the Fire Hammer's cab and swung his dark blades against the edge of roof, creating a storm of sparks. The Dino Attack agent in the Xenon Launcher was yelling to both the driver and Blaire. The Fire Hammer began to slow down, allowing Nazareno to jump on to the back. "What are you two doing?!" the gunner demanded, glancing from Blaire to Nazareno. "Never mind us," Nazareno commanded, making his voice powerful. "Just keep fighting. I'll deal with him." The agent shrugged and continued to shoot at nearby Mutant Dinos as Nazareno climbed onto the cab. Both he and Darkling swayed as the Fire Hammer drove over rubble and dino carcasses. Nazareno rolled his eyes. "You were always one for the theatrics." Blaire chuckled. "I want to keep the both of us on our toes. And besides, if this is so theatrical, this will keep the audience on the edge of their seats!" Breaking apart his katanas, Blaire swung his blades out to attack, only to stumble as the Fire Hammer hit a bump. Nazareno swung one golden sword outward, managing to make a small cut across Blaire's chest before he recovered. Blaire snarled and wiped away a small amount of blood before delivering another attack that Nazareno accepted with his katanas. ***** Zelda Frodongan grinned in relief as the final Mutant T-Rex of the group that had attacked her, Solomon, Nazareno, and Blaire fell. She wiped the sweat from her brow briefly before joining Solomon in fighting the rest of the dinos. Nazareno and Blaire were both dealing the Maelstrom Dragons. She had seen the two send the mystical creatures crashing into the ground a distance away and were hopefully trekking back. She bit her lip. She didn't trust Blaire Darkling at all. He spoke of "redeeming" himself, and that may be true, but his "obsession" (as Nazareno had put it) with the space ninja may hinder that process. The former rivals were alone. They might as well be fighting to the death to settle their grudge. She cut away a Fright Knight with ease. She was still somewhat upset with how things had gone with Nazareno, but it was probably for the best, right? He was older and wiser than her. He knew a relationship wouldn't work between them. It was kind of stupid to assume he would share my feelings if I told him, Zelda reasoned. It was worth a shot, I suppose. She shrugged half-heartedly as she sliced through a Mutant Lizard's neck. She knew that being rejected wouldn't change how she felt. Zelda turned on her heel and got into a short duel with a Fright Knight. She was faster than the knight and easily plunged her sword into his chest. He gasped in shock. Zelda pulled the katana out of his body and examined it as he fell. It was riddled with scratches. Nazareno had been correct. These were, for the most part, generic katanas. They would break before long, which was why she had two daggers and a small firearm on her person in the case of that incident. She ran up the tail of a Mutant Brontosaurus and cut up its back. Zelda stabbed one katana into its spine. It collapsed instantly, and several Mutant Lizards ran up to overwhelm her. Zelda lifted herself up with one hand on the katana and begun to rotate her hand rapidly. She extended her other katana and turned herself into a spinning weapon of death, cut any Lizard that got too close to her. One Mutant Lizard spat a stream of fire, catching her sleeve on fire. Zelda jumped from the katana and landed hard on the Lizard's head, shattering its skull. She quickly patted out the flames and defeated the remaining Lizards. "Take that, ya' scurvy bilge rats," Zelda muttered under her breath as she pulled her other katana from the Mutant Raptor. She gasped and covered he