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Dino Attack RPG: Director's Cut


PeabodySam
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Chapter 40: Among Us

----

Copper worked his way over towards a battered and bruised unconscious woman. "Do you know her?" Copper asked as he examined her.

"Yeah," replied Pierce. "Elite Agent Zenna."

"I see," said Copper. "She's broken quite a few bones, possible internal bleeding. We got to get her out of here quickly. Wade, give me a hand, will you?"

Wade nodded and reluctantly helped Copper put Zenna's unconscious body onto the stretcher.

"Mac," Copper said. "Get back out there. See if you can get me one or two more stretchers."

Mac nodded as he picked up his lantern and stepped outside. As he started to walk towards the T-1 Typhoon, he thought he heard some degree of commotion.

He quickly ran back to the helicopter and climbed inside for a moment. Mac desperately searched around, finding a rifle. He quickly loaded a few rounds before climbing back out and running back to the source of the confusion.

It sounded like two people talking, specifically a man vaguely whispering to a woman. Mac kept his cool as he approached, the light from his lantern eventually revealing the back of a rather tough-looking man holding a young woman by the neck. Mac quickly drew his rifle, aimed it towards the man's head, and cocked it.

"Just what do you think you're doing?" Mac asked coldly.

Rudo Villano turned around slowly, bring Minerva in front of him. He pointed his own weapon, a submachine gun (to Minerva's surprise) at Mac, scowling. His red eyes dimmed slightly at the bright light of the lantern.

"I'm making my way out of here," Villano hissed to Mac. Villano carefully moved Minerva so her head was blocking his own. Mac lowered his rifle slightly. Minerva was about to speak when she felt Villano's hand cover her mouth yet again.

"I want a transport off this island," Villano said. "Boat, helicopter, I don't care. I just want off. If you can get me a transport off, I'll let her go." Even though she was certain that Villano was insane, Minerva felt like he was telling the truth.

"I don't think you are going anywhere," Mac responded.

Villano spat angrily. "You have no authority over me! I highly doubt you hold very much authority over this team! Take me to your team's leaders. Let them decide."

Mac seemed to think it over. Minerva hoped he would just give in to Villano's demands.

"Or I could, you know, shoot you and the girl and be on my merry way," Villano said impatiently.

"Looks like we won't have to go anywhere," Mac suddenly noted. Villano turned his head and could see the dim outlines of more Dino Attack agents approaching, weapons in their hands. "Alright. Let's take this one step at a time. What exactly is it you want?"

"I want to get off," repeated Villano.

"I see," replied Mac. "I do have a chopper. I think we got to go over it with the others first, but I might be able to arrange something. First, you got to tell me what exactly you plan to do when you get off the island."

Suddenly, there was a voice from behind him. "Mac!" called the familiar voice of Doc Copper. "Mac, what's going on?"

"Nothing too serious," Mac replied casually. "Just another guy who wants a lift. That's all."

"Mac, we got to get these people out of here," said Copper. "Maybe we'll have some extra room, but first, we got to deal with the wounded."

Mac thought about it. "Alright," he said. "Copper, you and the other doctors get them loaded. If there's extra space, we'll take you. If not, then we'll just have to send someone back to get you and the others." 

Minerva couldn't believe it. He's getting away that easily?! She looked at Mac with utter confusion. Is he mad? Is he drunk? Doesn't he realize this guy was with XERRD? WITH THE MAELSTROM?! Is he just going to let a guy who was THREATENING TO KILL ME leave?!

Rudo Villano seemed to have calmed down. He loosened his grip on Minerva's neck substantially. Mac and Copper turned and started heading toward the medical tent, Villano and Minerva close behind.

"You know, you can let go of my neck," Minerva snapped irritably. "You're getting what you want."

"I want to make sure I'm getting what I want," Villano muttered.

Minerva rolled her eyes. The situation had quickly gone from frightening to simply annoying. And this guy, she thought, thinking of Villano, is the biggest crybaby loser I have ever seen. Running away from his problems instead of facing them. However, she couldn't really be surprised. She decided XERRD was full of cowards who used an army of grunts to shield them from danger.

At least this stupid XERRD-reject is leaving. Then we can get back to the Maelstrom Temple. As soon has those two sentences appeared in her head, a brilliantly stupid idea appeared in her head. He's from XERRD. He HAS to know where the Maelstrom Temple is! She knew what she had to do.

"So that's it?" Minerva suddenly said casually.

"What?"

"You are just going to run away?" she asked snobbishly. She felt Villano's hand tighten.

"I think it's best if you just stop talking," Villano said threateningly.

"Why? You know it's true. You are running away. You are giving up. The Maelstrom and XERRD obviously bested you. You-" Minerva was silenced as Villano forcefully shoved her to the ground. She grunted in pain. Minerva could barely see Mac and Copper turn around in surprise, the former raising his rifle again.

"Shut. Up," hissed Villano, almost spitting in her ear.

She turned her head slightly. Out of her peripheral vision, she could see Villano's glowing red eyes and his scarred face twisted in rage. It's working. Now for the icing on the cake.

"You are a feared and wanted villain across the world," Minerva said in a condescending tone, opening memories of reading news reports about Villano's criminal activity from long ago. "You are one of Johnny Thunder's most significant enemies! You one of XERRD's top dino hunters. You have a powerful reputation that you are obviously unaware of!" She wasn't sure about how true this statement was, but she pressed forward. "You were sought out by XERRD because of your skill and efficiency. Zach enlisted you in his squad of Stromlings because he knew you were powerful and dangerous. Both groups betrayed you, and you are just going to take it?! Doesn't sound like the Rudo Villano I know. Sounds like some sort of loser who quits when things don't go his way."

The left side of Minerva's face was slammed into the ground. She could hear Mac and Copper yelling for Villano to stand down and calling out for help while Villano jammed the machine gun against her right cheek.

"Why take their Znap?" Minerva muttered, staring straight ahead into the dark. "Why not get revenge?"

Revenge seemed to resonate with Villano.

"Join the Dino Attack Team. Help us defeat XERRD and the Maelstrom. Get revenge. Show Palomar and Provencal and all those other scientists to fear you."

"Sounds like the same spiel that the Stromling gave me," Villano responded coldly.

"But there is a clear difference between the Maelstrom and the Dino Attack," Minerva said forcefully. "The Maelstrom will cast aside its allies once they outlive their usefulness. It happened to that Stromling Monkey, it happened you. Heck, it'll probably happen to Zach. The Dino Attack Team is different. We... stand by each other. Despite these 'realist vs. idealist' and other moral debates, we always end up standing together against our common enemy. Notice how we haven't betrayed Sinister and the other villains, and they have been allied with us for months! Trust me, stand by us and we will stand by you. Until the end."

She stopped talking. Villano was silent. No doubt he is thinking it over. After several minutes, Minerva spoke up again. "Will you join the Dino Attack Team?" she asked quietly.

Villano sighed, obviously defeated. He dropped the gun and let go of Minerva's neck. She slowly got back to her feet and turned to Villano. His eyes were no longer red. He glared at Minerva forcefully. "I... I-I will join your team. I will get revenge on the Maelstrom and make Palomar regret betraying me."

Minerva smiled half-heartedly at the disgruntled ex-dino hunter and shook his hand. 

*****

"Alright, is everything looking good from your POV, Laxus?" said Andrew from under the hood of the Fire Hammer.

"As far as I can tell," his Martian friend replied, "Yes, the launcher's looking alright."

"Good. Let's clean up and get back to the command tent. Semick wants us to help out with the exposition speech for the rest of the team."

The thought of the upcoming mission gave Andrew a sudden bout of reminiscence on everything that had happened since the start of his involvement in the war. Everything seemed so long ago now (granted, even the relatively recent moment when he had his last encounter with Zach seemed like it had happened months ago, but the point still stood). His decision to return to LEGO City… his encounter at the bank where had had a first real cooperative fight with fellow agents… LEGO Island… meeting Semick… the labs… meeting Laxus… the dreams… the schism… promotion to Elite Agent for helping a fellow agent due to said dreams… and now, Adventurers' Island.

He had been through quite a bit of hardship, met so many famous agents, learned so much about the team, built quite a bunch of cool stuff, and made some good friends. This had been a struggle that he had often gotten close to, and still very possibly could, met with an early death, but looking back so far, he wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Two days had passed since his battle with Zach, and there was only two hours before the deadline was over. The Dino Attack Team wasn't backing down, though. They were preparing to strike back, intending to destroy the Maelstrom Temple deep in Adventurers' Island's jungles.

Semick was preparing to send the team off within the hour or next. He, along with several other elite agents, would lead separate teams to strike at the area where both temples were in. Now would be the time for him to give his final battle plan, instructions for the teams, and motivational speech.

Andrew had a place in the plan, sort of. He and Minerva had agreed to work together to get to Zach once they had located the right temple. Technically he hadn't told anyone, but he had managed to convince Semick not to make him the leader of anybody, so the two could get away without being missed.

It's going to be a tough one, Andrew thought to himself. But I've made it this far, so I think I can make it through this one. I think.

Now having sufficed his rather unnecessary need for a recap, he became aware of reality again and saw Laxus climb off the top of the Fire Hammer.

"Ready?" the fellow Dino Attack agent said. Andrew nodded. They walked off towards the direction of the command tent. 

Less than two hours remained, and command was still dispersed throughout the island. Hertz was still very worried about how the attack would go. The men were in no condition to fight and many had still not recovered from the disastrous assault on the rear guard camp.

The elite agents Cabin, Semick, Andrew, Rex, and Rotor were present in the command room. Aside from them, Doctor Cyborg had arrived to provide his export opinion.

Hertz frowned. He absolutely hated this; they had virtually no time to plan this battle, and so much of the team was still missing. An incredible number of agents were killed and almost as many were missing.

"Are you guys sure about this? We are rushing into this without taking our time," pleaded Hertz. "We are safe here; we can take our time now!"

"Shut up, kid," warned Rotor. "Just play with your radio and let the big boys make the calls."

"Hertz has a point," said Cabin, "I don't think we're ready for this. We should wait for Clint and Zenna before we start planning this thing."

Cyborg nodded his head. "And Dust; it all comes back to his theory."

Andrew put his head in his hands and rose from the table. He looked out the window and back at the assembled agents. "I know what Zach is capable of, and I take that threat seriously," he began. "If he says he will unleash a hammer beyond our imagination and that it will strike hardest here, we all have reason to be afraid. Do we even know what temple we're attacking?"

Rex rolled up to the files spread out at the table. "Yesterday, we released a XERRD scientist by the name of Dr. Paulie Gonepus. I expect he will lead us to the true Maelstrom Temple."

"Can we trust him?" asked Semick.

"Can we trust Dust?" answered Rex. "We only have one shot at this. I really don't think it wise to split our forces at this point."

Hertz nodded. So it was decided. He will be changing no one's mind tonight. He got up and placed a map on the table. "Ladies and Gentleman, let's get started. We have less than an hour to plain the most decisive battle in history."

----

Peter Walter slowly walked up to the dead worker's body. He was in a sewer when he was attacked by a Mutant Dinosaur. From the looks of it, he was attacked by a Mutant Raptor, a very deadly creature.

It was an old-looking body; the worker was probably killed when LEGO City was besieged by Mutant Dinosaurs back in April. He examined the body and then saw that this Raptor must have been strong, as it burrowed through solid concrete. Peter climbed through one of these holes and saw that there were five workers' bodies lying there. By the looks of it, the Raptor jumped on one of them, then quickly blocked the exit and killed the rest. The Raptor then broke through the door and killed two more workers.

Peter walked through all the rooms and saw how much damage this Raptor did. Then, he saw tracks of two more Raptors, and then realized that there was at least ten of them down here when LEGO city was attacked. He then saw the exit out of the sewer, and saw poor workers whose lives were put to end by Raptors before they reached the gate.

He opened the gate and saw a Raptor's body lying there, its life put to end by something that had a gun, most probably a Dino Attack member. He then saw a Raptor, but before it saw him, he got his weapon and put its life to end. He then quickly ran up the stairs so that he could get to the surface and get to his vehicle.

Peter was driving through the city with his Steel Sprinter, when he saw three Mutant Lizards charging at him. He quickly fired his mounted weapon at them, ending one of them, and then killing another one of them with his knife. Seeing this, the third Lizard ran away, and Peter drove away. He drove for 15 minutes until he got to the Dino Attack Headquarters, and a guard opened the gate.

Peter got onto a Dino Attack plane and it took off. He was going to Adventurers' Island, there at last, to fight the final battle against the Maelstrom. He looked below him and saw below how LEGO City was getting destroyed. A skyscraper was in flames, like a volcano in the middle of the city. He saw how a Mutant Spinosaurus reduced a bank to rubble; how a flock of Mutant Pterosaurs flew into the engine of a helicopter. And he saw a giant Pterosaur fly towards him. 

----

Garry was startled for a moment as Fuchs and Windows bumped into him holding a large crate. "What's all this about?" he asked sternly.

"New supplies, sir," replied Fuchs. "We're taking them to storage area 3."

"Put them in storage area 2, would you?" instructed Garry.

"What do you mean?" asked Windows.

"I've got orders to keep that room locked up. There's some top-secret information that's being placed there. Only myself and a few select others, whose identities I'm not at liberty to disclose, are allowed inside."

"Alright," replied Windows as he and Fuchs started backing down in the other direction.

"Fuchs!" Garry called. "As soon as you're done with those, I'd like you to report to the infirmary. I know medicine isn't your strong point, but I think the doctors are going to need all the help they can get and you're the closest extra hand we have."

"Alright," Fuchs replied before he and Windows continued. As soon as they reached the storage room Garry instructed, they stepped inside and put down the large crate. Both took a few minutes to catch their breath.

"This stuff is heavy," Windows said after a few moments of panting.

"I know," agreed Fuchs. He slowly opened the lid and looked inside to see the contents. This particular crate contained lots of ammunition. There were bullets, shells, grenades, ammo belts, and other such things. However, while they were needed, this was not of any real interest to either of the men, one being a biologist, the other a radio operator. They quickly put the lid back on and stepped outside. A couple other agents were following with other boxes.

"Windows," Fuchs said as he followed Windows through the door, "do you think we should let our superiors know about this?"

"Don't they already know?" asked Windows.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. "However, I think if you tell them we just got a few crates of ammunition, they'll be excited."

"What about you?" asked Windows.

"I got orders to go work in the infirmary," replied Fuchs. "I'll catch up with you later."

Windows nodded and ran off.

*****

"It's alright," said Copper as he closely examined Pierce's leg. "You're going to be fine. There was a misdiagnosis. It's not actually broken."

"Wait," Pierce said skeptically. "You mean to say that I couldn't tell how I was hurt?"

"You were under a lot of stress," replied Copper. "Besides, it's a lot harder to examine yourself. A bit of time off should do you good. We'll give it a couple days, then maybe try walking again."

Pierce smiled as Copper turned away to look at some more patients. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Wade approached and opened it, revealing a familiar face. She was asking him something quietly. Wade quickly motioned towards Pierce, and she smiled.

"Kate!" said Pierce as she ran up to him, trying to resist the urge to give him a great big hug. Crusher briefly looked up from her work and smiled for a moment.

Wade was just about to get back to work when he heard a voice calling him: "Wade!" Wade turned around to see Commander Johnson. "I just wanted to tell you I'm heading out," Johnson said. "There's a chopper leaving in a few minutes, apparently taking that gunslinger, and I just wanted to say goodbye."

Wade nodded. "You still got those letters?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Johnson, who briefly took them out of his pocket to show Wade.

"Good," said Wade. "Don't forget to mail them."

Johnson nodded and turned back toward the door. At that point, Fuchs suddenly walked into the room. "Listen," he said nervously. "Garry was just wondering if any of you people had some work that a biologist could possibly help with."

*****

Clint sat impatiently smoking his cigar as he waited for the helicopter's engines to start up. While it only took Johnson a few minutes to return, he did not feel like waiting.

Still, as soon as Johnson was on board, the pilots began to take off. Clint stared out the side for a while, watching the land shrink into the distance as they flew over the sea.

"I can finally explain the nature of your special mission," said the agent in the chopper.

"Fire away," said Clint.

"You're heading out to Gold City," explained the agent. Clint showed a look of interest. "We had a couple of boys in there trying to retake a particular point, but we haven't heard much from them."

"What do you want me to do?" Clint asked.

"Simple," replied the agent. "You're heading to a small Western town called El Paso."

"I thought you said I was going to Gold City," said Clint.

"You will," replied the agent. "El Paso is where you'll meet your partner, codename: Angel Eyes."

"Angel Eyes," repeated Clint. "Sounds familiar."

"You'll be operating under the codename of Blondie," instructed the agent. "Angel Eyes has already been working on gathering supplies. As soon as you find him, you'll be heading out to Gold City by whatever transport's available. You can even ride on horses if you have to. We want you to find the Second Headquarters Squad, report their current status, and if all is well, give them a hand in whatever is necessary."

"Sounds simple enough," mused Clint. "How will I know my contact?"

"Simple recognition code," replied the agent. "A golden-haired angel. You remember that?"

"Yeah, I can remember that," said Clint. 

----

As a psychologist, Nicholas Saran had visited many hospitals, but the medical wing of Outpost 4 was among the nicest. Although it was dreadful the first day Nick had visited the place (considering the sheer magnitude of the hurt and dying), it had brightened up considerably in the last fifty-eight hours. Fresh ocean air blew through the open windows and filled the room with life. Sounds of the slowly splashing waves down below left a soothing sensation on the patents and the rays of sunshine illuminates the whitewashed walls.

But even with the vibrant atmosphere, Saran could sense an underlying layer of stress in the room. The men were afraid. Doctor Saran had seen himself the horrors of war; the brutal attack on the rear guard camp had emotionally scarred many of the men, and it was understandable that they were terrified to go back in to action so soon.

Saran checked his file and systematically walked down the row of beds, engaging in small talk and pleasantries as he went. Finally, he stopped at a bed in the middle and took a seat in a chair opposite. "Good morning, Mr. Nielson, how are you handling?"

The man on the bed rolled over and did not respond. Saran smiled and waited; it was his job to not force answers out of anyone. He had learned to wait over the years and be patient; he would let Mr. Nielson respond on his own time.

"I bet you think you can just make me feel better, don't you?" grumbled Mr. Nielson.

"What makes you think that?" said Dr. Saran.

"That's your job, right? To get me in fighting shape?"

Nick sat back in his chair and chuckled. "Mr. Nielson, if all we cared about was getting you fighting again, we would just ship you out regardless of whether you were ready or not."

Nielson sat up and pointed a finger at the doctor. "You don't care about me! You're not sending me out because of my leg!"

"That might be part of it," considered Saran. "But my leg never stopped me from doing good work; perhaps it is the reason why I never go in the field anymore."

"Does it still hurt?" asked Mr. Nielson.

"I've learned to live with it. But it took me time to cope." Saran put his hand on Mr. Nielson's shoulder. "Losing your leg is a hard thing to deal with. It's easy to just pretend you can do all the things you used to by jumping back into the action. But that will only hurt you, you need to take your time."

"But they think I'm worthless now!" moaned Mr. Nielson. "I need to fight again; I need to show them!"

"I'm missing a leg too. Does that make me worthless?" Saran got up from his chair and started writing in Mr. Nielson's file. "And for the record, they don't think you're worthless. Take your time; it took me years, but I finally found a way to make a difference. My bet is you will, too; just don't try and prove yourself now, there is plenty of time for that latter."

Mr. Nielson smiled and sat back in his bed. Although Nicholas felt he had had a breakthrough with this patent, the room was still filled with men suffering their own inner battles. He wished he had more time, but in about an hour, those that were ready to fight would be sent off to the front lines again. 

Whose definition of "ready"? thought the doctor. He frowned and made his way to the elevator. He would have to talk to someone about that. 

----

There was a cloud of dust as Clint stepped out of the chopper into the familiar sands of the Old West. Strangely, there were no people on this street, not a man in sight as he walked down the empty street.

Clint soon found himself wandering into a local tavern. The place was empty, save a young barmaid. "Can I get you something?" she asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "Whiskey." He put some cash on the counter, and the barmaid quickly took it and poured him a glass. "I don't suppose you know where everyone is?" he asked.

"They all went out to the hanging," replied the barmaid. "A couple of 'em boys were messing around in here and tried to start a fight."

Clint smiled, remembering the old days. "Well, you know what they say," he said as he took a sip. "Every man's got an angel watching them. Maybe a golden-haired angel."

This seemed to catch the barmaid's attention. "You're looking for someone aren't you?" she asked.

"How'd you know that?" asked Clint.

"There was a man who came in here a few days ago," replied the barmaid. "He's got a room here. He ain't by any chance a man who goes by the name of Angel Eyes, is he?"

Clint looked up from his drink. "You know about that?"

The barmaid smiled. "Standard agent Maria," she keenly introduced herself. "I was sent here to report on the progress and development of this town, in the hopes of such projects working in other regions. Naturally, they chose a woman because she'd have to be much more subtle."

"Hey," said a voice from behind. "If it isn't ol' Clint Wayne." Clint quickly turned around to see a trio of armed bandits approaching him.

"I'd be careful if I was you, Flatfoot Thompson," said Wayne.

The other two men laughed.

"You joined that ridiculous Dino Attack team, huh?" Thompson remarked tauntingly. "Them boys don't know nuttin' about destroying no mutant dinos. Tell me, is it true that they are desperate enough to employ women?"

The other bandits laughed. Maria and Clint remained silent. Suddenly they were cut off by a loud noise as Thompson's hat went flying off, followed by the two other men's hats.

"The next time I have to shoot, it goes through your head," Clint said menacingly. Thompson quickly ran out of there, followed by his two companions.

"I always hated that son of a Jack Stone," Maria remarked before she turned back to Clint. "I'll get you a room. When Angel Eyes gets here, I'll tell him Blondie stopped by."

"Thank you very much," replied Clint as he stood up and walked out of the tavern. 

----

"Why'd Garry send you?" Copper asked sternly.

"I don't know," replied Fuchs. "He just felt that you boys could use all the help you can get, and I was the closest person to another doctor around here."

"I see," said Copper. "Well, let's see what's going on here."

"You could start by helping Nick over there," said Wade. He motioned towards a man on the other side of the room who was just finishing a conversation with a patient.

"Yeah, that sounds good," replied Copper.

Fuchs nodded and nervously walked over. "Umm... excuse me," he said as he approached the psychiatrist. "Garry wanted me to help out around here, and the other doctors were saying I should give you a hand, doctor..."

"Saran."

"Yes, Saran," replied Fuchs. "I'm Doctor Fuchs, by the way. I'm the resident biologist around here." 

Doctor Saran warmly shook the biologist's hand. "Biology?" said Saran, "what do you do around here? I was under the impression you folks worked with cells and stuff. No offense, of course, but how is that relevant?"

Fuchs shrugged. "Ordinarily, I work with infectious disease, something that's common on tropical islands. Recently, I helped with the gas that was unleashed at the XERRD Fortress."

Saran nodded. "Interesting stuff; it's probably quite a stressful job."

"It can be," agreed Fuchs. "Recently, me and my team have been investigating the Maelstrom's effect on the human body."

"I suppose that would our course intersect, wouldn't it?" said Saran. "I have not had as much opportunity as I would have liked to study the Maelstrom, but part of my job is to work with its psychological effects." The psychiatrist frowned and turned around to view the sick bay. "These men are lucky; they don't have to go back fighting that thing yet. I've seen what happens to people who have to come face-to-face with such a force of evil. It…"

"It changes them," offered Fuchs.

Nicholas Saran frowned. "Exactly." 

"Did you say you were investigating the Maelstrom?" suddenly said a female voice from behind. Fuchs turned around to see Dr. Crusher sitting at a desk. "There was a man back at the camp who was looking into that. Doctor J.D. He even had a formula started."

"Really?" said Fuchs. "Can I speak to him?"

"Well, no," replied Crusher. "He's dead, you see. A Stromling went in and shot him. We never managed to find any notes… at least, nothing that gave us any real details."

"You wouldn't happen to have a sample of the formula?" Fuchs asked.

"Last I saw, J.D. gave it to a female agent, whose name I don't remember at the moment," replied Crusher.

"If that's true, it could be of great help to us," said Fuchs.

"It was probably lost in the camp," Crusher said with a slight yawn. "Whatever secrets J.D. had, they died with him."

"You don't remember anything?" asked Fuchs.

"I'm not sure," replied Crusher. "I didn't really know her that well. What was her name? Fellow, Fargo, Fabio? Something like that."

"I see," replied Fuchs. "If I could at least find her, maybe we'd be able to get something."

----

Clint squinted as he stepped down the bright and sunny street into the large courtyard where the town's population was standing. At the gallows was an old friend of Clint's, a bandit named Tuco Wallach. Clint smiled as he recalled the time they tried to form an alliance: Clint would turn Tuco in, collect the reward, then bust him out at the last second so they could split the money.

"Tuco Wallach, you have been found guilty of numerous crimes including pillaging, plundering, murder, killing, armed robbery, murder, using marked cards in a game of blackjack, double-crossing, impersonating a town sheriff, murder, sticking a knife into another man's back, shooting people, attempting to assault a lawman, and gambling. Proceed with the execution."

"I'm glad that ol' scoundrel is hangin'," said a woman in a coach. "Them boys ain't no good for notin' and they can rot in MegaBlokland for all I care."

"I wouldn't say that," replied another man, dressed in all black. "Even the worst of men have an angel looking after them. A golden-haired angel."

This quickly caught Clint's attention, but he turned back to the noose. He had a rifle on hand and slowly raised it, aimed, and fired. Within a moment, Tuco was down and riding the horse out of there. The townspeople rioted as they chased after him, whilst others were disappointed and went home. It was not long before the street was empty, save Clint and the black-clad man who seemed familiar.

"That was some fine shootin' there," the man said keenly.

Clint remembered what he'd heard him say. "Angel Eyes," he said.

Angel Eyes let out a slight chuckle. "You must be Blondie," he said.

Clint smiled, recognizing his assigned teammate. "Van Cleef," he said. "It's been a while."

"Naturally," replied Angel Eyes. "Come on. We got some work to be doing." 

----

Minerva and Nazareno were on their way to the meeting at Outpost 4. Minerva couldn't help but feel grateful for being back in a sanitary and friendly building. The last time I was at an outpost was before the battle at the village.

"And Vinyaya said we could come to the meeting?" she said, turning to Nazareno.

"Yes. Did you clear Villano of charges?" he responded.

Minerva rolled her eyes. The Dino Attack agents that had detained Rudo Villano once they had reached Outpost 4 had been very keen on killing him. After much convincing, Villano managed to walk free. "Barely."

"Something to mention at this meeting. You think that Villano can lead us to the correct temple?"

"I don't know, but we might as well try."

"Indeed - oooohh," Nazareno moaned, clutching his stomach. Minerva had never seen the ninja in so much pain.

"That reminds me, you were going to show me your wound."

Nazareno's eyes narrowed. "Oh, yes. I forgot. Be warned, it isn't pretty."

He pulled off his shirt armor and handed it to Minerva. She took it and was immediately surprised with how light it was. Well, he is a ninja. He's gotta move fast, right? thought Minerva.

Nazareno sighed, and lifted his shirt so his stomach visible. Minerva gagged slightly.

Around the spot where Zach's bullet had entered Nazareno's body was a small, bluish bruise that was surrounded by an even larger black bruise. From the blackened skin, Minerva could see the thin outline of seven purple veins, each pulsing every few seconds.

"I.... how...?" she stammered.

"I can only presume that the bullet Zach fired was infected with the Maelstrom, and it stayed in my system long enough to allow some of the Maelstrom to enter my body; specifically, the area where the bullet entered my body."

"Was it always that... big?"

"No. In fact, prior to the battle in the camp, the wound was more-or-less healed up. However, after the battle, the wound began to hurt again. I checked it out and, lo and behold, a massive bruise was on my stomach. I can only assume that, up until the encounter with Zach and that Stromling Monkey, the Maelstrom in my body was dormant. After the encounter, the Maelstrom was, I guess, reactivated and started causing havoc on my body."

Minerva was at a loss for words as she stared at the disgusting bruise. "Have... has a medic seen it? Are you..." she drifted off, feeling a lump appear in her throat.

"I haven't had time to see a medic since before the battle. It certainly is on my list of things to do, though. As for your second question..." Nazareno closed his eyes and let his shirt fall over the wound. He took the armor back from Minerva and put it back over his chest. "Yes, I can only assume that I am dying. That, or slowly becoming a Stromling," Nazareno said calmly.

Minerva's eyes widened. "Are...you feeling any sort of negative thoughts?" she asked, curious.

"You must be referring to Zach's less-than-pleasant attitude he brought back to the camp after his short exposure to that 'Maelstrom pool' you said he found. However, Zach is young and could not control his emotions. I have been trained to control my emotions. This control allows me to repel the Maelstrom's influence, but only temporarily. Eventually I will succumb to its influence. It may be months. It may be hours. Heck, it could be years. But it will happen. Trust me."

Minerva was silent, trying to absorb the thought she may be losing another friend. She looked down at her leg where the Injection Saw was clipped. J.D.'s incomplete Maelstrom cure swirled inside the vial. She slowly reached for it when she felt Nazareno's hand stop her movement.

"I know you want to help," he said sternly. "But I am not worth it. Save it for Zach." Minerva nodded slowly and let her hand return to her side. "Good. As it would seem, we have arrived at the command room." Nazareno pushed open the door.

Minerva could see numerous Dino Attack agents (mostly Elite) sitting around a table. Commander Vinyaya rose her spot and gestured the two to join the group.

"Welcome," Vinyaya said as the two took their places standing behind Rex and Adventure at the table. "We were just beginning to plan how to approach this Maelstrom Temple." 

----

Angel Eyes led Clint back into the saloon. The bar was once again occupied by scoundrels of all sorts. Flatfoot Thompson was busy cheating at a card game at a nearby table, but as soon as he saw Clint, he took his winnings and ran off.

The two men stopped at the counter. Maria was busy pouring a few drinks before she could get to them. "Sorry about this," she said. "When there's a hangin', business gets big."

"They do make a lot of money," replied Angel Eyes.

"I see you two found each other," Maria said.

Angel Eyes chuckled.

Maria looked around. "Come with me," she said. The two men followed her into the back of the tavern, where it was much less crowded.

"Did you get everything?" Angel Eyes asked.

"You bet," replied Maria with a grin.

"You got the cart?"

Maria led them out the back door where a small horse-drawn cart was waiting. In the back were several barrels, some of which contained food, others water, ammunition, and other goodies. "That should last you for 'bout a week," Maria said. "You boys get out there and give them Second Headquarters Squad a hand. I'll be up to check on you as soon as I can."

"How long will that be?" Angel Eyes asked as he sat down in the front.

"As soon as I can close down the saloon for a few days whilst still keeping anyone from knowin' who I'm workin' for. If any of them boys found out a woman from that there team were here, they'd think I was crazy."

"I think we can take care of ourselves for a little while," said Clint. "Let's get going."

With that, Clint gave a little shake to the straps, and the horses quickly started moving forward into the desert. He imagined a cue from an Ennio Morricone soundtrack playing as they rode off.

----

At about that moment, Garry walked into the infirmary.

"You're not at the meeting?" Copper asked curiously.

"Someone's got to keep watch," replied Garry. "It's my job to oversee everything that goes on at this base. At the moment, there are more pressing matters at hand. I'd like an update on the patients."

"It's getting better," reported Wade. "We got most of the patients stabilized, at least. I think there's a couple that will need to be shipped out, though."

"Like who?" asked Garry.

"Elite Agent Zenna for starters," replied Wade. He motioned towards Zenna, who was still comatose and attached to various medical instruments, the likes of which can never be described by someone who knows absolutely nothing about medicine.

"Alright," said Garry. "I'll arrange for transport to get them out. Any fit for duty?"

"Most of them," replied Wade.

"Good, good," said Garry. "I'll get the arrangements made. Maybe the rest of you should go get some breakfast."

At this point, Crusher was starting to doze off when Fuchs spoke up. "I think I've found something interesting," he said. "Crusher, would you mind telling him?"

Crusher suddenly opened her eyes, somewhat startled before Fuchs asked the question again. "Oh, there was a man back at the camp who tried to create a cure for the Maelstrom."

"Is that so?" asked Garry. "You wouldn't happen to have a sample of it with you?"

"No," replied Crusher. "The man responsible was killed. I'm trying to remember the name of the person he gave it to. Fallow, Fabric- Fabello, that was it!"

"Fabello," repeated Garry. "We can try the meeting."

"What about the wounded?" asked Wade.

"I'll go take a look around for Fabello," decided Garry. "I'd like you to work out which patients are fit for duty. The rest of them will be moved to Antarctica for their own safety." He quickly turned towards Crusher. "What's your name?"

"Crusher."

"Dr. Crusher," replied Garry. "I think you should take a nap."

Crusher nodded as Garry left the room.

He ran down the hallway and worked his way to the planning room where the others were working. He knocked on the door, somewhat startling them. "Excuse me," he said. "I hate to interrupt anything, but do any of you know a 'Fabello'?"

The mention of the name caught the attention of one young girl in the room.

"I understand you have a sample of an experimental cure to the Maelstrom," explained Garry. "I'd like you to bring to the lab. We got a man here who can analyze it and perhaps reproduce it."

*****

Barry Jackson took a great big bite out of his toast as he stared at Teri. "It's so good to see you again," he said. "You have no idea."

"So... Shotgun," Teri said with a smile. "How'd you come by that?"

"I was originally going to be called Sniper," replied Jackson. "The codename was already taken, so they had to quickly find a replacement."

"Anyone else joined?"

"Yeah," replied Jackson. "Wade's here, and so is Moffat."

"Moffat?" asked Teri.

"Yeah," replied Jackson. "He runs this outpost."

Teri smiled. "What about Tzenovich?" she asked.

Jackson smiled. "Not likely," he said. "That guy was too much trouble even for the team." 

----

Clint pulled the cart to a halt outside what little was left of Gold City. There was rubble everywhere, though a few buildings were still partially intact.

"Wait here," Clint said as he picked up a rifle and climbed off of the cart. He lit a cigar as he walked into town. The noise of a skirmish was close by. Amongst the chaos, he could hear shouting and what sounded like Mutant Dinos. As he passed by the ruins of an old saloon, he could not help but notice a fedora-wearing man crouched on the balcony.

Curious, he stepped inside and worked his way up the stairs to the balcony. Once there, he saw the man was armed with a sniper rifle, and he was aiming towards a group of mutant dinosaurs down the road.

"Steady, steady, steady," Bullseye muttered. He was just about to fire a shot when Clint pushed him aside. "Oi!" he shouted. "What's the big idea, mate?"

Clint did not answer. Instead, he simply drew his rifle, aimed at a particularly nasty looking Mutant T-Rex that was walking down the road and fired. He reloaded and fired another round, then another, and after a few rounds it was not long before the beast collapsed. He aimed toward the Mutant Lizards and kept shooting them until they were down. With some assistance from another man's gatling gun, they were able to clean up most of them quickly, and the remaining dinos were sent retreating.

The man Clint had pushed aside slowly got up. "Who do you think you are, mate?" he shouted.

There were two others in the street: one a large man with a machine gun, the other wearing doctor's robes over his Dino Attack uniform.

"Howdy," Clint said as they turned toward him. There was suddenly a loud noise and Clint looked up to see a Mutant Pterosaur approaching quickly. Clint was about to draw his pistol when a separate gunshot rang out, and the beast fell dead. They all turned to see Angel Eyes approaching with the cart.

"You must be them boys we were told about," Angel Eyes said keenly.

"YES!" shouted the large man, who spoke with a thick Russian accent. "Ve are Second Headquarters Squad!"

"We got you a whole bunch of supplies," Angel Eyes said as Clint and Bullseye went back into the saloon to work their way back down. Angel Eyes stepped off the cart and got a barrel. "Anybody hungry?"

"YES!" shouted Bear. "I VANT SANDVICH!"

"Sandvich?" Clint asked as he stepped out of the saloon.

"Yeah," replied Bullseye. "You know, two slices of bread with stuff in between them."

"All we got here is beans and steak," said Angel Eyes.

"NO!" Bear shouted. "I vant SANDVICH!"

Angel Eyes sighed. He quickly opened the barrel, grabbed a slab of meat, and tossed it to Bear. "Here's your sandwich," he said unenthusiastically.

Bear stared at the meat with bemusement. He was not a native English speaker and spent a moment wondering if "sandwich" meant something different from what he intended. At last, he looked at Angel Eyes and laughed heartily. "OHOHOHO! You are FUNNY little man! Is good joke! Very vell, I vill eat your 'sandvich'!" Bear promptly started eating the meat. "OM NOM NOM NOM! MOIST AND DELICIOUS!"

"I guess I'd better introduce myself," said Bullseye. "The name's Bullseye, mate. This is Bear and Medic."

"Ja," said Medic.

"My name's Blondie," Clint introduced himself by his codename. "This man here is Angel Eyes. We've been instructed to provide assistance in whatever ways possible. Should it become necessary, we have another contact in El Paso: a barmaid named Maria." 

----

Minerva glanced at Nazareno. "Just go. Replicating the formula would be helpful in the long run," he muttered, glancing at his stomach for half a second. Minerva shrugged and stood up and went with Garry out of the room.

"My name is Garry, by the way," the agent said as they walked down the hallway. "You have the cure with you?" Minerva nodded and unclipped the Injection Saw from her belt and handed it Garry. He took it and glanced at it with interest. "This is quite the tool," he noted.

"Yeah, it's one of XERRD's tools," Minerva responded.

"Hmmm." Garry was silent for a moment. "Do you have any idea what is in this formula? If that doctor entrusted you with it, you must have an idea."

"Oh, um. J.D. said he extracted part of his Creative Spark to use as the main ingredient. I guess it was the 'Imagination' part of the formula that would do the most work repelling the Maelstrom. He thinks he was able to be killed because the extraction weakened him greatly."

*****

"Anyway," Hertz said. "Let's continue. Anything to share before we begin, Nazareno?"

"Actually, yes," the space ninja responded. "Before I left the camp for here, agent Fabello managed to make an alliance with Rudo Villano, a former XERRD hunter and Maelstrom servant."

"XERRD and the Maelstrom?" repeated Rotor, clearly unimpressed. "Are we seriously willing to trust this guy?"

"It's not the first time we've gotten defectors from XERRD," Cabin noted, gesturing to Dr. Cyborg in the background.

"If I'm not mistaken," Andrew put in, "he has worked with Señor Palomar in the past. What if he still holds some sort of loyalty to Palomar?"

"It is possible, and I would not doubt it," Nazareno said. "But according to Fabello, he seems pretty revenge-driven on besting Palomar and his XERRD slime. She only managed to convince him to join us after she said he would get revenge on the ones who so willingly betrayed him."

"This isn't the first time we've allied with known villains," said Rex. "And if this guy is willing to help, then let him help. And if he would suddenly decide to betray us-"

"Off with his head," Rotor finished darkly. Nazareno rolled his eyes.

"We also have reason to believe that he may know where the true Maelstrom Temple is," Nazareno continued.

"The more, the merrier," Adventure said.

"Elaborate, please."

"Rex and Claw found us XERRD scientist named Paulie Gonepus," Adventure said. "Ol' Gonepus was trying to do a number on the queen T-Rex on the island. I, of course, found this out after interrogating him. He sang like a canary once I got a hold of him-" Again, Nazareno rolled his eyes at Adventure's boastfulness. "-and now we holding him prisoner."

"We intend to 'accidentally' release him and hope he decides to regroup with Palomar and the XERRD scientists, who are hopefully at the Maelstrom Temple," Rex finished. "Though our job might be a lot easier if this Villano guy knows where it is."

"Alright," Hertz said. "We can't waste any more time. We only have a few more hours until the deadline is up, and I am not keen on seeing exactly what Zach intends to do."

"I have one question," Commander Vinyaya suddenly said. "Who exactly is this 'Zach'? I heard Fabello mention him. He is the Stromling that lead the Maelstrom's side of the battle at the camp, correct?"

The mood seemed to darken a bit at the mention of Zach. Nazareno could see Semick and Andrew's expressions change particularly.

"He was a young Standard Agent," explained Nazareno. "Red hair, wore glasses. I don't think he was very notable, but he was the first one to discover there were Stromling spies within our ranks. He also stopped a rogue agent named Scratch who had alienated the native dinosaurs from us."

At this Vinyaya's eyes seemed to widen, but she didn't say anything.

Nazareno continued: "He had a run-in with the Maelstrom at that XERRD Fortress during that battle. I'd say he's made more of a name for himself as a Stromling than a Dino Attack agent. He's killed a medic, an Elite Agent, and numerous others. He's wounded even more, including myself, Clint Wayne, Andrew, and you, Commander. He's made himself out as a commanding figure within the Maelstrom's ranks, but the factuality of his ranking is unknown."

Vinyaya was silent. Then: "Okay. Thank you for enlightening me, Nazareno."

He nodded in acknowledgment.

"Are we all in the loop?" Hertz asked impatiently. "If so, let's get to work."

*****

Garry led Minerva back to the infirmary. Fuchs was surprised to see Garry leading a young woman.

"I found Fabello," Garry said. "First room I checked."

"Hello," Fuchs said somewhat shyly as he approached her. "I'm Dr. Fuchs, biologist. Come on, I'd better take you to the lab."

Garry watched as Fuchs led her outside before turning back to the rest of them. "Alright," said Garry. "I'd like a complete list of everyone who isn't fit to continue their duty. Anyone and everyone who needs time to recover will be shipped off this MegaBlokin' island unless I say otherwise."

Garry promptly walked through the infirmary as everyone got to work. He turned towards a small, closed-off space, a private ward of sorts. Inside, he saw Jenny lying in the bed, resting calmly, though the bruises were still clearly visible, and some bandages had been placed on her head. In that moment, Garry almost felt bad for what he did.

Copper walked in at that moment. "How is she?" Garry asked.

"She'll live," reported Copper. "Should I get her ready to leave?"

"I don't know," replied Garry. "It would probably be safer for her, but she could still have useful information."

Now, Garry was somewhat conflicted. He knew Rotor could do worse than he'd already done. The only reason he'd spared her once was because she could still provide information. He wanted to talk to someone, maybe get a second opinion, but he could not do that. If he told anyone what Rotor had done, he would also have to expose himself. Besides, Rotor had a valid point. On the other hand, the other two prisoners seemed a bit more cooperative.

"Has she said anything?" Garry asked.

"No," replied Copper. "I've been trying, but from what I can tell, she's just too scared to say anything. Maybe she could do with an appointment with Nick Saran."

"The one-legged psychologist?"

"Yeah."

Garry thought about it for a moment. He saw where Copper was getting at. The only trouble was if Jenny were to say anything, she could say something exposing them. He did feel bad about what he had done, but he was in no position to tell the truth, for he knew the consequences that would come with that. Worse still, if he turned Rotor in and he found out he'd been double-crossed, he would surely seek vengeance. This was a matter that had to be decided by Garry alone. There was nobody he could go to: not Copper, nor Mac, nor Windows, nor any of his friends, and certainly not any of the new arrivals.

"I'm not quite sure," Garry finally said before leaving.

*****

Fuchs sat down at the examination table with the injection saw.

"Do you have any idea what was put into this stuff?" he asked as he looked inside.

"J.D. mentioned something about extracting part of his Creative Spark," replied Minerva.

"I'm sorry?" Fuchs asked confusedly as he looked up.

"Apparently a key ingredient in the formula was Imagination," explained Minerva. "That provided the necessary substance."

"Well," said Fuchs. "That's not an easy thing to synthesize. Did he ever say anything else about it? I think for one thing it would help if we had some idea of exactly how it was supposed to cure a person. It's also made more difficult by the fact that we don't really have a point of reference for Stromling anatomy, since catching a live one is out of the question, and the Maelstrom leaves their bodies when they die."

"Well," Minerva said, "J.D. believed that his healthy Creative Spirit would heal a different, heavily damaged or corrupted Creative Spirit."

Fuchs nodded, understanding the deceased doctor's reasoning.

"Also..." Minerva was somewhat hesitant to reveal this information, as it might lead to her revealing her and Andrew's plan to abandon the main group to find Zach. I'll just leave that part out. "J.D. thought strong emotions allowed a Stromling to temporarily detach from the Maelstrom's control. It has happened with agent Zachary numerous times."

"Agent Zachary?" asked Fuchs.

"He was a Dino Attack agent who was corrupted by the Maelstrom. He led the attack on the camp."

Fuchs nodded again. Minerva wondered what Fuchs would do with this information.  "I wouldn't mind knowing how exactly that works," replied Fuchs. "It's an interesting theory, but without any idea of how a Stromling's biology works, there's no way to be certain, and obviously bringing Zach here is out of the question."

Minerva nodded sadly.

"I suppose we could run a few tests by mixing samples with other substances," suggested Fuchs. "Theoretically, we might be able to deduce from the reactions some possible components. I can't guarantee it will work, but it's worth trying. There's also still the question of how to synthesize Imagination, since I can understand you probably don't want to remove your own Creative Spark, and I'm certainly not taking out mine."

Minerva was slightly uneasy. As much as she wanted to synthesize the prototype cure, she was didn't want to give up the only sample for research. She wanted to use it on Zach, regardless of the consequences. She and Andrew seemed to be keeping their mission a secret, so she also hesitant to express her reasons of why she didn't want the formula to be picked apart. If Fuchs wasn't successful in his experimentation, she would lose her way of saving Zach from the Maelstrom. She let out a long sigh.

"Look," Minerva said, looking at the doctor. "I have something to tell you. I..."

*****

As the deliberations paused briefly for a quick recess, Tracer leaned forward in his seat behind Hotwire. "Are you going to mention Loop at all?"

Hotwire shook his head. "We can't really afford to worry about him right now. Zach's much more of a threat, and our main goal is finding the Maelstrom temple, not settling a grudge." He paused and rubbed his temples. "Builder, I need a rest sometime this year. And in any case, I doubt Loop is any more dangerous than your average Stromling."

*****

Loop stopped and leaned on a tree, gritting his teeth. It was taking more and more effort to preserve his complete mental autonomy while simultaneously containing the Maelstrom in his body. I have to hang on just a bit longer, for the plan, he thought. He took a deep breath and stood up.

He sensed his cells slowly decaying; it wouldn't be long before he would either submit his will to the Maelstrom, or die. A quick mental calculation told him that this moment would come in approximately two hours. 

Loop, still leaning against the tree, suddenly cried out, doubling over in pain. The Maelstrom in his body had suddenly accelerated. He looked down as his already-ragged Inferno uniform began to tear in places as the Maelstrom energies attacked his body with new vigor and enthusiasm. Large parts of his skin decayed and peeled away. He could now feel it assaulting his mind. It was so tempting just to let go... to let it take him... to serve loyally in the destruction of all.

Loop couldn't be sure whether his remaining time as a free mutant was counted in minutes or seconds, but regardless he needed to stop the Maelstrom's spread in his body somehow. He still had a reserve in his electrical cells. It's my only chance, he thought, and discharged all of the electricity at once.

A white-hot bolt of lightning arced from Loop's chest and arms, reducing a nearby tree to ashes. The blinding flash left him temporarily stunned, and immediately the Maelstrom began forcing its way into his mind.

"NO!" he cried, summoning all his willpower to force the Maelstrom out of his thoughts and into his now empty electricity-storing cells, which he then insulated and locked, cutting them off from the rest of his body. He panted exhaustedly.

Faint purple smoke still trailed after him, but the Maelstrom had been securely cut off from advancing any further through his systems. His current life expectancy had been extended by several days at least. But at the cost of my defense, he thought grimly. I'll just have to be more cautious than usual.

Loop stood up straight again and continued laboriously on his way. 

*****

Kate's attention was suddenly drawn by someone tapping her shoulder. She turned around to see Wade. "Listen, Kate," he said. "I've got to get Pierce out of here."

"You mean you're getting me off this island?" Pierce asked.

"Garry said anyone who isn't fit for duty is going," replied Wade.

Kate turned back toward Pierce, who looked at her with a smile. "It's okay," he said. "I'll see you again. Just a few days of recovering and it'll be fine."

Kate nodded, a few tears somewhat visible. "Goodbye," she muttered, trying to keep herself from crying. Pierce was after all really her only friend out here. He was like a father to her, and now he was leaving. After a moment, Wade helped Pierce out of bed, giving him a pair of crutches before leading him toward the door.

*****

During the recess, Dr. Cyborg approached Rex. "Sir, that blank shell I gave you… I have developed an AI program for it. If you would like me to upload it, I will."

"Thank you, I will think about it," Rex replied.

A woman came up to Dr. Cyborg. "Excuse me, could you help me find my cat?"

Rex rolled his eyes. "Sure," Dr. Cyborg replied uneasily. "Why?"

"Well," she replied, "I am always losing it."

"Catless!" Cyborg cried. "I knew you would recognize me. Eventually."

Rex asked, "Do you know her?"

"Yes," Dr. Cyborg replied, "We were classmates and friends at BIT, Brickachussets Institute of Technology. Elite Agent Rex, may I present Johanna "Catless" Evergreen."

"Why are you called Catless?" Rex asked.

"Well," Catless told Rex, "we called ourselves 'the C group' at BIT. Not for our grades, of course. We all made our names have something to do with us. We were regarded as strange, but hey, we didn't care. My cat was always running away, and when we decided all our nicknames had to begin with C, mine was Catless. Matt's was Cyborg because he was always thinking about human augmentation. It turned out to be prophetic." Turning back towards Dr. Cyborg, Catless asked: "Do you remember Charon?"

Cyborg nodded. "Yes. Remember when the school was launching a research rocket and told him he could put a probe on it if it got itself to the outer solar system?"

"If I recall, you designed the excellent propulsion system he got extra credit for," Catless said.

Dr. Cyborg waved the praise off. "Everybody thought it was hilarious when a stray shot from the Crystalien Conflict destroyed it," he said. "Speaking of which, what happened to Crystal?"

"Oh, he joined the Dino Attack team with me. He's stationed in Antarctica. Oh, Contest finally won one."

Dr. Cyborg replied, "Well, good for her!"

"Charon? Crystal? Contest? Who are these people? I'm lost." Rex said.

Catless answered, "Charon was named because he was obsessed with space, especially Charon. Crystal fanatically followed the Crystalien Conflict, so he was Crystal. Because Contest always was entering contests, she became Contest."

Dr. Cyborg and Catless walked away, still talking.

*****

One by one, the hospital beds were being evacuated until it was more or less empty, save the doctors, Garry, and a handful of patients who were fit enough for duty. Garry watched as Pierce was carried out, Kate sat next to his empty bed, somewhat depressed.

At that point, Copper approached Garry. "What about the girl?" he asked. "I need an answer now."

Garry thought about it for a few minutes before finally looking Copper in the eye. "Get her on that chopper," Garry whispered. "I just need you to do me a favor."

"What is it sir?" inquired Copper.

"Don't tell anyone about this," instructed Garry.

"Why?" asked Copper.

Garry thought about it. "I can't tell you," he said. "It's for her own good. If anyone asks, she didn't make it. Put a sheet over her, and if anyone asks, you're sending the body home."

"Look, what is going on?" Copper demanded.

"I already said I can't tell you," reiterated Garry. "Just trust me."

Copper sighed and nodded. The two of them went over to the "private ward" where Jenny was kept. Copper got a sheet and a stretcher, and the two of them slowly moved Jenny onto it. She was still resting fortunately, and barely stirred as Copper placed the sheet over her face.

Garry grabbed the back end of the stretcher while Copper grabbed the front. The two of them carried it outside to where the medivac chopper was waiting. Two paramedics helped load her into the helicopter, and as soon as they did, Garry removed part of the sheet, showing Jenny's face.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" asked a paramedic, shouting over the sounds of the helicopter's engines.

"SHE'S NOT DEAD," replied Garry.

"THEN WHY DID YOU PUT A SHEET OVER HER!?" asked the paramedic.

"IT'S A LONG STORY!" insisted Garry. "JUST TAKE GOOD CARE OF HER!"

The man moved toward Jenny and started examining her. "IS THAT EVERYONE?"

Garry turned back toward Copper and repeated the question. Copper nodded. "YEAH, THAT'S ALL OF THEM!" replied Garry before he climbed out of the chopper. He and Copper turned back toward the Outpost as it started to take off. 

"Listen, Garry," Copper said. "What was all that about? Who was she?"

"I told you," replied Garry. "I can't tell you."

"Come on," insisted Copper. "There's got to be something."

Garry thought about it and sighed before he turned to Copper. "If I tell you, you must promise not to breathe one word of it to anyone. Understand?"

"Yes," replied Copper.

"Good," said Garry. "Come with me."

Garry led Copper into the vehicle lot and opened a door to a Fire Hammer. Inside were two agents, whom he quickly recognized as Barry Jackson and Teri Dactyl, a former soldier of his, and they were sitting in the backseat, kissing.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything."

Garry led Copper to another nearby Fire Hammer and opened the door. He sat down in the passenger's side whilst Copper took the driver's side. After closing the doors, Garry remained quiet for a moment.

"That was no accident," Garry said. "It was far from self-defense of any kind."

"What do you mean?" Copper asked.

"I tortured her, Doc," confessed Garry. "Rotor and I. He told me she had information. We beat her into a MegaBlokin' pulp."

"You've been trying to cover all this up?" realized Copper.

"Yes," replied Garry. "You don't know what Rotor's like. The guy tried to execute an entire T-1 Typhoon crew because the pilot disobeyed orders. Don't get me wrong, he's a great leader on the battlefield, but everywhere else..."

Copper looked away in disgust. "I can't believe you would do something like that."

"Rotor's got a way with words," said Garry. "It's a strange thing. Every action he does, no matter how cruel, always has a disturbing amount of logic. Actually, in some ways, I admire him."

"Shouldn't we do something?" Copper asked.

"Not yet," replied Garry. "When this war is over maybe, but in the meantime, they need a man who can lead."

"Well," said Copper. "Why fake the girl's death? Why don't we just tell them that she's-"

"Because if Rotor finds out I betrayed him, he'll no doubt want to have me shot," replied Garry. "Don't think he wouldn't."

"In that case, your secret is safe with me," assured Copper. "I'll write up an official report. The body was sent out with the medivac."

Garry nodded as Copper stepped out of the Fire Hammer. He sat there for a few minutes, thinking about his actions. He finally stepped out of the vehicle and walked over toward the other Fire Hammer. He opened the door and stared coldly at Barry and Teri.

"What are you MegaBlokin' 4+ Pirates doing in here?" he demanded. "Get back to your post!"

Jackson nodded as he stepped outside, followed by Teri. They quickly put their jackets back on and ran off. 

*****

The meeting had reconvened, and Nazareno was glad to see things getting done. The agents surrounding the table eagerly and hurriedly discussed their options and the full extent of what they wanted to do. It appeared they did not take Zach's threat lightly and wanted a plan so they could quickly enter the Maelstrom-infected area of the jungle. Every agent was actively participating. Except one.

Next to Nazareno sat a girl around twenty-years-old. She had long black hair tied into a ponytail with a bright red stripe of hair running down the middle of her head. She hadn't said a single word. Instead, she seemed hunched over something in her lap. She constantly raised her head and glanced side-to-side, as if she was afraid someone was watching her.

Nazareno shrugged the girl off. If she didn't pay attention, it would only cost her in the end. As it would seem, Commander Vinyaya would not accept the girl's lack of attention.

"Zelda Frodongan!" Vinyaya snapped. The girl jumped and glared at the commander furiously. "If you are not going to pay attention, you can get out!"

"I am paying attention," the girl mumbled angrily. "More than you would like to know." This upset Vinyaya for whatever reason, as she got out of her chair and stomped toward Zelda.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, pulling Zelda's chair out from the table. Nazareno could spy a PDA sitting on her lap. Zelda's eyes widened and quickly pressed a button on the device before it was snatched out of her hands by Vinyaya."What are you-" Vinyaya was suddenly silenced. She glanced at the PDA then at Zelda. Suddenly, Vinyaya grabbed the back of Zelda's uniform and yanked her from the chair. With much force, Vinyaya slammed Zelda's back against the wall and pointed a small, handgun-like weapon at the Standard Agent.

Every agent (except Rex, for obvious reasons) stood up from the table. Many had weapons out. "What are you doing, Holly?!" Nazareno demanded. She glared at the ninja for several moments, then handed the confiscated PDA to him. He squinted as he read the small screen.

Message successfully sent to: ZACHARY

Nazareno set the PDA down on the table, in shock. Hotwire snapped it up and read the screen himself. His eyes widened as he looked at Zelda, who was now smiling.

"You are a... Stromling?" he asked.

Zelda's smile widened as her minifig disguise fell away, a Stromling version of herself taking its place. Vinyaya backed away in surprise.

"Indeed," Zelda hissed.

*****

As Copper walked toward the recreational room, he was startled to find Wade and Carver carrying an unconscious man. "What's going on?" Copper asked nervously.

"I don't know," replied Wade. "We were working in the infirmary when suddenly someone shows up and tells us that this guy Norris had a heart attack."

"What?" said Copper. He quickly took a look at the unconscious man's face. "Oh, Norris…"

"You know him?" asked Wade.

"He's a geologist," Copper explained. "I worked with him in Antarctica. Now let's get him to medbay."

With some assistance, Norris was quickly hauled to the operating room and thrown onto the table. Carver quickly woke up Crusher while Wade tore open the patient's shirt. They started attempting the standard procedures with no affect. Copper tried mouth-to-mouth, and nothing happened.

"Wade, get me the defibrillator!" Copper shouted.

Wade quickly grabbed one and wheeled it over. He grabbed the two paddles and held them in place. He waited for the right moment before Copper shouted, "Clear!"

Wade pressed them down, and nothing happened. He held them again and waited for Copper.

"CLEAR!" Copper finally shouted.

Wade pressed those paddles down as hard as he could onto Norris's chest. Then something happened he didn't quite expect. The man's chest split right open, exposing his ribs like jagged teeth of an enormous maw. The two paddles fell inside, but Wade was fortunately able to pull his hands away before the ribcage closed tight in a motion that would have sliced a man's arms clean off.

At that point, Norris began to turn a strange purplish color. His eyes opened, glowing a bright red.

"I don't know what's going on, but I think we should get out of here!" Crusher shouted as she quickly ran for the door, followed by the other doctors.

"What do we do?" asked a panicked Carver as they ran outside.

"We got to warn everyone," replied Copper. "Wade, Fuchs is busy in the lab working on the cure. You better go warn him. I'll go find Garry. Carver, Crusher, you two go warn the elite agents."

*****

Fuchs was listening intently as Minerva started to explain, but she was sadly cut off when Wade burst into the room.

"We got trouble!" Wade said. "There's a Stromling in here. I don't know, a guy had a heart attack, and we tried to revive him, and then he turned out to be a Stromling. Copper told me to come warn you."

"How on LEGO Planet did-" Fuchs was about to say before he cut himself off. "Oh, never mind. Minerva, we gotta get out of here, and fast. If we can get outside to the vehicle lot, maybe we can get a Fire Hammer and drive out of here. Now let's go!"

He quickly picked up the injection saw and grabbed her hand as he ran for the door.

*****

The leadership stepped back as the soldiers tackled Zelda.

"Hold her down!" shouted Dr. Cyborg. "I can extract the Maelstrom!"

Holding her down was easier said than done. The Stromling was putting up a good fight. She ran towards the door, and almost made it, too.

"Oh, no, you don't!" Vinyaya yelled as she shoved Zelda back into the fight.

Hotwire and Tracer had both leapt up the moment Zelda dropped her disguise, but they could do little more for the first several seconds than stand back as she struggled with Vinyaya and Dr. Cyborg. As Vinyaya shoved the Stromling back from the door, Tracer drew a pistol and fired. Zelda ducked the instant she saw the rookie agent raise his weapon, and the shot flew over her head and punched through the door. Hesitant to fire again for fear of hitting anyone else, Tracer stepped back, but kept his gun pointed directly at the Stromling Agent. At that moment, she was tackled from both sides by Nazareno and Vinyaya.

Hotwire, weaponless, cursed in frustration. I really should be armed at all times, he thought to himself, ducking around the table in search of some means of defending himself and aiding the others. He spotted a knife someone had dropped on the ground, and snatched it up. He turned back to the fight just in time to see Zelda throw Vinyaya off.

The Space Police commando stumbled momentarily but recovered her balance. With a yell towards Nazareno to duck, she raised her sidearm and fired. Zelda twisted to the side with inhuman speed, and the blast of energy scorched a hole through the wall behind her. The Stromling stayed in motion, charging forward and punching Vinyaya in the stomach. Though she was protected by her body armor, the force of the blow was enough to send Vinyaya reeling back again, dropping her weapon in the process.

At that moment, Hotwire vaulted over the command table and threw the knife at Zelda. It struck her in the side but, without missing a beat, she pulled the knife out and swiped it at Hotwire's abdomen. He jumped back, but the knife still slashed through his shin. This sudden injury fouled up his landing, and he fell back, striking his head on the edge of the table. Hotwire collapsed, grimacing in pain as spots clouded his vision. He rolled under the table for a bit of protection while he waited to recover.

Maelstrom energies flared around Zelda's side, and her knife wound began to close. Meanwhile, Vinyaya had regained her footing. She charged and tackled the Stromling again. Tracer holstered his pistol and sprang to her aid, and as Zelda's offensive abilities were briefly hindered by the process of healing her wound, they were quickly able to wrestle her to the ground. Dr. Cyborg approached, preparing to attempt to draw out the Maelstrom.

Meanwhile, Hotwire, semiconscious and all but oblivious to the fight, suddenly felt a cold swirling sensation in his wounded leg. He blinked and boosted himself onto his elbow and peered down, squinting in pain at his shin. Through the ragged hole in his pant leg, he saw a smoky purple glow, and felt his wound begin to close. Instantly he realized what he was seeing. When Zelda ripped the knife out of her side, it must have dragged bits of Maelstrom energy with it, clinging to the blade long enough to transfer to... me!

The thought made him forget the pain in his head. Hotwire knew that as soon as it was done healing the knife wound, the Maelstrom would spread and infect him entirely. He suppressed a flare of panic as his mind scrambled for a solution. At that moment he spotted Vinyaya's sidearm laying where it had fallen, not three feet away from Hotwire's position under the table. Seeing no alternative, he grabbed the weapon, aimed it at his injured and now-infected shin, clenched his teeth, squeezed his eyes shut, and fired.

The sudden explosive sound of the Space Police weapon discharging distracted the other three agents for a split second. And that split second was all that Zelda needed. She wrenched an arm free and shoved Tracer off of her, snatching his pistol in the process. As Tracer rolled back and began to stand, Zelda squeezed off two shots in rapid succession. The bullets struck Tracer in the stomach, and shock filled his eyes as he fell back, unconscious, Zelda's dark laughter echoing in his ears. 

*****

As Garry walked into Outpost 4, he was suddenly approached by Copper.

"We got trouble," Copper shouted. "Norris got infected by that Maelstrom. He's a Stromling!"

"What?" asked Garry. Copper was about to lead him to the medbay when Garry's attention was drawn by the sounds of some form of commotion.

At that point, Crusher ran up to them. "It's in the planning room," Crusher said.

Garry quickly followed her toward the room where the planning session was going on. Sure enough, as he got to the door, he saw a female agent with an eerie purple glow fighting against the other agents. Just as he arrived, he saw Zelda fire two shots through Tracer's chest. Thinking quickly, Garry quickly pulled out his revolver, aimed towards the Stromling girl, and fired one round after another.

At that point, Fuchs quickly ran up to him, followed by Minerva. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"GET OUT OF HERE, FUCHS!" yelled Garry. "YOU STILL GET THAT SAMPLE?!"

"Yeah," replied Fuchs.

"FUCHS, GET TO THE VEHICLE LOT!" Garry shouted before he fired another round. "GET AS FAR AWAY FROM HERE AS YOU CAN!"

Fuchs nodded and grabbed Minerva's hand as he led her toward the exit. The two of them quickly ran outside and towards the small lot where the vehicles were being kept. Finding a Fire Hammer, Fuchs quickly got into the driver's seat, handing the injection saw back to Minerva.

"Where are we going?" Minerva asked.

"Away from here," replied Fuchs.

"We're just going to leave them?" Minerva asked.

"If those Stromlings find out we have a cure to the Maelstrom, we're finished. We'll just have to get to the nearest outpost with a lab available."

He started up the engines and began to drive the vehicle away. After a few minutes, he started to breathe a sigh of relief.

----

Angel Eyes placed a small pot full of beans above a campfire. Bear was eating another "sandvich" and singing a song. "Sandvich and me..."

Meanwhile, Medic was telling the squad an amusing anecdote about a doctor he once knew. "...But vait, it getz better. Ven Pierce got back, ze patient'z zkeleton vaz mizzing, und ze doctor vas never heard from again."

Bear and the other members of the squad quickly burst into laughter. Angel Eyes himself could not help smiling.

"Anyvay," Medic continued. "Zat'z how I almost lost my medical lizenze."

The last remark quickly silenced everyone. 

----

Hertz could only watch as the two bullets droves themselves into Tracer's stomach. The agent fell backward almost in slow motion onto the tabletop, where he toppled the furniture and lay still.

Hotwire crawled out from under the upturned table and grimaced in pain. His leg was bleeding profusely and he called for Semick to help.

The moment of vulnerability was what Zelda needed. Doctor Cyborg was fast approaching from her left, and she quickly grabbed his arm and wrenched it behind his back. Hertz did not know how firmly a cyborg's arm was attached, but he heard a load popping sound as his shoulder was dislocated. With a heavy kick, she sent the debilitated doctor flying toward Vinyaya. The two collided with enough force that they almost fell over the balcony.

Nazareno came from the right. He swung his sword at the Stromling, but she blocked it with the barrel of her gun. She slipped her foot behind his and swiped forward, knocking the ninja to the floor. The Space Ninja now lay at her feet. Slowly, she aimed the gun and was about to pull the trigger when Cabin yelled. Zelda spun and fired two shots at the elite agent, but she ducked behind the upturned table for cover.

Nazareno was now back on his feet, and he sliced with a downward motion at her stomach. Zelda twisted out of the way and pistol-whipped the ninja on the side of the head.

As he fell to the ground, Hertz dove for the emergency armory in the case behind him and broke the glass with his elbow. By the time he had a Sonic Screamer, Zelda had crossed the area between them and punched the techie in the chin with enough power to draw blood. The Sonic Screamer flew in the air and landed a few feet from Rex's wheelchair.

Semick and Rotor had their guns out, but by the time they had their sights on the Stromling, she had her gun pointed at Hertz's forehead.

"Nobody move or I'll shoot the nerd," warned Zelda.

Rotor fired anyway and hit Zelda in the shoulder. Hertz rolled out of the way just as Zelda shot hit the area where he just lay.

"Rotor, what the Znap?! You could have killed me!" cried Hertz. Rotor took no notice and fired a second shot at the Stromling.

The Stromling was just about to finish the fight when a hum filled the room. She spun around and saw Rex calmly sitting in his wheelchair, clutching the Sonic Screamer. The elite agent smiled. "Goodbye." He pulled the trigger and blasted Zelda through the wall. 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Updated to version 1.2.
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Chapter 41: Deadline

-----

Garry lowered his pistol and took a moment to catch his breath as he leaned against the doorframe of the planning room.

"Is everyone okay?" he asked after a minute. He knew the answer when he saw Tracer lying on the ground covered in blood. "Crusher, get in here."

Crusher quickly ran into the planning room at that moment and sat down next to Tracer.

"Did we kill it?" Garry asked.

"I don't know," replied Cabin. "I hope that's the last of he-"

"There's more," Crusher suddenly interjected. "There was another guy, Norris, who turned out to be infected. I don't know where he is now, but if we don't act fast, people are going to start dying."

"Could there be any others?" Rotor asked.

"I don't know," replied Crusher. "It's a possibility. If there are, I don't know how we'll be able to tell." 

*****

Zach opened his eyes. He was back at the rear guard camp. It was devoid of any life. Zach glanced down at his body and immediately realized he was a minifig again. In fact, he was purely minifig. He raised his right hand in front of his face. Yes, completely organic. No sign of Star Wars-esque robot hand. He looked exactly like he did before joining the Dino Attack Team.

He looked around the camp, wondering where everyone had gone. The camp was in rather good shape. It showed no signs that a pack of Mutant Dinos led by a Stromling Agent had been here. It almost appeared as though someone had sent up the camp, and then just left. Something caught his eye near the command tent.

Minerva.

Minerva Fabello stood at the command tent, smiling at him. Without hesitation, Zach ran toward her and embraced her in a tight hug. She returned the hug, laughing happily. He rested his head on her shoulders, sighing. He finally felt peace. The anger, corruption, deception. It was fading away.

"This won't do," a voice hissed.

Without warning, Minerva shoved Zach away. Zach stumbled backward in confusion. She had a look of mixed anger and sadness. Tears freely fell down her face. "How could you?" Minerva gasped between sobs.

"I-what?" stammered Zach.

"Join the Maelstrom!" she spat. "You've killed my friends. YOUR friends! You think you can just switch sides again and expect everything to be okay?"

"No!" Zach exclaimed. "It wasn't my fault! I-"

"Lies!" Minerva screamed. "Who is to say you won't suddenly rejoin the Maelstrom? Who says you won't end up killing m-m-me!" She began to cry.

"I won't! I promise!" Zach begged. Minerva shook her head. She turned and started to run into the jungle. "Wait!" He tried to follow her when he tripped and landed on his face. Everything went black.

"This is unacceptable!" the same voice from before shouted. "You've been caught red-handed. Showing FEELINGS. Feelings of an almost...MINIFIG nature. This will not do. This will not do at all."

"I-" Zach stammered.

"SILENCE!" the voice hissed. "Your pitiful excuse for a life will be even worse if you dared to return to the Minifigs! They will ostracize and punish you. They will despise you and will hate you long after you are dead! Even that girl will abandon you..."

*****

Zach suddenly woke up. He knew it had been a long time since he had gotten any sleep, so he felt obligated to give himself a short nap before the battle. He didn't expect to have nightmare though. Especially a nightmare like one that just occurred.

He felt a short vibration in his pocket. He pulled out his worn Dino Attack-issue PDA and saw he had received a message from one the Maelstrom spies in the Dino Attack, Zelda.

"That is... an interesting development," Zach said to himself, scratching his chin. He immediately reached out to mentally contact Colonel.

Colonel! Are you there? Zach demanded.

Yes, sir. What do you require?

Zach smiled slightly. Being called 'sir' gave him immense amounts of pleasure. He pressed on. I have received word from our spies planted in the Dino Attack Team that they have not one, but two people who can help them find the Maelstrom temple; A XERRD scientist by the name of Gonepus and a former ally of mine named Rudo Villano. They may not go to the temple you are stationed at all.

What do you suggest I do? I have nearly 300 troops at my disposable.

Zach paused for a moment. Stay where you are for now. When the Dino Attack Team reaches this temple, I will contact you. If there are no Dino Attack agents even approaching your area, I want you to get your troops over here as fast as possible. With our combined teams, the Dino Attack will be crushed.

As you wish, sir. Zach felt his link with Colonel fade away.

It is almost time. Zach smirked. He turned to go meet up with Cranky, his dream still fresh in his mind.

*****

Ahua had a gnawing feeling of dread in his stomach. Zachary had very clearly shown that he had control of Ahua and the rest of the Stromlings. There is no doubt. He must be eliminated. His blatant disregard for Ahua's authority. His effortless command over other Stromlings such as Cranky and Colonel. Zach must be stopped.

There is still the option of the girl. Ahua had once made contact with Zach's love interest, who he learned was named Minerva. She was skeptical of the 'voice' who had spoken to her. And yet, she seemed all too willing to trust it if it knew where the Maelstrom Temple.

We will contact her again soon. We will be more... open this time.

Ahua immediately realized if he gave away the location of the Maelstrom Temple, Colonel's squad at the other temple would be useless. And then again. They are a tool used by Zach to assert his power. Their failure only knocks him down and raises us up. Ahua smiled. Everything was going according to plan.

*****

"You might want to take a look at Hotwire too, ma'am," Nazareno grunted to Crusher as he stood up. He felt searing pain from his Maelstrom-infected wound, but ignored it as he glanced around at the other agents. Half of them looked bruised in some way. Crusher glanced at Hotwire. He lay unconscious on the ground. Nazareno wasn't sure what happened, but he was positive he had seen the Elite Agent shoot himself in the leg with the smoking Space Police weapon nearby.

Several agents rushed to Hotwire to deal with his wound. Nazareno hobbled to Commander Vinyaya. Her armor was scratched and her ponytail had been undone in the chaos. She looked livid as she glared at the fallen body of Zelda.

"Let's go see our Stromling friend, shall we?" Nazareno asked. Vinyaya nodded and they both limped over to Zelda. She was lying on the floor. A closer examination showed that Zelda was simply unconscious. Vinyaya picked up the weapon Zelda had taken from Tracer and pointed it at the Stromling.

"Don't shoot!" snapped Nazareno, quickly taking the weapon from Vinyaya's hand. She glared at him furiously.

"I think that if she thinks she can get away with shooting one of our agents, I can get away with shooting her," Vinyaya hissed. "Now hand over that gun, agent. Or shoot her yourself." Nazareno grimaced. Vinyaya was obviously a realist who wanted the enemy shot and dead, no questions asked.

"I'm afraid I must refuse to follow your orders, commander," Nazareno responded. Vinyaya raised an eyebrow in surprise. "This is the first Stromling we've ever managed to get an advantage over without killing it. I think a proper interrogation and scientific analysis would be more appropriate."

Vinyaya was about to argue, but stopped. "Of course, you are right. Sorry. I lost control of myself." She turned to Crusher. "After you get Tracer and Hotwire down to the medical-area, bring a team of agents to transport this Stromling to a high-security cell. Tell them to bring weapons. I'm still not sure about this one." Vinyaya then got on one knee and pulled a set of Space Police handcuffs from her belt and snapped them on Zelda's wrists. 

"What about Norris?" Crusher asked suddenly. "He was in the infirmary when he revealed himself, and nearly sliced Wade's arms off. How do we know there aren't any more?" 

Nazareno frowned (though no one could tell, due to his mask). "There are more?" he asked. Crusher nodded. "And the one you found out is in the infirmary?"

"That was the last time we saw him," Crusher said. Nazareno was beginning to get frustrated. Tracer and Hotwire were critically injured and many of the agents present, Nazareno included, were wounded.

"We must find this 'Norris'," Rex said. "Him and any other spies."

"That is going to be hard," Nazareno noted. "Once upon a time, I could detect the chaotic energy around Stromlings and immediately pick them out. Either my senses are declining or the Stromlings are getting smarter at hiding themselves. I'd say both cases are likely."

"So what do we do?" Cabin asked. "We can't detect them. Evacuating the outpost is pointless, as the Stromlings will just stay hidden and join the group."

"Actually," Dr. Cyborg said, "I discovered in the XERRD fortress that Stromlings can be detected with ultraviolet light." Everyone stared at him.

"When were you going to tell us this?!" Rotor demanded.

"I already did. I think," Dr. Cyborg replied. "I sent it in a PDA message." The agents were silent. Nazareno sighed, then walked toward the cyborg agent.

"You have an ultraviolet scanner in you somewhere, don't you?" Nazareno asked calmly. Dr. Cyborg nodded. "Good."

Nazareno turned to the assembly of agents. "I am heading out with Dr. Cyborg to find Stromlings. He will use his ultraviolet scanner to detect the Stromlings and we'll both kill them. We could use some help, so if you want to come along, now is the time to say. If you are not coming, stay here and keep her-" Nazareno jerked his head in the direction of Zelda's body. "-under control. We'll be back when we've checked out this entire outpost. So, anyone willing to join me and Cyborg?"

"I guess I'd better go with you," replied Garry. "As station manager security is my responsibility… though how these Stromlings entered, I do not know."

"What about the two prisoners we recovered?" Cabin asked. "Perhaps one of them could help us."

At that moment, Rotor shot a rather intimidating glare towards Garry as if to say 'If you tell them, I'll kill you'. "The girl's dead," Garry said after a moment. "There was an accident and she was badly injured. Copper did everything he could to fix her but it was no use."

"What about the other one?" asked Cabin.

"He's fine," replied Garry.

*****

Fuchs drove through the dark jungles as fast as he possibly could. By this point, he had no idea where he was going; he just wanted to get as far from Outpost 4 and those Stromlings as possible. Then suddenly the vehicle started to slow down. He tried to adjust the speed, but it was sadly of no use, and before long, it finally came to a complete stop.

"What happened?" asked Minerva.

"Out of gas, but we're safe for the moment," replied Fuchs. He turned toward Minerva. "Do you think you can operate the radio?"

Minerva shook her head.

"That's what I thought," sighed Fuchs. "We'll just have to stay here for the moment."

*****

It was at this point that Gahiji Thutmose made his entrance into the command room. He had spent most of the last few days on the beach and this was the first time he would engage anyone in conversation since his arrival. "What's going on here?" asked Dust. "I heard the gunshots from outside."

"There are Stromlings in the base," said Vinyaya. "One just tried to kill us." 

Dust surveyed the damage around him. Looking at the carnage Zelda had left in her wake, he knelt down to get a closer look at Tracer's body. The agent was losing a lot of blood and Dust was surprised he was not yet expired. "Why has he not been brought to the infirmary?" asked the Egyptian. 

"A second Stromling was just seen downstairs," responded Garry. "He broke out of the E.R."

Dust was not impressed. "Someone should get Tracer and Hotwire down there as soon as possible. They're going to be dead within minutes." Two agents quickly put them on stretchers and boarded the elevator.

He then turned to Semick.  "How much time is left on the countdown clock?" 

"Half an hour," said Hertz. "We have no real plan at this stage, and what we have done was just sent to Zach. The entire operation is compromised." 

"Are you saying we quit?" said Rotor threateningly. 

Hertz looked the elite agent in the eye. "That is exactly what I think; we were never in any condition to do this. We certainly can't make the attack in just half an hour!" 

"But what about Zach's threat?" asked Vinyaya. 

"Znap Zach's threat! We will certainly be destroyed if we go there now!" yelled Hertz. "We at least have a chance if we stay here and fight!" 

The elite agents were not convinced. "You should stay in your place, Hertz," Nazareno said calmly. 

"NO! You people have to hear this! Almost half of our men are in no condition to fight, the enemy knows our plans, and there are Stromlings in our own base!" There was an uncomfortable silence and no one moved.

Dust considered what Hertz said and brushed any censures he had aside. He reminded himself he did not care about the casualties; he just wanted to get to his temple as soon as possible.

Finally, Garry broke the silence. "Speaking of the Stromlings, we should go." Nazareno and Doctor Cyborg headed into the hall, followed by Garry.

Dust glanced at the standoff in the room. Every elite agent was staring at the defiant Hertz. He decided he should leave; at this point, his presence would only complicate things. Calling after the hunting party, he quickly followed the group into the hall. 

*****

Hotwire's eyelids felt as heavy as garage doors, so for several minutes he did not bother to open them. He was lying on what felt like a cot, and his left foot itched horridly. As his senses slowly returned, he realized he could hear voices. Wade and Crusher, he thought. So I'm in the medical bay. Why... Then the fight with Zelda snapped back into his mind. He forced his eyelids open.

The sight that met him was gut-wrenching. Tracer lay on the next cot over, abnormally pale, and hooked up to life support.

At that moment, Wade turned and noticed that Hotwire's eyes were open. "Ah," he said, walking over to Hotwire's cot. "Welcome back. About your leg--"

"Never mind my leg, what about him?" Hotwire interrupted, motioning towards Tracer. Wade sighed.

Dr. Crusher, who was monitoring Tracer's life support, stood up and turned towards Hotwire. "That Stromling shot him twice, once through the lung and once through the abdomen. We've been trying to stabilize him, but his chances don't look very good. He's been in and out of consciousness this whole time."

"Now I understand perfectly that you are concerned for your friend," said Wade, "but we really need to discuss your leg. I would ask what possessed you to shoot yourself in the shin with a Space Police blaster, but once we began operating that became apparent." Hotwire nodded, unsurprised. "The Maelstrom was already getting to work when you pulled that trigger, and from the knee down your leg looked more like that of a Stromling than anything else." Wade paused, obviously somewhat uncomfortable. "Thing is... there wasn't much else we could do... it was barely attached... and as it was infected with the Maelstrom..."

Hotwire looked down. His left leg ended in a bandaged stump several inches below the knee. "Can't say I'm surprised. To be honest, that was rather the intent I had. Cut off the infection's only route before it spreads anymore."

Wade looked somewhat relieved by Hotwire's reaction, and spoke again. "Now, if we were still on LEGO Island, it would be a fairly straightforward matter of replacing your leg with a new one. However, we do have what might be the next best thing. Nazareno, as you may be aware, is quite an expert in mechanical prosthetics..." As he continued about the possibilities of a robotic limb, Hotwire began to zone out a bit. Ever since Kat's apparent death and then continued existence within computers, the line between organism and technology had become a matter of some importance to him, and with this in mind, his response was immediate.

"No."

Wade stopped. "What?"

"I shot my leg off to stay a human minifig. I'm not sure I like the idea of fusing myself with machinery."

"Bear in mind that you could be removed from active duty if you are considered handicapped," said Wade warningly.

"If Rex can stay on the front lines in a wheelchair," Hotwire said, "I'm sure I'll be all right with a crutch and a peg."

*****

"So, you can tell the difference between Stromlings and minifigs?" Garry asked.

"Ultraviolet light," explained Dr. Cyborg. "Anyway, I have a theory. There might be a small pool of Maelstrom underneath the outpost in an underground cavern or something."

"I see," replied Garry. "I just hope you're right about this." He thought about it for a moment. "I think I know a few other people who can help," Garry finally said. "Come on."

Garry led Dr. Cyborg, Nazareno, and Dust towards the storage rooms. "What in Builder's name is the point of this?" Dust asked impatiently as Garry got out his keys.

Garry said nothing as he unlocked the door to storage area three and walked inside, staring at the two prisoners. "Can you walk?" Garry asked.

"I think so," replied Strangebrick.

"Good," said Garry. He quickly ran over and helped the scientist up, as well as Tom. "You're coming with us. We got Stromlings in the base." 

Nazareno raised an eyebrow. "I can't help but agree with Dust," he said to Garry. "What is the point of this? Can they detect Stromlings?"

"Yes, why are they important? Do they have inside info or something?" Dr. Cyborg asked.

"I don't know what information they have on the Stromlings, but they could have vital information on XERRD," replied Garry. "Now what do we do? Take them with us and try to keep them safe, or lock them in here and let them be assimilated by the Maelstrom?"

*****

This is an interesting turn of events.

Zach had learned from his Stromling scouts in the jungle that the Dino Attack Team had still not left the safety of their outpost and time was almost up. According to his last check, there was only half an hour left until his deadline was finished.

As much as he wanted to finish off the Dino Attack, where would the fun be in just killing them at their base? He wanted them to experience the full horrors of the Maelstrom Temple. However, he was a man of his word. He would not give them a million chances to get their act together. I wonder... Zach reached with his mental link to Zelda. It was distant and somewhat faded, but he could still feel the connection.

What is going on over there?

Zach was met with silence. Then: They found me, Zelda muttered. They captured me. Spy paranoia has started up again inside their ranks.

Interesting. Zach cut his connection and began to run over his options.

Finally, he turned to Cranky. "Come," Zach said. "Let's go visit this 'Outpost 4'. I have a little message for the Dino Attack Team." 

*****

Catless was stunned. How could a Stromling, two of them no less, infiltrate the outpost? The security here was some of the best there was. She was puzzled, but she had a theory. Cyborg probably had it too, they both thought alike.

She spoke up. "There might be a pool of Maelstrom somewhere in the fortress, hidden, that would infect these agents. Somewhere agents would visit regularly, like the cafeteria or something." 

----

GAIA Squad continued to escort the caravan, which stopped at another Dino Attack Outpost overseen by commanding officer Colonel Mustang. Instead of hailing them as heroes, Mustang interrogated GAIA Squad, imprisoned Eno Saurson, and detained Shade, Tex, Crunchbite, Ragnarok, and Freefall. Convinced that Sauro-Hunter and his teammates were traitors to the cause, Mustang had GAIA Squad placed under constant watch.

The cell rumbled beneath their feet. Frantic shouts were heard past the bars. Sauro-Hunter poked his head out. "What in the Builders' names is going on?" he shouted.

Agents rushed past, their weapons ready, ignoring him. Sauro-Hunter slumped against the wall next to Aravis. She set her head on his shoulder. Spino leaned against the other wall, and Ptero sat cross-legged, looking forlorn.

"So," said Spino, "this is how we die. Like rats." The concept sickened Sauro-Hunter. Here they were, seasoned warriors, and they wouldn't die fighting for their cause.

He stood. "Not if I have anything to say about it!" he roared. A blade sprang from his wrist. That caught everybody off-guard. Sauro-Hunter examined the dagger-like blade and smiled. With a flourish, he punched a bar, and the blade sliced through with little effort. "Now we're getting somewhere!"

Sauro-Hunter drew his arm back. In a blur of motion, he sliced at the bars. Pieces of metal fell away until a space a minifig could fit through stood before them.

"Jailbreak!" Ptero cried. The five sprinted as fast as they could. "Where to first?"

"We find Tex, Shade, Freefall, and Eno," replied Sauro-Hunter. Anger burned in his eyes. "If they've hurt my family… Builders, shield them from my wrath."

"'Family'?" another voice said haughtily. "That's pretty sick, traitor." Colonel Mustang turned the corner, wielding a wickedly sharp rapier. The five agents slowed.

"Out of our way!" roared Sauro-Hunter. The blade extended from his wrist and he charged. Metal crashed against metal as the two combatants exchanged blows. Mustang seemed complacent, which threw Sauro-Hunter into a frenzy.

"Parry, thrust, thrust," Mustang gloated. "Good! I thought this would be boring."

Sauro-Hunter felt his chest grow hot, and opened his mouth. Blue and gold flames roared at Mustang. Needless to say, he was caught off guard. He rolled to one side and landed a blow on Sauro-Hunter's left arm. Undeterred, the Dino Attack agent surged forward, bringing his weapon within millimeters of his opponent's face.

"Your file didn't lie," Mustang commented. He patted out a patch of fire on his shoulder. "Expert in close-quarters combat, ferocious, and not the least bit afraid to die."

Sauro-Hunter paused, panting. "You read my file?" he asked, keeping his arm up.

Mustang nodded. "Indeed," he replied. "Not every soldier gets as much attention." His eyes narrowed. "Except traitors."

"We aren't traitors!" Aravis screamed. Mustang suddenly fell to his knees, clutching his head. Aravis's eyes glowed a fierce green. In a moment, Mustang fell, silent.

"GAIA Squad," Sauro-Hunter said. "Roll out!" 

Finding specimen containment was relatively easy. All it required was following the sound of Tex's unique roar. It started out low-pitched, then rose an octave. Sauro-Hunter had heard it described as an eagle shriek blended with a lion's roar. But to him, it was pure music.

Not only is she okay, he thought, she's fighting mad!

Aravis reached out with a mental call, and Tex displayed a mental image of where she was being contained. It was a sterile room, and Tex, Shade, and Freefall were held in place by clamps and harnesses, while Eno was contained in a cell.

"Let's move, GAIA!" exclaimed Sauro-Hunter. 

----

"...what?" said Bluetooth.

"I can't believe it either, but that's what happened," said Stranger, looking disgruntled as the Mutant Lizard behind him smirked a little. "Isn't that right, Buddy?"

Bluetooth hadn't seen Stranger in days. For that matter, he had thought he was dead, lost in the chaos like Raider had been when the medical tent at camp had gotten trashed in the ambush. But here he was, looking a lot more rugged with a small beard and a torn-up uniform, but clearly alive.

"So, let me get this straight," Bluetooth began. "When you got into the XERRD fortress, you encounter some Lizard you picked a rivalry with during an earlier battle, who after dueling you, saves you when Rotor bombs the MegaBlokland out of it, and then keeps you as a pseudo-prisoner/house guest in a cave for three days?"

"Pretty much an average experience for any of us," Stranger remarked. "And there's more to it than that. We talked quite a bit during that-"

"How? You don't know their language?"

"He does know rudimentary English, though, and how to write it with a tail," Stranger said as he pointed his thumb back at the Mutant Dino, who raised his tail like one would raise a hand. "Sounded rather intellectual, to be honest. It was like talking to one of Rex's old pets. Though he said he wasn't actually one of them."

"Okay..." Bluetooth said, still a little shocked that Stranger, of all Minifigs, had had an encounter like this. "So... what did you talk about?"

"Casual talk. Kill ranks, fighting abilities, how and why we hated each other, insulting each other's mothers, and how he was wanting to help us."

This was starting to sound like a weird dream to Bluetooth. But he kept silent (albeit with a confounded face) as Stranger continued.

"Yeah, Buddy's picking up on the whole Maelstrom aspect, I guess, and would rather not be some total slave to darkness. So, he's willing to serve as a soldier or maybe some incognito guy or whatnot. I dunno, I think he wants to try and talk to Rex about it, or whoever he calls 'The Dino Man'." Stranger used air quotes when he said the last few words. "Sounds pretty pretentiously poetic or something."

"Okay, well..." Bluetooth looked behind him, where agents were still scrambling around from the latest commotion in the command area. "Rex is with the other guys, trying to work out the final details of the plan. Though I think they found some more Maelstrom spies, so I think we may have-"

"Bluetooth, you in there!" came a familiar voice from up the hall.

"Just stop right there, Semick! Like I said-" said another familiar voice.

"If what you said is true, then there's no point with bothering with secrecy. It's now or nothing," Semick said as he walked into the communications room, Hertz trailing behind him. Both men were rather cross, though Semick was more concentrated and focused, while Hertz was more erratic and confused.

"Ah, so you are here, and glad to see you're alive, Stranger," said Semick, talking without surprise to the Minifigs in the room. "And you've picked up a friend. Rather fitting, I might add. Now, I need-"

"Semick, we are completely unprepared for-"

"That's how we were in the Torn World, and we got out of that pickle, I remind you. Anyways, open communications to the all-agent alert system. I need a message out and I need it now. We're launching the attack."

"Wha-oh thank goodness," Bluetooth said with surprise and relief. He had been noticing how close they were to deadline.

"Oh, back in act-" Stranger began, before a shout rang out.

"SEMICK, WE DON'T HAVE A PLAN!" cried Hertz.

"Working on it as we speak, now come on! I need every agent on this island informed now! I outrank you, and you need to hear my orders! Now go!"

Bluetooth was confused and worried about what these agents were saying, but he proceeded to the radio controls and helped Hertz set the broadcasting frequency.

"He's going insane," Hertz muttered to the Futuron technician. "The stress is getting to him."

"We all went insane the day we joined this team," Bluetooth retorted. "Some of us are just more insane than others."

"I hate quotes like that. People throw that around without any real understanding." He sighed loudly and turned around to face the elite agent. "It's done."

"Good," Semick said quickly as he got up to the mic. Making sure it was on, he cleared his throat and began to speak loud and clearly.

"Attention, all agents! This is Elite Agent Semick, Commander for the final mission against the Maelstrom forces on Adventurers Island. Time is of the essence, and we're only a half hour from when our enemies have promised to strike at us once more. As well, we have had recent developments that have compromised some of our intelligence. Regardless, we are now launching the attack. Any agents 50 miles or more from Outpost 4 shall report to the boundaries of the discussed target territory and will wait for further command, while staying tuned to this frequency. All agents within 50 miles from Outpost 4 will report back and assemble at our front entrance. There, I will give a speech that will also be broadcasted on this frequency regarding our plans for attack. After that, I and the rest of the forces at Outpost 4 will depart for the target territory. Everyone, follow these orders immediately and efficiently. The fate of our planet, and perhaps our universe, is at hand here. That is all."

Semick switched off the mic and faced his company. Bluetooth was shocked, Hertz was furious, Stranger and his Mutant Lizard ally were grinning, and a couple of agents who had wandered into the room were looking surprised and morbid, but nevertheless looked accepting of the orders.

"Well then, I guess you've all heard that. Let's get moving!" As everyone left, Bluetooth heard Semick mutter: "The time for action is at hand."

"Em, Semick," Bluetooth politely asked his friend, "Was Hertz right when he said you don't have a-"

"Stop talking," Semick said, holding a hand up, "brain thinking, hush."

*****

"What's going on?" Windows shouted as Mac ran into the radio room armed with a rifle, with a few sticks of dynamite strapped to his clothes. He was accompanied by Copper.

"We got Stromlings in the base," replied Mac. "Come on."

"Stromlings?" Windows asked. "What do we do?"

"We got to stick together, figure out who's human, and who isn't, and work our way from there."

"How do we tell who's human?" Windows asked.

"I don't know," replied Mac. "Copper, do you think there's some form of test we can perform? Maybe a blood test of some kind?"

"I'm not sure," said Copper. "I've got samples of the staff's blood on hand. If we were to mix Stromling blood and human blood, and if there was a reaction, it would give us an idea of who was infected."

"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Windows. "Let's go do it!"

"The problem is we only have blood samples from the base staff," explained Copper. "You, me, Mac, Garry, Fuchs... there's still tons of other people here."

Windows sighed and got up with the rest of them.

----

Pierce felt a cold chill as the helicopter descended toward the Antarctic landscape. As soon as they'd landed on the pad, a group of people came in one-by-one to help the patients out of the chopper. To his surprise, Pierce was approached by a woman in her mid-forties who seemed strangely familiar. She and another man helped to get his stretcher out of the helicopter and to bring him indoors. 

----

Kat didn't sleep anymore, not really, but even an incorporeal consciousness stored in the flight computer of a combat helicopter needs some sort of rest occasionally. Despite her current non-physical state, Kat considered it proof of her humanity that she still had dreams.

This one was quite odd. She stood in a dark, featureless room. She turned around helplessly, and came face-to-face with another minifig. In the strange subconscious half-light, her only visible features were a pair of piercing eyes and steel-gray hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.

"Hello, Kat," the stranger said. "It's time. He's almost here."

"Who is?" asked Kat nervously. "And where did you come from?"

The stranger smirked slightly. "I've always been here, in the back of your mind, unnoticed. I helped you escape from Cane all those times. I helped you awaken your interfacing abilities on LEGO Island. And now it is time to awaken again, to ascend again to a new level of awareness." She reached out with the apparent intention of laying a comforting hand on Kat's shoulder, but Kat backed away, still apprehensive even in this dreaming state. "I know this is difficult for you," the stranger continued, "but you'll just have to trust me. You'll understand very soon."

"Why should I trust you?" Kat demanded. "Who are you anyway?"

The stranger chuckled. "The former question is quite a complex one, given the details of our situation. Bat as for the latter, suffice it to say..." She stepped into the light, and Kat gasped. "I am you."

*****

Wade was attempting to fit Hotwire with a simple prosthetic leg when Tracer suddenly drew a ragged gasp and opened his eyes. Crusher rushed to his side. "Don't exert yourself," she urged.

"What's the sense in caution?" Tracer wheezed. "I'm not going to make it anyway, am I?"

Dr. Crusher looked down. "It's true," she admitted. "You'd only have about two minutes without life support. We tried to remove the bullets, but there was too high a risk of exacerbating your condition. We had been hoping to keep you stable long enough to operate with more precision once things calm down and we can get better instruments, but word is that we won't be staying here much longer. Everyone's rolling out to find the Maelstrom Temple as soon as possible, and we can't move you safely."

Tracer nodded resignedly. "Lady Luck always spent most of her time scowling on me anyway; I figured I was a goner the minute that Stromling spy snatched my gun." He paused to draw another ragged breath. "Listen," he said urgently, "I heard what that doctor, J.D., did. His Maelstrom antidote and all that, how he made it." Crusher nodded. "I want to contribute. Let them take my Creative Spark. The whole thing. That should hopefully be enough to come up with a few more doses."

"Are you sure about this?" Wade put in. "If there's any sort of afterlife, you wouldn't--"

"--wouldn't be doing the team much good if I'm just kicking back on a cloud, playing a harp," Tracer interjected. He paused, seeming to reflect upon his life. "Or getting glued together in MegaBlokland," he then added with a crooked smile.

*****

Zach called Cranky to stop. Outpost 4 was not far from his position. However, he didn't want to enter the outpost. He wanted to remind the Dino Attack of his deadline. Here we go. Zach cleared his throat and used his Maelstrom power to amplify Cranky's voice.

"Get it started, Cranky."

*****

Nazareno shrugged. "Alright, we'll take them. What are your names?"

"Tom," one said.

"Dr. Strangebrick," the other said.

"Okay. You two are coming with us. We are searching this outpost for-" Nazareno was cut off when a loud, ape-like screech echoed throughout the outpost. Cyborg, Dust, Garry, Nazareno, Tom, and Strangebrick covered their ears as the hideous yell continued for nearly a minute.

When it was clear, Dust glanced at Nazareno. "What was that?" Dust asked.

"I don't know," Nazareno muttered. "It sounded like an ape or gorilla or something."

"What if there is a Stromling Ape in the outpost?" Dr. Cyborg asked, worried.

"I don't think so," Nazareno said. "An ape wouldn't be able to get in here without being blown apart by this outpost's defenses. I think we-" Nazareno was cut off again as the hallway lights dimmed.

"What is going on?" Garry wondered looking around. "I think all the lights are dimmed across the outpost."

"Maybe the Stromlings are the cause," Dust pointed out. Suddenly, they heard someone clear their throat loudly. The noise bounced off the hallways, forcing them to cover their ears again to muffle the loud noise.

"Hello, members of the Dino Invasion Neutralization Organization!" a voice boomed. Nazareno immediately knew that Zach was the man speaking. "I hope Cranky's wake-up call got your attention. How anxious he is to meet up with your team again. Especially the one who hit him with a Fire Hammer and tried to blow him up! He is waiting in anticipation to meet you again."

Dust seemed to recognize the voice. "That is Zachary, correct?" he asked. Nazareno nodded.

"But enough about Cranky! Allow me to introduce myself. Or rather, reintroduce myself, as many of you already know who I am. I am Zachary, Standard Dino Attack Agent. In fact..." Zach paused.

"What is he up to?" Dr. Cyborg wondered.

*****

Zach paused his monologue, considering what to say next. He had always been known as "Zachary" or "Zach" throughout his entire service on Adventurers' Island, both by the Dino Attack and the Maelstrom. He had attempted to hide his last name in order protect himself and his family. He was certain the only people who knew his last name were the Team Commandos and perhaps Andrew.

They don't matter. Nobody matters. He opened his mouth to speak again....

*****

"In fact," Zach suddenly continued, "feel free to call me by my full name, Zachary... Virchaus."

Nazareno raised his eyebrow at this sudden revelation. "You know, I can't say I ever really noticed how he never gave away his last name," Dust noted.

"I personally thought he didn't have one," shrugged Nazareno.

"Anyway!" Zachary Virchaus boomed. "Your time is wearing thin, Dino Attack. I gave you two and a half days to pull yourselves together so you could stop me. There is now a half hour until the end. I must say, I am rather disappointed. But then again, you are the Dino Attack Team. You guys seem to take things at one little baby step at a time. This time, I'm not allowing it.

"And before you start blaming me; Yes, I know I am partially to blame for your delay thanks to spies I had placed in your ranks. Let this be known: I only sent two spies. You have captured one, but the other still runs free. Any other Stromlings you find are the result of a corruption I played no part in. Who are the spies, you ask? Well, ask yourselves this: Where would the fun be if the Big Bad just told me everything I needed to know?" A loud, piercing laugh echoed through the hallways.

*****

Zachary Virchaus. Zachary Virchaus. Zach Virchaus...

Minerva ran Zach's full name through her name multiple times. She had never even considered his last name. He was always just Zach.

The Fire Hammer had managed to get a good distance from Outpost 4 before running out of gas. However, they were still in range of Zach and Cranky (Minerva assumed Cranky was the ape that had roared) so they could still hear his message.

He sounds so... arrogant, she thought sadly. He doesn't seem to care about anyone or anything.

"Half an hour, Dino Attack! That is all you get. If you aren't at least moving toward the Maelstrom Temple in 30 minutes' time, an army larger and more dangerous than anything you have ever seen will come and they WILL destroy you. I swear. Cross my heart and hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my eye swear. In the meantime, keep calm and may the odds be ever in your favor!" Zach cackled one last time before his voice faded away. 

*****

As Mac's group proceeded down the hall, he raised his gun at a frightened rookie agent. "Who are you?" Mac asked, sternly.

"Kate Bishop," replied the young girl. "Now would someone please explain what's happening here?"

"There's Stromlings in the base," explained Mac.

"You heard the message," Copper said. "There was only one. Garry was distracted by another Stromling when I arrived. That must have been the one they caught, which means we must still have to deal with Norris."

"Yeah," said Mac. "Well I don't like to make assumptions."

"Mac," Windows said, somewhat pleadingly. "What if we're wrong?"

"Well then, we're wrong," replied Mac. "We'll take you with us, you try anything and I'll blow a hole right through your MegaBlokin' head. Understand?"

Kate nodded nervously as she joined them. Around the corner they found another group of people, including Garry. Mac quickly aimed his rifle and cocked it, catching their attention. However, Garry was quick to turn and draw his own pistol.

"NOBODY MOVE!" Mac shouted. "I wouldn't want to have to shoot any of you!"

"MAC, PUT THAT GUN DOWN!" Garry yelled.

"How do I know it isn't you?" Mac asked.

"How do you know it is me?" Garry retorted.

"I know that there's a Stromling in here somewhere," replied Mac. "I don't want to take any chances."

"Mac, I think you should listen to Garry," Windows said pleadingly.

"Shut up, Windows!" snapped Mac. "How do we know it isn't you?"

"I'm telling you, Mac!" Copper shouted. "It's Norris we're after!"

"CAN EVERYONE JUST CALM THE ZNAP DOWN FOR A MOMENT!" Garry yelled before he lowered his gun. Mac hesitated before he reluctantly did the same. "Now, listen," Garry said. "This bickering isn't getting us anywhere. If we send someone out there, it can at least buy us some time. Now, what I think we should do is assemble a force of some kind, get together the few people we can be sure aren't infected. We'll only have half an hour, but it will give us a bit more time to find Norris."

"What do we do when and if we find him?" Mac asked.

"I don't know," replied Garry. "Fuchs took the only sample of any potential cure with him when he fled in order to keep it from falling into their hands." 

*****

Rex cursed under his breath. It felt like over a year had passed since then, but Rex remembered the day he met Zachary Virchaus in the Aztec Village. Now he was a Stromling Agent who was perfectly capable of and willing to destroy everyone in the camp.

"We should have been moving hours ago!" Rex said as he gritted his teeth. The last thing the team needed was a bit of paranoia to slow them down. It felt like nearly a year since they first stopped at this outpost, and he was eager to get going as soon as possible. He turned to face Adventure and ordered, "See to it that Paulie Gonepus accidentally escapes."

"Right away, honcho," said Adventure, who turned on his heel and headed towards the holding cells where the XERRD scientist was held prisoner. Accommodations had already been so that Gonepus could easily be tracked across the island wherever he went. Silently, Rex prayed that Amanda's plan would work... if Gonepus was a coward who turned on his heel and fled the island, then they would have to rely on Villano to lead the way.

Unexpectedly, Rex gasped. He clutched his chest with one hand. His heart had suddenly started beating at a quickened pace, so fast he thought it would explode. Strangest of all, as soon as it began, it was over.

Regaining his composure, Rex glanced around. Nobody had noticed the brief episode.

But as Rex scanned the area, he glimpsed what he thought to be a Mutant Lizard in the outpost. Based upon the fact that nobody was firing at it and only occasionally glancing at it with a confused expression, Rex wondered if, somehow, there was another agent in the squad who had taken up his old hobby of catching and taming Mutant Lizards. Then, Rex's amusement turned to bitterness. He remembered how he had once promised himself to never bring harm to these creatures. Even now, he pitied the Mutant Dinos for their uncontrollable urges for destruction caused by the Maelstrom which enslaved them to Dr. Rex.

Now, no matter what, Rex could not erase the image from his mind of that one Mutant Lizard in the LEGO Island Laboratory as he beat it to death with a metal pipe. How sickeningly gratifying it felt to feel the lizard's skull cave in with each blow of the pipe, even after the creature had crumpled to the ground to forever lie still. And for what? Being mutated beyond its control and enslaved by a mad scientist.

As Rex watched the Mutant Lizard walk among the Dino Attack agents, he hoped that this creature would not suffer the same fate as its brethren.

----

"Having fun, are we?"

Angel Eyes looked up to see agent Saboteur standing over him. "Just having a bit of dinner, that's all," said Angel Eyes, shrugging. "Can't go about killing Mutant Dinos with an empty stomach."

Although most of his face was concealed by his cowl, Saboteur seemed to grimace. "If it were mere Mutant Dinos we were fighting, zhat would be of little concern. Now, tell me, did zhey tell you what else we are fighting?" When Angel Eyes looked confused, Saboteur sighed. "Quasifigus lacertilia. Hybrids of Minifigs and Mutant Lizards, with zhe intelligence of zhe former and zhe feral viciousness of zhe latter. And I've come back with a report on zheir current actions... wait, where's Recon?"

"Yo, wassup?" called Recon as he popped out behind Saboteur. "Hah, bet I spooked ya, didn't I?"

Saboteur did not even flinch. "Why aren't you doing reconnaissance with me? Some scout you are!"

Recon shrugged. "Well, I was just makin' a long-distance call. This place got real good reception, ya know? Now, I had to hang up and say I'd call 'em back because ya have somethin' important to say. Well, aren't ya gonna say it?"

"Kids zhese days," muttered Saboteur, rolling his eyes, "always on zheir cellphones. Anyway, zhe Hybrids have taken note of your arrival, Angel Eyes and Blondie. It appears zhat zhey are responding by increasing zheir defenses tenfold. I was behind enemy lines and I witnessed one of zhem constructing a turret of zheir own, and even Tech cannot build turrets like zhey can."

Tech looked up from the campfire, pausing in his guitar playing. "Excuse me, buddy," he said, frowning. "Are you challengin' mah building expertise? Because I assure you that I can build better and faster than any of those no-good mean mother-"

"More importantly," said Angel Eyes, "if you were behind enemy lines, why didn't you do anything about it?"

Saboteur faltered. "I... err, well, you see... I may be able to sneak past enemy lines, but I can't turn myself invisible. I would have disguised myself as one of zhem, except every Hybrid corpse we get is bullet-ridden to zhe point where I cannot even salvage zhe armor."

Bear grinned.

"Besides," continued Saboteur, "zheir sense of smell is perhaps far too keen for my disguises. And I did not expect zhat we would be needing my Electro-Sapper during zhis mission, so I left it in my briefcase... back at zhe Dino Attack Outpost. Not sure how well it would work against the Hybrids' sentries, though-"

A cellphone started to ring. Recon grinned sheepishly as all eyes fell upon him. "Yeah, I gotta take this call," he said with a shrug, already getting up to leave.

"If it's your mother," stated Saboteur, "tell her I said hi." Bear laughed at this comment, while Recon balled his hands into fists and looked ready to punch Saboteur.

Still, Recon controlled his anger and walked away from the campfire while Saboteur continued briefing the others. He answered the phone call and pressed the cellphone to his ear. "Yo, wassup?" As Recon heard a response from the other end, his face turned grim. Glancing back at camp, Recon quickly ran into a dark alley where no one would hear him.

"Yeah? ... Look, ya keep callin' me and askin' for updates. And I keep tellin' ya, it's the same thing! Ya listenin'? ... Okay, look, the Second Headquarters Squad is making steady progress against the Hybrids, and we now know that the Hybrids are stationed at Fort Legoredo. We're bombin' the place, and unless the XERRD folks over at Dino Island Laboratory decide to help out the Hybrids, it's a victory for Dino Attack Team. Got it? ... Yeah, send a message to Dr. Rex tellin' him he sucks. I want to see him do better! ... No, no, I ain't gonna do anythin' stupid and compromise the mission. I'm just sayin'... Look... Oh, I forgot to tell you. Dino Attack Team knows there's a mole, and they're gonna whack... Don't worry, I got this under control, I'll be safe! ... Okay, see ya." 

----

 "Geez, those Maelstrom guys need a volume control," Stranger muttered as he made his way to the outpost armory. Buddy had split, apparently having gone after Rex or something after Semick and this "Zachary Virchaus" fellow had made their speeches. Regardless, there wasn't much time to concern that. There was hunting to do.

Everyone in the armory was going for the big stuff, laser blasters, Xenon devices, SMGs, and the like. Stranger, however, knew how to work with the simpler stuff. There were plenty of perfectly good bullet-fueled pistols left and a good handful of sniper rifles as well.

The Dino Attack agent grinned as he locked and loaded. More than ever, this brought him back to those good times he had in the beginning of the attack. Back when he was still technically a civilian, going guns blazing with fellow survivors just to get to an evacuation.

Those were some real good times, Stranger recollected. Living in the abandoned buildings, scavenging off the streets, shooting so many dinos… Dino Attack might have that too, but it's just not the same when you have so much weaponry at your disposal. Aw well, the past is the past, and what matters now is that I get back to the present and get back to shooting.

With a final loading of pistol clips and a sling of the sniper rifle on his back, Stranger felt more than ready to go.

*****

"Boy, Zach sure isn't the subtle type, is he?" Laxus remarked. He and Andrew had met up just outside the mess hall, and had just now gotten outside.

"He's inherited the classic villain trait of occasional dramatic evilness," Andrew replied. "We have our weapons stored in the Fire Hammer, right?"

"Yes, and I've let people know that we'll be willing to taxi people as well. They'll also be willing to help man the vehicle controls when you take off for your plans."

"Good." Andrew had informed Laxus about his Minerva's plans just before he had gone off the command meeting. He had felt uncertain about it, but at this point, he and Laxus had grown so close that he was at the point where he thought secrets between them would just be a bad sign, especially after he let Laxus in on the whole transfiguration problem.

"Oh, there's Semick," said Laxus, pointing to the pair's left. The commanding agent was passing by, Bluetooth and Hertz both on his trail. "Betcha he's feeling the pressure right now."

"That isn't the half of it," said Andrew, recalling how things had gone down at the command meeting.

*****

... Can I rely on that? We've done good so far, so I feel confident in that, but...

"For Ole's sake, man, this is suicide!" Hertz was saying. "A Kamikaze attack! A march into a Star Wars convention with the intent of declaring midichlorians as the best thing the prequels ever gave us! Think for a second, man! THINK!"

"I am thinking right now, thank you very much. And your cries are not helping my thought processes."

... Now that factor was unpredictable, but if...

"Semick," Bluetooth was saying, "tell me you're not just going to make a plan up as we go along. At least assure me of that."

"I'm not, trust me." That was true. He was creating a plan right now. A plan that would evolve and expand over time as he went along

... So, what about those mummies...

----

"If I were you," Clint said. "I'd probably want to keep an eye on Recon."

Tech smiled. "Recon?" he said. "What? D'ya think he's a double agent or somin'? He couldn't spy on a cattlefield."

"My partner isn't saying anything," Angel Eyes said. "He merely thinks that there may be something Recon has to hide. Anyway, let's get back to busine-"

"Alright!" called a voice from behind him. "Where are the maggots who think they can join the likes of the Second Headquarters Squad?!"

Angel Eyes turned around to see who was addressing him. "Who might you be?" he asked.

"I AM GENERAL RONALD E. ARMY OF THE LEGOLAND MILITARY!" replied the Dino Attack agent.

"We call him Sarge," Tech remarked casually. "He ain't got no indoor voice, but he's mighty fine, really."

"Is this everybody?" Clint asked.

"Vell, zere iz alzo Dynamite, our demolitionz expert," replied Medic. "I'm not quite sure vere he-"

At that moment, a tough red-bearded man staggered towards the campfire mumbling some incoherent. "I'm drunk," he muttered.

Angel Eyes smiled. "Can't even hold his liquor," he said. "What makes you think you're a good demolitions expert?"

"IF I WERE A BAD DEMOLITIONS EXPERT," Dynamite shouted. "I WOULDN'T BE STANDING HERE DISCUSSING IT WITH YEH NOW, WOULD I!?"

Angel Eyes paused for a moment. "You are crazy," he said.

"Aye," replied Dynamite, grinning. "I challenge yeh t' a drinking contest on the best whiskey!"

"Looks like you got work cut out for you," Clint remarked sarcastically.

"It's a good thing I brought a couple cases of real whiskey," said Angel Eyes. He stood up for a moment, walked over the cart, and got a small box which he opened to reveal several bottles. "You ready for this?"

"Yeh bet!" replied Dynamite. He quickly reached in, trying to get a firm hold on a bottle before taking it out. Angel Eyes then took a bottle himself, pulled off the cork, and took a large swig. Dynamite struggled for a few minutes to open his own before gulping down a large amount and then collapsing, snoring loudly.

Angel Eyes smiled. "You're no fun," he said. "You couldn't even get through one bottle."

"He vaz already very drunk," Medic pointed out.

Angel Eyes nodded.

"Now, what about zhis business at hand?" Saboteur asked.

"I THINK WE SHOULD MAKE THOSE MAGGOTS MARCH UP AND DOWN-"

"Oh, shut up," muttered Saboteur, cutting off Sarge.

"Well," replied Clint. "I'd like to see for myself just where these hybrids are hiding. What's your name?"

"Saboteur."

"Simple enough," said Clint. "I'd like you to take me there, at least as close as you can. I'd like a good look at just what exactly we're dealing with."

"We got a contact back in El Paso," Angel Eyes added. "If nothing else, we can at least give the team an update. Anyway, who's hungry?"

Bear quickly smiled. "SANDVICH!" he shouted.

"Yes, of course," muttered Angel Eyes. He took a piece of steak off the frying pan and put it onto a plate before handing it to Bear, who laughed the "joke" yet again before chowing down on it.

"Om nom nom nom. OH, SO FILLING!"

----

Pierce was in a large group of patients waiting for treatment. The extent of his wounds was fairly minor compared to the others. He could briefly overhear one of the paramedics talking to another person, possibly an authority figure.

"I don't know," he said. "We more or less had everybody and then the Station Manager came in with this body under a sheet, then showed me that the girl wasn't dead."

"Wait," said the authority figure. "She wasn't dead, but she was brought aboard as though she was?"

"Yeah," replied the paramedic. "I don't get it either. Why would you do something like that?"

"Maybe he wanted us to dispose of her, thinking she was a corpse," suggested the authority figure.

"No," replied the paramedic. "He made an explicit point of informing us she was still alive."

"That is strange," mused the authority figure. "This was where again?"

"Outpost 4 on Adventurers' Island."

"That's Garry's post," noted the authority figure. "Indeed, that is strange. Well, how is she?"

"She's okay," replied the paramedic. "She seemed to have been badly beaten, though."

Their conversation was cut off when Pierce was approached by the woman he saw earlier. "Hello again," Pierce remarked.

"Hi," replied the woman, somewhat shyly. "You got a name?"

"Pierce. Alan Pierce."

The name seemed to catch her attention somehow. "Do I know you?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Pierce.

"Bishop!" another man called. The woman quickly turned toward him. Suddenly Pierce started to realize just why she seemed so familiar...

----

"What exactly was that?" Teri asked as she followed Jackson.

"I don't know," replied Jackson. "Whatever it was, it sure was painful the ears."

"He was talking about finding a Maelstrom Temple," Teri said.

"I don't know all the details," admitted Jackson. "I'm a soldier, I just follow orders. Now I think we ought to get some weapons and meet with the higher-ups. Come on, Scope."

Teri smiled as Jackson ran off. "Right behind you, Shotgun." She could not help giggling at the horrible codename.

As the two of them approached the armory, they were startled to find a man already there, slinging a rifle onto his back.

"Who are you?" Jackson asked.

"Stranger," replied the man.

"I'm Shotgun, and this is my ex-girlfriend Scope," Jackson replied nervously.

*****

Andrew and Laxus were surprised to be approached by a somewhat nervous and frightened agent.

"Hey," he said, somewhat confusedly. "I'm agent Norris. Now could someone please explain just what exactly is going on?" 

*****

As Zach's painfully loud announcement echoed away to nothing, Hotwire was already in motion. He tightened his prosthetic, grabbed a crutch, and attempted to stand, but winced in pain and slumped back onto his cot. He grabbed a painkiller injector off the table next to him, popped the safety release off, and stabbed it into his left thigh. After a few seconds, the adrenaline and pain suppressants began to take effect and he stood successfully.

Wade stepped into his way. "You can't be serious," he said. "You're not fit to leave yet."

"I'm of no use to you here," Hotwire countered, "and I need to do my part to make sure his sacrifice isn't in vain." He gestured towards the cot where Tracer's last worldly remains lay covered by a sheet. "Now please, let me go lend a hand to the friends I have left."

*****

"So, you understand what must be done?"

Kat nodded. The other minifig smiled and extended her hand. Kat, no longer intimidated, took it.

Instantly her dream shattered. She was awake. She was... alive. Still in the Talon's computers. And the other minifig from her dream, the younger one... such an odd dream it was. She could remember everything that had happened to her in the past seventy years. Surely, she hadn't ever forgotten it all?

The person she thought she had been for the past five years was gone. And yet... she was not gone. Kat was who she had always been.

*****

Loop carefully peered through the trees and saw he had reached his destination - the landing field of Outpost 4. Circling the clearing while remaining out of sight among the trees, he managed to pick out the Talon. He smiled. Success was in reach.

Loop snuck among the T-1 Typhoons towards the Talon. Luckily for him, there were no sentries around; all the agents stationed at the outpost were apparently involved in some commotion near the main building. The Inferno henchman-turned-semi-Stromling hauled himself up onto the deck of the modified T-1 Typhoon.

"Kat, my darling," he said, his normal malicious tones shaded with fatigue. "I know you can hear me. I've waited so long to get you alone."

There was a moment of silence. Loop hesitated. Surely, he hadn't boarded the wrong T-1 Typhoon?

Then Kat's voice resounded over the comm speakers. "Hello. I knew you'd come back."

Loop grinned. "Yes, of course. And if you join me now, we could rule the world together. What say you?"

"No," Kat responded.

"Why refuse me right off the bat?" Loop protested. "We hardly know each other yet. I haven't even had the chance to introduce myself properly."

"I'm not refusing you," said Kat. "I am simply redirecting you; I shall not be joining you, but instead you shall be joining me."

Loop looked utterly confused.

"And furthermore," Kat continued, "you need not introduce yourself at all. I know exactly who you are, as well as everything about you... Lupus Schattenberg."

Understanding dawned in Loop's mind, and with it grew a sense of rage and rebellion. Then the voice in the Talon barked out a single phrase. "Executive override - Basalt."

Instantly, something in Loop's mind shut down, and he found himself involuntarily relaxing. He spoke, but he wasn't sure he had thought the words beforehand; they seemed to spring unbidden from his throat. "Awaiting orders."

"Strap in," Kat's voice echoed through the Talon's comms. "We may need to leave in a hurry. No time remains. We must be on our way."

Loop cautiously leaned out of the door. "Nobody is around," he reported. "They're all gathered by the outpost."

"Wonderful." The Talon's engines purred to life and the T-1 Typhoon rose over the field and quickly flew off toward the coast. The external comms all switched off and locked. By the time the helicopter's unexpected departure was noticed, it was already fading into the distance.

*****

In an instant, the entire situation had changed. The previously empty hallways became a flurry of activity as agents rushed to make the attack on the temple.

The wave of men and women rushed to the front gate where they would await further instructions, but Dust moved against the flow to the 3rd floor. He had hoped on having time to talk to Dr. Strangebrick and Tom, but the hunt for the Stromling was the last thing on Dust's mind.

In less than an hour, he would be at the gates of his temple. The situation had changed much since he first talked with Commander Rockford at Outpost 108, and his enrollment in the final attack had not been discussed since their ambush on the south coast of the island.

Dust had gone to great lengths to ensure he was the only hope of getting through the temple safely. Hotep III's temple was massive building and rigged with numerous boobytraps. Therefore, Dust would be leading the party into the walls.

He took a crowded elevator to the third floor and found elite agents Semick and Rex in the communications room. With them were Bluetooth and Hertz. Stranger was leaving as he entered the room, and Dust did a double-take of the Mutant Lizard but brushed it aside.

"I see you guys are hard at work here," Dust said as he looked over Hertz's shoulder at his console.

"What do you want, Dust?" Rex said without looking up. "We basically have 5 minutes to put the logistics together and move the entire fleet one and a half miles from here."

"I need to know where you want me," said Dust, getting serous. "I'm the only one who can guide you in and out of that building safely."

"I hope you hold no delusions that your temple is definite," said Semick. "It could still just as likely be the Temple of Creation."

Dust raised an eyebrow. "And you expect to figure it out in 15 minutes?"

Bluetooth handed a file to Dust. "We're about to track a man named Paulie Gonepus. He will lead us to the true temple."

"Tracking is hard work," said Dust. "This guy is likely to figure out he's being tailed. You people are moving too fast and you're bound to get sloppy."

"The people following are a small group," said Hertz. "Probably just six agents. They will radio back as soon as they have an affirmative location, and the army can be there in minutes."

"We also have a GPS tracker on him," Bluetooth proudly added. "He unknowingly ingested it when we fed him."

The Egyptian was not pleased. "You should have more than enough information by now. We don't have time to track this man. How long do you think it will take him to get to get there on foot? An hour? Two?"

"Gonepus was released ten minutes ago," said Rex. "We are already tracking him."

Dust just frowned and did not respond. Instead, he just glanced at Gonepus's file. He hoped his temple was the Maelstrom's source. It was too late to talk to the man, so all he could do was wait. His destiny was in the hands of a lone man walking alone in the jungle.

Dust rubbed his brow and moved to the door. He pointed a finger at Rex. "I'm heading to the lot. Keep me updated."

Semick looked at the slowly moving red dot on his view screen. It was traveling at about two miles an hour. At this speed, it would take Gonepus 35 minutes to reach the Temple of Hotep III.

Dust was right.

Rex started moving towards the door. "Semick, you better get out there and rally the troops. They are ready to go and will move out on your order."

The elite agent nodded and headed down the hall. While waiting for the elevator, he checked his watch. 12 minutes.

The doors opened and Semick stepped inside. He pushed the 1st floor bottom and the waited for the doors to close.

A hand quickly stooped them, and a tall blond man joined him in the elevator. His eyes widened as he looked at the man standing next him. He looked just as disturbed as he did on the night he and Rockford had visited him in his tent, and his hair was still messy and hung in clumps over his red rimmed eyes.

"Hello, Carl," said Semick. "I have not seen you since the attack."

Carl Lutsky ignored the comment and looked into the elite agent's eyes. "I need to be on the attack, Semick. I have to go to that temple. I'm going."

Semick looked at the man before him and frowned at the notion of him being handed a gun.

"You think I'm crazy, don't you?" accused the former commander. "I certainly look it, don't I? Well, I'm not. I'm going on this mission, Semick. I need to."

Before Semick could say anything more, the doors opened and Carl Lutsky stepped into the hall. 

----

Pierce smiled as he was placed onto a bed by the woman named Bishop. He finally got a good look at her as she adjusted his sheets.

"Sarah Bishop," Pierce muttered. "My, you've aged."

Sarah smiled. "As have you, Alan," she replied.

"It's just like when we met," mused Pierce. "Only the other way around. What are you doing out here, anyway?"

"I came here with everyone else," replied Sarah. "Everyone in LEGO City was evacuated."

"No," said Pierce, "I mean what you're doing, working as a nurse."

"Anything to keep myself occupied," responded Sarah. "I have a daughter now and she joined that team and I've been worried sick about her. I just can't stop thinking about how she's doing. I keep getting scared that sooner or later I'm going to find her here, on a stretcher."

"Her name wouldn't happen to be Kate by any chance, would it?"

Sarah looked at him. "You met her?"

"Yeah," replied Pierce. "She's fine. She was actually with me when I was taken from Adventurers' Island."

Sarah smiled. "Is she doing okay?"

Pierce thought about it. He did not want to upset Sarah, but he also did not want to lie to her about Kate's heroics. 

----

After sending Semick to rally the troops, Rex sat back in his wheelchair and considered his options.

Rex had to admit it... Dust was right after all. The evidence was clear in Paulie Gonepus's path. Precious time had been wasted over debates regarding the location of the Maelstrom Temple, and the whole time Rex had been advocating for a mere red herring. Rex felt bitter disappointment in himself; if he had listened to Dust earlier, they could have already contained the temple by now.

As Rex thought about it, he came to the realization that, once they reached the Maelstrom Temple, they did not know how it could be contained. Perhaps now that Dust had some connection to the temple, he might know something or another about it, but Rex did not feel certain about this; Dust's interest seemed to be based upon the temple itself, not the Maelstrom inside, and Dust had made it quite clear that destroying Hotep's ruins was out of the question. Of course, Rex had the authority to override such a demand... but Dust was a dangerous man, and Rex did not want to make him his enemy.

XERRD. Rex knew that XERRD would be there when Dino Attack Team arrived. They might even be there already. Dr. Provhezor, Dr. Gladys, Dr. Breen, Señor Palomar... perhaps even, the elusive Dr. Wallace Bishop. At first, Rex thought about the possibility of somehow extracting information on how to contain the Maelstrom from these scientists, but how would he do that?

Rex blinked. Bishop. Wasn't that also the surname of Kate Bishop, the young rookie that Rotor wanted to use as leverage against Wallace Bishop?

Although she did not seem to notice, Rex stared at Amanda Claw. Only a few weeks ago, he learned of the terrible childhood tragedy she suffered, and only over the past few days did he begin to realize its full consequences upon her. No one should go through such devastation and trauma at such a young and innocent age. Rex was determined not to let it happen to Kate.

And Rotor... not since Kotua had Rex met a Dino Attack agent he so despised. He did not trust that elite agent for an instant, especially after that trial in which he ignored the opinions of his fellow elite agents and attempted to execute innocent Dino Attack agents for insubordination. I'll have to keep an eye on him, decided Rex.

"Amanda," spoke Rex, catching the attention of his companion. "We need to find Kate Bishop and Rotor. They're coming with us." 

*****

"Let's start by assembling the elite agents," Garry said. "Dr. Cyborg, we're all human, aren't we?"

"That would be correct," affirmed Dr. Cyborg.

"Good," replied Garry. "Let's get to the planning room. Doctor Cyborg, at this moment, you're the only reliable thing we've got. I want you to check anyone and everyone who enters the room. Now let's go."

"Wait," interjected Tom. "How do I know I can trust you?"

"You don't," replied Garry. He started to turn around when Tom tried to grab him from behind, only for Garry to turn around and draw his gun.

"WELL, GO AHEAD AND SHOOT ME!" Tom shouted. "It's got to be far better than whatever you and your friend did to Jenn-"

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP!" Garry yelled. "At this point, you have a choice. Either work with me and possibly get out of this war alive, or stay in here and possibly get taken over by this... thing that's running around, or I COULD JUST SHOOT YOU RIGHT NOW!"

"Garry," Windows said, "what happened to-"

"STAY OUT OF THIS, WINDOWS!" Garry shouted. "NOW, I DON'T WANT TO HAVE TO SHOOT YOU! YOU WILL BE A VALUABLE AID IN DEFEATING XERRD!"

"Oh, and I suppose you're going to beat the ever-lovin' MegaBloks out of me like you and that Rotor did earli-"

At this point, Garry knew he was in over his head. He could shout all he wanted but he knew his teammates had heard what Tom said. It was only a matter of time before he would have to confess. Now, he felt scared. "Rotor's going to kill me," Garry thought to himself. "Literally."

Nazareno scowled underneath his mask at Garry. "I don't like what I'm hearing, Garry."

Garry was silent.

Nazareno shook his head. "Dr. Cyborg, come with me," Nazareno said, gesturing to the cyborg. Dr. Cyborg stepped up to Nazareno and the two left the group in the hallway.

"Why are we leaving them?" Cyborg asked.

"We've wasted enough time with them. We are finding those Stromlings. They shouldn't have a problem finding this Norris since they know what he looks like."

"So where are we going?"

"To the front entrance. If there are more spies, they will naturally want to hear this plan. We go to this meeting, find any spies, and dispose of them before they can send a message to Mr. Virchaus."

*****

"So," Fuchs said. "I assume that was that 'Zach' you told me about." Minerva nodded slowly. They were both silent for a minute. Then:

"I need to go back," Minerva said flatly. "Back to Outpost 4."

"But what about the Stromlings?" Fuchs asked.

"I can deal with the Stromlings. They are nothing. I want to go on the mission to the Maelstrom Temple. If the Elite Agents take Zach's threat seriously, they will be getting ready to leave at any moment. Heck, they might have already left."

"You failed to notice that we have no gas," Fuchs stated.

Minerva shrugged. "I'll walk." She turned and grabbed the Injection Saw and hopped out of the vehicle.

"Hey!" Fuchs yelled out to her leaving back. "What are you doing with the saw?"

"I need this."

"What about synthesizing the cure?"

Minerva was trying to control her anger. She really hadn't wanted to be dragged away from the outpost when the word of Stromling broke out, but here she was.

"I'm going to save him," she finally said.

"'Him'?" Fuchs looked confused. Then he realized: "Zach? You want to save that crazy Stromling?!"

"Yes," Minerva said, turning around and staring hard at Fuchs. "J.D. gave me this to save him. That is the only reason why I have it. I have to save him. I need to save him."

"But why?" Fuchs asked.

"Because I-" She paused. She tried to find a word to describe her feelings, but she couldn't think of anything. "I just - I..." She could feel her face turning red. She imagined Fuchs has probably figured out the reason. She turned and started running into the jungle, following the Fire Hammer tracks back to the outpost. 

Fuchs initially watched as Minerva ran off into the trees. "Minerva!" he finally called. She turned around for a moment. "This thing should come provisioned." He looked inside the back quickly, pulled out a rifle, and tossed it to her before getting one himself and walking toward her.

"Listen," Fuchs said. "I was never much good with one of these, and I'm not much good in combat, but if you're going up against Zach, you're going to need all the help you can get. Besides, if you are able to cure Zach, I'd like to observe the process. It might help with my research. I also don't want to just sit around out here on my own."

"Look," Minerva said, rejecting the rifle. "I don't want to kill him."

"I understand," replied Fuchs. "There are, however, multiple Stromlings, and only enough of the cure for one. You may want to cure Zach, but you might also have to defend yourself against the others. We also have no guarantee that it will work, and what do we do if it doesn't?"

*****

Rotor and Cabin were surprised when a panting Garry stumbled into the planning room accompanied by a large group of others. Rotor in particular seemed unnerved when he saw Tom and Strangebrick enter the room. The two of them seemed to show similar concerns.

"Alright," Garry said. "We got to act fast, we don't have much time."

"We should get the other elite agents in here," Cabin said.

"Right," said Garry. "What's your name again?"

"Cabin."

"Cabin, yes. Get a gun quickly, see if you can find Rex."

Cabin stood up, grabbed a rifle and ran outside. 

*****

Zach Virchaus and Cranky returned to the Maelstrom Temple feeling satisfied. I think I got my message across. They will be coming. All around, his rows and rows of Stromlings marched around him in preparation. It is a beautiful day, isn't it? Zach smirked as he heard thunder rumble in the sky.

He glared up at the temple. He soon realized that one person he most anxious to kill was Dust. I imagine he will be happy when he finally reaches his temple. That treacherous punk. Despite his ties with the Dino Attack more or less cut, he couldn't help but loathe Dust for his spectacular betrayal. It would be rather fitting to kill Dust. I saved him when I first got to the island and kill him in the finale. Completes the circle.

"Where have you been?" Ahua's voice cut across his thoughts.

Zach's eyes narrowed. "Giving the Dino Attack Team the final warning to get a move on. They should be on their way here soon enough."

"Good," Ahua said, nodding. "However, we still have XERRD to deal with. They are extremely close."

"I knew we couldn't avoid them forever," Zach said, shrugging. "At least this time you aren't going to send me on the suicide mission to kill them, right?" Zach mentioning the incident caused Ahua's eyes to narrow and he barred his teeth fiercely. "You should be able to overwhelm them with sheer numbers. We have a zillion Stromlings that we can command."

Ahua nodded again. "Cannon fodder at its finest. What do you intend to do during when the Dino Attack Team arrives?"

"I intend to greet them," Zach said. Ahua raised an eyebrow. "Welcome them. They are guests, aren't they?" Zach smiled widely.

Ahua rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said. "What will you do afterwards?"

"Lead the Stromlings?"

"Wrong!" Ahua snapped. "We and Colonel, provided he even returns, will lead. You will stay in the temple and pick off the agents that manage to slip inside. Understand?"

Zach shrugged. "Fine. What about Cranky?" He gestured to the Stromling Ape behind him.

"He will serve on the battlefield."

Zach thought about it for a moment. "Alright. Anything else?"

"I don't think so."

"Good."

Everything is going according to plan, Ahua thought happily. He certainly hadn't expected Zach to be so compliant to his demands. His sudden obedience will speed things along. Now to wait for the girl... 

*****

Minerva debated the inclusion of Fuchs in the mission her head. She began to regret telling him of her and Andrew's plan.

"I don't know..." she said. "I am already going with someone else."

"You can always use more help, though," Fuchs pointed out.

"I guess..." She honestly didn't want Fuchs to come. She wanted to keep the number of people facing Zach down to a minimum. "Another thing is that the person that is helping me and myself have a... connection to Zach. It allows us to communicate with his Minifigself. To an extent. I'm afraid that if you were to come along, he would disregard our connection and murder you. You say you can't hold yourself well in a fight. Zach will kill you. He has no issue killing medics. J.D. is dead because of him. I just rather keep this below the radar. Kareem Nazareno knows of the plan and whoever my partner told, if any. I just don't want you die in a fight that isn't yours."

Fuchs remained silent for a moment. He wanted to help Minerva, but he could see where she was getting at. He also did not want to stay behind alone in the jungle. Then again, running back to a base potentially filled with Stromlings did not seem appealing either, and especially not the prospect of getting killed. It seemed that every option put him into a difficult situation. Out here was probably the easiest, however.

"I understand," replied Fuchs. "If you're really certain that you're better off without me, I'll stay here. I'd like to help, but I don't know how much I can do for you."

He sighed and was silent for a moment. "Listen," he said. "If you can, try and save some of that. I don't know if you'll have to use it all or not, but even a single drop could make a difference when it comes to the research. This thing probably didn't have that much gas to begin with so it couldn't have gotten too far. I'll just lay low out here for the moment. There's some sandwiches in the back that should keep me going for a little while, and I can always try to work the radio. Maybe I'll get lucky and make contact with a nearby Outpost."

Minerva nodded as Fuchs turned around, and the two started to go their separate ways. He momentarily paused and turned around. "Minerva," he said again. She turned. "Good luck. I hope you can do it. If you can I'll have a lot of questions for you afterwards."

He smiled for a moment before turning back towards the Fire Hammer.

*****

"So what's the plan?" Rotor asked.

"People are running around here like crazy," replied Garry. "We've got a deadline to meet if that announcement was anything to go by. Now we need to assemble multiple groups with different tasks."

"What do you mean?" asked Vinyaya.

"We'll need multiple task forces to head out," explained Garry. "Rotor, Cabin, and the other elites. Mac, you're a good pilot, I'd like you to go with them."

"You sure about this, Garry?" Mac asked, somewhat nervously.

"Yes," replied Garry. "They're going to need all the chopper pilots they can get. There's also going to be a small group that stays behind. That's where I come in. Our job is to find the spies. With everyone else heading out, it should at least buy us some time to locate Norris's whereabouts and figure out if there's anyone else who's been infected. We'll also be monitoring your progress from here."

Then, Garry turned towards Hertz and asked, "You, techie. What's your name again?"

"Hertz."

"Hertz, you can operate a radio, right?"

"Yes."

"Good," said Garry. "I need you and Windows to work together. One of you stays behind, the other heads out. The two of you will be in constant contact with each other, and whoever heads out I want to continually update us on the search. The one who stays behind will also have to transmit this information to the mainland, providing the information to our superiors. Any questions?"

"What's our tactical plan?" Vinyaya asked.

"I'm afraid that's not my field," conceded Garry. "That's up for the rest of you to decide. Whatever it is just decide it quickly."

Holly Vinyaya shrugged. "One thing I'd say we need is establish exactly what we may be dealing with. According to that Stromling, he's got a massive army at his side. Assuming this army is made up of Stromlings and Mutant Dinos, we need to establish a closer estimate of how large this army actually is and where it is stationed. I'd also say we need to get a group of fighters to hold of this army while a small group of infiltrators enter the Maelstrom Temple and do whatever they need to do to defeat the Maelstrom. Alternatively, we can just blow the temple up and leave it at that."

Garry nodded. "That makes sense."

"I recommend we discuss this with SemickFor all intents and purposes, Semick is in charge of this operation," said Vinyaya.

"Yes of course," replied Garry. "If anyone knows where Semick is they should go get him quickly. We're also going to need a bit more time. Maybe we should send a few people out, if only to create the illusion that we're moving. That should in theory allow Zach to give us more time." 

----

"She's trying her best," Pierce finally explained. "It's a difficult experience for her."

"I tried to tell her," Sarah replied. "Occasionally, I've considered joining the team just to protect her."

Pierce laughed before his face turned serious. "You know, there was something really strange that happened on the island. Kate was involved with a mission. That friggin' 4+ Rotor decided to order her to go alone into a toxin-filled fortress-"

"What?" Sarah asked.

"Don't worry," Pierce said. "She's fine, but they later found her frightened and confused, locked in an office. Stranger still she mentioned being brought to a crazy scientist's office and finding a picture of you on his desk."

"A picture of me?" Sarah repeated. "That doesn't make sense, unless... no, it can't be. Oh, this is going to be hard for Kate when she finds out."

"What do you mean?" Pierce asked.

"Did Kate ever tell you about Crazy Uncle Wally who died in a car accident?"

"She might have mentioned him," replied Pierce.

"He's not dead," revealed Sarah. "I just figured we'd never see him again. Poor Kate was only six at the time. I didn't think she'd be able to comprehend the truth. He was actually locked up in a mental institution."

"What'd he do before then?" Pierce asked.

"He loved experiments," Sarah replied. "He did all kinds of scientific studies. Anything that paid the bills, and some things just for fun."

"You mean, Kate is actually related to Dr. Wallace Bishop?" Pierce asked nervously.

Sarah thought about it for a moment and sighed. "Yes," she said. "He's my older brother."

After a moment, Sarah got up and walked over toward one of the other beds, which Pierce saw had the battered and bruised girl he'd seen Garry bring into the helicopter covered by a sheet. He still did not understand why.

Sarah sat down next to her, doing her best to comfort her. "You got a name?" she asked.

For once, the girl spoke. "Jenny," she replied. "Jenny Strangebrick."

"What happened to you?" Sarah asked the young girl lying in the bed.

"Those two men," Jenny replied weakly. "They hit me, and wouldn't stop hitting me. They kept asking me questions."

"It's alright, Jenny," assured Sarah. "Everything's going to be fine." 

----

Nazareno squinted as the crowd of Dino Attack Agents gathered at the front entrance. They all looked trustworthy from a distance, but he knew some of may be Stromlings.

"Anything?" he asked Dr. Cyborg, who had his visor down and was scanning the area intently.

"Everything seems okay," Cyborg responded. "I can't see any Stromlings from here."

"Alright, move to the next area. A few more checks and we should be done. It is looking like Zelda and Norris are the only Stromlings here."

*****

Minerva breathed a sigh of relief as she broke through the jungle vegetation, revealing a large crowd of Dino Attack agents gathered around the front entrance.

I made it, she thought, smiling. And it looks like we are almost ready to go. I better go find Andrew.

*****

Find the girl and bring her here, Ahua hissed to the Maelstrom spy in the Dino Attack Team. Ahua presumed he was the spy that had been with the Dino Attack Team since the attack on the village, since he spoke with some level of intelligence and authority.

It will be done, the Stromling replied simply.

You know what she looks like, correct?

Yes. In fact, I rode on a Fire Hammer with her once upon a time.

Excellent. Capture her and bring her here.

I must ask. Why do we need Fabello?

Trust us. It will help us out in the long run.

Ahua felt doubt radiate from the spy's consciousness. Then: Whatever. I'll bring her. With that, the spy's link disappeared.

Ahua smiled. Zach was coming closer to his end every second... 

----

Dust stood on a wrought iron bridge connecting the upper levels of Outpost 4 to the cliffs and the vehicle lot. The salty ocean air had caused rust to form on the heavy girders and it creaked with every step from the dozens of passing agents, but Dust still felt an unmovable quality from the structure.

Before he had left Outpost 4, he had recovered his black Australian hat from the wreckage and now wore the standard issue utility belt of Dino Attack trooper. Three knifes were clipped to his belt and he hid a fourth in his boot. At his hip was a silver handgun, and on his back was an automatic rifle. A black bandana covered his face, and he carried a satchel over his shoulder.

Opening the bag, he withdrew tightly folded piece of paper. Despite the fact that he knew the qualities of the temple down to the last stone, it was good to have a hard copy of the translated blueprints.

Holding his hat to his head, he crossed the bridge to the crowed vehicle lot. The area went right up to the cliff, and when he leaned against the railings, he was able to see the fleet boats and inflatable hovercrafts departing along the coast.

A T-1 Typhoon lifted off the ground, and Dust had to avert his eyes from the gust of air. The Egyptian held tight to his hat and started walking to the far side of the lot, where he could board an Iron Predator.

Urban Avengers were one-by-one disappearing into the forest, and the rumble of engines filled the air. Dust worked his way up the access ladder of the lead Iron Predator and checked the time. 8 minutes.

"Dust?" The Egyptian looked below and found Minerva looking up at him. "Have you see Andrew?" she asked.

"Not today!" Dust yelled over the noise. "But he's around here somewhere with Laxus!"

Minerva nodded and headed into the lot, followed by Fuchs. Dust did not know whether or not he had missed Semick's briefing but he assumed the assault should be well underway.

He knelt down by the view screens and watched the information come in. A significant amount of Mutant Dinosaur activity was clustered about a mile and a half north of their location. He had no idea how well the temple was fortified, but quite frankly, that was not his concern. The battle was irrelevant; he just wanted inside.

Garry's voice crackled over the radio system. "Urban Avenger wave two launch. Fire Hammers wave one launch." The vehicles departed into the jungle and the next wave moved into position. The Egyptian sat back and smiled. All he had to do now was await Semick's order 

----

Maria looked up from her desk as a large man with a tan-coloured jacket and an old, worn hat stepped into her bar. The man remained quiet. As he sat down in the corner, he took out a harmonica and started to play.

There was a strange tone to the music, like a cry for justice. Then it dawned on her. She could recall something mentioned by her superiors about an agent named Harmonica. They also said she'd know who he was when he entered... because he was literally playing a harmonica. A few of the other men in the bar were getting annoyed as they turned toward him.

"Would you cut out that racket?" Thompson asked. He'd been a bit less scared to come by, now that Angel Eyes was gone. The man ignored him. As Thompson and his two no-good henchmen drew their guns, there was a loud gunshot, and Thompson's hat went flying. They turned to see Maria holding a shotgun with a menacing look on her face.

"Get out of mah bar," Maria said sternly. "If I see you boys 'round here again, I'm gonna blow a hole clean through yer head."

Thompson grumbled as he picked up his hat and walked for the doors. "I can't believe it!" he muttered angrily. "I got my hat shot off by a MegaBlokin' woman."

Hearing this remark, Maria once again shot Thompson's hat clean off before lowering her gun. She smiled and chuckled as she put it down behind the counter. "Some civilized town this is," Maria remarked to herself. "If people keep going on like this, we ain't never goin' to build that railroad."

Finally, she turned toward the mysterious stranger. "Hey, you!" Maria called out. "Why don't you come up here?" The man lowered his harmonica as he stood up and walked toward the counter. Maria quickly poured him a glass of whiskey. "You got a name?" she asked.

"They just call me Harmonica," the man introduced himself. "You know, you haven't by any chance heard from a man named Angel Eyes, have you?"

"Yes, actually, I have," replied Maria. "He and his partner left for Gold City this morning."

"That's what I thought," said Harmonica.

"You know, you're quite a charming man," Maria said. "How would you like a room?"

"That'd be very nice, thank you," replied Harmonica. At that moment, their attention was drawn by a loud explosion. The patrons all turned around to see the general store across the street was in flames, and a man with a thick grey mustache and a long trenchcoat stepped into the Saloon with a large grin on his face. He sat down at the counter in front of Maria.

"Firecracker," Maria remarked. "Where have you been? We were expecting you two days ago."

"Oh, I ran into Emperor Chang Wu on my way here," replied Firecracker. "I think I got him this time. I set thirty charges under his palace while he was inside."

"You mean you abandoned your mission because you wanted to blow up a dictator?"

"That about sums it up," said Firecracker.

Maria sighed. "You're lucky Rotor isn't out here," she whispered.

----

"I don't know what's taking Cabin so long," Garry said. "Alright, we don't have much time. Mac, Rotor, you two get to the airfield. If you find Cabin, tell her to get out there as well. Hertz, Windows, I need you to hurry up and decide who goes and who stays. Just remember that no matter who does what you'll have to remain in constant contact with each other. Talk about your personal lives if you have to, just keep talking."

"What will that achieve?" Vinyaya asked.

"Aside from one man being able to constantly update us," explained Garry, "if the radio cuts, we'll know much sooner that something is wrong. We're also going to need a couple of people who are good with guns in here. What's your name again?"

"Vinyaya."

"Yes," said Garry. "Someone like you will need to stay behind. I'd like a few people guarding the communications room in case a Stromling gets in and tries to break our communication."

*****

Dr. Cyborg and Nazareno were walking to go to another region of the base camp. Nazareno was looking down, lost in thought, so he had some warning when it happened. A small Maelstrom symbol lit up purple.

"Dr. Cyborg, watch out!" he yelled. Too late. They both fell in when the trapdoor opened. As he fell, he saw some minifigs watching, so they knew where to not step.

They looked down and saw where they were headed. They were falling into a river of Maelstrom.

Dr. Cyborg realized that while his suit offered immunity to Maelstrom, Nazareno was still vulnerable. The Space Ninja would become a Stromling, assuming he wasn't outright destroyed. He landed on his feet, and caught Nazareno before he touched the Maelstrom.

He turned on infrared, and saw one direction was warmer. He believed it led outside. Nazareno was sending a bulletin to all Elite Agents. Cyborg had wirelessly connected to his PDA, so he saw it on the inside of his visor.

Dr. Cyborg and I have fallen into an underground Maelstrom cavern. All the agents in the courtyard saw it. Interview them, and set up a barricade.
We will try to get out.
Nazareno

Nazareno shifted so he was riding piggyback. He groaned as he did, being a foot above Maelstrom didn't help his wound any.

"I thought your wound was better," Dr. Cyborg said.

"It was, but it's infected with Maelstrom. The proximity to all this doesn't do me any favors." Nazareno replied.

"I can fix that. I can remove the Maelstrom from your body," Cyborg replied.

Nazareno thought. He had forgotten Cyborg's extraction abilities. That might work. He groaned in pain. The amount of Maelstrom increased the pulsing in his wound.

"Alright, we can try it," Nazareno said through clenched teeth. "After we get out of here." It was only lucky that Dr. Cyborg was immune to the Maelstrom. Nazareno stared at the Maelstrom below him with extreme distaste. He groaned again.

"Hurry!"

*****

As it turned out, David had no reason to be afraid. He had found his way into a clearing, got a GPS signal, and promptly found his way back. But now, it was the following afternoon. David was eating a late lunch when he looked up and saw the familiar face of Dr. Smith.

"Joseph!" exclaimed David. "I haven't seen you for a bit. Nice to see you again."

"You too," replied Joseph. "I've been here at Outpost 4 since the whole Rotor court martial business. I've been keeping myself busy though, researching samples of Maelstrom energy, would you have it."

"Maelstrom energy?" repeated David. "Sounds interesting, but I hope you've been keeping yourself safe. From what I've heard, it's very dangerous."

"Well, it's mainly because I've been in Section 18G. We deal with research that requires more... care."

David nodded in understanding. "Well, keep me posted." 

*****

Hertz shrugged. He saw Garry had a point, but neither he nor Windows had much experience with field work. An experienced radio operator was essential to coordinating the highly complex battle plans, but it would be dangerous for non-combat personal like him. Hertz still thought the battle would be a bloodbath. He trusted Semick's planning skills and his ability as a commander, but he knew that even the most experience leader should not be able to plan a battle of this magnitude in less than an hour. A lot of agents were going to die, but his assistance was essential to saving lives.

He glanced at Windows. The other radio operator was clearly going through the same conflict as he was. "Windows?" asked Hertz. "You doing this? You're an elite agent, you should at least have some field experience."

Windows frowned. "I have a family back home. We techs are the first to go, you know. I can't leave them." 

"I have Naomi," said Hertz. "But I'll go. Someone needs to do it; I'll just have to put up the best fight I can and do my job." 

Garry nodded. "You better go, Hertz. We'll talk to you at the temple, but until then, you better go and catch a ride. The convoy leaves in one minute. Alright. Windows, get to the radio room. Hertz, you go with Mac and Rotor. Get to the choppers now."

Hertz nodded as he, Rotor and Mac stepped outside. As they went toward the entrance, they were approached by Cabin.

"I can't find Rex anywhere," she said.

"Alright then," replied Mac. "We got to get out, you're coming with us."

Rotor quickly ran out to one of the T-1 Typhoons and climbed into the cockpit, pleasantly surprised to see Lance as the gunner.

Meanwhile, Mac was leading Hertz towards another helicopter. Before climbing into the cockpit, he turned toward him. "Remember what Garry said," Mac told Hertz. "As soon as you get in, you are to put yourself through to Windows and remain in constant touch with him." With that, Mac climbed into the pilot's seat.

Garry stared out the window as the men finished their preparations. "Now, we need a few people to stay here and guard the place. I don't want anyone coming in here and trying to kill Windows. I'd also like to split up the hospital staff. Wade should go with the rest of the attack force while Copper and Crusher stay with us, and I think someone should watch over our two prisoners."

At that moment, Garry was suddenly grabbed from behind and thrown against a wall. He looked up to see Tom menacingly approaching him, He reached down for his gun, only to realize it was gone. Tom held up the revolver for a moment with a grin before throwing Garry a punch in the stomach.

"That's for Jenny!" he called out. Garry grabbed the XERRD technician and threw him against a table. Tom got up and attempted to attack Garry again. "You got no morals, you know that?"

"Listen, Tom," Strangebrick said, "I don't think this is getting us any-"

"Shut up, doc!" Tom snapped. "This is the guy who killed your daughter! Him and that other no-good 4+ Rotor that they just let go!"

"WHAT'S GOING ON?!" Vinyaya shouted.

"You would have done the same to me!" Tom continued again. "ONLY REASON YOU DIDN'T WAS BECAUSE I COULD ACTUALLY TALK TO YOU!"

"Look," said Garry. "Calm dow-"

"I'm not going to calm down until you pay for Jenny's lif-"

"SHE'S NOT DEAD!" Garry shouted angrily.

"Then where is she?" demanded Tom.

"I sent her to Antarctica," replied Garry.

"What is all this about?" Vinyaya asked, sternly.

Garry looked at her and sighed before he sat down. He now had no choice.

"It's Rotor," he said. "Early this morning, a couple XERRD prisoners were brought in: Tom and Jenny, a preteen girl. Rotor insisted they had information, and talked me into helping him get it. His method of 'interrogation' turned out to be to beat the girl senseless until she gave in, which she was too traumatized to do. When I saw her later on, lying there on that bed, I just couldn't take the idea of her facing anymore. I knew Rotor would kill her eventually, and if he found out I'd betrayed him, he'd probably do the same to me. I put her on the medivac chopper to get her as far away from Rotor as possible, and had Copper write up false records of her death to keep Rotor off my back."

Commander Vinyaya glared at Garry fiercely. She was realist, that was sure. As a Space Police officer, she had her share of interrogations, particularly of the aggressive kind. However, she had never heard of a grown man beating a child senseless. And frankly, it sickened her.

"I can't say I'm impressed," Vinyaya said darkly. "Not impressed at all. I don't know exactly what position this 'Jenny' had in XERRD, but if she was a child, she couldn't have known that much."

Garry looked down, clearly ashamed.

"However," she continued. "I have a shred of admiration for you by saving that girl from any more senseless beatings. In the meantime, we need to deal with Rotor. This is the last straw. The trial and now this? He is out of control and clearly has abused his power. He needs to be expelled and sent off this island. Now."

"But without Rotor, our T-1 Typhoon fleets are disorganized and sloppy. He knows how to lead them," Garry retorted.

Vinyaya scowled. "This is the same reason why we let him go the first time!" she sighed. "But you are right. Without him our fleet is nothing. We'll let him go now. Once this war is over, however, I want him arrested. As for you…" Vinyaya's eyes shot toward Tom. "You have every right to be angry, but I would not recommend attacking Garry or any other Dino Attack agent again. You are bound be caught by someone who will not respond as well as Garry or me."

Garry stood up and picked up his gun off the ground before putting it back into its holster. "Listen," he said. "Whatever you do, I told you nothing. If Rotor finds out I betrayed him, he'll probably not only beat me senseless but then take me out back and have me shot for aiding and embedding a prisoner." 

*****

"Ow. My head..." B groaned as he slowly regained consciousness. "You'd think that I cracked it open..."

Knuckles was sitting beside B's cot. "It wasn't that far off, B. You know, you aren't supposed to be fighting directly with the dinos. At least, not like that."

"Yeah, yeah," muttered B. "Where am I...?"

"Outpost 4. Medical area," explained Knuckles. "You were out for way too long. We were about to declare you KIA."

"Well, I'm... not, yet. How have you and the rest of the guys been doing, Kev?" asked B.

"I've been helping out around camp. So has Crooks..." Then Knuckles blinked in surprise. "And did you just call me 'Kev'?"

B rolled his eyes. "That is your name, Kevin. Those codenames never made any sense to me."

"Yeah, and I never liked 'B' either," retorted Kevin.

"That's... different," insisted B. "Where's Rob?"

"He was flown back."

B's eyes widened. "Why? Was something..."

Thankfully, Kevin shook his head and replied, "No. He just wanted to get the squad back together. Find Sam. He should be back, well, hopefully before the attack."

As Fuchs carefully placed Tracer's Creative Spark on a nearby table and turned back to the unconscious Zelda, Hotwire sat down on an empty cot to readjust his prosthetic leg when suddenly his PDA beeped. He pulled it out.

T-1 TYPHOON DESIGNATED 'TALON' SEEN LIFTING OFF FROM AIRFIELD. WE CANNOT RAISE YOU OVER THE COMMS. WHAT IS GOING ON?

"Builder, Kat, what's going on now?" he grumbled. He got up, slipping a few more painkillers into his pockets, and was about to leave when he heard familiar voices from another wing of the infirmary. Curious, he hobbled over, surprised to see another comrade whom he had feared was gone. "B! You don't know how glad I am to see you."

"Hotwire!" exclaimed B. "Ow! Good to see ya! Just... don't speak too loud, okay? Anyway, this is my cousin Kevin, Dino Attack codename Knuckles. I'm not sure if you've met him before."

B gingerly sat up and massaged his scalp. "Wow. Guess we've all been through a lot, huh."

Kevin handed B a helmet, and B carefully put it on. He tried to take a few steps and then stopped, clutching his head with one hand and leaning on the table by his cot for support. "Dizzy spell," he muttered. Kevin helped him back upright, and Hotwire grabbed a bottle of headache suppressant pills and tossed it over. As B gulped one down, Hotwire turned his attention back to his PDA and grumbled in frustration. Every attempt to make contact with Kat was met with failure. He put the device away. There would be time to worry later.

"Come on," he said to B and Kevin. "Semick's supposed to be briefing us all any moment now, and then we'll have to haul tail out of here before Zach turns the place into a smoking crater." The three of them left the medics to their business and walked outside.

*****

Minerva scanned the vehicle lot, hoping to find Andrew or Laxus. She figured it would be best to just stay with Andrew during the search. If Rudo Villano or another informant could lead them to the Maelstrom Temple, the need to split up would be pointless.

She walked past a group of Fire Hammers when a voice called out to her. "Hey, Fabello! Rex wants to see you!" Minerva raised an eyebrow and looked around in confusion. "Come on!" the voice called out again. Minerva shrugged and tried to follow the voice. She walked in front of the Fire Hammer when she felt a hand grab her neck and pull her between two Fire Hammers.

Again?! She was sick of being taken captives by bad guys. She was about to just swing a punch at her captive when she felt a sharp jab of pain against her spine. She collapsed, allowing the attacker to beat her repeated in the stomach and face. Minerva tried to fight back, but the attacker overpowered any attempt.

When he finally stopped his brutal attack, her body was bruised and swollen. Her eyes fluttered several times to see a blurry Dino Attack agent staring down at her, grinning viciously.

"Sorry, Fabello," the minifig said. "But you have obviously made yourself a threat to our cause if Ahua wants you at the temple." Minerva was extremely disorientated, but she felt like she could recognize the name Ahua. Her vision began to improve, allowing her to pick out individual details on the Minifig's childlike face. His icy blue eyes stared intently at Minerva through his wavy blond hair.

"I know you..." she muttered.

The Minifig grinned and punched her in the face again. "I know you know me," the agent hissed. "Ahua was rather happy that I knew what his target looked like."

She squinted, then gasped in realization. "Ghost?!"

"Spot on," Ghost said, slamming his foot into Minerva's stomach. 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Updated to version 1.2.
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Chapter 42: Launch

----

Fuchs took a large bite out of a sandwich as he sat in the driver's seat, thinking. There was not much else to do besides try to work the radio, which he attempted once or twice before without success. At this moment, he started to think of what led him here, the cure to the Maelstrom, and then he remembered the Creative Spark and began to wonder.

She said J.D. took his own Creative Spark and used it in the formula, Fuchs thought to himself. I wonder if... no it can't be. Can it? If the Creative Spark is part of a minifig's consciousness, does that mean part of its original owner ends up in the patient? Perhaps his memories?

At that moment, Fuchs suddenly had a realization of how he could potentially get that cure. If Zach was cured, perhaps he'd have access to J.D.'s memories. Could that mean that he'd be able to recall the Maelstrom formula? Maybe he can tell me how to make it.

"Minerva, I hope you cure him," Fuchs muttered as he sat back.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of a twig snapping. He got outside, picked up a rifle and looked around, but there was nobody there. He walked back toward the cab and opened the door to see a familiar face. "Hello, Norris," Fuchs said. "It's been a while."

"Indeed, it has," replied Norris. His eyes started to glow red. Fuchs already knew what was going on. He quickly raised his rifle and fired one round after another. He knew this would not be enough to stop Norris, but it would at least slow him down. He quickly closed the door.

Norris had found him. He knew now that being out here was no safer than at the base, only there would be other people who could provide protection. Quickly thinking, he looked in the back, found a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, and tossed it inside before he began running back through the forest, following the tracks. There was a loud noise in the distance as the vehicle exploded.

*****

The outside of the outpost was getting crowded fast. Agents were gathering with nervousness and anxiety, and with good reason. Time was of the essence, and Semick would have to get out his message soon so they could head out to the temple.

Andrew and Laxus were waiting out in their Fire Hammer near the end of where a lot of them had been parked, close to the gathering crowd. They were both feeling the restlessness many of the agents were feeling.

"I know Semick knows how to plan a plan, but he's just making me nervous," said Laxus.

"Yeah," said Andrew. His thoughts were on the battle ahead, and partially involved in mentally preparing himself for what lay ahead: having to intervene directly with the apparently ringleader of their main opposing force.

That train of thought soon brought him back to Minerva, his ally for this task. Andrew hadn't seen her in a day since she went out on patrol, and he wondered where she was right now. He hoped she would be able to make it to the battle in time.

His body started to shake from the shivers his anxiousness was causing. He wasn't doing quite good sitting here in the cab of the Fire Hammer. He needed a moment, or at least some space to pace or something.

"I'm going for a quick walk," he said as he opened his Fire Hammer door. "I won't be long or go far, but yell for me if Semick starts up."

"Got it, watch yourself."

Andrew walked towards the rear of his vehicle, his fingers twitching every which way. Trying to calm himself, he took several deep breaths, and tried to focus on a pleasant-sounding tune to calm himself. Though try as he might to concentrate on the orchestral soundtrack he recalled from a favorite video game, he couldn't get it to overcome the noises in the area. The noises of the rumbling idle engines, the march of agents' boots, the buzz of minifig mumbling, the sounds of punches being dealt, the occasional cry from the few remaining animals in-

Wait, punches?

Andrew froze. That had sounded like somebody punching something soft and well-built like a Minifig. And because this definitely wasn't a boxing ring or gym, that couldn't be a good sign. He reached inside his uniform vest and pulled out a standard bullet-fed pistol, one of the new requirements of standard agent outfitting Semick introduced after the camp ambush.

Readying a good grip, Andrew began to advance in the direction of where he could hear the fighting noises coming from. He was directed several rows into the Fire Hammer lot, eventually reaching a point where he began to hear it just around the current Fire Hammer he was standing beside. He then slowly advanced around the back of it, and stopped just before reaching the other side, peeking over to see what was going on.

It was Minerva. He could see her face, unhelmeted and bruised, but still recognizable. She was on the ground at the mercy of an agent with long blond hair that Andrew felt like he should recognize, but didn't really from his personal experience.

Andrew quickly thought of a best choice of action. There was no time to find help just now, and while he had a gun, he still didn't know why this attacker was attacking. The guy might have reason, but to be rational, this was no time to be fighting amongst themselves. There was only one option.

Andrew walked into view, gun pointed at the attacker, and yelled: "STOP RIGHT THERE, MISTER!" The agent looked up, letting Andrew see that he had a young face, but was looking at him with a stare that could've made Medusa tranquil. It was right there that the LEGO Islander began to suspect exactly what this agent might be.

As he began to edge closer to the two, the attacker's eyes glowed a bright, fearsome, and familiar red. That was all the motivation Andrew needed. He fired three shots, his newness to firing standard firearms resulting in quite a bit of recoil force resonating through his arms. It made them sore, but the agent didn't dare let that stop him.

The shots hit the attack two times in the chest, and one in the upper left leg. He fell, but Andrew had reason to believe that wouldn't stop him for long. He ran to Minerva's side, his gun still aimed at the attacker as he tried to check up on his ally.

"Minerva, you conscious?" he stammered out as he tried to keep eyes both on her and her assailant. She moved slowly, her physical state clearly not being the best at the moment. But she did manage to form a few words.

"Andrew... oh thank gosh," she muttered. "I'm hurt, badly, but... I think I can get better in time for..."

"We'll focus on that in a moment," said Andrew, trying to get his left arm around her chest so perhaps he could drag her away to relative safety. "We need to get this guy a good distance from you. And I don't think that's going to be easy. You have another gun on ya?" 

*****

It was not long before Fuchs started to see Outpost 4 in the distance. He was surprised to see numerous people assembled outside, looking like they were heading out. He quickly ran towards them.

"Alright boys," Rotor said over the radio. "I think we're ready to kick some Stromling butt. When we get out there, we're going to be doin' one thing and one thing only: killin' Stromlings."

Rotor was already starting up the engines. "Cabin, Mac, you two ready?"

"Agent Cabin standing by. Over."

"Agent Mac, standing by. Over."

"Alright," said Rotor keenly. "Let's get moving."

As Fuchs got closer, he soon found himself pushing his way through the large crowd of people. "Excuse me," he said quietly as he tried to get through, along the way passing by Barry Jackson and Teri.

"You ready for this... Scope?" Jackson asked.

Teri smiled. "As always," she replied, wrapping her hand around the strap of her sniper rifle. "It'll be just like old times."

*****

Hotwire hobbled out of the outpost, the vials containing Tracer's Creative Spark tucked securely into his inside vest pocket. The curved metal of his prosthetic leg gave enough cushioning for him to walk fairly smoothly, so he only needed the crutch for balance.

Eventually, he thought, I may not even need that. Still, it felt stiff and awkward. Hotwire wondered how much he would regret his actions in time -- perhaps it would have been possible to prevent infection by means other than blowing his own leg off. But he forced that thought back down. Gotta focus on the present. Gotta find those medics who wanted more antidote.

However, his search was cut off when he heard a confrontation from amongst the parked Fire Hammers. He moved as quietly as he could towards the disturbance. Peeking around one of the trucks, he saw Minerva lying on the ground and, standing over her, two other agents -- Andrew, and another with long wavy blond hair. Andrew suddenly fired three shots from a pistol, and the blond-haired agent fell down. Andrew quickly moved to tend to Minerva.

"More Stromling spies, then?" Hotwire said. Andrew nodded.

*****

Garry was shocked when Fuchs suddenly burst into the recreational room, panting exhaustively. "What're you doing back here?" Garry asked.

"It's Norris," replied Fuchs. "He found me. I think I killed him, or at least lost him. Does anyone know if dynamite can kill Stromlings?"

"I'm not sure," said Garry. "If he comes back, we'll find out."

"I don't know if anywhere is safe anymore," Fuchs continued. "Maybe you should just get me a chopper out of here. If Stromlings get in and they know I'm trying to figure out this cure-"

"We'll do everything in our power to stop them," assured Garry. "From now on, you're to remain with me or Vinyaya at all times. Getting you out would be our best option but we can't spare a T-1 at the moment."

"You alright, Garry?" Fuchs suddenly asked. "You look like you just got into a fight."

"I'd prefer not to talk about it," Garry replied.

----

"So this is it, huh?" Clint remarked as he stared at the wonder before him. "Fort Legoredo. The perfect hiding spot."

"Indeed, it is," replied Saboteur. "Zhat building is crawling with Mutant Lizard Hybrids. Zhe walls are lined with sentry guns."

"I wouldn't mind getting a closer look," said Clint. "You're good at infiltration, aren't you?"

"Of course," said Saboteur.

"I need you to sneak in there, see if you can find any weaknesses at all. Anything that could help."

----

Minerva was in too much pain to say much, but she was extremely thankful for Hotwire and Andrew's intervention. She slowly pulled a small handgun from her holster and pointed it at Ghost, shaking slightly. The no-doubt Stromling Agent remained on the ground, silent.

"I've got a gun," she said weakly. She felt sick and could barely feel her legs. "Maybe you two-" she stopped as she noticed Hotwire had a curved prosthetic leg and was using a crutch to walk. "Oh. Never mind."

"He's getting up," Hotwire noted.

Ghost was back on his feet, growling. "What a fascinating feeling," he said with a bit of wonder in his voice. "Being shot." Minerva shuddered as she imagined Zach saying the exact same sentence, replacing the sound of wonder with the sound of a psychotic madman who acted like getting shot was nothing.

Ghost shed away his Minifig disguise and charged at the group of agents. Minerva and Andrew fired repeatedly at him, but he ignored the bullets and slammed his shoulder into Hotwire, throwing the Elite Agent to the ground. Ghost then quickly turned and punched Andrew in the face, knocking him down. Minerva felt Andrew lose his grip on her, causing her to slide on to the floor. Ghost grabbed Minerva's collar and pulled her up to eye level.

"You are coming with me," he hissed. He turned to Andrew and Hotwire, where the former was helping the latter get back on his feet. "You two stay back. She's the only one I want."

"How long have you been a Stromling, huh?" Minerva asked weakly, not trying to veil the anger in her voice. "How long have you been telling them what we are doing?"

Ghost laughed. "A long time. Right before the battle in the village. I was very careful about my job as a spy. Not to be arrogant, but I must argue I am a fantastic spy. I fought for the Dino Attack Team like any other loyal soldier. The village, the fortress, and the camp. I aided my enemies in fighting my enemies. Rather ironic, wouldn't you think? In fact, I'm ninety-nine percent positive that I have killed fellow Stromlings hidden with XERRD. That is how good of a spy I am."

"You are pile of trash," Minerva shot back angrily. "You are scum and you don't deserve to live." Mustering all the saliva she could, she spat in Ghost's face. He made a sound of disgust and shoved Minerva away. She stumbled, but managed to stay on her feet, despite her legs feeling on the verge of collapsing. Andrew and Hotwire stood beside her, weapons drawn.

Ghost wiped the spit from his face and scowled. "You are very lucky Ahua wants you alive. However, a good beating ought to remind you to respect your superiors." He smirked. "In fact, after I am through with you, you'll want to be like your two friends will be in a moment: dead." Ghost chuckled as he began to move closer to the three agents.

*****

The outpost was mobilizing. Kara was trying to modify the UlTech Dropship to have a more powerful engine, allowing it to carry more weight, and therefore more equipment and men. It was resisting her efforts.

"RAGE!" she yelled, as it still wouldn't calibrate. She had to get it working, however. The elite agents had asked her to carry some men and supplies back and forth in it.

After a lot of banging, "RAGE!"ing and general madness, the dropship was ready to go. It could now carry more weight, therefore more troops, vehicles, and supplies. Kara's contribution to the attack was ready. 

*****

Andrew's mind raced. He had backup now, albeit his current helper had recently joined the ranks of "senior agent with experience-showing handicap," and they had what were arguably weapons a bit more powerful than the average laser blaster, but considering Stromlings had shown to be rather swift at overcoming both obstacles. It would have to come down to wits.

And for Andrew, wits often involved thinking, thinking often involved planning, and planning often involved mapping out a construction project. His eyes flashed to his surroundings. Fire Hammers to his left and right. And while they were built to last, any LEGO construct usually had weak spots or ways to pry them apart with ease. He focused on a front door on the vehicle to his right. It was ever so slightly ajar; likely left open by an agent haphazardly departing it for whatever reason involving the outpost. His eyes narrowed.

"Get Minerva to an open vehicle," Andrew muttered to Hotwire. "I'll delay him, then you can use the cannon or something to hold him off."

"What are you gonna do?" Hotwire muttered back.

"Unspoken plan guarantee!" Andrew quickly uttered as he suddenly ran past Minerva and towards the Stromling, throwing his pistol at him. The gun caught him by surprise and hit him square in the head, not knocking him down but stopping him briefly in his tracks.

It gave Andrew the moment he needed. He reached the ajar Fire Hammer door, grabbed the bottom side, and pulled up on it. The about 1-stud thick door popped out of its hinges and into the agent's arms like how one would hold a baby. Rearranging his grip to both sides of the door, Andrew turns towards the Stromling, who was now charging towards him.

The LEGO Islander shoved the door at the Stromling, who managed to get his arms on it and tried to force it back onto him. Andrew applied equal force and the two were locked in a push-of-war fight.

The Stromling was proving to be the stronger one, though as Andrew felt the door getting closer to his face. Thinking quickly, he glanced down at his feet, then decided to thrust his left foot towards where he presumed the Stromling's legs were. He made contact and managed to trip his adversary, the sudden release in force resulting in the door falling over him and Andrew nearly stumbling over it.

Regaining his balance, Andrew looked back towards Minerva and Hotwire. The scuffle had lasted all of about twenty seconds, and the two had just managed to reach the next two Fire Hammers in the row.

Looking forward, the Stromling was pushing aside the door and glaring at him with an intense fury. In response, Andrew kicked hard at the door and forced it back over its chest. Then he turned tail and ran towards his allies, stopping briefly to pull the seat out of the doorless Fire Hammer in case the Stromling caught up.

Hotwire helped Minerva into the nearest Fire Hammer, then pulled himself into the cab after her. He had the weapon systems warming up by the time Andrew reached them a few seconds later.

*****

"Hang on, Fuchs," said Garry. "Do you still have that formula?"

"No," replied Fuchs. "Minerva took it and ran."

"I see," said Garry.

"There is still Zelda," Vinyaya suddenly remarked.

"That's true," noted Garry. "We caught a live Stromling and managed to hold her. Fuchs, I think we got your first specimen."

"Is that true?" asked Fuchs.

Vinyaya nodded.

"I'll have to perform a vivisection," said Fuchs. "If we kill her, the Maelstrom will just leave her body and we will have accomplished nothing, meaning that if we are to do this, I'm going to need someone standing guard at all times."

*****

Minerva smiled at Andrew's so-far success. I'm definitely glad he will be with me when we go after Zach. He's pretty good at thinking on his toes. Andrew reached the Fire Hammer she and Hotwire were hiding in, clutching a chair from the Fire Hammer he was at.

"How are the weapons doing?" Andrew asked as Ghost started running toward them, clearly furious.

"They are warming up," Hotwire noted. "Can you hold him off for a few more minutes?"

Andrew sighed. "I think SO!" He yelled the last word as turned and blocked Ghost with the chair.

Ghost laughed deeply. "Not this time, Andrew," Ghost hissed. His feet began to emit black, evil smoke. Without any warning, the chair burst into purple-and-black flames. Andrew jumped back in shock. Ghost laughed as he climbed over the burning chair and grabbed Andrew's neck.

"Goodbye," Ghost said simply. He squeezed Andrew's neck, causing his eyes to bulge out as he tried to breathe, but was ultimately failing. Minerva tried to point her weapon at Ghost, but the Stromling carefully positioned Andrew in front of him.

I hate this Stromlings and their whole 'Minifig shield' thing, she thought angrily. "How much longer?" she whispered to Hotwire.

"One more minute."

Minerva nodded and quietly slid out a crowbar from the Fire Hammer dashboard. She slid out of the floor on to the ground and quietly walked around the group. She winced with every step thanks to Ghost's beating. With careful sneaking, she ended up behind Ghost. She tapped Ghost's shoulder.

"What-?" he turned to Minerva, scowling.

"BAH!" Minerva shouted. Ghost flinched and stepped back, loosening her grip on Andrew's neck. He wrestled himself free and gasped as he was allowed to breathe again. Before Ghost could regain his composure, Minerva swung the crowbar into Ghost's stomach. He groaned as he stumbled and fell to the ground. Minerva stood over him and swung the crowbar into his chest seven more times. She winced as he heard his ribs crack and break.

After the last hit, Minerva stepped back, letting the crowbar fall from her shaking hands. She stared at Ghost's ruined form, a knot forming in her stomach.

"Is he dead?" Andrew asked, walking up to Minerva, rubbing his neck. Ghost's head suddenly twitched and he began to sit up.

"Are you kidding me?!" Minerva exclaimed as Ghost got back on his feet.

"GET OUT OF THE WAY!" Hotwire screamed, aiming the Fire Hammer's turret at Ghost. Andrew and Minerva dived out of the way as the turret opened fire, consuming Ghost in a fiery green orb. Hotwire fired the gun repeatedly for thirty seconds. Minerva squinted as one blast after another hit Ghost.

The turret stopped firing. Minerva and Andrew allowed the smoke to clear before approaching ground zero. And what they found was...nothing. Nothing but a black scorch mark on the ground.

"Where is he?" Hotwire asked as he climbed out of the Fire Hammer. Minerva shrugged, but Andrew pointed at another Fire Hammer. Minerva squinted, but she could see it clearly: a charred black skull near one of the tires. A careful scan of the area showed a broken torso wearing a Dino Attack uniform on top of a Fire Hammer's hood.

"Ah," Hotwire said. 

*****

Fuchs watched as Vinyaya brought out the chained and handcuffed Stromling Zelda.

"As far as I know, this is the first time we've ever caught one," Garry said. "Now, Zelda, let's get you to the lab."

"Are you sure about this?" Fuchs asked. "I am, after all, about to cut open a living thing."

"What's the matter, Fuchs?" Garry said. "You never performed an autopsy before?"

"Not on a patient who was still alive," replied Fuchs.

"Well this one isn't even a human being," declared Garry. "She's a being of evil, and you said it yourself: if we kill her, the Maelstrom will leave her body, and all we will have done is killed another minifig."

"Alright," grumbled Fuchs. "Get her to the lab, but I want you taking maximum precautions to make sure she doesn't try to kill me."

"Understandable" replied Garry. "Let's get to work."

*****

Dr. Cyborg was walking as fast as he could. It wasn't easy to do with someone sitting on his shoulders. He stopped.

"What's wrong?" Nazareno asked.

"The tunnel. It forks. I'm trying to see where to go." He activated his infrared scanner. One fork was as cold as the ambient temperature in caves. The other was a different story. The heat of summer was drifting through it. "That way," Cyborg said, pointing right.

"Hurry," Nazareno requested. 

As Dr. Cyborg and Nazareno rounded a bend in the tunnel, they saw a ledge with no Maelstrom covering it. Dr. Cyborg brought Nazareno to it, and let him down.

"I have a feeling there is a door here," Dr. Cyborg said. He felt, found a depression in the wall, and pushed it. A door opened, allowing them to access stairs leading upward. They walked up them, opened a trapdoor at the top and came out about half a mile from Outpost 4.

"Thank you," Nazareno said. He turned and walked toward the camp. Dr. Cyborg turned, went down the steps, and continued exploring. He had a hunch where it would come out.

Nazareno walked into the camp. He was feeling better every minute, getting away from the Maelstrom. Everybody was gearing up for an attack. He saw someone working on an airship of a foreign design to him, and went over to help.

Kara was almost done, when Nazareno and offered help. She thanked him, and asked him to get in the cockpit and tell her what a certain dial said. She was running a few last-minute tests. She could tell the attack was almost here. She could barely wait. 

----

Gaining access to the lab was easy. "What's the password?" a man asked from behind the door.

Sauro-Hunter shrugged. "Uhhhhh…" He thought for a moment. "Password?"

The door clicked open, and the four barreled into the room, plowing over whoever was behind the door. The laboratory was exactly how Tex had pictured it: clean and spotless.

Several Dino Attack scientists glared at them. "Who authorized this?" one exclaimed.

Sauro-Hunter took a threatening step forward. "You did," he rumbled, "when you took our friends." The blade slid from his wrist with a SHNK! The scientists stepped backwards. "We'll be taking them now."

"Those scalies?" one challenged. There was a series of growls and hisses from nearby cages.

"Saurians," Ptero corrected harshly. "The unique ones. A Raptor, a Pteranodon, a Hybrid, and a T-Rex."

The scientists moved aside as the four agents drew closer. "We're better allies than enemies, docs," said Sauro-Hunter. He leaned closer. "Be a pal, and release the four we've mentioned."

The scientists moved quickly, and Tex, Freefall, Eno, and Shade were freed. Tex nuzzled Sauro-Hunter's stomach, humming loudly. 

----

"I think that's everything," Kara said. "The ship should be ready for the upcoming battle. Thanks... uh...."

"Kareem Nazareno," Nazareno responded, bowing slightly as he jumped out of the dropship. "Nazareno will do. You are welcome. Now, if you will excuse me…" He started walking toward the outpost.

He was certainly grateful to be out of the tunnel. As fascinating as it was, he could feel the high concentration of Maelstrom in the area snapping at his very being, attempted to wrestle control of his mind away from him.

It is definitely time to see the infirmary. Nazareno decided. He entered the outpost and quickly found the medical wing. He pushed open a door and saw two minifigs strapping Zelda the Stromling Agent to a table. Another minifig stood nearby, holding a syringe that no doubt carried some sort of sedative. Watching this happen was none other than Commander Vinyaya.

"Good day, Commander," Nazareno said as he walked up to the Space Police officer.

"Hello, Nazareno," Vinyaya said, clearly not paying her fullest attention.

"What is going on here?"

"Oh, they are about to dive into the similar-yet-alien anatomy of a Stromling." Again, Vinyaya seemed distant.

"Something wrong?" Nazareno asked.

"No..." she said, drifting off. "I just don't really want to stay here and 'keep guard' while everyone else goes to the Maelstrom Temple."

"I don't really want to be here either," Nazareno said. "Circumstances have forced me here."

Vinyaya turned to Nazareno, confused. "What circumstances?" Nazareno rolled his eyes and quickly revealed his Maelstrom-infected wound to the Commander. Her eyes widened, but she remained silent.

"Zachary Virchaus caused this back in the XERRD fortress," Nazareno explained.

Vinyaya scowled. "Him," she muttered venomously. "I want him dead more than anything right now. Especially since he seems to be leading the Maelstrom."

"I wouldn't say that," Nazareno replied. "Does he hold a high spot in the Maelstrom totem pole? I'd say yes. Leading the Maelstrom? Sounds a bit more skeptical."

Nazareno wanted to keep Zach alive simply because Minerva wanted him alive. I must admire her obvious infatuation with him. It is driving her to risk her own life to save his. Minerva had confided to Nazareno secretly about a plan she and Elite Agent Andrew had about going into the Maelstrom Temple and saving Zach from the Maelstrom. He knew it was in Andrew and Minerva's best interests that he didn't tell Vinyaya about their personal mission. Rather idealistic. I can only hope that they manage to succeed.

"However," Nazareno continued "Taking him out one way or another will surely cripple the Maelstrom. At least I hope."

"Yeah," Vinyaya drifted off again.

"Hey, why don't you go to the temple, and I stay here and guard them?"

Vinyaya raised her eyebrow. "What about your injury?" she asked, pointing to his stomach.

"It only hurts when I'm in close proximity of the Maelstrom or its servants. It actually could serve me rather well."

Vinyaya was considering his offer. Finally, she smiled and shook his hand quickly. "Thank Builder!" she muttered appreciatively. She turned to leave, but quickly looked back. "You'll be fine?"

Nazareno rolled his eyes, but smiled slightly underneath his mask. "I'll be fine, just go."

Vinyaya flashed him another smile and left the room.

"Now that you've just relieved Vinyaya of her duties, what's your name?" Fuchs asked.

"Kareem Nazareno." Fuchs was tempted to question the strange armored ninja's mask, but felt that it was in his better interest not to.

"Alright," replied Fuchs as he started slip on a pair of safety gloves. "My name's Fuchs, by the way. Anyway, Nazareno, Garry, I'm about to perform a vivisection on a living Stromling. For the moment, we have her tied down, but if she in any way starts to break free, I want you to kill her quickly. Hopefully, that will not happen, as any discoveries here could be vital to future research." He turned toward Crusher, who looked up from her paperwork. "I'd like you to observe and take notes."

Crusher stood up, picked up a clip board, and walked toward Fuchs. With that done, he proceeded to pick up a scalpel, and began the complex autopsy...

*****

Interesting, Zach thought. Most interesting. He had been dipping into Maelstrom spy Ghost's mind to see what he had learned. The most he had learned was that the Dino Attack was gathering outside of the outpost, apparently preparing to leave. What was most interesting was not really information at all.

When Zach had touched Ghost's mind, he saw himself (through Ghost's eyes) viciously beating Minerva Fabello. He winced with every punch and fought a battle inside his own head between Minifig!Zach and Stromling!Zach on how to react before Stromling!Zach won out.

Then Andrew and Hotwire, with the latter using a prosthetic leg, intervened and fought off Ghost. He had smiled wickedly when Ghost was strangling Andrew and smiled even wider when Minerva pummeled Ghost with a crowbar. The connection was ended as bright flashes of green took over his vision.

Ghost is dead. No doubt. The Dino Attack had weeded out the remaining spies, as far as he knew. They still have Zelda. Zach noted. She would probably be reduced to a science experiment by the doctors of the Dino Attack Team. Oh well.

Zach reached out to Colonel again. Colonel! Zach snapped impatiently.

Yes, sir?

I'm giving up on that Imagination Temple you are stationed. It is becoming less and less likely the Dino Attack will visit it.

What do you want me to do, sir?

Meet me halfway to this temple. Bring your army. We are the Dino Attack's welcoming party.

A pause. Yes, sir. It will be done.

Good, Colonel. Dismissed. He severed the connection and gestured for Cranky to join him. "Come, my friend!" Zach said giddily. "Let's go meet Colonel and wait for the Dino Attack to arrive."

----

The sounds of battle were much louder now. Part of that was because Tex and the others were rampaging their way out of the base, but the other half, Sauro-Hunter couldn't believe. Hybrids and DINO Attack agents fought viciously. The Hybrids were gaining more ground by the second.

"They're getting slaughtered out there!" Aravis pointed out.

Sauro-Hunter paused long enough to watch the battle rage for several seconds. "At the moment," he replied bluntly, "it's not our problem. It'll be our problem if they find us empty-handed."

"What are you suggesting?" a voice replied. They turned to see none other than Claymore approaching.

"We hit the armory," Sauro-Hunter said. "We take what weapons we need, then we get out of here. Preferably with survivors."

The armory was nearly depleted of weaponry. Disassembled Cosmotronic Ray emitters littered a work bench. Sauro-Hunter grabbed a more compact, rifle-looking Sonic Screamer with an undermounted bayonet.

Ptero hefted a Cosmotronic Ray emitter. "I don't know who Ray is," he said, "but his gun is rip!"

Sauro-Hunter armed himself with flash-bang grenades, a combat knife, and several incendiary grenades. Aravis approached him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "You're acting... different," she noted. She held a scythe in one hand and had a Sonic Scream slung over her shoulder.

"You know why," replied Sauro-Hunter. "We helped these people, and they burned us. They put us up as traitors to the cause. I've seen too many good men and women die in this war to not know what we're fighting for." He sighed. "I'm not a traitor. All I want is peace. I don't want either side annihilated. Years from now, the earth beneath our feet will still be stained red. Because of the MegaBlok'd war!"

He slammed his fist into the wall, leaving a sizable dent. "This war... it has to end. Or there will be no home left for either side. I'm going to stop it, even if I have to cut Dr. Rex's heart out myself, so help me, Builders."

----

Hotwire, Minerva, and Andrew all breathed a sigh of relief. Then Hotwire noticed the Injection Saw hanging from Minerva's belt.

"Is that..." He gestured towards the odd weapon. "Is that the Maelstrom antidote?" Minerva nodded, and grasped the handle of the Injection Saw defensively. Hotwire continued, "While I was in the infirmary, I overheard them talking about trying to synthesize more. Do you know anything about that?"

"There was someone," Minerva said. "A medic named Fuchs. He wanted to take this sample and reverse engineer it. But..." She and Andrew exchanged a glance. "We need it for... a strategy."

But Hotwire had stopped paying attention to the Injection Saw at this point. "Fuchs... got it," he said. "Thanks very much. I need a word with a medic." He spun and hurried back towards the outpost building, tripping a few times on his way to the infirmary.

By the time he reached his destination, his prosthetic had twisted slightly and the stump of his left leg was burning in pain. As he walked in, he grabbed another painkiller and stabbed it into his thigh. It was then he noticed that Nazareno and Dr. Crusher were standing by the restrained form of Zelda as a minifig he had never seen before was picking up a scalpel. "Excuse me," Hotwire exclaimed. "Are you Fuchs?"

The unfamiliar man nodded. "I'm rather occupied at the moment, though. If you could--"

"It can wait a minute," Hotwire interjected. He reached into his vest and drew out the vials containing the Creative Spark of the late agent Tracer. "I'm almost certain you'll be interested in this." 

"What are those?" Fuchs asked.

"It's a Creative Spark," replied Hotwire. "They came from agent Tracer, who was mortally wounded by your um... test subject. He requested that his Creative Spark be extracted."

Fuchs thought about it and smiled. "Excellent," he said. "That's one part covered. Maybe this autopsy will reveal something more. Crusher, why don't you begin the analysis?"

Crusher nodded before she took the samples and sat down at a nearby table.

With that, Fuchs took the scalpel and began to make the first incision. Zelda instinctively fidgeted and grunted as Fuchs began cutting her chest open.

"Well, to start, we have what appears to be a normal set of internal organs," Fuchs said. "Lungs, the heart, and so on, though they are strangely coloured." 

----

Like the armory, the vehicle garage was nearly deserted, save for three transport Iron Predators, a Steel Sprinter, two Urban Avengers, three Fire Hammers, and another vehicle kept under a white sheet.

"What's that?" Sauro-Hunter asked Claymore.

Claymore grinned. "Just a little something I've been working on for a few weeks," he replied, and removed the sheet. "I call it the 'Warthog'." The Warthog was a sleek, trimmed-down version of a Fire Hammer, with an odd cannon mounted on the back.

Sauro-Hunter removed his helmet and scratched his head. "Why not call it the 'Puma'?" he asked.

"A what?"

"You know, a Puma, like a big cat," he explained. "'Cause it looks sleek, like a Puma."

"What in Sam Hill," exclaimed Claymore, "is a Puma?!"

"I just told you!" Sauro-Hunter facepalmed himself.

"Didn't your mom tell you stop making up pretend animals? If you're going to insist on calling it an imaginary animal, why not 'Bigfoot'? Or the 'Leprechaun'?" He paused and looked at Tex. "Tex, what's that lizard down in Mexico? Eats all the goats?"

Us, sir? she responded.

"No, no!" Claymore shook his head fiercely. "Been around since before you, in the 90's?"

"That would be the Chupacabra," Spino said. He sounded weary of the argument.

"Yeah, call it the 'Chupa-thingy'! I like that. Has a nice ring to it."

"Let's put it to a vote," Sauro-Hunter proposed. "All in favor of 'Puma'?" Four hands went up. "Puma it is! I need two volunteers."

"Shotgun!" exclaimed Claymore.

"Brickit!" swore Aravis, and she climbed into the turret.  "How does the turret operate?" she asked as the Puma sped towards the battle.

"Like any other turret," Claymore replied. "Point and fire. The cannon uses magnetic forces to propel a super-dense carbon-tungsten slug at a target. It can crack a raptor's shields, but it takes two seconds to recharge to fire another shot." He smiled. "But, I mounted a pair of .50 caliber autocannons to make up for that. Best used on aerial targets."

----

Although the mission briefing was imminent, David decided to do some last-minute preparation. He set aside some of his equipment he could use for gathering a small Maelstrom energy sample. Even though the Maelstrom was a powerful, destructive force, while it lasted it could be fascinating to research, and David did not want to miss his chance. His equipment ready, he carefully packed it into a case, which he carried to his Fire Hammer and placed it next to his seat.

The outside of the outpost was packed with agents. David positioned himself at the back of the crowd, and waited... 

*****

This was taking longer than Dr. Cyborg had expected. The tunnel kept winding back and forth. Then it stopped at a Maelstrom waterfall. Dr. Cyborg climbed up the cliff behind it, shielding his eyes at the light. 

----

The Puma sped over the terrain with ease.

"This is GAIA Leader to all D.I.N.O. Attack forces," Sauro-Hunter said over the comms. "Recommend that all forces should retreat. Repeat, all forces should retreat! The base is lost."

A voice sounded over the din. "This is Charlie Foxtrot-1 to GAIA Leader. Colonel Mustang ordered us to hold position until the bomb was armed."

"Bomb?" inquired Aravis.

"Yes, ma'am," CF-1 said. "We're leaving the base for the Hybrids. Of course, the bomb needs to be armed before we leave."

"Acknowledged, Charlie-Foxtrot-1," replied Sauro-Hunter. He swerved the Puma around.

"Hey, what are you doing?" Ptero inquired from the sky.

"Making sure that bomb is ready," Sauro-Hunter stated. "Spino, mind tagging along?"

"Not at all," Spino replied. Shade abruptly stopped, and Spino climbed down to the ground. He leaped on to the side of the Puma and held on, picking off targets when he saw them.

The bomb was placed in the control room. It was huge, as tall as Spino and as long as two minifigs laying down in a line. The science officers seemed frustrated. Spino approached first. "Is there a problem?" he asked.

One scientist smacked the outer frame with a wrench. "The remote detonator won't work!" he growled. "And the Hybrids are closing in quickly."

"Looks like our housewarming gift needs somebody to stick around," Spino murmured. He turned. "I'll stay and set it off when they get in."

Sauro-Hunter and Aravis stood, dumbfounded, their jaws hanging open in shock.

Spino embraced both with his massive arms. "I know what has to be done," he murmured. "Get every survivor as far away from here as possible. Those doors won't hold them forever."

Sauro-Hunter heard Aravis sniffling. The three broke the embrace. Sauro-Hunter saluted, and then shook Spino's hand. "It's been an honor and a privilege fighting beside you," Sauro-Hunter said.

Aravis and Spino hugged one more time. They let go, and she pressed her three middle fingers to her lips, and held them out. "Goodbye," she murmured, "brother."

The scientists had disappeared, and the two Dino Attack agents ran as fast as their feet could carry them.

----

"Are you sure about not seeing a medic?" Andrew asked as he and Minerva started walking to the former's Fire Hammer.

"Yes," she responded confidently. "What are the medics going to do? They are all bruises. I'm not bleeding. I'm not in pain-" She winced as she stepped incorrectly, triggering one of her bruises. "Alright, not in too much pain."

Andrew shrugged. "Fair enough. So, you are coming with me?"

Minerva nodded. "I found this guy who can help us find the one true temple. He used-"

"Rudo Villano?" Andrew injected. Minerva paused and nodded, confused. "Nazareno informed us of him. He is our backup provided Dr. Gonepus doesn't lead us to the right temple."

"Gonepus?"

"XERRD scientist that Rex and Claw found while negotiating our alliance with the dinosaurs. They wanted to release Gonepus in hopes that he will run to the other XERRD scientists on the island. The scientists are thought to be at the Maelstrom Temple, trying to bring it back under their control."

"Oh," Minerva said. She mentally shrugged. She didn't really care that Villano wasn't as useful as she presumed. I did gain us another ally though. "What are we waiting for now?"

"We are waiting for Semick. He will give one last speech and will run down the plan for us. After that, we'll head off."

Minerva nodded. She could feel excitement and anxiety building up in her. After what felt like two years, the Dino Attack was about to complete its main objective and primary reason for going to Adventurers' Island. 

----

They sprinted as fast as they could. The Puma was just ten feet away. We're going to make it! thought Sauro-Hunter.

But that hope was shattered in a heartbeat.

A shot rang out from above, and Aravis collapsed on the ground, a smoking hole in her head.

"NOOO!" bellowed Sauro-Hunter. He drew Aravis's pistol and fired in the direction of her attacker. The Hybrid sniper caught the round in the forehead and keeled over, dead. Aravis lay unmoving in the dirt, and Sauro-Hunter picked her up. "Claymore, into the turret! Now!"

Claymore complied, giving Aravis a sad look. "She's gone!" he said.

"We have the technology to bring her back!" roared Sauro-Hunter. "We need to get her into stasis as soon as possible!" He put the Puma in gear.

"Where's Spino?" inquired Claymore.

"He stayed behind. The bomb's remote detonator was faulty, so he stayed behind to make sure it blows."

*****

Spino tasted blood in his mouth. The Hybrid in charge, a muscular fire-variety, taller than even him, with intricate armor, had him by the throat.

"Like the rest of your kind," the Hybrid growled. "Weak and undisciplined." He hurled Spino into a wall. "There will be no others to save you this time."

"Look me in the eye and say that!" Spino coughed, spit bloody saliva out of his mouth.

The Hybrid grabbed him by the throat. "As you wish," he rumbled. "My face is the last thing your pathetic eyes will ever see."

Abruptly, Spino unsheathed his combat knife and slammed it into the Hybrid's neck. The Hybrid stumbled back, dropped, and died.

"And for the record," said Spino, "I would have kicked your butt the first time if the others hadn't stopped me!" He reached over as a spear was hurled at him, pressed the ignition button, and knew no more.

*****

The explosion could be seen from miles away. Sauro-Hunter didn't slow, but Claymore stared. "He did it," he murmured. "He finished the job. By the Creators, he did it!"

Sauro-Hunter was silent. Rest in peace, brother, he thought.

At one point, he had been a bright-eyed, idealistic rookie agent. But as the war dragged on, he saw many terrible things that changed him. He'd lost some of his closest friends. One had died, another betrayed him. It was after watching an explosion level a base and wipe out an army of Hybrids that he'd put in a request to change his codename. He'd wanted one that would fit losing his arm and leg, as well as the woman he loved.

It was halfway through his service that Sauro-Hunter's request was granted. From then on, he was known as "Fullmetal".

----

Zelda instinctively winced as Fuchs continued to handle her insides.

"Why is it coloured so strangely?" Garry asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. He reached inside and touched another organ, located where the stomach would be. The organ in question glowed a bright purple, much like the other parts of the body.

"Incredible," Fuchs muttered. "From what I can tell here, it appears that Stromlings do not need to eat. It seems that they are somehow able to absorb nutrients from something, probably the Maelstrom itself. Waste products are also recycled into nutrients, eradicating the need for toilets." It was then that Fuchs finally realized something, he looked back at the heart. "Of course," he muttered.

"What is it?" Garry asked.

"The two most vital organs of your body," replied Fuchs. "The brain and the heart. That's where the Maelstrom's influence is based. The brain oversees and controls all of the necessary functions, and is corrupted to become loyal, whilst the heart works at a faster-than normal rate to pump the necessary blood for unusual things which a normal body is not designed for. Suddenly this all make sense. The cure J.D. developed must have been intended to go into a Stromling's bloodstream."

"I'm sorry?" Nazareno asked.

"The respiratory system," explained Fuchs. "The heart pumps blood throughout the body to keep it moving, using oxygen. If something gets into that stream, it travels around as well. Let me put it like this. Imagine you had a wound that was infected and you didn't get your leg amputated. In a matter of time, the infection would spread up through your leg and gradually to the rest of the body. J.D. wanted something he could inject into a Stromling's bloodstream, which would have interfered with the Maelstrom's influence, spread throughout, and ultimately driven it away."

*****

Hertz made his way outside and crossed the lot to one of the few remaining vehicles. There were still a handful of Fire Hammers and most of the Iron Predators were still present at the outpost.

But the Typhoons were Hertz's destination. The T-2 Typhoon, the Renaissance, sat with dignity in the center of the lot. It stood a tail longer than the other Typhoons and its sand-green coloring set it apart.

Minerva, Kuru, and Elite Agent Andrew were standing together by a Fire Hammer. She had a black eye and clearly looked hurt. Hertz did not know what had happened to her but he had a pretty good idea. "Stromling?"

Andrew nodded. "Remember Ghost?"

The techie nodded. "That blond-haired kid."

"He was another spy," said Minerva. "It's impossible to know who to trust."

"That's why I'm here," said Hertz. "Rotor is leading the attack from his T-1 Typhoon, but the entire operation is being coordinated from the Renaissance. It's well-armed and has top-notch communication equipment. I need a crew to help me."

"Why us?" asked Kuru.

"Because I need a team I can trust," said Hertz, "We can't afford chaos on the command craft."

"Who do you intend to pilot it?" asked Andrew.

Hertz nodded to two men behind him. One had sideburns and the other had a handlebar mustache.

"This is Fate and Lucky," Hertz said with a smile. "They both are great pilots and have had extensive background checks."

Andrew shrugged and glanced at Minerva. "I think me and Minerva have other plans."

Hertz nodded. "I know you're looking for Zachary, but if he's leading the Stromlings, this battle is likely to be where he is. You're have a good vantage point from the sky." Minerva considered for a moment and Hertz smiled. "I'll let you think about it. I need to go calibrate the equipment. Hopefully your join me soon."

Followed by Lucky and Fate, Hertz made his way to the Renaissance. "Let's go. We should have left this place 5 minutes ago."

Kuru looked up at the sky, put his hands in his pockets, and smiled sluggishly as he wondered what to do in the events that were unfolding. He then slowly turned his gaze to look at the vehicles that were in the Outpost. Now to find a way to this Maelstrom Temple, he considered. This is gonna be easy.

Kuru thought intently for a while as he turned his gaze to two discarded Urban Avengers that were partially wrecked. This will have to do. 

*****

Ahua frowned. The spy is dead. Killed by the girl and her allies. This would be harder than he thought it would be.

He tapped into Minerva Fabello's mind and completed a quick, silent probe of her state of mind and body.

She has been bruised seriously by the spy. Ahua scowled. Obviously, Ghost should have knocked her out and taken her to the temple, no questions asked. He allowed other Dino Attack agents to intervene, which ultimately lead to his downfall.

What was interesting, however, was something else. Despite her wounds, Minerva Fabello seemed desperate to get to the Maelstrom Temple.

Ahua smiled wide. She wants to find Zach and save him! Even when things had failed, they had managed to work according to his plan.

Lead her to Zach or lead Zach to her. It doesn't matter. We will have success!

*****

"Good day, Colonel," Zach said politely to the other Stromling Agent.

Colonel bowed. "Good day, sir," he muttered respectively. He rose, and waved out his Sonic Screamer hand at the massive group of Stromlings behind him. "I have four hundred troops for use, sir. The rest have been sent forward to the Maelstrom Temple."

"Good work, Colonel," Zach said, sneering. He paused. Then: "Do you happen to have a Hybrid with you?"

Colonel nodded and snapped his fingers. A Minifig/Mutant Lizard Hybrid appeared at his side. It appeared to be an acidic Hybrid, judging from the way the purple liquid dripping from its maw was singing the grass below.

"Excellent. One little surprise when the Dino Attack Team passes through on their way to the temple. How much time is left, by the way?"

"Approximately ten minutes," Colonel said. "What if they don't leave in time sir?"

"You, I, Cranky, and these Stromlings start a blood bath at that outpost. I have a feeling that the Dino Attack will not be much longer. Although my spies are dead, I have scouts monitoring the edge of the area so we know when the Dino Attack is here."

"Excellent planning, sir," Colonel said, nodding. "I am anxious to get this fight started."

"As am I, Colonel. As am I." Zach's mind drifted off. He thought of the upcoming battle (or as he thought of it personally, a massacre) and how the Maelstrom would finally achieve its victory. He could also feel himself thinking of Minerva. He had a gut-retching feeling he would encounter her sometime in the next several hours. He knew he had to kill her. He wasn't sure if he could.

Perhaps you don't have to kill herthe voice hissed in his head. Perhaps she could... join you?

What? Zach was confused.

The voice chuckled darkly. Seek her. Seduce her. Tame herthe voice continued. Transform her into a Stromling. Then you could be together... forever.

Zach was suspicious. How do I know you won't just kill her?

You have been a worthy servantthe voice said icily. You have proved your worth, and it is natural I award my good servants. It will be advantageous for the both of us. I won't have to deal with your constant drops from my control, and you will be with the girl you love.

I don't know... Could he get Minerva to join him? She probably hates me for what I have done.

Seek her! the voice chanted. Seduce her! Tame her! Have her! She will not be so defiant to you as a Stromling!

I- The voice had a way with making even Zach uncomfortable.

Seek her! Seduce her! Tame her! Seek her! Seduce her! Tame her! The voice repeated these three sentences over and over. Zach gritted his teeth together, then sighed. He could not resist. Anything not to kill Minerva.

Make her a Stromling, Zach said finally. Please.

It will be donethe voice said gently. Remember what I said. Once you find and convince her to join you, I will do the rest.

Thank you, master. 

----

Maria's attention was drawn once again by the sound of spurs, and she looked up to see the familiar face of Angel Eyes.

"Howdy," she said. "Can I get you anything?"

"Just a whiskey, thank you," replied Angel Eyes.

Maria smiled and poured Angel Eyes a glass. "You mind if I ask what yer doin' back here?" asked Maria.

Angel Eyes leaned closer. "I'm just here to give you an update. The Second Headquarters Squad is still alive, and Blondie is busy trying to get an understanding of the hybrids' fortifications, and we have reason to suspect that Recon may have something to hide."

"That's good," said Maria. "There were a couple others that came by earlier."

"Oh?"

"One of 'em was a man with a harmonica. The other had a strange passion for dynamite. He left on his motorcycle just before you arrived." 

----

The Medical Wing was quiet. Anyone not fit for duty had been shipped off the island an hour ago, and anyone in fighting shape was outside awaiting further instruction.

Naomi Carver sat on the bed alone. She had gone upstairs looking for Hertz, but he was nowhere to be found. The Command Room was empty when she arrived, and it seemed no one knew about his whereabouts.

Why would he not tell her? She hoped he was not hiding anything from her. If he had gone off to battle and died, Naomi had no idea how she could cope. Even though their relationship only began after the battle at the rear guard camp. She had never felt this way about anyone before. And there were lots of men in her past.

She wiped a tear from her eye and headed out to the balcony. The ocean sparkled and the cool breeze soothed her skin.

Nicholas Saran leaned over the balcony clearly deep in thought. Naomi came and stood next to him looking out at the blue water. "Hi Nick."

Saran smiled. "Naomi, right? I met you at the command tent awhile back. How are you feeling?"

"I don't know," sighed Naomi. "Hertz is gone. I don't want to sound needy but I feel so lonely. I love him and I don't want to lose him."

"Feeling this way is not uncommon," said Saran. "You feel an attachment to Hertz that you have not felt before. This island has forced you to be more dependent. When in the city, you were able to find help in your boyfriends and parent, but this place has allowed you to mature. Hertz is a new rock for you. Part of the reason you feel so close to him is because he is the only person who has really looked out for you thus far. You gravitate toward Hertz because you feel he may be the only one who can help and provide for you in these times."

Naomi scowled. "Are you saying I'm only in this relationship for me?!"

Nicholas shook his head. "Not at all."

"Well, I don't very much like my life being explained so scientifically," said Naomi.

Saran smiled and put a hand on Naomi's shoulder. "Well, there is always the second possibility."

"What's that?" said Naomi, fighting back tears.

"Love."

Naomi put her head in Nick's shoulder and stared to cry. The doctor just put his arm around her and patted her back.

*****

Rex waited in his wheelchair. He hated having to wait. They were running out of time, and Paulie Gonepus was still on the move... even if it was clear that he was traveling to the Temple of Hotep III, Dino Attack Team could not afford to give XERRD too much of a head start.

At last, a Fire Hammer stopped in front of him. Out stepped a young woman who appeared to be only a teenager... Kate Bishop, presumed Rex. Following her was a face that filled Rex with disgust... Rotor.

"You sent for us?" said Rotor, frowning and crossing his arms over his chest.

"Yes," said Rex, nodding as he tried to mask his contempt for Rotor. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. We'll be leaving in only a few minutes, and we determined that it was in our best interest that you two come with me."

Rotor did not reply, but Rex could practically see the gears moving in the elite agent's mind. Rex shuddered as he considered all the things Rotor could be thinking about... blackmailing the other commanding agents, trying to take control of the squad, or seeing this as an opportunity to use Kate Bishop as leverage for Wallace Bishop.

Clearing his throat, Rex declared, "You two shall be under my supervision during the remainder of this mission. Anything I say, goes."

Rotor raised an eyebrow. "And who died and made you my boss?" he muttered.

Rex grimaced. "Too many have died, Rotor. Too many. And I will do all in my power to ensure that we do not have any more meaningless sacrifices. And trust me, this body confined to a wheelchair, as old and broken as it is, has lived through a lot. I don't need fear to take command... I have respect. And I'm not afraid of you."

Rotor was silent once more. Once again, this silence worried Rex.

"We shall be leaving in only a few minutes," repeated Rex. "Be ready."

----

"Stab, stab, stab!"

As Bullseye felt the cold blade against his back, it took all his willpower to suppress an involuntary flinch, lest that be the final motion he would make in this world. His entire body froze in place, waiting. At last, the cold metal was lifted from his back. Spinning around, Bullseye came face-to-face with...

"Bloody MegaBlokland, Saboteur!" cursed Bullseye. "What do yeh think yeh doing, yeh bloody backstabbing wuss?"

Saboteur chuckled softly as he pocketed his knife. "I've already told Blondie all I know about zhe Hybrid's fortifications at Fort Legoredo. He's still uneasy about Sarge's plan to use our bomb cart to blow up zhe fort, so he sent me back here, to zhe outpost, to gather supplies for an attack. Ammunition, scrap metal, my Electro-Sapper, sandwiches... et cetera."

"But what was that for?" muttered Bullseye, patting himself on the back where, just a moment ago, Saboteur's knife had been placed.

"You looked so tense and focused," mused Saboteur. "Very good qualities for a sniper, but zhe problem is... you're too focused on what's directly in front of you. Suppose zhat an enemy got past your field of vision, past our lines, and came in here to attack you from behind? You'd be dead. Luckily for you, I'm not your enemy... at least, not now."

"Trying to teach me a lesson, eh?" said Bullseye, grimacing.

"You could say zhat," said Saboteur, nodding. "Next time... watch your back."

With that, Saboteur grabbed a crate full of ammunition and left Bullseye's post. Bullseye turned away and continued his work, cursing quietly to himself about backstabbing traitors. 

*****

"You hear somethin'?" Tech suddenly remarked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "I think I do."

He quickly picked up a rifle and walked toward what he believed to be the source of the noise, obviously another group of Mutant Lizards approaching. There was a Raptor with them as well. Suddenly, there was a loud burst of gunfire from nearby, and Clint looked up to see several rounds and rockets coming from a nearby building.

"How do I stop an army of Mutant Dinos from tearing me a structurally superfluous new behind?" Tech remarked sarcastically. "The answer, use a gun."

At that moment, there was a sudden burst of flame as a strange man Clint hadn't already seen emerged with a flamethrower. Whoever he was, he was a Dino Attack agent dressed in modified firefighter's gear and was firing in every direction.

At that moment, they were all silenced off by a sudden explosion. A nearby building burst into flames. The stunned dinosaurs were quickly torched by the literal firefighter, and another explosion came from nearby.

As the sentry gun took out the remaining lizards, the sound of a motor became more audible, and out of the smoke rode in a strange man. He brought his motorcycle to a halt and climbed off, removing his goggles and his scarf, revealing a thick grey mustache. "Is this Gold City?" he asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint. "Who are you?"

"My name's Firecracker," the man introduced himself. "Professional explosives expert and dictator hunter."

"I'm sorry?"

"Oh, I like to blow up ruthless dictators," explained Firecracker. "Emperor Chang Wu's the worst of them. I've been after him for years."

"I see," said Clint.

The Dino Attack firefighter from earlier stepped out of the smoke and for the first time Clint saw his- err... her... their face, or rather the thick gas mask they were wearing.

"Who's your girlfriend?" Clint asked.

"Oh, how should I know?" replied Firecracker.

The firefighter shouted something, apparently really annoyed, but everyone just stared at him confused. He tried to speak again, but nothing.

"That's agent Fireman," Tech said, finally. "He's kinda crazy, but I trust him to keep mah sentries safe." 

"Aren't firemen supposed to put out fires?" commented Angel Eyes.

Fireman mumbled a response that was too quiet to hear. Then he started giggling. That giggling quickly escalated into unhinged cackling as he sprayed his flamethrower into the air.

"That answers that question," muttered Clint, rolling his eyes.

----

Hotwire, B, and Kevin joined the groups of Dino Attack agents waiting by the vehicles for Semick's briefing. The bearded Elite Agent was preparing to speak. 

... So I should probably memorize 'Bohemian Rhapsody' on the way, but otherwise I should be good.

"We're cutting it close, Semick," Bluetooth reminded his superior and friend for the upteenth time.

"Got it!" Semick said with triumph. "Warm up the T-1."

The Futuron technician grinned with excitement and relief and got to the various system power switches. Semick watched him in action, then stared briefly at the agents who would be helping to man the vehicle.

It slightly pained him that Bluetooth was the only one he knew personally now. Remembering the crews and allies he had in here, it saddened him to think of who would not be accompanying him. Andrew and Laxus were good agents, but it seemed that they had their own affairs to handle. Rockford was a good ally, but he was busy helping Mur out on the ground.

Then there was Zach and Raider. Zach of course needed no elaboration on his current status, but the matter of Raider did. He had been among the casualties of the camp ambush, lost when the medical tent had fallen. It was regrettable how he had to go. Already still suffering from his arm injury at LEGO Island, he also had to handle the beating he took when the XERRD fortress forces had caught him. Having to go in the midst of a Mutant DIno rampage, too injured to do much of anything, must've been a sickly ironic way to die. Semick regretted all his losses, but for all of an annoyance Raider's gung-ho personality had been, he had never wanted him to be lost, especially the way he had.

Focusing back on the situation at hand, Semick was determined that Raider's death, along with all the others during this battle on the island, would not be for naught. He climbed out of the T-1 Typhoon and headed over to the front of the vehicle lot, bullhorn in hand.

The tension was high. Vehicles left and right were rumbling, agents were muttering impatiently, and everyone was on edge. A few of them were keeping watch of the time, and with good reason: they were down to 10 minutes before Zach's deadline.

As Semick walked forward to an Iron Predator near the front of the lot, agents began to take notice, starting to cheer and edge him on. Some of them were more negative, crying "get on with it!" and such, but otherwise they treated him with respect and encouragement. It made the former Power Miner proud. In spite of the "authority" he held, it was clear the others were respecting him as an individual as well.

Reaching the Iron Predator, he climbed up onto the hood so that he would be seen and heard by all, catching the attention of the crew that had manned it. They applauded for him as he stood up on their hood, and a few other agents began to joined in. Semick gently motioned for them to stop. He didn't want to be overly respected like some actor winning an award they arguably deserved.

Semick took a moment to clear his throat, took in some breath, and raised the bullhorn to his lips.

"Agents of Dino Attack, this might as well be our biggest battle yet! As we know, not only have we had to deal with the Mutant Dino forces this team has been fighting for months, and the XERRD scientists who helped them spread across the globe, but now we have a bigger and arguably much more dangerous enemy to face here! Were circumstances just right, I'd say even Dr. Rex himself might recognize this fact!"

Semick didn't stop to hear any responses. He needed to get this speech done fast, after all. "The Maelstrom, as those who have followed the activities of the Nexus Force, has found itself in a strong position of power here on Adventurers' Island, deep inside one of the many ancient temples! After much deliberation, we have narrowed it down to two, and our best evidence and leads, combined with the necessity for action, cause us to now head within the area of the temple of the Pharaoh Hotep III, which is as of now, our strongest candidate!

"As such, our plan now is to head there and fight the forces of Dinos and Maelstrom with all we've got, and get teams inside said temple to locate and neutralize this force of chaos! This may seem daunting, but after all we've been through, I have the upmost confidence that you won't let me down, nor let the Founders down, or your friends and family, or the world population, or the entire galaxy, for that matter! This Maelstrom may be strong, corrupting, and extremely lethal, but Minifigkind is strong, and after years of fighting and overcoming such forces from within ourselves, I think a couple hundred glowing purple monsters should find us more than a match for them!

"Keep your PDAs and radios open! I and the rest of the commanders of your teams will be on constant communication to give out orders and battle strategies! We will give these Maelstrom soldiers every maneuver we got EXCEPT retreat and surrender! Also, remember that we have sent out messages giving a full map of the Hotep III temple! Though the Maelstrom or the shady intentions of the agent who translated it, and I'm talking about you, Dust, might hide unexpected surprises within to keep us from eradicating this menace, it should be an invaluable tool to help us rid this island of this evil power!

"Know that in the possible outcome of the Hotep temple actually being the red herring, be ready and able to jump priorities to the next temple, a place of worship for Imagination, the Maelstrom's strongest counterforce! We cannot fail here no matter what, and if we must fall, we will fall displaying the values that have got Minifigs where they are now - the determined, ever-persistent spirit to overcome all and stand for what we believe in! Have I made myself clear?"

A resounding cheer, a cheer of support, a cheer of readiness, a cheer of determination to wipe out one's foes, erupted from the combined forces of the LEGO Planet's only hope for survival. Semick grinned. "Alright then, let's move!"

And with that, the commanding Elite Agent leapt off the hood and ran for his T-1 Typhoon. All around him, the Steel Sprinters, Fire Hammers, Urban Avengers, Iron Predators, T-1 Typhoons, and the Renaissance roared as their engines began to run strong and get them in motion.

The Battle for Adventurers' Island had begun. 

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Updated to version 1.2.
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Chapter 43: The Ringmaster

----

Despite what was about to happen, Minerva smiled from the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher on the back of Andrew and Laxus's Fire Hammer. They were finally heading to the Maelstrom Temple.

The Fire Hammer's engine roared as Andrew started it up. It quickly rolled into a line of other vehicles as they left the vehicle lot and headed into the jungle. It would not be long until they entered the Maelstrom-infected area of the jungle.

Minerva and Andrew had considered Hertz's idea of manning the Renaissance. They both reasoned that Zach would probably be within the Maelstrom Temple. It would be simpler to just take the Fire Hammer to the temple and head in by foot. Minerva also had some apprehension of flying. A quick glance over the Maelstrom-infected jungle showed swarms and swarms of Mutant Pterosaurs overhead. If they are under the Maelstrom's influence, they will give the T-1 Typhoon fleet a run for its money.

Yeah, I thinking taking on a bunch of mindless zombies down here is better than facing a bunch of overpowered flying extinct reptiles, she thought.

*****

Commander Vinyaya had managed to hitch a ride with the Renaissance. She couldn't help but grin underneath her Space Police helmet. She was finally getting back into the air. The fleet of helicopter began to rise into the sky, high above the towering trees of the jungle.

She glanced down at a radar. Ahead of them was a massive red blip on the screen. Vinyaya glanced out the window and could see the thin outlines of Mutant Pterosaurs flying over the Maelstrom-infected jungle. She grimaced. This isn't going to be easy.

She turned Hertz, who was hard at work at the communications dashboard. "We need to take down these Pterosaurs," she said, pointing at her radar.

Hertz quickly stood up and checked the radar. He winced. "Probably," he agreed.

"Contact the surrounding Typhoons," Vinyaya commanded. "We need to at least hold these guys back so our ground teams can get to the temple."

*****

'-Have I made myself clear?' Zach could hear roars of agreement from the Dino Attack agents. Zach smiled. Even though they were now enemies, he couldn't help but admire Semick. It seemed like he had taken control of the operation from Hotwire and Reptile. He had the respect of the other agents and was a reasonable person compared to other agents.

They are heading over here now, the scout said. He had been relaying Semick's speech to him.

Zach smiled. Excellent work, he responded. Keep an eye out for them. He turned to Colonel, Cranky, the Hybrid (which they had decided to name Gyptian), and the Stromling army. Zach nodded to Colonel.

Colonel nodded back and turned to his troops. "Alright, gentlemen!" he barked. "The time has come! The Dino Attack Team is on their way here right now! They will attempt to destroy the temple and will try to kill as many of us as possible! We are not going to let that happen, are we?"

The response Colonel received was a bunch of hideous growls and snarls. Zach rolled his eyes. Sure, they had a lot of Stromlings now. But these Maelstrom-created Stromlings that lack an original body also seem to lack any personality or intelligence.

"That's what I thought!" Colonel bellowed. "We are going to give them a welcoming party they won't forget! Half of you are falling back to aid our allies at the temple. The rest of us are heading near the edge of the infected area to meet the Dino Attack Team."

"Are we to attack them? I wanna rip some heads off!" one Stromling asked. Colonel, as quick as a flash, grabbed the Stromling by the skull and shoved him to the ground.

"YOU WILL NOT SPEAK OUT OF TURN, YOU PITIFUL SLIME!" Colonel screamed angrily. He twisted the Stromling's head, breaking its neck. Colonel threw the ruined body to the ground and began to pace in front of his troops. The Stromlings snickered at the death of their comrade, but Colonel didn't seem to notice. Or care.

"My group will not be attacking the agents, with the exception of Gyptian," Colonel continued, gesturing to the Hybrid. "Unless General Virchaus says otherwise." Colonel glanced at Zach.

Zach smirked. General Virchaus? I think I could get used to that. "No, we do not intend to attack," Zach said forcibly. "We are pulling out some scare tactics. We are making them realize exactly what they are getting into. Gyptian will be aiding in this plan by hijacking vehicles and killing some agents."

"He is giving his life to our cause," Colonel added. "You slime ought to look up to this Hybrid with respect. You will never be half the soldier he is!"

Zach nodded. "Indeed," he said. "Enough chatter. It's time we go. More will be explained once we get there."

"Let's go!" Colonel bellowed. "Move out!"

Zach climbed on to Cranky as half of Colonel's troops began heading in the direction of the temple. "Go!" Zach hissed into Cranky's ear. The Stromling Ape beat his chest and jumped up into the nearest tree. He wrapped his arms around the trunk and began to climb. Zach extended an arm to Colonel and Gyptian, who quickly accepted it and clung onto Cranky's back as the ape balanced on a tree branch.

"Into the trees, men!" Colonel commanded. "Time to go back to your evolutionary roots!" Stromlings began climbing the trees as Cranky began swinging from tree to tree at high speeds.

*****

The Talon, flying low over the ocean, slowed as it approached a lighthouse and set down on what was little more than a rock jutting up from the waves, approximately twenty-four miles off the coast of Adventurers' Island. It was only about fifty feet across, less than the height of the old lighthouse built upon it.

And there was a familiar insignia on the lighthouse's door, under which were emblazoned five letters: S.T.A.R.E.

"Two things," Loop demanded. "One, this is hardly hidden. Anyone could stumble onto our secrets. Two, why didn't Cane ever tell me of this? I was under the impression that the Database Core was located on Founder's Island with a single backup in the Goo Caverns."

"Firstly," came the response, "nobody notices a lighthouse unless it ceases to work. Secondly, your genetic contributor was an inept fool who knew far less about 'ShadowTech' than he believed. There is a S.T.A.R.E. unit located on or near every significant landmass on the planet; if anything, the Founder's Island unit was the backup. Little did Canis know that 'Database Core' nickname he was so fond of was an intentional misnomer."

Loop paused, taking this all in, before Kat's voice continued. "Enough exposition. Now, Lupus, you must follow my instructions exactly..."

*****

"You ok, B? Chris has the Hammer warmed up over here."

B looked up and smiled. His old Fire Hammer stood there, but with some evident changes. Apart from the obvious bloodstains, the Xenon Multi-Mode Launcher had been replaced with a hefty-looking machine gun, and an insignia of a Norse hammer was painted on the sides and hood.

Adrenaline coursed through B's body. All thoughts of headaches and limps were driven away by the thoughts of battle. He sat in the driver's seat, with Kevin sitting beside him, pointing what looked to be a grenade launcher at the underbrush. Chris had jumped to the turret and was also scanning the jungle with a critical eye.

"If you see anything, shoot it," B said, "I'm just going to keep driving!"

"Aye-aye!" Chris yelled from the turret.

An enormous roar broke the relative silence. A group of Raptors and Mutant Lizards broke through the plants and were running towards the convoy.

"Incoming!"

----

Rob "Rookie" Kabrinsky felt out of place at the Antarctic Dino Attack HQ. Tense though it was, it didn't compare in his opinion to being at the front lines. But, he had two things to do here. One, get his wounds healed, and two, find Sam. His first objective had already been completed, so now all that was left was to find his cousin. He had been waiting around the hospital area of the compound for a couple days, not knowing where to start looking.

He lay in his bed, thinking, when he heard a familiar voice: "Rob! Well, looks like you're in at least okay shape. Ready to go back to the line?"

"Sam," said Rob, relieved to see his cousin again. "I'm ready, more or less, but only if you're coming with... ow, my leg." He winced. "I thought... you would be a patient, if anything."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Honestly, Rob, don't you remember? I was studying medicine before the war. I got a chance to finish up my studies thanks to my unexpected hiatus from the war."

"I see. Nonetheless, Kev sent me back here to get you," said Rob.

Sam stared for a minute. "You're kidding, right?"

"B probably needs some medical help. When I left, he was in a coma," explained Rob.

Sam shook his head in disbelief. "Why didn't you say so? I'll talk to the head surgeon."

Well, that was easier than I was expecting, Rob thought. Now... to... MegaBloking MegaBloks, my leg hurts. 

----

A guitar was the first thing he noticed. There was static too. A radio.

"For freedom we ride..."

Fullmetal sat up, and groaned. He was inside a tent. The last thing he remembered, he'd just taken Raptor-- Enox Phorm -- out.

The flap opened, and a familiar fig stepped inside. A grin spread across his face. "Builders be praised, you're awake!" he said. A pair of draconic wings suddenly snapped out from behind his back.

Fullmetal smiled back. "Awake, Ptero," he replied. "But I feel like I've been chewed up and spit out by a Dino."

"And you assume correctly," another person poked his head in. "And your prosthetic limbs held up nicely."

Fullmetal looked at his right arm. It gleamed silver back at him. He frowned. "Very nice. You did a good job, Claymore." Fullmetal looked up, his eyes sad. "Where's Tex?"

As if in response, a gigantic black and blue head burst into the flap and set itself down on Fullmetal's lap.

"Tex!" Fullmetal cried happily. He wrapped his arms around the Dino's snout. The Tyrannosaur began purring and the air in the tent vibrated with the sound. Fullmetal released his embrace, and examined Tex's head. "You've grown a bit bigger," he remarked.

You noticed! she replied, and began humming louder.

Fullmetal frowned again. "Where's Aravis?" he asked. "And Spino?"

The two glanced at each other. "You'll want to stay seated," Claymore assured.

Fullmetal shook his head. "They can't be--" he began.

Claymore cut him off. "But they are," he said. "It happens in war."

"Tell me," said Fullmetal. "Tell me everything that happened."

Claymore recounted the events at the Dino Attack Outpost, leading to Spino's sacrifice and Aravis's death. "Then we hit an IED," he concluded. "The base was evacuated." He gave a tiny, sad smile. "Spino died a hero. He saved hundreds of lives by wiping out that Hybrid army."

"It was one heckuva bomb," Ptero declared. "You sustained a concussion when that IED was tripped. That's why you don't remember anything up until defeating Rap-- Enox."

Fullmetal felt hollow, as if his breath had been drawn from his lungs. He cleared his throat, and stood tall. "Then let Spino's and Aravis's sacrifices not be in vain," he said. "GAIA Team, roll out!" 

----

"Alright boys, this is it," Rotor said excitedly over the radio. "Let's get these babies into the air. This is Agent Rotor standing by. Over."

"Agent Cabin, standing by. Over."

"Agent MacReady, standing by. Over."

Jackson quickly climbed into the first Fire Hammer he found alongside Teri. "You ready for this?" Jackson asked.

Teri nodded with a smile. "It'll be just like old times," she said. "Let's go snipe some Stromlings!"

Jackson quickly broke a window on his Fire Hammer using the butt end of his rifle. "I think this is our chance," he said keenly as he lifted it toward the mutant dinosaurs ahead. He then pulled the trigger.  "Oh my Builder," Jackson muttered as he looked through a pair of binoculars. "Teri, I think we have our first kill."

Dactyl had already set up her sniper rifle and was aiming right toward the dinosaurs. "Steady, steady," Jackson was muttering. Then she fired. 

----

"So, where've you been all this time?" Sarah asked.

"The hospital," replied Pierce. "I've been working there for a while now."

"I see," said Sarah. "You said you met Kate?"

"Yeah," replied Pierce.

"Did you ever tell her?" asked Sarah, locking eyes with Pierce.

Pierce blinked. "What?"

"About her father," replied Sarah.

"Why? Who is it?" asked Pierce. "Don't tell me there's more connections with XERRD."

"No," said Sarah. She sighed. "It's you. You're her father."

Pierce suddenly sat up, somewhat unnerved. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. That can't be right. I'm Kate's father?"

"It was only a few months after I was released that I realized I was pregnant," explained Sarah.

Pierce sighed. "It figures," he remarked. "I became like a father to her, and now I realize I really am her father."

Jenny started to moan. Sarah got up and sat down next to her. "Easy," she said. "It's okay. Tell me, who did this to you?"

"Bad men," responded Jenny, a few tears in her eyes. "They wouldn't stop hitting me. He just kept laughing and hitting me."

"That sounds like Rotor," Pierce remarked from across the room.

"I'm sorry, who?" Sarah said as she turned toward him.

"Rotor's a guy on the team," explained Pierce. "He has a few rather questionable methods that include attempting to execute an entire T-1 Typhoon crew for disobeying his orders. He also ordered your daughter into a fortress filled with toxins."

"What?!" Sarah shouted as she stormed toward Pierce. "Is she okay?"

"Last I saw, she was fine," Pierce assured her.

"She'd better be," Sarah muttered before she turned away. 

----

Hotwire ducked over to a nearby weapons crate, grabbing a rifle and slinging a Sonic Screamer onto his back. He then looked around. Everyone else was rolling out, and he was without a vehicle of his own.

Then there was a rumble behind him. He turned to see a Fire Hammer trundling uncertainly towards him, with a familiar Ogel Drone in the driver's seat. Septimus tipped his cap as Hotwire climbed into the cab. "It was unaccounted for, so I thought I may as well lend a hand," the drone said.

"Well done," Hotwire said. "But if you don't mind, I'll do the driving. I'm much more comfortable behind the wheel of these trucks than you seem to be."

In response, Septimus grinned nervously as only a skull can, hopped out of the driver's seat, and climbed up onto the turret.

Hotwire then strapped himself in and floored the gas pedal, quickly catching up with the rest of the convoy, which was already under attack. He saw a group of Raptors and Mutant Lizards charging B's Fire Hammer, and swerved towards them. "Open fire!" he called out.

Septimus didn't hesitate for even a split second, peppering the dinos with bursts from the Xenon Launcher.

It was the most intense game of chicken that B had ever played. One Raptor versus one Fire Hammer. It would certainly make for one spectacular collision.

Kevin looked up from lobbing grenades at the other dinos and swore profusely under his breath. "B... Do you know what you're doing?!" he called.

B motioned towards the general area to the front of the Hammer. "Trust me. Fire a grenade at that spot in 3... 2... 1!"

Kevin pulled the trigger. Time seemed to slow as the raptor turned away. The grenade moved faster than the eye could see.

A shockwave pulsed from the point of impact as the raptor fell dead. B and Kevin exchanged high-fives and Chris smiled in relief. Kevin looked up, and found that all was not well. "MEGABLOKIN'..."

Another explosion. This time caused by a moving vehicle hitting a very large solid rock. B, Chris, and Kevin pulled themselves up and saw that there were some Mutant Lizards who were very happy about having smaller prey.

"Not today, ya filthy animals," B muttered, and he activated his arm-blade. Chris pulled out his katana and both of them charged at the Lizards. Kevin swore loudly and then followed, firing shots with his sidearm.

"Can we not keep a vehicle intact for five minutes? Honestly!" Kevin activated his radio and shouted, "Mayday! Help! Anybody!" 

*****

As Semick finished his speech, David ran towards his Fire Hammer, where he found Joseph Smith waiting for him.

"I figured I might as well come along for the ride," remarked Joseph as David quickly turned the ignition key, put the gear box into 1st, and slammed his foot on the pedal. At high speed, the vehicle shot out of the outpost and into the artificial rampage of vehicles headed for the Maelstrom Temple. Fifty miles per hour.

But then, a crackle came through on his radio: "Mayday! Help! Anybody!"

David looked, and saw crashed Fire Hammer. He recognized B and two other agents, fighting off some Lizards.

"Right, Joseph, you fire at those Lizards, and I'll try and rescue the agents!" said David as he put his foot on the brake.

Hotwire pulled up by B's crashed Fire Hammer at the same time as David. He tossed Septimus the Sonic Screamer as the drone leaped off the turret to help the agents on the ground, and then climbed out of the driver's seat and into the turret himself. He nodded to the gunner on David's Fire Hammer, and the two of them opened fire. 

The gunners were managing to hold off the Mutant Lizards surprisingly well. Now, thought David, is the chance.

"Quick!" David shouted to B's group. "Climb aboard my Fire Hammer and we can be away from here!" 

The ambush was quickly overcome, with the help of David's Fire Hammer. Surveying the situation, Kevin shouted over to David: "Drive your Hammer over to that side of ours!"

B looked at Kevin in disbelief. "This thing is totaled, not to mention on its side! None of the people present are Superman, so what the MegaBloking MegaBloks do you suggest we do? I think that we should just accept the help that is given us!" exclaimed B.

"B, look. We can fix this thing. All we need is something to flip it, okay?" insisted Kevin.

After a couple tense minutes of struggling with the chains, B's Fire Hammer was back on its wheels. Surprisingly, it started up without a problem. Seeing that they were in the clear, David waved and drove off. B jumped into the driver's seat, and Kevin got in beside him and opened a compartment.

"This is why you will be glad that we salvaged this Hammer. Apart from the fact that, you know, it's still running?" said Kevin. He pulled out a handgun and handed it to B. "This is from your Dad," he said. "I managed to scrounge up twelve mags for it. Use those shots wisely."

"That was Dad's gun from when he was still on the force. Why would he give it to me?" wondered B, looking over the firearm.

Kevin explained, "He said that you would need what he called, and I quote: 'a real gun'. Now please, hit the MegaBloking gas pedal!"

"Okay then. Now, let's go before we miss all the action," declared B.

*****

And with that, they were ready to begin the battle. Thirty agents ran towards Kara's ship and loaded up. She hopped in the cockpit and took off. As she flew towards the temple, Mutant Pterosaurs began chasing her. She swiveled the Sonic Screamers towards them and fired. The Pterosaurs fell towards the ground, and others veered away towards slower prey.

"C-sharp?" The Pterosaurs hit the ground. "Or B-flat? Music to my ears," she said as she continued on. She was nearly to the dropsite when she heard weapons discharge and felt the ship shudder. An alarm went off on the control panel.

One of the agents rushed into the cockpit. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"The stupid Stromlings shot out my discharge nozzle," realized Kara.

"What is that?" the agent asked.

"It's where the ions flow out, and both lift and propel the ship. This ship uses a plasma engine," she replied.

"Wow. Isn't that overkill on an airship?"

"No, this craft is spaceworthy, but the entire fleet is grounded, given that all the spaceports are destroyed." She glided to a landing. "Everybody offload. Thank you for flying Wise Airlines, please fly with us again."

She jury-rigged a fix for the airship, programmed the AI autopilot to take it back to the outpost, hefted the Gatling Sonic Screamer she took from the armory, and said, "Alright, Stromlings, you're in for it now." She started marching towards the temple. 

----

The Puma was ready to go.

Fullmetal scratched his chin. "Seriously, why call it the 'Warthog'?" he asked.

Claymore moved to the front of the vehicle. "Y'see these tow hooks?"

Fullmetal nodded.

"They look just like tusks. And what animal has tusks?" explained Claymore.

"... A walrus!"

"No!" Claymore facepalmed himself. "Quit making up fake animals, so we can get out there!"

Fullmetal paused before stepping into the driver's seat. He turned to face Tex. "Are you coming with?"

Tex shook her head. I will remain here, for now, she replied. Fullmetal sat down, buckled himself in, and hit the gas.

The Puma stopped outside of the main base. "Why do we have to stop here?" inquired Fullmetal.

Claymore hopped out of the turret and on to the ground. "We need to pick up our new Four and Five," he said flatly. "Replacements."

The term smacked Fullmetal in the face like a whip. "I find it vulgar," he growled, "that the higher-ups think of new members as replacements." He spat on the ground to punctuate his opinion.

"Take it up with the head honchos later," Ptero said. "Right now, we need every man and woman we can get in this fight."

Two minifigs were waiting for them already. One, a woman, and the other a man. "You already know Katana," Claymore said. "Now, meet Hunter."

Hunter's helmet had been heavily modified, possessing a set of night-vision goggles and infrared scopes. He and Katana stood next to a similarly-modified Fire Hammer, this one with a four-barreled gun on the back.

"Since I can't call this the Warthog," Claymore said as he rolled his eyes, "I'll call that the Warthog."

"Seriously, you have issues," Ptero sighed. 

The two Fire Hammers bounced through the jungle road, if it could be called a road. Really, it was just a trail of mud carved into the jungle.

"Have there been any new developments that I should know about?" Fullmetal asked. "New subspecies of Mutant Dino? Green Goo mutations? Anything?"

"Nothing of note," Katana replied. "But earlier today, I was assigned the autopsy of a blue Mutant Lizard."

"Just another monster to be put down," Hunter said, swinging the Warthog's turret to face the other side of the road.

"We don't have to destroy all of them," Fullmetal said firmly. "These creatures are intelligent, almost like you and me. I've seen that they have the potential for good and evil. They're more like minifigs than-"

The Puma skidded to a stop. "What gives?" Katana asked.

"Motion tracker's picking up movement," Fullmetal said. He adjusted the device built into the dash, just to be sure. His eyes widened. "Brickit! They're stalking us!" The road in front of them shimmered slightly, and several chameleon Mutant Lizards revealed themselves. A pair of Raptors burst from the foliage behind the two vehicles. "Brickit! Open fire! OPEN FIRE!" 

----

Mutant Dinos?! Zach yelled angrily at the scout.

He could feel the Stromling wince. Yes! Mutant Dinos. Ambushed the convoy after barely a minute of driving!

Zach growled. Who sent them? I made sure every Mutant Dino was to stay within the temple region!

Perhaps they stayed away? Perhaps they are detecting the Maelstrom Crystal?

Possibly. However, Ghost and Zelda never recorded Greybeard and Frozeen reuniting with the team. They might have taken the crystal and kept going toward the temple while the battle in the camp progressed.

What should I do?

Nothing. I will deal with them. Zach closed the connection and turned to Colonel, who was looking at him anxiously.

"What has occurred, General?" Colonel asked.

"Mutant Dinos have attacked their convoy," Zach said, scowling. "This wasn't how it was supposed to go!"

"Can you recall the dinos?"

"I think so," Zach said, scratching his chin. "However, I think the pack that is attacking is small enough that the Dino Attack can keep going. If it truly becomes a problem, I will deal with it."

*****

"Really?" Minerva said, exasperated as she turned the turret and started firing at the Mutant Dinos attacking another Fire Hammer. She picked off several Mutant Lizards, but the Mutant Raptors continued to harass the Fire Hammer until it crashed. More Fire Hammers drove in to help out the crew of the wrecked jeep.

"Should we head over to help?" Andrew yelled from the driver seat.

"I don't know!" Minerva shouted back as she continued to fire. "Maybe-"

"Ground squad!" Commander Vinyaya's voice crackled to life over the radio. "What is going on down there!?"

"Mutant Dino ambush," Minerva could hear Laxus say. "We are trying to deal with it."

"We need to get a move on!" Vinyaya yelled angrily. "Who is dealing with it and how many mutants are there?"

"Fifty or so Mutant Lizards, maybe a hundred," another voice said. "About twenty raptors by my count. We got two Fire Hammers aiding a wrecked Fire Hammer and a couple more Fire Hammers being attacked as I speak."

Vinyaya was silent, then: "Have a few Urban Avengers help out. Those Cosmotronic Rays should deal with the Raptors quickly. The rest need to keep going, now!"

Minerva continued to fire. When she paused, she yelled up to Andrew: "Are we staying? You do have more authority than her."

Andrew was silent, thinking. Minerva blasted more Mutant Lizards away from the convoy. "No, Vinyaya's right. Time is running out and we need to take out the temple." Without another word, the Fire Hammer continued into the jungle behind an Iron Predator.

*****

Ahua jumped in surprise as a ship landed in the small field before the Temple of Hotep III. Those Mutant Pterosaurs must not be doing their job right. It didn't resemble the flying metal beasts the Dino Attack used. It was quite alien to him. Despite this, about thirty minifigs piled out of the ship. The ship suddenly lifted off the ground and flew out of sight.

Early. Zach, Colonel, and Cranky haven't even returned. Ahua strode toward the agents and raised his hand to welcome them. Their response was to point all their weapons at them.

Ahua smirked. "Rather early, aren't we?" he scoffed. The agents said nothing. "Where is the rest of the team?"

"On their way," one agent replied. "Surrender now, you mutants!"

"Temper, temper," Ahua said testily. "We are afraid we cannot surrender at this moment. You arrived at a very bad time. Our top generals had left to welcome your team into our hallowed halls." Ahua mock-bowed. "We're afraid we must seal up the temple until they return." With a snap of his fingers, two stone doors slammed shut on the temple.

"Let us in, Stromling," a woman demanded. "We don't have any problem killing you."

"We imagine you don't," Ahua said, rolling his eyes. He snapped his fingers again. Without warning, the massive Stromling army marched out from the trees and stood behind Ahua, weapons pointed at the Dino Attack Team. Several Mutant Dinos, some with Hybrid riders, also appeared.

"However, you may a problem with these guys. We have zillions of troops, all ready to send you to the grave," Ahua snarled. "Every one you kill, five will replace it. You have no chance." Ahua chuckled, then pointed his spear-arm at the Dino Attack Team. "We suggest you retreat and wait for your team. Or..." He grinned wide. "You can feel the full wrath of the Maelstrom."

Kara was surprised. She had finished the journey by gliding, and also found the disadvantage of extremely fast ships - no reinforcements when you need them.

"Well, agents? Retreat or disassembly?" the Islander Stromling said.

Kara opened her mouth to reply, but she never got the chance for at that moment, a Fire Hammer followed by some Urban Avengers and other Fire Hammers burst through the jungle. The driver of the lead Hammer chittered at them. It was the Infiltrators. X1, who was manning the Xenon launcher, swiveled at the Maelstrom army and fired. And fired. And fired. And fired some more. The battle to get inside to start the real battle had begun.

*****

Dr. Saran was holding a clipboard and taking notes as Fuchs finally took his hands out of Zelda.

"I think that's about as much as I can do," he said. "Still, we have a rough idea of how Stromlings work."

"What do we do with her?" Garry asked.

"Just leave her there," replied Fuchs. "The Maelstrom heals their wounds eventually, though the greater the damage, the longer it takes. Just keep an eye on her and keep her sedated. We can test our experimental cure on her. How's that coming, Crusher?"

"Better," reported Crusher. "We actually have something this time to go on."

"Good," said Fuchs. "You know, I wonder..."

He walked over toward the table, picked up one of Crusher's test tubes containing Tracer's Creative Spark, and poured some of it into a syringe. He then walked over towards the semi-conscious Zelda, whose wounds were already starting to close. He then placed the needle into her and injected the fluid.

"What are you doing?" Garry asked.

"I'd like to see how she is affected when exposed to a fresh Creative Spark," replied Fuchs. 

*****

They are already starting to come in! screamed Ahua to both Colonel and Zach. They both grimaced.

Seriously? Zach said, clearly annoyed.

Yes! We had thirty agents here and now more are arriving in their metal beasts. What are you doing? Why aren't you giving us a warning?

They must have slipped past me.

Ahua growled. Finish whatever you are doing and return to the temple immediately!

'kay, Zach said, shutting out Ahua. He turned to Colonel. "Any idea where they are?"

Colonel shrugged. They both were silent. Then they could hear it: the sound of gas engines running. Zach smiled.

"Follow the sound," he hissed to Colonel and the Stromlings. They carefully moved through the trees until they were right under a convoy of Dino Attack vehicles moving rather slowly.

"Alright," Zach said, smirking. "Let's welcome our guests."

*****

Rex felt a shiver down his spine from inside Rick "Adventure" Spherus's Fire Hammer as they led the Dino Attack Team convoy through the jungle of Adventurers' Island. At first, there was no visible difference between the jungle they were just in and the region they had just entered. Then, the forest became filled with purple-hued mist. The trees grew fewer and fewer, growing blackened and dead.

Minerva shuddered. It had become very dark as the convoy ventured deeper into jungle. Eerie cold snapped at her skin. She felt like something was snapping at her mind irritably. She had little doubt that they had entered the Maelstrom's infected region of the jungle.

Thunder rumbled above. "I think it is going to rain soon," she called up to Andrew.

"Fitting, isn't it?" Andrew said in agreement. Most of the convoy had caught up after the sudden Mutant Dino attack. They moved at a relatively slow pace, primarily due to caution. This area was mostly unknown by Dino Attack agents, and many were afraid of the Stromling beings that could be lurking in the shadows.

"It shouldn't be much longer," Laxus said. Minerva's response was quickly shot down as she heard a loud voice clear his throat.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Zachary Virchaus boomed loudly. "Be heartlessly welcome, to the Maelstrom Temple! And what a show we have for you tonight!" Zach cackled loudly. The Dino Attack Team ignored him continued into the jungle. Minerva felt her stomach drop.

"I am your magnificent ringmaster, Zachary Virchaus!" Zach said. "And I will be leading this show tonight!"

Minerva heard Andrew scoff. "Yes, he still hasn't lost his dramatic touch," Andrew said to Laxus. "I think he's finally crossed over the edge of goofiness. It's kind of ridiculous."

"In tonight's show, our audience will be taking part. Let's hear it for the Dino Attack Team!" There was a small smattering of applause. Minerva raised an eyebrow in confusion. "Confused?" Zach said, chuckling. "Look up. But don't shoot." Minerva looked up and held back a scream. Dozens of bright red eyes stared down at her. She could hear gasps of surprise from agents all around her.

"Worry not. They will not attack you. They are merely... observing you. Anyway, the temple will be nothing like you expect. Not even Gahiji Thutmose knows exactly what will occur, despite his so-called knowledge of Hotep's temple. Wouldn't you think the Maelstrom would add its own tricks to the temple?

"The temple... it will be an interesting show to behold, indeed. By the time you all die, you will be at each other's necks, trying to kill each other, think the others have betrayed you... oh wait, that already happened with the realists vs. idealist debate, didn't it? I think it would interesting to hear that the Maelstrom fueled that civil war the entire time. Well, XERRD implanted the Maelstrom in your ranks, and we did the rest. Rather interesting tidbit I learned working here. Make with it what you wish.

"So take what happened during that civil war and multiply it by ten, and that is what will happen in temple. Only those with strong mental capacity would have even the slightest chance of surviving. In fact, the temple will be a living nightmare to you. The weak-minded and the fearful stand little chance of survival. This is where heroes and cowards part ways."

Minerva finally mustered up the courage to ask, "Why are you telling us this?" There was silence except for the hum of the vehicle engines.

"I'd like to think that you had a fair chance. You know what's coming. In a sense," Zach said finally.

"You have a very distorted view of fairplay," Andrew noted.

Zach laughed loudly. "Remembering the fight, I see? Yes, Andrew, you could say that. Some days I'm nicer and other days I'm not. The day we fought was not a nice day. Today is a nice day. Not that knowing what inside is going to change anything. Sure, you may think knowing will allow you to fight off the Maelstrom's temptation. Let me tell you something. It won't. Some may withstand the Maelstrom's pull longer than others, but you all will be tempted in one way or another. Let me assure of that."

Silence followed. Then, "Well, Dino Attack, it's been fun. However, you have been a thorn in the Maelstrom's side for long enough-"

"YEAH?!" Rick "Adventure" Spherus suddenly yelled out. "WELL, THIS THORN IS ABOUT TO TAKE. YOU. DOWN!" The entire convoy was struck with silence. Minerva could hear Adventure say out-loud, "Well, that sounded a lot better in my head."

"Uh, huh," Zach said, clearly amused. "You keep thinking that, Adventure. Anyway, you have been a thorn in the Maelstrom's side for long enough. Not even the great Johnny Thunder or Jake Raines could survive this temple. How can you possible expect to survive?" Zach paused. "I was going to drop a Stromling on top of you and see how you react, but I'd rather watch you try to survive outside and inside the Maelstrom Temple. Perhaps I will see you later. Perhaps I won't. Oh, well. Au revoir Dino Attack Team. Not much farther now." Zach's voice faded away, leaving on the sound of running engines.

Semick reflected upon Zach's still-ear-ringing words in the cockpit of his T-1 Typhoon. His part of the Typhoon fleet was a little in front of the ground teams below him, and he was getting a good view of some of the more extreme Maelstrom-infested areas of the island. It was hard to describe, but he had to admit it would've looked really pretty had it just been part of a movie.

He knew that some of the agents would feel haunted by Zach's comments regarding Maelstrom temptation and their inner stability. He himself had felt disgruntled by the comments. Disgruntled and angered. Angered and defiant. Defiant and a little pretentious.

He glanced at his crew. Even if he only really knew Bluetooth, he could tell they were a little shaken themselves. And with good reason. From the first few scuffles caused by the now-infamous Kotua, to the incident caused by Digger getting furious about the Antarctica fiasco, they had dealt with inner schisms. He, like everyone else, wanted to be rid of them, especially in such crucial times as these. And he didn't like being told by some crazy purple monster that had taken over a good man's body that defiance was futile.

Without real consideration, he turned on his radio mic and began to give another speech.

"Attention all agents. This is Semick..."

*****

"I just want to give a little comment to Zach's little speech there. I, for one, will admit that I doubt we can blame the Maelstrom for all our problems. We have, as a species, always had controversial issues and circumstances that get us riled up with each other, and when guns are involved, things can get dangerous."

"I figured he might do something like this," said Mur, continuing to steer his Iron Predator with one arm. Rockford had observed that Mur hadn't gotten any sort of prosthetic for it since he lost it to the Skeleton Mummies at the XERRD Fortress assault. It wasn't his place to wonder why, though. "That man's not one to take well to such fundamental threats to our team as a whole."

"Semick seems to always look out for his men," said Rockford, "and prefers to treat them as equals. I guess working with miners both in civilian work and saving the planet from rock monsters does that to a Minifig."

"I hope that faith doesn't do him in, Rockford. There's such a thing as 'blind optimism', you know."

"True," Rockford said as he continued listening. "But even so, he's always putting the team and their goal up to the forefront. Sometimes I think he doesn't even really care if he makes it unless his survival itself is necessary."

"The point is, we've always been capable of making our own mistakes. Violent mistakes. But that doesn't mean it always has to happen like that. And that's why I say..."

*****

"...that it's the Maelstrom that underestimates us. Forget what Zach said, and continue to focus on our objective. We are all here to stop the Maelstrom as a team, and if they think they can simply influence us into fighting with each other into oblivion, they are gravely mistaken. Have no doubts, we are doing the right thing for us, our family and friends, and this planet."

"Wow," remarked Laxus. "Zach touched a nerve there."

"Yeah," said Andrew. "Sounds like Semick is determined to have the last word here. If Zach intends to talk us down again, he's going to have to prepare for something akin to a political debate. Assuming Semick even gives him the opportunity of the doubt."

"You don't think he's just talking himself into a hole, do you?" Minerva said from the Xenon Launcher cannon. "There's probably a few ways they could twist his words or something."

"Looks like he's choosing his words carefully, though," Andrew said as they kept moving closer and closer to their objective. "And if he does fall, I'm guess Semick's trying to ensure we go down with dignity."

"Keep this in mind for the remainder of this battle: idealist or realist, historically minded or in the present, liking people or not, we all want to beat the Maelstrom and save our planet. None of us want to betray each other, except maybe Dust, and I think even he's caught the gravity of the situation that means going against us now would likely mean there would be no more planet for 'his' temple to stay intact on. We need to trust each other, and even if there are more enemies within our ranks, I think we can survive whatever's thrown at us long enough to be able to tell when we're being misled."

*****

"Trust me when I say this: We are not going to let ourselves fall apart. If we have to die with only our unity and faith in having the higher moral values remain, so be it. If any of us die, we will not die in vain. We will be remembered as those who stood up for our values, our planet, and those who think of us as fools are merely too ignorant or invested in unpleasant forces to realize their misguidance.

"And we won't fail. No matter how hard it gets, I know, on some deeper level of feeling, that no matter what happens, we won't fail. One way or the other, today WILL be a victory for Dino Attack and the world. And don't let anybody, anything, or any gut feeling or odd worry tell you otherwise. That is all."

Semick turned off his microphone and turned to Bluetooth. "How far out are we now?"

"...Not much farther," said Bluetooth, who was still taking in what Semick had said to the team as a whole. "TALON-9's picking up some activity near the site of the temple, so I'm guessing we already have forces reaching the battlefield. Give us another few minutes or so, and we'll be there."

"Good," Semick said as he turned back towards his cockpit windshield. "I've been bottling up my frustration at these guys, and I'm getting anxious to release it."

*****

Zach smirked as he listened to Semick's retaliation-speech. It made him extremely happy that his words had affected the team in some way, particularly Semick. He thought about replying, but decided to let Semick off. Best not kill off their morale. Though it seems I've already done a number on it. He turned to Colonel, Cranky, and Gyptian.

"Why did we not drop the Hybrid on them?" Colonel demanded.

Zach shrugged. "Why damage them here? They will be taken down when the reach the temple anyway."

"Sir, I must say you are being too nice to the enemy."

Zach smiled at this response. "Oh well, Colonel."

"What if they do get into the temple?" Colonel questioned.

"I have been assigned to deal with them. The Dino Attack are in for a surprise if they manage to get into the temple." Zach smiled knowingly at Colonel.

Colonel shrugged. "So we are to return to the temple?" he asked.

"Yes. It sounds like things are already starting to heat up over there. Once the bulk of this mighty convoy reaches the temple, the real fun begins. You won't want to miss it." Zach climbed on to Cranky. "Let's ride!"

Colonel nodded and turned to his troops, all scattered throughout the trees glaring down at the convoy. "Alright, troops! You heard General Virchaus! Let's move!" As they started to move, they heard one last blast of thunder before it began to rain on to the trees and convoy.

*****

The place smelt like death. Rotten leaves crunched under the Egyptian's feet as he walked back to the Iron Predator and climbed the ladder into the powerful craft. He exhaled slowly and glanced through his binoculars.

The red Stromling eyes had vanished from the underbrush. Zachary had likely called back his forces to create unease in the team, and Dust could tell it was working. The young driver of the Iron Predator was literally shivering. With every snap of a twig, agents jumped. In the rear of the convoy, he could hear the sounds of agents firing at shadows.

The Egyptian never really had time for empathy, but in the past few weeks, he had started to grow uncomfortably close to some of the people he had set out to manipulate. Zachary was the first person he had truly come to know. But the young man was dead, replaced by a monster wearing his once joyful face.

Rockford was the other. It took a lot to earn his respect, but the commander had done it. With all the tricks Dust pulled, Rockford was always willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Dust had kept his distance from everyone else. He had always planned to toss the Dino Attack Team away like broken toys, but despite his best efforts, he had bonded. He still tried to keep the illusion of apathy, but at this stage, he was lying just as much to himself as to others.

Ignoring the fearful faces around him, Dust climbed atop the hood as Semick had done before him and broke the eerie silence.

"Many of you are afraid. Most of you are naïve to what the place holds and as Zachary so bluntly put, By the time you all die, you will be at each other's' necks, trying to kill each other."

Dust looked down at the bleak faces around him. Rockford, Mur, Laxus, Minerva, Andrew, Dactyl, Jackson, Teri, Hotwire, B, David, Septimus, and Kevin. Many he had never talked with personally and, quite frankly, he had no intention to make friends at the last moment. "I know this does not sound very uplifting to all of you. There is really nothing I can say that can make it. All I can tell you now is the truth: if we do not win today, we will lose forever."

Dust smiled. "I myself have no intention to die this day, if only to rob Zach of that satisfaction. If for no other reason, I want to look evil in the face and laugh. This is personal battle for all of us today. We must all confront our inner demons, or Zach and his army will be right about us. We will prove him wrong."

Steeping down from the hood, he stood beside the young driver and pointed forward with his gloved hand. "Forward."

The going was quiet. The entire convoy moved at walking speed, and they often passed the carcasses of Mutant Lizards and Raptors along the way. Grass gave way to black dirt and the tree became burnt husks.

At last, they broke out of the jungle and found themselves in a horrible wasteland. The very earth seemed burned and dead; in the distance, a mountain range of volcanoes violently erupted, spewing fire and smoke into the air; and the horizon glowed with a purple tint.

The convoy of Dino Attack vehicles continued in their journey, following the trail of Dr. Paulie Gonepus to the Temple of Hotep III. Still, Rex could notice an almost tangible uneasiness fall upon the rest of his team. Amanda Claw smiled weakly at him and held his hand to comfort him.

Staring out the window of the Fire Hammer, Rex caught a glimpse of something strange. A statue, it appeared. Here, in this barren and fiery wasteland, such a creation seemed out of place.

"Stop the jeep," commanded Rex. Adventure skidded to a halt, and behind their Fire Hammer, the rest of the Dino Attack Team stopped in their tracks.

Amanda Claw pushed Rex's wheelchair towards the statue he had noticed. It was a carving of a Minifig, which appeared to be once painted green and brown but now the colors had faded, holding high over his head a most peculiar shape. It was in the shape of a triangle, but as Rex got closer, he noticed that its structure was an impossible shape, an optical illusion that appeared to be a triangle, but its faces and edges did not match up, almost like an Escher painting. "It's a Penrose triangle," remarked Amanda quietly. In the center of the triangle was a blue orb which glowed faintly with a dying light.

Rex looked out beyond the statue. He saw that it was at the edge of a cliff. Below them, he saw what appeared to be a sea of Maelstrom energy, which hardly surprised him, seeing how corrupted and infected this region of Adventurers' Island had become. However, a rickety old bridge spanned the sea and led to a small, isolated island in the middle of the Maelstrom. Looking through his binoculars, Rex saw that there was a lone temple located on the island.

"I've seen this Penrose triangle before," murmured Adventure, gazing at the statue. "It's the symbol of Assembly, modeled after the Mythran Temple on the legendary Planet Crux. That temple was home to the Imagination Nexus, which was corrupted by the Baron into the Maelstrom. Assembly uses it as their emblem, since they're all about building and the preservation of Imagination."

Rex raised an eyebrow, impressed. "I'm surprised, Adventure. How did you know all that?"

Adventure grinned. "I fancied joining Venture League, so I did a bit of research on Nexus Force. Ultimately, I decided against it, since I wasn't too thrilled about the prospect going out into space. Nothing interesting in space at all. No fire, no explosions, no excitement."

Rex stared out towards the island in the Maelstrom sea. He was surprised that it was still intact despite the heavy concentration of Maelstrom energies that surrounded it. "If that's the shape of the Mythran Temple," guessed Rex, "then that must be the Temple of Creation that Achu told me about."

Dust approached them. "What's this all about?" he said, frowning. "We're wasting time! We need to get to the Temple of Hotep III, the Maelstrom Temple, as quickly as possible!"

"I agree," said Rex, although he did not look away from the Temple of Creation. "But still, this is the Temple of Creation, and..."

"Rex, you remain idealistic as ever," Dust groaned, rolling his eyes, "but the fact of the matter is this: you're wrong. The Temple of Creation is not the Maelstrom Temple. The documents I've found in the XERRD Fortress and the path of Paulie Gonepus clearly shows-"

"I know!" interrupted Rex. "But let me ask you something, Dust. You know your ancestor's temple like the back of your hand, or so you claim. Surely, this information will help guide us through the temple, avoiding any traps. But when you are inside the pharaoh's temple ruins and confronted by the Maelstrom itself... what then? How do you intend to contain the Maelstrom?"

Dust did not reply quickly enough, so Rex continued.

"We're not going to rely on any deus ex machina to save the day," declared Rex. "We've done that too often, and it's a very poor strategy. This time, it will be different. We need a plan so that we can contain the Maelstrom without having to rely on a random triceratops stampede or a helicopter just happening to crash-land above our position and drop off a crate of supplies. Now, think, Dust. What is the only known element in the universe that counters Maelstrom?"

"Imagination," murmured Dust, glancing out towards the Temple of Creation.

"Exactly," said Rex, nodding. "If we take measures ahead of time... we can be prepared for the Maelstrom. You carry on to the Maelstrom Temple. I'll go to the Temple of Creation and attempt to gather some Imagination. Hopefully, I can catch up to you guys quickly enough to save the day."

"Honcho has a point," agreed Adventure.

Dust frowned, appearing unconvinced and barely trying to hide it. "Very well, but don't take the entire Dino Attack Team with you."

"Of course not," Rex said as he shook his head. "I understand, since the Maelstrom Temple is infinitely more dangerous than the Temple of Creation, that we need to concentrate our forces there, not here. Still, I will only bring a few with me."

Amanda smiled gently. "I'm in by obligation."

Rotor shrugged. "Well, I wish the two of you the best of luck, and-"

Rex glared at Rotor. "You're coming too."

Rotor grimaced. "You can't be serious, Rex. I'll be far more useful to the team if I go to the Maelstrom Temple. I'm willing to do what no one else will, and even if that means using Bishop as-"

"Kate," added Amanda, "you're coming with us too."

Kate Bishop appeared just as surprised as Rotor, but she complied without a word of argument, moving to stand next to Rex and Amanda. Rotor was exasperated. "We need the girl at the Maelstrom Temple to use as leverage against-"

"It's too dangerous for her," declared Rex. "And that's my final word on it."

Grumbling to himself, Rotor trudged over towards Rex, Amanda, and Kate. As Adventure climbed back into his Fire Hammer, Rex nodded to Dust. "Good luck out there."

"From my experience," muttered Dust, "there's no such thing as good luck." With that, he turned away and strode back to the main group. Engines roared to life, and the convoy of Dino Attack agents continued their journey to the Maelstrom Temple. Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate watched them go, unsure if they would ever meet again.

Catless was riding her Steel Sprinter as a guard at the edge of the convoy when it stopped. She overheard Rex and the others discussing something about exploring the Imagination Temple, and she wanted in. So, when the convoy continued, she stayed behind for a moment.

"Sirs, I request permission to accompany your group into the Imagination Temple," Catless said.

Rex managed a slight, grim smile. "Thanks, Catless, but I think it's probably best if you follow Dust. Getting the Imagination shouldn't be too hard; your skills would be put to best use at the Maelstrom Temple, where there will be much more to do."

With that, Catless left to rejoin the convoy in their journey onward, leaving Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate behind to explore the Temple of Creation.

*****

"We're coming up close to the temple," Cabin said over the radio. "If that river's anything to go by, we're definitely close to the Maelstrom."

For the T-1 Typhoon crew, it was a simple task getting across. Unlike the ground troops who had to get out and walk across the bridge, Cabin, Mac, and George would be able to fly across.

*****

"You're not going to believe this," Hertz' voice said over the radio. "We're right above a large river of a strange purplish liquid. Over."

"Is that the Maelstrom? Over" Windows asked.

"Probably," replied Hertz. "We must be getting close. Over."

*****

Dactyl got out of the Fire Hammer and stared at the Maelstrom river below them. Jackson was quick to approach.

"This must be it," Jackson said nervously. He got down on the ground and started to assemble his rifle. "Teri, you got the binoculars?"

"You bet," replied Teri.

"Good," replied Jackson. "You want to go first as spotter, or should I?" 

*****

Fuchs watched in awe as Zelda began to twitch back and forth increasingly. Clearly, something was happening.

"What is it?" Saran asked.

"I'm not sure," replied Fuchs. "It looks like… no, it can't be that simple."

Indeed, the dose of a Creative Spark was apparently taking over. Slowly, Zelda's purplish colour began to disappear, and within a few minutes she sported the standard yellow skin of an ordinary minifig as she lay unconscious on the table.

"Did you just cure her?" Crusher asked, suddenly looking up from her work.

"It looks like it, but it could just be an act," replied Fuchs. "However, if I did cure her, did this actually drive the Maelstrom out of her, or only suppress its effects temporarily? That's what I would like to know." 

Nazareno's eyes widened in surprise as he stared at Zelda. She looked like any other minifig. "Fascinating," Nazareno remarked. She begun to stir. Despite her minifig appearance, Nazareno instinctively reached for his katanas. He stepped forward.

He turned to Dr. Saran. "Stay behind me," he said. Saran nodded and moved forward with Nazareno until the latter was right in front of table that Zelda laid on.

Her eyelids fluttered weakly before they suddenly shut open. "What's going on?!" she exclaimed, glancing around. "Where am I?!"

"Calm down, girl," Nazarerno said soothingly. She did, but she was still breathing heavy.

Saran stepped out from behind Nazareno to his side. "Do you know who you are?" Saran asked.

She gave him a look of confusion. "My name is Zelda Frodongan," she said weakly. "What's going on? Last I remember, I was in the XERRD fortress..." She paused and stared straight ahead for a moment.

"What's wrong?" Saran asked.

"I keep seeing this image of a Stromling shooting me," she mumbled. "The Stromling looks like me..."

"You are probably seeing this scene as Tracer," Nazareno said. "You, as a Stromling, shot him. He donated his Creative Spirit because he was dying anyway. Fuchs used injected some of it into your bloodstream. You seeing his memories might be a side-effect of using his spirit."

Zelda was silent, then a look of pure horror appeared on her face. "I was a Stromling!" she sputtered. It was not a question. Nazareno nodded.

Tears streamed down her face. "I don't know what happened!" she blubbered. "I was in the fortress, fighting. A... guard, I think... attacked me and beat me and brought me to this room. Then this scientist with long red hair came in and stabbed me with a needle and I blacked out."

Nazareno scowled underneath his mask. He knew this scientist was a certain Dr. Carolyne Provencal. Minerva had mentioned that she was the one who had injected Zach with the Maelstrom. Apparently, she hadn't limited her Maelstrom injections to just Zach.

"It's alright," Nazareno said, patting Zelda's shoulder in sympathy. "You are not the first one to have been injected with the Maelstrom by this scientist. The man you used to serve, Zachary Virchaus, also fell victim to her needle."

She looked at Nazareno in horror. "Zach!" she screamed, causing the surrounding minifigs to jump. "He'll kill me! He'll-"

"Shhh," Saran said. "Just calm down. I don't know if he really cares about you. I'd think he is busy at the temple at this point." Zelda nodded, still breathing heavy. "I think we are going to run a few tests, so just stay calm." Nazareno and Saran backed off as Crusher and Fuchs began poking and prodding around Zelda's body.

"We are going to check your body for signs of the Maelstrom," Fuchs said. Zelda nodded, still looking very worried.

Nazareno couldn't help but be filled with doubt. No way it could be that easy, he thought. Something must be up.

*****

It did not take the T-1 Typhoon fleet long to arrive at a temple. Several helicopters hovered over the temple, which sat on a small island in the Maelstrom Sea. It was fascinating and disturbing sight. Vinyaya bit her lip as she her radar. She frowned.

"What are we doing here?" she asked Hertz. "According to this, this is the Temple of Creation. We are supposed to be heading to Hotep III's temple. We need-"

An explosion suddenly rang out. Vinyaya turned to her window. Mutant Pterosaurs. Hundreds of Mutant Pterosaurs. One T-1 Typhoon had been struck by lightning from the Mutant Pterosaurs, effectively destroying it and sending it falling to the Maelstrom Sea below.

"Take out those Pterosaurs!" Vinyaya commanded. Hertz passed on the message and the T-1 Typhoons and the helicopters turned their focus on to the Pterosaurs.

*****

The path teetered on the edge of a great cliff. The only evidence of an ocean was the steady sound of the waves below and all view of water was shrouded with a purple mist.

Dust himself moved in a dreamlike state. The entire procession moved in slow motion and the world around him was surreal.

But what dominated the minds of all present was the temple. The great monolith was but a shadow through the dense mist and shadows of the Maelstrom. The details of the temple were clouded and all that could of yet be seen with the naked eye was a towering obelisk to the left of the door.

It soon rose above them like the head of an ancient monster. It towered over six stories tall, and its door lead into the deep black maw of the complex. Flanking the door were two massive statures of buzzards. They looked down at the steps leading into the entrance hall in judgment.

Despite all of Hotep III's brilliance, the pharaoh could have benefited from a better contractor. Over the last hundred years, the sea had eroded the cliffs below the east side of the temple. The entire structure leaned 10 degrees over the cold waters of the ocean.

When he first saw it, the forbidding structure felt wrong to Dust. He had devoted his life to it and he expected to be exuberated with its discovery. But the great sandstone building held no life. It felt soulless and cold - the opposite of the Egyptian's imagination.

But despite the shortfall, Dust felt accomplishment. 13 years of his life had all lead to this spot in time. No matter what condition the building was in; for Dust, it was not just the place in its physical sense. It was what it represented.

This place was the only tangible connection to his past. This was the link to his family's former greatness and splendor. He had a difficult time seeing how such embarrassments like his parents could be the descendants of Hotep III, but now he could return his line to its rightful place.

The convoy was flanked by crumbling obelisks; to right was the cliffs, and to the left was the black jungle. Dust knew that in those trees waited an unimaginable number of Stromlings. An army that Dust was positive would decimate the Dino Attack Team.

He had to think back to why he had brought them here. It was because he needed help: he could not enter the temple without the distraction of a battle outside.

"I hope you don't suffer the illusion that you're in charge now, Dust," Semick's voice came over the radio.

"Of course not," said Dust. "In fact, I was thinking that we don't go inside yet. We need time to get our bearings."

Semick seemed surprised by Dust's reasonable response.

"I recommend we create a parameter around the door. The last thing we want is to be cut off from escape, like what happened at the XERRD Fortress."

"I agree," said Semick. "I'll keep the helicopters in the air for the time being. Position the Iron Predators close to the entry and have the Fire Hammers form an outer ring."

Hotwire heard the order and began moving the vehicles into positioning. Dust jumped over the side of his Iron Predator and set foot on the ground.

"I want as small a team as possible," announced Dust. "With a large group, people get clumsy and we would be more likely to make mistakes."

Some agents volunteered and joined the Egyptian at the foot of the steps.

"Zach's forces will attack soon," said Andrew. "Everyone else needs to stay out here and keep the entrance clear. Rex will need to move in fast once he gets here."

The Egyptian nodded. "We go in fifteen minutes." At that moment, Dust saw a spot of orange appear in a nearby Maelstrom river.

Dr. Cyborg poked his head out of the Maelstrom river. "Hmm. Farther from the temple than I expected, but oh, well." He saw Dust on the lead Iron Predator. "Dust, I volunteer for the squad entering the temple."

"Oh, and what skill do you bring?" Dust asked.

"Maelstrom immunity," Cyborg replied. Dust stared at him, as if he hated his logic.

----

The sun was starting to fall amid all the beautiful scenery. Clint was busy preparing steaks and beans for his new comrades, who were all talking about their own things.

"Cooking more of your silly joke 'sandviches', little man?" Bear laughed as he looked at the steaks. "Keep it up, comrade, and you vill open big deli one day!"

Meanwhile, Firecracker was sitting with Dynamite, and they were reminiscing about their days in Reliable Excavation Deconstruction. "Ah, yeh remember that time we blew up that skyscraper? It was just like 'KA-BOOOOOM'!" shouted Dynamite.

"Or how about that time we demolished half of LEGO City using that sixteen tons of TNT I got for Christmas that one time?" replied Firecracker.

Clint's attention was soon drawn to the sound of horse hooves. He turned to see the familiar face of Angel Eyes, along with another man he did not recognize. Another horse trailed up behind them, and it turned out to be ridden by Maria.

"Who's your friend?" Clint asked.

"His name's Harmonica," replied Angel Eyes. "How'd the reconnaissance go?"

"Alright," said Clint. "You mind if I talk to you two in private?"

Angel Eyes smiled. "Always," he replied as he dismounted. "Harmonica, you can get yourself acquainted with your new squadmates."

Maria was quick to get off her horse and follow as Clint led them into the ruins of an old general store. He sat down on a worn-out chair and lit a cigar. Angel Eyes was content to stand as he lit his pipe.

"What'd you find?" Maria asked.

"Exactly what they said," reported Clint. "The hybrids are holed up at Fort Legoredo."

"Any idea how we're goin' to take 'em out?" asked Maria.

"I don't know," admitted Clint. "These amateurs seem to think the best approach is to push a cart or something. I think we can do better."

"What's the plan then?" Angel Eyes asked.

"We wait until nightfall," said Clint. "Dynamite should fall asleep quickly, he's always drunk, and the others will likely follow as they won't suspect anything. The only one I'm concerned about is Saboteur."

"What's wrong with him?" asked Maria.

"He's skilled in sneaking around," explained Clint. "He also tends to spend time away from the squad and you never really know where he is. He could even be here listening in on our conversation right now."

Angel Eyes started to reach for his gun, looking around in concern.

"Now, here's the plan," Clint continued. "We wait until nightfall and for the Second Headquarters Squad to turn in. Now I don't know about you, but I'd like to get a closer look at that fortress. Maria, if you'd be willing to slip into something a bit more fitting… that dress really won't do for what we have planned. Van Cleef, I think you can spare some clothing."

Maria smiled. "I guess joinin' the team ain't so bad after all," she said. "If only them folks back in El Paso saw me, riding out into battle, wearing men's clothing."

"Indeed," said Angel Eyes. "So we're sneaking out to Legoredo tonight?"

"Exactly," replied Clint. "I'd like to find out what's going on in there before these fools try to blow it up."

At that moment, the otherwise quiet environment was brought to life by the sound of music playing from a harmonica.

"We're all agreed then?" Clint asked.

"Ain't no reason to object," replied Maria.

"Like I said, Angel Eyes," Clint said. "I'm going to need you to loan Maria here some more practical clothes. That dress just won't cut it."

"Right," said Angel Eyes. He started to take off his jacket. "I can give her this, but what about pants? I don't think them shoes are goin' to be any good."

"You kiddin'?" Maria asked. "I can't stand 'em high heels." Maria quickly grabbed the sides of her dress and pulled it upwards, revealing a pair of tough-looking cowboy boots.

Angel Eyes smiled. "Now we just need to find you a pair of pants," he said.

"I got 'em," Maria replied keenly. "For purposes such as this, I sometimes steal clothes from boys who get a little too much to drink."

"Right then," said Clint. "We'll meet back here after dinner and sneak out under cover of darkness, and watch out for Saboteur."

----

Hotwire had just finished directing the vehicles into a defensive line around the entrance to the temple grounds when Rockford approached him, PDA in his hand and a suspicious expression on his face. "I've just received word from the Renaissance that the Talon, which has been unaccounted for the better part of 45 minutes now, has been spotted just above the treeline, and will arrive at our location in just under two minutes. All attempts to establish contact with anyone on board have failed."

The commander looked around cautiously and lowered his voice. "This had better be part of some plan you and the other Elites cooked up, because I don't like the alternatives. You told me that Kat wasn't susceptible to reprogramming, and she claimed to be able to resist Maelstrom influence, but given the circumstances... And Loop is still out there, and none of us are sure what exactly he could be capable of."

Hotwire exhaled slowly. "I'll agree it doesn't look good. And I wish to Imagination that I had an explanation for you, but I'm just as clueless as the rest of us."

Rockford checked his PDA again. "Well, I think we're about to find out," he said nervously. "They've just granted Talon clearance to land."

Clouds of dust billowed up as the modified T-1 Typhoon set down outside the Temple of Hotep III, and a number of the Dino Attack agents surrounded it warily in a wide circle, weapons drawn and trained cautiously on the doors. As the rotors spun lazily to a halt, one the side doors slid back just enough for two minifigs to slip out and drop to the ground. They were both dressed in black, and as one turned to help the other up, Hotwire recognized their dark clothing as the uniform of ShadowTech.

The minifig who had stumbled raised his head, revealing three glowing red eyes. A ripple of shock ran through the agents, and Rockford drew a breath. The order to fire was halfway out of his mouth, when Hotwire got a closer look at the other minifig and cried out. "Stop! Don't shoot!"

The Dino Attack elite agent then found himself at a loss for words. At no point during his experiences in the war had he experienced shock and confusion of a magnitude comparable to what he felt at this moment. He tried to speak, but choked on his words before forcing one out.

"Kat!?"

She quickly covered the distance between the Talon and the spot where Hotwire and Rockford were standing. "You address me with a great deal of familiarity, agent Hotwire," she said. Hotwire froze. Something was different. The minifig standing in front of him was physically identical to Kat as he remembered her before her death, but something was different. Her eyes were harder, and her voice held more authority... and the ghost of a German accent.

It was then that Rockford found his voice. "What's the meaning of this?" he demanded. "Who the blok are you, and why are you aiding" -- he gestured towards Loop -- "a known and dangerous enemy of the Dino Attack Team?"

The minifig identical to Kat turned to Rockford. "Do not worry about Lupus," she said reassuringly. "He is conditioned to obey me completely and implicitly. As for my identity...'who the blok I am,' as you so elegantly phrased it... I am Katerina Schattenberg, and you would do well to accept my aid."

"Then... Kat... who was..." Hotwire stammered.

Katerina Schattenberg smirked, in precisely the same way Kat had. "The minifig you knew as 'Kat' was me. I had simply locked away my memories and other parts of my mind in order to hide myself more effectively."

Hotwire tilted his head, confused. "Hide?" he said. "Why, and from who?"

"Agent Cane, my own nephew. He was useful to me, but I underestimated his ruthlessness and ambition. He apparently harbored a great deal of resentment towards me, since I refused ever to divulge to him the purpose of our organization. When I realized he intended to do away with me--" She paused. "One of my earliest projects, you see, was to find a way of translating the essence of a Creative Spark to a digital format. So when the assassins Canis had dispatched burst in on me, I was able to download myself into one of the synthetic minifigs we had designed. That's why I had to lock away so much of my mind -- I knew Canis planned to bring that particular synthfig body out of stasis, so I had to regress to the mental state of my twenty-seven-year-old self so as to avoid detection." She smirked again. "There's a reason, incidentally, that all the primary synthfigs were modeled after myself. It's one of the few qualities I share with my biological brother; neither of us care to suffer the ravages of age if we can avoid it."

Hotwire stopped her. "Wait, confused again," he said. "There was more than just one synthetic minifig?"

"Naturally. I'm standing in one right here," Katerina responded. "The plan required it. And you met one other before -- Cane dispatched it under the pseudonym 'Robo-Kat' to assassinate me early in the war, when he feared I would divulge ShadowTech's secrets to Dino Attack." She paused again. "Lest you assumed my vanity is boundless, please note that the synthfigs served a second purpose."

"So, care to explain or evaluate yourself?" Kuru asked, leering at the mysterious figure with a third eye right on his forehead.

Katerina gestured for Loop to step forward. "This is the first of our secondary synthfigs, built on Canis's genetic structure just as the primaries were built on mine. As the primaries were to act as vehicles for the consciousness of those who would volunteer for the mission, the secondaries were to act as repositories for -- and stable gateways into -- the Maelstrom itself." She looked at Loop disparagingly. "Frankly, as an aside, I haven't the slightest idea why Canis insisted on treating one of the secondaries as his son, nor why he decided that Lupus would best serve us as a spy. He was by far the worst spy I've ever employed."

"None of this is making any sense," Hotwire muttered, rubbing his temples in frustration. "Gateways into the Maelstrom? Volunteers? Mission?"

"I'll admit that I was unable to get the gateway part figured out before Canis's hostile, arrogant takeover of my organization," she said, "but the secondaries remain, as Lupus has admirably proved, quite adequate tools for containing and isolating Maelstrom energies. Which is why I have come here." At that moment, the side door of the Talon slid open entirely and half a dozen more minifigs, identical to Loop, dropped to the ground. "You'll need all the help you can get."

Rockford finally spoke up again. "But why?" he said, exasperated. "Why did you do all of this at all? What were you working towards?"

Katerina Schattenberg laughed. "Oh, of course. I got so carried away that I neglected to mention the one tidbit of information that you need to properly comprehend my rambling -- my ultimate goal. You see, I founded ShadowTech for one specific purpose. I was looking for a way to destroy the Maelstrom from the inside out." 

*****

The Renaissance slowly cruised over the dark zone of Adventures' Island. The helicopter moved with elegant grace as the swarms of Mutant Pterosaurs swirled around it.

Hertz was certainly uneasy. Vinyaya stood framed in the doorway as the craft made set a course away from the Temple of Creation and back toward its original target. The loud popping noises of sonic screamer filled the sky and were often followed by the screams of Mutants tumbling to the black jungle below. On Hertz's view screen was the hulking shape of the forbidden ruins. Already, Dino Attack was setting up a position and several Typhoons had already taken up position above the temple. 

Checking his watch, the techie picked up his headphone and selected the first name on speed dial. "Windows, this is Hertz providing the third of my five-minute updates. Over." 

The radio buzzed and Window's familiar voice came over the speaker. "This is Elite Agent Windows. What's your update? Over."

"You can't throw a rock without hitting a Pterosaur out here," said Hertz. "What's weird is that we're not being overtaken yet. There are hundreds and we only have one Typhoon down. These monsters don't seem to have total decimation on their mind yet. Over." 

Windows was silent for a moment. "The Maelstrom is planning something. Be on the lookout, the tide up there could change any moment. Over."

Hertz nodded even though Windows could not see him. "I expect it will. We will be in Hotep III airspace soon. Once these Mutants give it their all, it will certainly be a short fight. Over." 

"Do you have an ID on the downed Typhoon?" asked Windows "Over.

"T-1 2342." said Hertz. "Casualties unknown; there was no fireball, so survivors are a possibility. Over." 

"Good, I'll hear from you in 5 minutes," said Windows. "Over and out." Hertz took off his headphones and let out a long sigh. The dismal day was certainly getting to him, and he was positive that it was the Maelstrom that was making him feel miserable and on edge. 

"Hertz, you better come see this."

He got up from his chair and joined Vinyaya in the doorway. What he saw below him made him gasp. The ground was covered with the most massive army Hertz had ever lay eyes on. The entire north beach of the peninsula was blanketed with the black and purple glow of Stromlings of every variety imaginable. Dozens of Mutant Tyrannosaurs Rexes stalked the black sand, and Hertz was sure he saw movement in the water as well.

"Why have they not moved yet?" asked Hertz. "Our army is already at the temple." 

"They're waiting for Zach's order," said Vinyaya. "Once they go, they will descend upon us like a pestilence we could never imagine."

Hertz shivered. "I'll go let Hotwire and Semick know." He turned to head back to his seat, but a roar from outside stopped him. Looking over his shoulder, he spied the army move like an as one into the jungle toward the Temple of Creation.

"They're on the move." whispered Vinyaya. 

*****

Zelda slowly opened her eyes and looked at Fuchs. There were a few tears visible in her eyes. "Kill me," she said weakly. "Please, just kill me."

"It's okay," whispered Fuchs. "We got the Maelstrom out of you."

"It's not out," realized Zelda. "I don't know what you've done, but you haven't removed the Maelstrom. I can still feel it inside me. Please kill me before it takes my body."

"It all makes sense now," Fuchs thought to himself. "The Creative Spark is able to overpower and at least temporarily block the Maelstrom's influence. That's why it was such a vital part of J.D.'s cure. It had to have been a composition of ingredients that when added would not only prevent the Maelstrom's effects but ultimately drive it from the body. That just leaves us with the question what else is needed."

Saran laid a firm hand on Zelda's. "You don't want to die, Zelda. That is the Maelstrom talking." 

The young woman contorted on the bed. "Kill me! I don't want to go back." 

"That's the monster talking," Saran said soothingly. "You're going through withdrawal. It made you feel strong and powerful. It made you feel ways you never felt before, but that was not you, it was it." 

Zelda twisted her head and started to shake. "Yes, what Fuchs said is right," said Saran. "The Maelstrom is still in you. But only if you let it! If you return, you will not be free, you will not be in control. It may feel real easy to just let go and go back to that place, but that is the monster talking, not you! The Maelstrom wants you as its slave, Zelda, but you have the power to choose." 

"But it is so much stronger than me!" yelled Zelda.

"Maybe physically, maybe emotionally, but not in your heart! We all have the will to reject it," said Saran. "You can fight it."

*****

Rex, Amanda, Rotor, and Kate crossed the lengthy bridge over the river of Maelstrom energy. The bridge was old and weathered, and a little too rickety for Rex's liking. Nobody stopped to think about what would happen if the rope bridge snapped and collapsed while they were still crossing.

Luckily, the bridge held out as they crossed. As they approached the island of the Temple of Creation, the temple seemed to grow larger and larger, and with every step, it seemed to grow darker and more ominous. While the temple's imagination was strong enough to keep it intact despite the heavy concentration of Maelstrom, it was clear that the Maelstrom had taken an adverse effect upon the temple's structure, twisting it and draining it of hue. When they finally reached the temple, it towered above them, and Rex could hardly believe that such an intimidating structure could possibly hold their salvation.

"What's this?" Rotor commented, raising an eyebrow as they approached the temple's entrance. The entrance was completely covered with spiderwebs, entangled with each other into a thick mass of silk.

"We'll have to cut our way in," said Rex, frowning. "Amanda, do you have a knife on you?"

Amanda nodded silently as she unsheathed her knife. After surveying the entrance and its spiderwebs, she immediately went to work, cutting her way through the mass entanglement. Kate offered to push Rex's wheelchair as the others followed Amanda.

They were almost through when they heard a horrible screech. A hideous creature dropped down from the spider webs. It was the size of a Steel Sprinter and rather arachnid in appearance despite having only four legs. Lasers and metallic spears were attached to its purple abdomen, and it glared at the Dino Attack agents with six yellow eyes. Screeching angrily, the Dark Spiderling advanced upon the Dino Attack agents.

Kate gasped in horror, and Rex's eyes widened in shock. How could a Maelstrom creature have gotten so close to the Imagination Temple? he thought in disbelief. Rotor was quick, however, and fired at the Dark Spiderling with his Cosmotronic Ray. This stunned the spider just long enough for Rex to recover and take out his Sonic Screamer. He fired at the spider, which hissed angrily and recoiled.

Then, a small arc of electricity, spreading out like a web, was fired from one of the spider's lasers. This blast knocked back Rotor, and even Rex could feel the surge of energy hit him and threaten to topple his wheelchair. Before Rotor could get back on his feet, the Stromling was upon him, trying to jab at him with one of its pointed feet.

Amanda approached the Dark Spiderling, moving silently yet dangerously swiftly. Before it took notice of her, she thrust her knife into the spider's abdomen. Shrieking in pain, the arachnid backed off of Rotor, who got up and prepared to fire his Cosmotronic Ray again but did not need to.

Writhing in a disturbingly unnatural manner, the Dark Spiderling's legs buckled and it collapsed to the ground, all six of its eyes going dark.

Amanda reached and pulled her dagger out of the spider's carcass. "What the MegaBlok was that?" muttered Rotor, grimacing as Amanda wiped the spider's body fluids off of her knife.

"The Maelstrom's way of welcoming us to the Temple of Creation, I suppose," mused Rex. "I think the Stromlings knew that we would be coming here, and so decided to leave an ambush, likely along with trap or two, waiting for us. Be careful. The sooner we get the Imagination, the sooner we can get out of here and hurry to the real Maelstrom Temple."

No sooner had the words left his mouth had a dozen Stromling Explorers led by a few Stromling Islanders limped their way out of the shadows and surrounded Rex, Amanda, Kate, and Rotor.

*****

The tests confirmed it: there was still some Maelstrom in Zelda's body, and it would no doubt take her over within the next few minutes unless something was done.

She glared at the minifigs around her, fearful. "Kill me!" she screamed to Nazareno. He looked apprehensive.

"Not yet!" Saran said. "You must control your emotions, Zelda! You can't let the darkness control you!"

She trembled. "I c-c-can't!" she stammered. "Please!" she begged to Nazareno, glancing at his swords. "Kill me! Spare me!"

Nazareno glanced Saran. He shook his head disapprovingly. "The girl is hysterical, Saran," Nazareno sighed. "I can't see her calming down soon enough."

Saran scowled.

"I can see you are anxious to talk to a Stromling," Nazareno said calmly. "But I can't see her taking your advice. Be happy that you got the information from that you did." Saran looked as though he was about to argue, but Nazareno raised his hand. He stepped toward Zelda, his sword in hand.

"Do you know anything that could help us stop the Maelstrom?" he asked carefully. Zelda thought for a moment. "Anything that could help us get in and out of Hotep III's temple without too many casualties?"

Her eyes widened with sudden realization. "Yes, I do!" she said excitedly. "The-" She choked on the rest of the words. Zelda's eyes bulged out with surprise. She began to scream. Nazareno knew he had to do it now. He ran up and begun to swing the sword down.

Just as he was about to make the final blow, Zelda caught the katana's hilt with her hand and shoved Nazareno backwards. She jumped off the table, her eyes glowing red yet again. Her minifig appearance faded away and once again a Stromling was back in their midst. She grinned wickedly at Nazareno. The ninja winced as he clutched his stomach. The Maelstrom in his abdomen roared with approval.

"Time for round two!" she growled. "And this time, you will die!"

*****

Minerva turned to Andrew. "Should we go with Dust?" she whispered.

"I don't know," he replied. "I have a bad feeling we will be attacked very soon, and that will make it impossible to find Zach. And if we go into the temple, we'll probably never find him in endless corridors and traps."

Minerva nodded sadly. "Yeah. But Zach said he'd be in the temple!"

"Those plans can easily change. He's not exactly in control of his actions at the moment."

Minerva sighed. Andrew shrugged and turned to Dust. "We're going," he said flatly. He and Minerva went to stand by him. Dust raised an eyebrow and examined Minerva closely. Minerva could feel him trying to discover her motives. He seemed to find a satisfactory answer, because he turned away from her and back the group.

"Anybody else?" Dust asked. Minerva figured he would impatient to finally get in his temple. However, he hid whatever impatience he had. Minerva imagined he had been waiting for this day for a long time and didn't want to mess up.

"Alright, I-" Dust was interrupted by the sound of something heavy hitting metal. Every turned to see a Stromling standing on top of a Fire Hammer. He had descended from the trees above. Although his features were skewed in the dark and rainy jungle, Minerva could see the Stromling had a gun for an arm. She tensed up, believing the Stromling to be Zach.

The Stromling jumped onto the hood of a Fire Hammer and then onto the ground. He walked arrogantly toward the Dino Attack Team, his hands behind his back. As he approached, his features became clearer. his weapon was a Sonic Screamer instead of a Cosmotronic Ray, and it was fused with his left hand instead of his right. The Stromling wore a dark trenchcoat and wore a cap that resembled one a military officer would wear. He had three scars running down the right side of his face, one of the scars intercepted by an eyepatch.

The Stromling continued toward the group in a brisk fashion. "Get him!" an agent shouted. The Stromling quickly raised his Sonic Screamer and blasted the offending agent. Weapons were raised and pointed at the Stromling. He stopped and glared at the minifigs with his single red eye with distaste.

"Sloppy!" spat the Stromling. "I expected better. Back when I was in the Dino Attack, the agents knew how to stand at attention like a true army. You slouching, boy?" The Stromling snapped at another agent.

"Who are you?" Septimus asked.

"My name is Colonel Ernest Quartich," the Stromling said with a sneer. "However, you many simply refer to me as Colonel. Now, explain to me the improper behavior of these soldiers. This is disgusting!"

"The Dino Attack isn't the army, you know," Andrew muttered.

Colonel's face twisted in rage. He marched up to Andrew until their chests were touching. Colonel squinted, clearly disgusted. "Elite Agent Andrew," Colonel said. "I knew they shouldn't have given the promotion to a punk kid such as yourself. The state of your soldiers is pitiful. I expected better." Colonel spat in Andrew's face and turned away without waiting for a response.

"General Virchaus is eager to begin the battle," Colonel said. "I can't keep him waiting."

"Wait," Minerva said. "General Virchaus?!" His ego had certainly gone overboard.

"Yes," he said, sneering at Minerva. He glanced over at the jungle. "Your Fire Hammers are in the way. This will not do. Cranky!"

A loud smashing noise could be heard. On the same Fire Hammer Colonel had dropped onto was a massive Stromling Ape. He had crushed the roof of the Fire Hammer and smashed the glass. There was a small groan from underneath the roof before it was silenced.

Cranky jumped from the Fire Hammer and quickly began moving toward a pair of different Fire Hammers near the jungle. The vehicles nearby began firing on Cranky, but the ape ignored the blasts and shoved two Fire Hammers to side to create a path into the jungle.

"Thank you, Cranky," Colonel yelled out. "Troops!" At once, ten rows of 12 Stromlings began to march out of the trees. Minerva noticed how these Stromlings seemed less intelligent than Colonel or Zach. They were hunched over and made strange growling noises.

"Attack!" Colonel bellowed to his troops. "Kill them all! Slaughter them! Do not let them into the temple!" The Stromling growled in acknowledgement and started running at the Dino Attack vehicles and agents, firing their weapons.

"And without further ado," Zachary cackled from the jungle, his voice ringing out clearly and powerfully. "Let the show begin!" 

*****

Crusher tried to focus on her own research as much as she could. "Saran, give me a hand with this," she muttered. The psychiatrist quickly worked his way over. Zelda was busy with Nazareno, fortunately.

"I think I might have something," Crusher explained. "It's a matter of concentrated Imagination. There's a very specific dosage required, and still one or two other components I can't quite get."

Fuchs sat down next to her. "What you need?" he said. "Is some way to cut off the Maelstrom?"

"You mentioned it was providing her with nutrients and all that," Crusher said.

"Yes," replied Fuchs. "The only way I can think of is to shut down the body, essentially rendering the victim clinically dead. If done right, it may be possible to revive them with a defibrillator or CPR or something."

*****

The signal he'd been waiting for came with a loud Pang! Pang! Pang! Bluetooth was shaken to alertness as he scanned his TALON-9 screen.

He saw it immediately. Masses of little red drones, lined up in neat little groups, heading right for the clearing the Dino Attack forces had gathered in around the temple. So far, no signs of air support, but the technician knew that could change. Regardless, they had to handle what they had now.

"Semick-!" he began, but the Elite Agent was already on the move, directing the T-1 Typhoon towards a better firing angle at the ground below. He was also now giving commands into the radio.

"Alert! Maelstrom forces moving in at the southern edges of the clearing! We've got several dozen mooks and a gorilla! They appear to be going easy on us for now, so takes these guys down and remain vigilant! Dust, get your team into the temple! Renaissance, get on standby! Mur and Rockford, get the Predators and Hammers reorganized and ensure protection of the temple! And Talon, get in the air ASAP!"

*****

The commotion going on behind him made Rockford immediately redirect his attention from the events unfolding at the Talon. Already, the agents that had been ready to fire at its occupants were returning to vehicles or preparing to face the Stromlings head-on.

"Hotwire, Kat," he said quickly to his fellows in conversation, "I'd suggest you put these synthetic-whatevers to use and get the Talon back up in the air. Ole knows we could use the air support." Without stopping to listen, he ran back towards his Iron Predator. The vehicle got into motion the second Rockford was fully inside.

"So, what did they bring us?" Mur asked, his crew beginning to aim the Cryothermic Cannon towards the incoming enemy troops.

"Some extra soldiers, that's all you need to know. What's the formation status?" asked Rockford.

"That giant monkey's pushing vehicles aside to let the redshirts in. We have to take him out, and him being so close to our guys isn't making that easy," reported Mur.

"Stromling Apes are strong, I know that much, but they aren't bulletproof. If we can combine our fire for even the briefest of moments, we shou-"

"Don't. Jinx. It," the agent at the Z-1 Kinetic Launcher muttered threateningly to Rockford. He sighed and looked to see what he could do with the radio.

*****

Stranger sat quietly in the shadow of an obelisk close to the cliffs. Buddy was nearby, playing watch. The way they had planned it, he would provide cover while the Dino Attack agent would get his chance to hunt.

"Hey, this isn't as boring as it sounds," Stranger had told his companion. "Something's bound to try and stop me, and I think fighting alone's as stupid as it could get." Indeed, the last time Stranger had been in situations like this, he had friends like Titan and the late Raider to help. And when he didn't, the Lizard that was by his side now had nearly murdered him.

Strange bedfellows indeed, Stranger thought humorously. And the current situation was humorous as well. The incoming Stromlings were coming in at a simple and predictable rate. Practically lambs for the slaughter.

Mr. Zach, you are not making a good ringleader as of yet, the agent thought as he took aim with his sniper rifle and began firing away. Cut to the main act already.

*****

Dust had not replied to his request yet, but there were more important things happening.

Dr. Cyborg jumped behind a nearby Stromling and extracted the Maelstrom. Instead of turning back into a minifig, the Stromling disappeared. "They're pure Maelstrom!?" he exclaimed in surprise. 

*****

Zach watched the chaos from the treetops, smiling. Everything was going according to plan, even as Stromling after Stromling were being shot down by the Dino Attack Team. These Stromlings weren't made to be terrific soldiers. Their greatest strength came in numbers; endless Stromlings against a Dino Attack Team with limited teammates was ideal in this case. He quickly made contact with Colonel.

Excellent work, Colonel, Zach said. The battle has begun.

You are welcome, sir, Colonel replied. What shall I do now? Command from afar?

I'd prefer if you didn't. Can you command from the field of battle?

Of course, sir. In fact, I already have a plan formulating.

Excellent. Carry on. Zach then contacted Ahua. Where are you?

We're watching the battle from the temple. We intend to join the battle soon. Unless you feel as though you have it handled. Zach smirked at Ahua's flat, somewhat angry tone.

Just a few more acts to pull out. Then I will return to the temple and do I as you requested earlier.

And how long is this going to take?

It shouldn't take too long. I'll see you soon. He severed his connection with Ahua and mentally beckoned Cranky to his hiding spot. Cranky clearly understood, as he began sprinting toward Zach, dodging a variety of bullets as he ran. Cranky reached the base of the tree and quickly ascended until he was in the same branch as Zach.

"Fantastic," Zach said, licking his lips with excitement. "Not a scratch on you. It's time for phase two, friend. Call them when I give you the cue." Cranky nodded obediently. Zach turned to the battle and amplified his voice to address the Dino Attack.

"And early on into the show, the Dino Attack shows promising signs of success. They are currently managing to best the underlings of the Maelstrom's ranks: the mooks, the grunts, the redshirts, whatever terminology you wish to use. You may be feeling confident now. Possibly overconfident. Maybe even bored with the Maelstrom army! But worry not, Dino Attack Team. This is only Act I of this spectacularly show. It's hardly been a few minutes. I do have a few more tricks up my trees. The next performers are organic, unlike this army. They are minifig-like, in a sense. They are definitely smarter than the army you are facing now. They are a last-minute act. They were found by Cranky as I was returning to the temple. Cranky, if you will, introduce the next group of performers!"

Cranky stood up on his legs and beat his chest furiously, roaring loudly for nearly a minute. As his roar died down, Zach could hear the screeches in the distance. He turned, grinning ear from ear.

A massive wall of Stromling Monkeys was approaching the Maelstrom Temple at high speeds. They were all small and quick, with bright red eyes. There were dozens of them, all at Cranky's command. They burst through the trees and jumped into the battle, targeting nearby Dino Attack Agents.

"You see, Dino Attack," Zach began to explain. "I can't let you think this is too easy. However, if you find these guys easy, there is still one more act getting ready! They are grandest event and will be the highlight of the show! In the meantime, good luck!"

Zach cackled, then turned to Cranky. "Let's have some fun." He climbed on to Cranky's back and pointed his Cosmotronic Ray arm forward. "It's on like Cranky Kong!" Zach bellowed gleefully. Cranky roared his approval and jumped from the trees back into the battle. 

*****

Garry stayed back, his hand on his revolver. He was tempted to shoot Zelda right there but he could tell it would not do much good. If anyone could take care of her, it was this Nazareno. Instead, he turned back toward Fuchs and Crusher. Copper was in the back, watching in terror, as did Wade.

"You found anything?" Garry asked.

"I think so," replied Fuchs. "However, we may have to risk killing her."

"What do you mean?"

"The only way the Maelstrom will leave her is if she's dead," said Fuchs. "In theory, at lea-"

"He's suggesting that we try to render her into a state of death from which she can be revived," explained Crusher.

"How can you be so sure you'll revive her?" Garry asked.

"Well," said Crusher, "I guess it is possible that the Creative Spark could help."

"I guess it's as good an idea as any," decided Garry. "Let's get to work."

The scientists were working as hard as they could. There was some uncertainty over what to use, but they finally settled on adrenaline, mixed in with the Creative Spark of Tracer. Nazareno was still busy with Zelda, but now was the moment of truth.

Fuchs loaded the experimental cure into a syringe and slowly walked up behind Zelda. As soon as he was close enough, he grabbed her around the neck and forced the syringe in, injecting the substance. With that, Zelda collapsed. She lay there for a few minutes as the Maelstrom gradually started to fade.

Crusher quickly ran up to the unconscious Zelda and looked at her closely. "No pulse, she's not breathing. COPPER! WADE! CARVER! GET OVER HERE!" 

----

Clint lit a cigar as he leaned against an old building and stared into the desert night. In the distance he could hear Dynamite snoring loudly. Bear was muttering something weird in his sleep. "Oh, Dietrich… I love you… Vill you marry me?... Zzz… Oh yes, I accept… I take you as groom… Zzz…" Even Saboteur had to sleep sometime.

"You ready yet?" Clint whispered.

"Almost," replied Maria. She stepped out a moment later wearing a plain button-up shirt under a leather vest, with a pair of greyish pants and dark brown boots. Her curly red hair was hastily tied back into a somewhat messy ponytail. At her side she wore a gunbelt, containing a small revolver.

"You get all these from customers?" Clint asked, impressed.

"You'd be amazed what some boys wager," replied Maria. "They should know better than to come up against me in poker."

"They wager clothes?" Clint asked.

"Sometimes if they're desperate enough," explained Maria. "Sometimes I just take 'em off of annoying customers who had too much to drink and didn't pay their tab."

"Do you really?" Angel Eyes asked with a grin as he approached her.

"You bet," replied Maria. "These here boots I stole from Flatfoot Thompson himself."

"I see you're ready," Angel Eyes said keenly, lighting his pipe. "Let's get going."

Clint exhaled before he turned toward the direction of the fort, where Saboteur had taken him previously. 

----

Zach immediately decided that death by monkeys was just about the worst possible death. He witnessed screeching Stromling Monkeys tackle Dino Attack agents and more-or-less tear them to pieces. Hearing the screams of the victims yell out and be suddenly silenced disturbed even him.

Dr. Cyborg was fed up with this fight and Zach's stupid theatrics. "Hey Zach! If this is a show, I want a refund for my ticket!" he called.

Cranky and Zach turned in his direction to see the cyborg fighting off Stromlings. Zach raised an eyebrow with interest as Dr. Cyborg seemingly pulled the Maelstrom out of a Stromling. The Stromling faded away into nothing once Cyborg's deed was complete.

"Interesting," Zach muttered. Then, out-loud: "Not enjoying the show? This will not do! Luckily, the Maelstrom provides a one hundred percent money-back guarantee if the audience isn't satisfied. Unfortunately, you are a part of the act, so you never paid for ticket. However, I can still give you a payment. In the form of a beating, of course! Cranky!" Cranky reared back and raised one giant fist. "Give Cyrista his money back, friend!"

Cranky launched his fist down on Dr. Cyborg. He quickly jumped out of the way as fist smashed into the ground.

"Come on, Cyborg!" Zach cackled. "You said you want your money back!" Cranky turned and threw another punch at Cyborg. The Dino Attack agent rolled out of the way again. Dr. Cyborg raised his hands as if to extract the Maelstrom from Cranky.

"Not so fast!" Zach yelled out. He fired his Cosmotronic Ray at Cyborg's right arm, singeing it. "No fancy Maelstrom tricks from you! I'm the only one who is allowed to do that!" Cranky stomped up to Cyborg, his fist raised up again.

"Did you know this little tidbit? When I pushed you into that Maelstrom pool when I was becoming a Stromling, it was because I thought you were a Stromling Ape. I wasn't against the Dino Attack Team then. How interesting is it that you are going to be killed by a being I thought you were before a Stromling! However, I must say Cranky is much better dresser than the Stromling Ape you were in that hallucination! Now, Cranky, if you will..."

Cranky's fist began to descend down quickly on Dr. Cyborg.

*****

Colonel quickly fled from the group of Dino Attack agents and gathered a group of Stromlings near the edge of the cliff.

"Alright, men," Colonel said, pacing in front of them. "I know you are all basically 'one-shot-dead' kind of troops. You may outnumber the Dino Attack Team, but they outpower you in terms of fire power and technology. We are going to change that." He pointed toward an Iron Predator in front of the temple. "We're going to hijack that beast over there. Give us a little more firepower. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir!" the Stromlings growled.

"Let's go!" Colonel yelled out. He and about twenty Stromlings ran across the battlefield without pause. Several Stromlings dropped after being shot, but Colonel and the survivors pressed forward. They scrambled onto the Iron Predator, much to the shock of the crew.

"What are you-" the agent never finished as Colonel clubbed him over the head with his Sonic Screamer arm. The other crew members were thrown overboard soon afterwards. The Stromlings quickly assumed control of the Z-1 Kinetic Launcher, the Cryothermic Cannon, and the steering wheel. The other Stromlings clung to the side of the vehicle and fired on any nearby Dino Attack agents. Colonel stood behind the driver, grinning wide.

"Superb work, gentlemen!" Colonel said. "General Virchaus would be pleased. Now, start taking out the other Predators and Fire Hammers! Make them wish they had never messed with us!" 

*****

The launcher on the back of the Fire Hammer was designed to fight off mutated dinosaurs, not Stromlings. Eventually, Dr. Smith gave up hope of using it, and instead grabbed a rifle.

David had already taken one. But he had a thought. If Maelstrom could infect the Imagination of a being, could Imagination "infect", or rather purify, the Maelstrom inside a being…? His query was swiftly answered when he saw Dr. Cyborg's style of fighting. It seems I am not the first to think of that idea.

But suddenly, a Stromling Ape descended on Dr. Cyborg. David was not too far off to try and help the doctor. He climbed into the driver's seat and started up the engine. "I think we found someone who needs help," remarked David as the vehicle accelerated. 

As the Stromling Ape's fist came down, Dr. Cyborg in one smooth motion grabbed his laser sword from the left side of his belt with his right hand, swung it up, ignited it, and cut off the ape's fist.

"Heal that, Failstrom!" he yelled.

"Failstrom?" Zach repeated. "Oooh, Doc, that hurt." He realized the joke he had made, with Cranky screaming in pain in the background. He doubled over with laughter, choking out, "That hurt. His fist cut off. Ha, ha, ha!"

By now, Cranky's fist had healed, and he started punching anew, Cyborg punching back.

"Really, Cyrista?" Zach said as Cranky smashed his fist into the spot where Dr. Cyborg was. "'Failstrom'? We are not petty children on the playground. If you are going to insult me, you are going to do it right!"

"I could really use some help now," Dr. Cyborg muttered. 

The Fire Hammer was a mere 50 yards away from where Cranky was trying to punch Dr. Cyborg. David had quickly formulated a plan. He had two regular missiles in his Fire Hammer, and one of them had been loaded into the launcher. The plan was to aim it directly below Cranky. This would provide distraction, and then Dr. Cyborg would have time to fight back.

"Fire!" shouted David. 

*****

Copper and Wade quickly pulled Zelda's body onto the examination table. "Carver!" Copper shouted. "Get me that defibrillator, will you?" Copper quickly pulled Zelda's shirt open and began attempting CPR. "Come on, come on."

Carver quickly wheeled the defibrillator over towards Copper. He quickly took the two paddles and waited for the right moment.

"CLEAR!" Wade shouted. Copper quickly pressed them down. Zelda jolted slightly. 

"CLEAR!" Copper shouted. He pressed the two paddles of the defibrillator down on Zelda. There was a moment of silence as he turned to Wade.

"I think we might have something," replied Crusher. "I got a pulse."

Garry and Fuchs were watching from a few feet away. "I'm not sure I understand," Garry said. "Wouldn't an overdose like that be lethal?"

"Normally, it would be," explained Fuchs. "In this case, however, the victim had a second Creative Spark inside, which gave her some form of life and made it easier for us to revive her."

At that moment, Enter burst into the room, charging in while holding a large shark. "Dang it!" Copper shouted. "Garry, would you get those fools out of here?"

Copper and the others ducked out of the way as Enter suddenly smashed the shark into Zelda's chest. Her eyes opened suddenly and she coughed.

"What did you just do?" Crusher asked, confusedly.

"Basic CPR," replied Enter. "Can't go to any emergency without a shark."

"You've got to be MegaBlokin' kidding," Copper said.

Zelda moaned as she slowly started to sit up. Wade ran to her side and put an arm around her shoulder. Zelda briefly gagged for a moment, and then shot a large amount of vomit onto poor Enter. Return arrived at that moment and started laughing.

"Look!" Wade shouted. "This is serious business! Someone get a bucket!"

Carver came back a moment later with a small round pail that she put into Zelda's lap. The young agent vomited once again.

"I don't believe it," Garry muttered. "I gotta tell Windows."

"I think it worked," Crusher said. "I think we should probably find something else to use in the compound, but our hypothesis seems to be correct."

----

It was not long before Clint, Angel Eyes, and Maria were approaching Fort Legoredo. Unlike most of the buildings in town, this one was more-or-less intact, possibly even improved structurally and modified, which made sense given that the Hybrids were using it as their main base. On the roof, there was a sentry marching back and forth, lit by a small torch nearby.

"How we goin' to get in?" Maria asked. "The place is probably crawlin' with 'em Hybrids."

"Simple," replied Clint. "Just takes a little stealth. Maria, you have a knife or something?"

Maria slowly opened her vest to reveal a small but intimidating knife hidden in her belt.

"Good," said Clint. "You're going to need that. Now I reckon we get in through the side. There's probably a guard there as well. Give me five minutes to distract him."

Clint quickly rode around to the left side of the fort. Sure enough, next to the large gate was a rather mean-looking Hybrid with a sharp spear. He quickly noticed Clint and hissed menacingly.

"Now, now," Clint said. "Is that any way to treat company?"

The Hybrid started to move toward Clint, but at that moment was suddenly grabbed and his throat was cut open. The body collapsed onto the ground, the Hybrid trying to scream, but only making a very muffled wheeze.

"Nice work, Maria," Angel Eyes said keenly as he approached. Maria could only smile as she held the knife.

----

"Excuse me," a nurse said. "Dr. Alan Pierce?"

Pierce looked up from his bed. "That's me," he remarked.

"I understand you are a skilled doctor."

"Yes," said Pierce.

"If we were to try you out on a crutch temporarily, do you think you could help us?"

"Yeah, I think so," replied Pierce.

The nurse smiled and removed Pierce's bedsheets. She handed him a crutch and helped him to his feet... or rather, foot. 

-----

A juvenile chimpanzee has enough strength to rip the arm out of a grown man's socket. A superpowered Stromling Ape has enough strength to rip the arm out and then use said arm as a grotesque club.

Needless to say, an army of incredibly fast and incredibly angry Stromling Monkeys soon turned the highly efficient Dino Attack Team into a screaming mass.

Fortunately, what made this battle different from the massacre at the rear guard camp was the presence of significant air support. The Renaissance, the Talon, and Semick's T-1 Typhoon moved over the battlefield and fired their powerful twin rotating Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters into the mob of monkeys.

The incredible sonic beams scattered the Stromlings. Hertz was able to see the creatures clutch their heads before the lethal waves dropped them to the ground.

Hertz took position beside Vinyaya by the door. He spotted a great Stromling Ape not far from the temple entrance harassing Professor Norman and Doctor Cyborg. He pulled out his radio. "Semick, I spotted Zach and his pet off your starboard side."

The elite agent's helicopter circled around and opened fire with its side-mounted machine gun.

*****

The Egyptian crouched under the shadow of the stone buzzard. Once again, the situation was rapidly going bad and he really had no intension to stay outside much longer.

Beside him, Elite Agent Andrew was shooting repeatedly with his Cosmotronic Ray at the pack of Mutant Lizards. Minerva was scanning the battlefield for Zachary but apparently to no avail.

"You're not going to find him!" Dust yelled over the sounds of screams and gunfire. "Your boyfriend is into theatrics. He'll be waiting for you in the main chamber of the temple. Trust me."

Minerva rolled her eyes. "Trust you?"

The Egyptian looked the woman in the eye. "Look, you really think I would lie at this stage? I'm at my endgame now. He'll be in the temple."

Two more agents joined them in the shadows. One had a loose-fitting uniform that hung strangely over his thin alien body. The other was a wide-shouldered corpse of a figure with a bone-white skeleton face.

"Laxus! Septimus! Glad to see you're in good shape!" said Andrew.

Dust had a difficult time reading Martian facial expressions but he assumed Laxus smiled. "Someone needs to look out for you. Right, buddy?"

Septimus gave an approaching monkey a powerful whack with his spear and opened fire with his blaster. "I will also be joining you."

"Good," said Dust. "Four should be a good number. Come on, let's go."

The five agents shot from their positions and ran up the long set of steps. Pure Stromlings were starting to pop out of the ground like daisies, but Dust was able to make short work of them with some well-thrown knives.

They had reached the great door, and it took their combined efforts to push aside the massive stone. Dust felt an incredible exhilaration as he crossed the threshold into his temple. It was oddly well-lit with an unknown blue light, and the sandstone walls shown a clean gray. Dead bugs littered the cold floor and a thick layer of dust covered every surface. The sound of battle died almost instantly as they stepped inside. All that could be heard was a faint echo of water dripping deep within the temple.

Two more people stepped in behind them. Lance Williams broke the tranquil silence. "Dude, it's pretty gnarly in here. Cool, too."

"Your opinion is appreciated, Standard Agent Williams," said Carl Lutsky as he stepped into the cool entry chamber.

The former commander walked straight to Dust. He looked terrible; his eyes were still red-rimmed and his once studiously combed hair still hung in clumps across his brow. He had taken the time to change back into his uniform and he carried himself with his former dignity.

"What's your plan?" asked Lutsky. "How do we get to the Maelstrom chamber?"

Dust tried to read the commander before turning back to Andrew. "Well I'm not the Elite, I'm not calling all the shots now, you are. I'm just your guide at this point."

"True that," chuckled Lance.

Andrew shrugged. "Well, let's not do anything stupid. We're really close to the Maelstrom now, so we'll be feeling the emotional effects. We're also need to keep an eye out for Stromlings."

Dust continued: "I will let you know where to begin." He pointed to one of the six doors that led out from the chamber "We're going through that door; it's the most direct. But be warned, there will be a few surprises in store."

"Like that?" asked Laxus, the first to notice the skeleton in the room.

Septimus knelt down beside the unfortunate victim. "He's dead."

"Spot on," chuckled Dust. "Come on, we don't have much time."

The seven agents stepped over the bones and into the dark tunnel.

*****

"Windows," Garry said as he entered. The young radio operator took off his headphones and turned toward him. "How's it going? Any updates?"

"Yes sir," replied Windows. "Last I heard, they were approaching a Maelstrom river or something weird like that."

"I see," said Garry. "Listen, I've got a very important update for you. I need you to get in touch with them. Tell them we think we've just cured a Stromling."

"What?" Windows exclaimed.

"Just do it," ordered Garry.

Windows put on his headphones and turned back to the radio. "Standard Agent Hertz, this is Windows, come in. Do you read me? Over."

Windows had to repeat the message two or three more times before he finally got a response. "That's a roger, Windows. Over," replied Hertz's voice.

"Listen, Hertz," Windows said. "Garry's in here. He says he's got an important update. He claims that they may have cured a Stromling. I repeat, he thinks that a Stromling has been cured. Over."

----

Sarah kept her arm around Pierce as she led him towards the mess hall. The place was largely crowded, but fairly straightforward. There was a counter where people would line up to pick up food from the cooks, and they would sit down and eat at one of the tables. It was very much like a standard cafeteria.

After getting their food, Sarah helped Pierce toward a table and sat him down before taking another seat herself. They were about to start talking when another man arrived.

"Hey Sarah!" shouted the strange man with a thick beard, sunglasses, ridiculously long hair, and incredibly baggy clothes that looked like old worn-out pajamas. He was accompanied by a large middle-aged man with a buzzcut and a thin brown beard. "How's it goin', man."

"Just fine, Dude," replied Sarah.

"Who's he?" Pierce asked.

"Dino Attack agent Dude," Sarah introduced him. "His superiors didn't think he'd be good in the field, so they kept him here."

"Either that," joked Dude, "or they just thought my codename was stupid."

Another young man ran up to the two of them. "Hey guys, I just found out they posted the times for the next bowling tournament."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!" shouted Dude's companion only to cut himself off. "When is it?"

"Tonight," replied Donnie.

"Bowling?" asked Pierce, confusedly.

"They um... improvised a bowling alley," replied Sarah. "Long story."

"Yeah," said Dude. "Would you, uh, like to come out to see us bowl, man?"

"Sure," Sarah replied unenthusiastically. "As long as Walter doesn't pull out his gun again."

Pierce looked on in confusion.

"Hey!" shouted Dude's companion, who was apparently Walter. "That guy was OVER THE LINE!"

----

It was perhaps Dino Attack's darkest hour, according to Rockford's perspective. An amassing of men, women, and various other kinds of beings together to fight one of the universe's most powerful entities, currently struggling with ordinarily creatures made horrifyingly fierce by said entity.

It was a fight that Dino Attack seemed at impossible odds at surviving, let alone besting. But the more Rockford focused on certain aspects, the more he felt confident in the ideals Semick and others had been telling themselves since heading off. Even as one or two found themselves failing to match the brutality of the Maelstrom's monkeys, others were fighting to near bitter ends to keep them off their vehicles, doing everything in their power to protect themselves and others, lest there be no more to stop whatever else was waiting in the woods.

And they were doing one heck of a job. In one Urban Avenger, an agent was able lure the monkey trying to pull him off right on top of him... and right in range of the Sonic Screamer on top, which a push of said agent's elbow on the trigger button made blast the monkey right under the wheels of Mur's Iron Predator. In another spot, an agent managed to unveil a sword of some kind, perhaps hinting of a past at Pirate Forbidden Island or Castle Cove, and was bashing the monkeys away like flies. In yet another Fire Hammer, guns blazed like crazy as the agents fended off at every monkey within their area, including the ones try to take out other vehicles. And of course, the half-dozen T-1 Typhoons and the Renaissance in the air were doing a good job at providing extra cover fire. The one Rockford thought Semick was on, in particular, was already moving in to start focusing fire on the Stromling Ape that had been harassing the team thus far.

This raised Rockford's spirits, and helped him to concentrate on his work. It meant that Dino Attack was still proving their worth as the LEGO Planet's protectors. At this rate, taking down Dr. Rex would be bakery work by comparison.

"We're doing good," said Mur as he managed to catch a Stromling Monkey trying to leap him, which he managed to stop with a good slap to the head (Rockford could've swore his one arm didn't even touch it, but blamed it on the blur of his movement). "I hope Dust is getting his men into that temple, though. The more he delays, the more he-Oh good, he's doing it."

Rockford looked in the direction Mur was looking in. Beyond their Iron Predator's firing Cryothermic Cannon, several minifigures were running into now open doors in the temple's front entrance.

"Get the message out that we're in full CC mode now," Mur told the lawyer.

Rockford was already putting the mic to his lips, giving out the coded message he was told to give so any interception of the comm wouldn't fully understand: "Alert! The X-Wings are in the trench! I repeat, the X-Wings are in the trench!"

Just after he gave the message, Semick came on the radio. "Good to hear, Rockford. Now Mur, I just got word from Stranger that we're getting pure Stromlings by the cliffs."

"What's the worse news?" Mur said, taking over for Rockford for the moment.

"They're pulling the Ewok strategy on us: overwhelm and overtake. Let the Predator and Hammer crews be on alert for up close ambushes. These vehicles can't survive specific attacks like this, so the men will have to watch each other."

"Got it," said Mur, handing the mic back to Rockford. "You give the message."

"Alert! Pure Stromlings are overwhelming and overtaking Iron Predators and Fire Hammers! If you see a vehicle in this state, defend your teammates, and if they take the vehicle, just blow it up!" Though after saying the message, he remarked to Mur: "X-Wings and Ewoks? Great, geeks are writing our code now."

"At least it wasn't a Firefly reference," Mur remarked back, confusing Rockford.

*****

"Laxus, are you sure about this?" Minerva asked Laxus just as Dust was starting to advance in further.

"You guys need all the help you can get, don't you?" said Lauxs. Though in honesty, he had just decided to go on instinct after Dust's group had started to get overwhelmed with no vehicle support. That, and he hadn't been in his Fire Hammer when the attacks started, so he didn't really have much in terms of cover.

"I admire your support, but I'll be honest. I don't trust Dust, and the moment me and Andrew can get a chance to get to Zach, we're ditching him. Besides, what we're doing is very dangerous, and we're only doing it because of our... ties to Zach. You don't have any beyond fighting alongside with him, and that doesn't exactly bode well for whatever we might encounter when we face him. I think it's best that you help the others."

Laxus looked over the circumstances. The other people going in besides Dust, Minerva and Andrew were the unstable and hard realist Lutsky; the Ogel Drone Septimus, whose mental state could mean Maelstrom had a hard time getting through to him; and an apparent surfer guy he didn't really know. It did honestly make him look like a bit of an expendable.

"You're right," he said with a sigh. "Just explain this well to Dust and Andrew, and make sure he knows that I hope the best for him. I really do."

"I will," said Minerva. "And watch yourself. It's only slightly safer out there than in here."

The Martian nodded and ran back out, finding himself only a few yards from the battle sight involving Dr. Cyborg, the Stromling Ape, and Zach himself. Seeing a T-1 Typhoon move in for closer range, he wisely began to head the opposite direction, seeking the cover of the obelisks.

*****

The T-1 Typhoon's machine gun fire had served as ample distraction for the ape and his rider as Semick maneuvered his vehicle in for closer shots. He did his best to keep a cool head, but knowing that this was the... thing that was taking quite a bit of glee in pushing his men to their limits was getting his fury up. To calm himself, he did his best to think about who the creature had been... and arguably still was.

Zach, Semick thought to himself, oh Zach. You don't know how much I wish you were here below me in the front gunner seat, blasting these monsters into submission. You may currently be some kind of psychopath, but I have a good feeling you're still in there somewhere, giving it all you've got to get your body back and show that Maelstrom of yours who's the better one. If by some chance you can hear me, then let me tell you this: I'm sorry for any injuries I lay on you, and keep up the fight in there. I'm rooting for you. As for you, "general"... I'll show you what the price is for breaking our eardrums telling us we're "doomed".

"Open fire!" he shouted to the gunner in the front gunner seat, as he prepared to fire every weapon he could personally at the enemies below him. 

*****

Another smash as Dr. Cyborg dodged the Stromling Ape fist again. "Now, I think-" Zach was silenced as a missile struck bellow Cranky's feet, knocking him back. Zach tightened his grip on Cranky's fur and prayed that the ape did not fall backwards. Chunks of ground flew everywhere.

"What was that?" Zach said, clearly disturbed. He looked over and saw a Fire Hammer with smoke emitting from the Xenon Launcher as if a missile had been recently been fired. He grinned widely. "Kill," he muttered to Cranky. Cranky roared and charged at David's Fire Hammer fiercely. He grabbed the cab of the jeep and shook it violently.

"Finish it!" Zach roared. Cranky shoved the shaken Fire Hammer near the cliff and carefully let the back wheels slide off the cliff. "And... good." The Fire Hammer was now precariously dangling over the cliff. "That should provide enough entertainment. Now-" He was interrupted by the rapid gunshots from a T-1 Typhoon above him that were aimed at him. Zach scowled.

"Everybody wants to hang out with me today, apparently," Zach said. "Oh well. Can't let that ruin the fun! Go!" Cranky started running back into the battlefield. Zach slid himself to Cranky's side to better guard himself from the T-1 Typhoon's attack. He could hear Cranky grunting as bullets pierced his body, but he continued forward despite the pain.

"There!" Zach grinned. An Iron Predator was just ahead...

The ape was distracted. Now's my chance, Cyborg thought. He somersaulted backwards into the temple, and ran to the team. Luckily, they weren't that far away. 

Dr. Cyborg stopped for a minute. He pulled out his PDA and sent a message to Zach.

All rivalries require trash talk, Zach.

Your friend,

Dr. Cyborg 

*****

"You want to win the battle, get rid of that monkey!" Vinyaya barked into the radio. The Mutant Pterosaurs had mostly backed off, allowing the T-1 Typhoon fleet to focus its firepower on taking out the seemingly endless army of Stromlings below. Particularly the massive Stromling Ape that had just shoved a Fire Hammer halfway over the edge of a cliff.

"It's heading for Agents Mur and Rockford's Iron Predator!"

*****

"And fire!" Colonel yelled out. The Z-1 Kinetic fired at a nearby Fire Hammer, blowing it to pieces. "Excellent!"

"Hey!" a voice yelled over the radio. "What do you think you're doing, agent?"

Colonel grinned. "My job, soldier. General Virchaus wants these vehicles out of here!"

"Virchaus? What... OH ZNAP! THE STROMLINGS HAVE HIJACKED ONE OF OUR PREDATORS!"

Colonel laughed loudly. "On to the next one, boys!"

*****

"Didn't I make that clear, agent?" Rockford muttered as someone screamed about the hijacked Iron Predator. Around him, his vehicle was already moving in position to fire at the hijacked vehicle, and another Iron Predator, along with two Fire Hammers, were preparing to do the same.

"Predators aren't known for their maneuverability," Mur was saying, "and that goes for the gun, too! The cockpit is exposed, and we never made it with a need for shields in mind! It's a MegaBlokin' easy target for military forces, so if you men can't take it down, I don't know what will! Fire away!"

The cannons and guns began firing, all aimed at the center of the Iron Predator, where its infected crew were stationed. The blasts were striking hard, but the smoke from the impact was obscuring the results. Mur was grimacing, and Rockford could only watch and listen to the comm chatter. He really needed to grab a-

"MUR! YOU'VE GOT 8 O'CLOCK COMPANY!" Semick's voice cried through the radio. The two agents in charged turned in said direction to see the Stromling Ape, still shoving off the firepower of Semick's T-1 Typhoon as it ran towards their vehicle.

"Znap it all, this is getting ridiculous!" Mur cried as he ran to the edge of the cockpit. "I don't care how much energy this Maelstrom is giving you, you don't just shove off a T-1's assault without consequence!"

The Stromling Ape leapt at the cockpit, and Rockford began to yell for Mur to get out of the way. But as the ape got within a yard of the vehicle, Mur swinged his left side where his left arm used to be, and the giant ape flew backwards, back first onto the ground. It was like a giant fist had punched it back.

Zach quickly let go of Cranky's fur as the Stromling Ape flew backwards. I'd rather not be crushed by a 600-pound gorilla, thanks. He slid on his back into the ground for several yards. After he stopped, Zach pulled himself off the ground and saw Cranky laying farther ahead on his back.

"That was exhilarating," Zach said, slightly dazed. "I'd rather not do that again."

"KARMA, YOU SON OF A GUN!" Rockford was speechless, as was the crew of the Iron Predator. Mur simply glared at the creature, turned back to his crew and pulled down on his uniform at the neck to show his arm stump. In its place was a small circular device, buzzing from a small antenna attached to it.

"Somethin' I was working on with the medical crew. Experimental, supposed to be a more interesting prosthetic than robotic limbs and pegs. Long story, I'll explain later. Now get the guns aimed at that thing and let's help Semick wipe that thing out! Son of a 'blok's been Rasputinin' for far too long!"

Zach turned toward the Iron Predator, where a bunch of agents were staring at Cranky. Among them Zach recognized Rockford and Mur, two agents he had met briefly after his first trip to XERRD Fortress.

"Rockford!" Zach called out as if greeting an old friend, extending his arms out. "Mur! What a pleasure it is to see you two again!"

Rockford and Mur's heads turned down from Cranky to Zach. "Zach!" Rockford replied, full of surprise.

"The one and only!" he said, grinning at the Dino Attack agent. "I saw your message, Rockford. The one about generating a cure on my behalf. I must express my gratefulness for your concern, but it is far too late to do anything about it now!"

"There is still a chance!" Rockford responded. "Surrender! We can have the means to help you!"

"But where would fun be in that?" Zach chuckled as Cranky returned to his side. Zach notice Mur's dark stare that he directed at the Stromling Ape. "Rather fascinating device you have, Mur. I have never seen one quite like it. Far more advanced than what I had for a hand replacement. Did Nazareno step up his prosthetic game, or was it designed by someone different? You know what, don't answer, I don't care too much.

"But I tried to be a fair as I could. I gave your team a forewarning of what was to come, and now you are using unfair tools against me. As ringleader and, more or less, gamemaster of this show, you must be punished. Let's see what I can do..." Zach raised his hand. The Maelstrom swarmed around it before shooting toward Mur's prosthetic. The agents around Mur stepped back in fear as it swirled around the device and eventually seeped into the device.

"What did you do?!" Mur demanded.

"Disabled your device for a minute or so," Zach said. "It shouldn't actually infect you with the Maelstrom. This is all provided I did it right. This is the first time I've actually used this ability. Neat, eh?"

"Only a minute or so?" Rockford questioned.

"Yes. This is a test run. To see if the power works. Regardless, a minute or so should be enough time for Cranky to board your tank here and smash all of you into a pile of MEGABLOKS. Sic 'em, Cranky." Zach started laughing loudly as Cranky charged at the Iron Predator and landed inside the cockpit, knocking several agents over.

"Have fun, Cranky!" Zach laughed as began to walk away. "I know I will!" 

That isn't going to work anymore, Rockford told himself in reaction to the events that just occurred. The attempt to reach Zach through simple talk, the odd device Mur had finally revealed that he had (at least temporarily), and, probably, the Iron Predator they had been using.

A smart man would choose to just abandon the vehicle. No piece of technology was worth one's life, and especially when the thing between one and said technology was a rampaging ape possessed by evil. Rockford was a smart man, as was Mur and the rest of the vehicle's crew. Nearly all of them leaped off, yet Mur stood still, facing the ape with a continued look of disbelief and anger.

Rockford wanted to say something, but at this point he realized that if an agent was doing something questionable, that usually meant they had something in mind. So, he watched as the ape glanced around with a challenging glance at the fleeing agents, bellowing a roar in victory, and then finally noticing Mur still standing. The creature grinned and snatched him up, raising him up to his face.

Mur looked more controlled now, his anger and surprise giving way to a stoic look. A look Rockford knew well from his days in the criminal justice system. That was the look of a person knowing that whatever they were going to say, it was going to cost them or someone else dearly. It was a look of guilt, regret, and resignment. He held this face for a moment.

And then he nodded. Not a slow one, or a rapid one like a five-year-old trying to get across that he wanted a cookie, but a quick one, like a single performance of a headbang.

The ape thought he understood, grinned once more, and raised Mur over his head, perhaps to slam him into the side of the Cryothermic Cannon, or throw him into the nearest Fire Hammer. Rockford never found out. At that moment, he had noticed Semick's T-1 still hovering above, its weapons starting to rev into activity. And he noticed that several nearby Fire Hammers were readying theirs as well. It was then that he understood.

He ran as the weapons went off. As the machine guns, Sonic Screamers, Voltaic Launcher, Xenon Launchers, and simple laser weapons all went off within seconds of each other, all aimed at Mur's Iron Predator. They struck their mark right at the center, where the Stromling Ape was preparing to deal the final blow on Mur.

The vehicle went up in flames. Fireballs, orange from the fuel, green from the weapon power systems, engulfed the craft. Small LEGO pieces went flying, while chunks blew off in various directions, barely missing Minifig bystanders. Rockford could feel the heat wave and blast force push him down and mildly scorch his back.

The guns didn't stop firing even as the smoke began to dissipate and clear.

----

Link to review topic: http://www.bzpower.com/board/topic/29406-review-dino-attack-rpg/

Edited by PeabodySam
Updated to version 1.2.
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Chapter 44: Forbidden Ruins

----

Minerva held her Sonic Screamer close. Dust walked carefully through the temple, the other agents close behind. She could feel an annoying buzzing in her head.

What are you waiting for? a voice hissed in her mind. Dust has no intention of helping Zach. Leave the fool and find Zach!

Minerva felt slightly dizzy. "I think those Maelstrom effects Zach was talking about are already occurring," she said to Andrew.

He nodded slowly. "I can feel it too." Around her, the agents showed signs of queasiness and nausea. Regardless, she fought through the uncomfortable buzzing in her head and pressed forward.

"Stop," Dust muttered. The agents seized their movement.

"What is it, Thutmose?" Lutsky asked impatiently. Minerva scowled at him despite her attempts to keep her emotions in check. Especially in a place that seemingly can manipulate your emotions to its advantage.

"A trap," Dust responded. He picked up the bone of a dead minifig and tapped the floor ahead of him. A small arrow shot out of the walls and bounced off the bone, clearly not containing enough force to implant itself into the bone.

"Doesn't seem that bad," Lance said, shrugging.

Dust picked up the arrow and sniffed it. He turned to Lance and held the arrow up to his face. "Poisoned arrowheads," Dust said. "And that poison is the Maelstrom. If this thing buries itself into your skin and gets the Maelstrom into the bloodstream, you'll become a Stromling rather quickly, I would think." Uneasiness spread throughout the group.

Dust turned back to the hallway. "Follow me," he said. "Don't make a wrong step, or you will regret it." With that, Dust stepped onto the floor. Minerva winced, expecting an arrow to be implanted into Dust's arm. However, nothing happened. She looked down on the floor. It was divided into tiles, each with its own individual markings on them.

Dust reached out and stepped on to the next tile, two tiles away from the one he was standing on. He turned back to the group. "Come on!"

Minerva stepped forward, shaking, and stepped on the tile Dust was previously standing on. She breathed a sigh of relief as nothing shot out at her. She looked back at Dust, who had already moved on to the third tile.

"Keep moving, Fabello," Dust muttered, concentrating on the task at hand. Minerva nodded and moved over to the next tile as Andrew stepped on to the first tile. 

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as again, nothing happened as he stepped on the tile. Looking at the floor, he could definitely see a sort of pattern going on with the tiles, at least in terms of what ones were being avoided, and what the crew was stepping on so far. A classic adventure story trick.

"Is this as easy as it looks, Dust?" he asked whom he was calling leader, ignoring the small whispers that were telling him otherwise. Never listen to the voices in your head. It was something Andrew knew well, even if he hadn't always been a follower of that philosophy. "Step on the right tiles, and we'll be fine? Or was this Hotep more ingenious and cleverer in how he laid this out?"

"Don't ask questions, just follow my lead," the Egyptian said.

"Yes, but we could possibly move quicker if we knew what we were doing. Knowledge is power, after all."

*****

Cranky was in a world of hurt. Every metal beast had focused its attack power on him. He had been caught in yet another explosion, and yet the Dino-fighting team didn't relent.

He dragged himself out of the wreckage, groaning. He had dropped the Minifig-Mur that he had been so close to killing. He wasn't actually sure if the man-Minifig had survived the onslaught, but Cranky was beyond caring. He had to leave. He had to get healed by dark power-Maelstrom. He had to continue the fight. For Master-Zachary.

Cranky tried to crawl to his feet, but the endless attack of burning-hot attacks kept him on the ground. He made sure to stay on his stomach, trying to keep the vulnerable area away from Dino-hunter attacks. He could hardly see. He would definitely die soon.

Master-Zach, Cranky croaked to the Dino-hunter-zombie he had befriended. Help! However, he received no response. Cranky finally ceased movement, laying on the ground and hoping he would just die.

Suddenly, the attack stopped. Cranky looked up, confused. Why did the Dino-hunters stop? He was beyond caring, however. He rolled over onto his back and picked up his tie that lay on his chest. It had been torn and burnt to shreds. It was basically a purple thread tied around his neck.

Cranky was about to stand up when he felt the barrel of a shooter-gun on his forehead. Cranky looked up and saw hunter-Villano holding the weapon. Cranky suddenly felt better. Hunter-Villano was an ally, the last time he remembered.

The hunter leaned down close. "You are the only one left from that little group Virchaus put together, huh?" the hunter said darkly. "You and me. Unfortunately for you, I have a new employer." Cranky's eyes widened in realization of what was about to happen. "I think it is time to finish that hunt. You have escaped me for long enough, ape."

Cranky began to screech angrily and weakly raised a hand to attack. The dark-power Maelstrom wasn't healing fast enough!

"Adios," Hunter-Villano said, grinning darkly. Cranky heard the weapon make a click. There was a bang and everything went dark.

----

Clint slowly drew his gun as he stepped into the dark courtyard of Fort Legoredo. Maria had her knife still drawn, and her hand ready for her gun. The place was largely empty. A few Hybrids were sleeping in scattered positions, some of them making a soft hissing noise, but aside from one or two sentries up front watching the outside, it seemed empty.

"We got to be very quiet," Clint said as he led them toward the back rooms. 

Clint quietly opened the door to the rooms in the back of the fort before leading his two companions inside.

"Alright," he whispered. "We're going to split up. I think we should each enter a different room, look around, see if there's anything suspicious. We'll look though our respective rooms for useful information. If you find any hybrids, you kill 'em. In exactly half an hour, we meet back here, understand?"

Maria nodded.

"Good," replied Clint. He lit a cigar and turned toward one of the rooms. In this case, a small office. There were a few filing cabinets and other such things. Clint took his time rummaging through drawers and cabinets, pulling out any folders that seemed even remotely of interest. It was when he approached the desk that he found a particularly interesting folder, the information on which caught his attention.

"So that's who the mole is?" Clint muttered to himself. "That explains it."

----

Zach stood in the doorway to Hotep III's temple, silent and his face betraying little emotion. He watched Rudo Villano walk away from the ruined body of Cranky. The agents from the various vehicles that had helped kill Cranky were cheering loudly.

He hadn't quite expected Cranky's death to hit him as hard as it was. Cranky had truly been the only being he could trust while working with the Maelstrom. He had been an extremely close ally. Almost a friend in some sense. You will not be forgotten, friend.

Zach glanced down. He saw Colonel limping up the stairs to meet with Zach. The most obvious change in Colonel's appearance was the fact that his right leg was completely gone. To compensate, Colonel was using a metal pole as a cane.

"What happened?" Zach asked.

"The Dino Attack took a fancy on that Iron Predator me and my squad hijacked." Colonel pointed out the fiery remains of Iron Predator.

"Ah. I didn't see that wreck over another wreck that took Cranky's life," Zach responded, pointing over to where Rockford and Mur's Iron Predator used to be. Unlike the Iron Predator Colonel had hijacked, Rockford and Mur's Iron Predator was unrecognizable and was basically a bunch of burning LEGO pieces scattered everywhere.

Colonel removed his cap and bowed his head. "I'm sorry, sir."

Zach shooed away Colonel's words with his hands. "It's alright. I'm not happy, but Cranky died for the Maelstrom's cause. His death will not be in vain. Now, about your leg..."

"I can still fight, sir," Colonel said defiantly.

"I don't doubt it," Zach said, smiling at Colonel's fierce obedience. "However, the situation has changed. I don't want my top commander hindered by the lack of two working legs. Let me see..." Zach twisted his hand out at Colonel's stump. The Maelstrom swirled around the stump and created a solid black peg-leg-like prosthetic. "That should help. I recommend not getting rid of that pole, though. It's the best I could do."

"Thank you, sir," Colonel said, bowing. "What is the next stage for the battle?" Zach looked out into the battlefield. Stromlings were still spawning at a rapid rate, but most of the Stromling Monkeys were dead. They were back to square one.

"I think it is time," Zach said, grinning widely. He turned back to Colonel. "Contact the Hybrids. Tell them it's about time to start. Tell them to wait for my signal."

"Yes, sir," Colonel said, nodding and smiling.

Zach turned to the battlefield and amplified his voice yet again. "Well done, Dino Attack, well done!" Zach said with mock-praise. "You have survived both waves of the Maelstrom's forces! You decimated the second wave and, well, the first wave will never end as far as I'm concerned, but they are easy enough, right?

"I will admit this however: I am NOT amused. Not amused at all. You killed the ape I considered to be my only real friend at this point. Worry not, Cranky. Your death will not be in vain. So, like any minifig, I think it's time to extract what any normal minifig would want in my situation: revenge! 

"Introducing the final wave of the Maelstrom forces! This is largest and easily deadliest wave. You've seen them before, you'll see them again, and stronger than ever. Led by what I've decided call the Seven Hybrid Riders of the Maelstrom. You heard that right, ladies and gentlemen. Hybrids. Of the Minifig/Mutant Lizard breed! They are leading the infamous Mutant Dinosaurs!!"

Zach silenced himself. A massive collection of roars could be heard in jungle. As the roar died, the sound of hundreds of massive, running reptiles echoed across the area.

"They are on their way!" Zach cackled. "Unfortunately, I will not be able to witness hundreds of screaming, Maelstrom-controlled dinosaurs tearing you apart as I have business inside the temple that needs to be addressed. Have fun!"

Zach lowered his voice and turned to Colonel. "You're in charge now, Colonel. Think you can handle it?"

Colonel saluted Zach with his Sonic Screamer arm. "I will crush the enemy swiftly, sir."

"Excellent. Good luck, Colonel." Without any further waiting, Zach turned and entered the temple. 

*****

The faint sound of footsteps echoed from behind Dust's party. Septimus, Andrew, and Minerva spun about quickly, but Dust merely halted and looked back. They were greeted by the sight of Katerina Schattenberg flanked by four of the three-eyed synthfigs.

"The abilities these four lovely gentlemen possess will surely be invaluable to your efforts in here," she remarked. "Maelstrom detection, absorption, and immunity ought not to be taken for granted in a place like this." 

"Well, I have two of those covered already," Dr. Cyborg told Katerina. "But, I could always use more help."

Dust shrugged as he sized up Katerina Schattenberg. "The more the merrier, I suppose. But we need to be more careful, a group of ten seems like an accident waiting to happen."

"I agree," said Katerina.

Katerina joined the party, and they continued on. "I am going to sleep. I have gone three or four days without it," Dr. Cyborg announced. "My robotic half will still function, however."

As Dr. Cyborg drifted off, the last thing he thought was that he had stored a large amount of Maelstrom internally.

He was back in his office in the Dino Island XERRD base. He was working on a formula to improve the Mutant Dinos even more when he realized something: this was wrong. This whole Mutant Dino apocalypse thing was going to injure and kill many. However, here the dream split from reality.

Instead of deciding to destroy this, and leave XERRD, a dark thought came to him. If thoughts had color, this would be purple.

"You don't need to leave. None of this is your fault. Hey, it's kinda fun."

Dr. Cyrista agreed eagerly, and the dream became a montage, minus music. He saw himself becoming ruthless and cruel. He rose in the ranks of XERRD for these great qualities. He became second in command. When Dr. Rex died, he bequeathed XERRD and all he owned to Dr. Cyrista. The Dino Attack ended, and XERRD won. This purple thought came again, this time telling him to execute the rest of XERRD and toss them into a pool of Maelstrom. Cyrista did so with glee. He "commanded" the Maelstrom, and conquered the LEGO Planet. He then conquered the galaxy. Next, the dimension. He finally conquered the world. He ruled as a god, with the Maelstrom, for it had revealed itself, as his weapon and advisor. 

Dr. Cyborg awoke with an anguished cry. Andrew asked, "What's wrong?"

"Maelstrom-induced nightmare," Dr. Cyborg replied. He shot the Maelstrom out of his hands into a pool they were passing.

Dust rarely paid Doctor Cyborg's recent incidents any notice. Over the last few days, he had begun to anticipate glitches.

*****

Rockford was in shock. Not a good state to be in considering the circumstances, but it was understandable. Not everyone saw a close ally willingly let themselves die like that in such an extraordinary way. And with such suddenness, too.

However, his remaining allies weren't letting him stay like this, so as much as Rockford kept replaying Mur's last nod over and over on his mind's replay screen, he couldn't help but hear the murmurs of the people talking to him.

"...Rockford... Rockford... Rockford, c'mon, snap out of it!"

The image in his mind faded as Rockford saw the face of a Martian staring down at him, dragging him along the ground.

"Laxus, I..."

"Don't say anything, just keep in the moment, we're getting you to another vehicle. And we still need your help."

Looking around behind Laxus's arms, he saw that a Fire Hammer was pulled up nearby. Two agents were inside, and another was on the Xenon cannon. "Semick's on my radio comm, Laxus," said the driver. "He wants to talk to Rockford."

"You think you can do that, sir?" Laxus asked.

"I... yes, I can." He began to push himself onto his feet, and Laxus helped him along the way to get to the front passenger seat of the Fire Hammer.

"Here's the mic," the driver said as Rockford got into the seat. "I'll get us going, Zach sent our classic foes on us."

"Assuming they don't have extra surprises," Laxus said as they climbed into the back, "taking on Dinos and hybrids should be a relief after all the Maelstrom business."

"Still going to be a toughie," muttered the other agent in the back.

Rockford put his concerns aside and talked into the mic. "Semick?"

"Present. You're still shocked, I think?"

"Yeah. I've only been doing command jobs at the outposts so far, haven't really gotten to see any agents do anything like..."

"You get used to it... somewhat. Never easy to see good men like that pull the ultimate sacrifice. And always in their prime. All we can do is ensure their actions were not for naught."

"Agreed. So... I guess I get his job now?"

"Afraid so. You up for it?"

Rockford glanced at the battlefield. The Mutant Dinos were already pouring in, and the guns and lasers were blazing yet again. It was like all the big battles he had read the reports about. The Goo Caverns, various city standoffs, LEGO Studios, Mount Bricklake, etc. And it was time for him to play commander.

"Always did reasonably well at Risk, so..." he remarked.

"Good. Team frequency's up two notches."

"Understood," he said, and with a glance at his current crew, he switched to the all-agent frequency. "Alright men, we've got our familiar foes again, and all the ways we've bested them. Let's not let Mur down..." 

----

Maria slowly opened the door to reveal a sort of bedroom. Actually, it was technically a bedroom, which would have once been used by the senior officer of the cavalry. Now the bed was occupied by a hideous Hybrid, who was hissing loudly in his sleep. The noise annoyed Maria greatly as she walked toward the bed and picked up a pillow.

The Hybrid's eyes opened slowly, but upon seeing her, he immediately became fully awake and alert. Maria responded by throwing the pillow onto his face and drawing her gun, firing two clear shots through the pillow she held firmly upon his face. Then, just to be sure, she drew her knife and cut his throat. With that, she stood up and looked around the room. Based on his position, Maria guessed that the Hybrid she'd just killed was some form of officer, maybe even the one running the fort. It couldn't be that simple, but whoever this person was, he had some significance. 

Maria spent a few short minutes looking around the room of the Hybrid officer she'd murdered in cold blood less than a few seconds earlier, but really found nothing beyond old liquor cabinets and a few other luxuries he had presumably been enjoying.

She then turned toward the corpse. Deciding to have some fun, Maria rolled the body onto its side, facing away from the door, and carefully adjusted the sheets and removed the pillow, so that for someone who just entered the room, it would look as though he were still sleeping. "That ought to give 'em a shock," she muttered.

Her investigation finished, Maria turned to the door and found Clint waiting for her.

"Anything?" Maria asked.

"Yeah," replied Clint showing her a sheet of paper. "Check this out."

Maria took the document and stared for a moment. "So there is a traitor," she murmured. "I never would have guessed who it was."

"This is between us," whispered Clint. "We are not to tell anyone about this. I want this spy to have no reason to suspect we know."

"Know what?" Angel Eyes asked as he approached. Clint showed him the document and he smiled. "So that's the sneaky little 4+ who's been leaking all our information," he said keenly.

"Now, under no circumstances is anyone to know we're aware of his identity," Clint said. "I want to catch him unprepared and unawares. Maybe even get a confession in front of several people."

"Sounds good," replied Angel Eyes. "Anything else?"

"I found a bunch of papers," said Clint. "I figured they'd probably come in handy. How about you two?"

"I just killed one of 'em mutants," replied Maria. "Some sort of general, by the look of it."

"You sure that was a good idea?" Angel Eyes asked. "They'll know we were here."

"Indeed," said Clint. "It will still be a major setback, losing a general, and several defenses. How 'bout you, Van Cleef?"

"I took a look in the jail," reported Angel Eyes. "There were a lot of bodies in there. I'm guessing agents who were stationed here when it was taken over."

"Any survivors?" Maria asked.

"One or two who were barely alive," replied Angel Eyes. "It looked like they'd been experimented on. Maybe the Hybrids were trying to mutate them."

"Alright," said Clint. "I don't think a rescue is possible at the moment. Let's go after their defenses."

Clint led the party to the upper level along the wall of the building. There was one sentry standing guard, who was quickly dispatched by Maria. One-by-one they worked their way around, and Maria cut their throats, and as it happened none of the Hybrids snoring below heard the occasional muffled gasps.

"Looks like they got a couple o' guns set up front," said Maria. "I'm a-goin' to try to disable 'em, and then we can go right out through the front gate."

----

"It seems you folks are running out of room," noted Katerina.

She was right. As the eleven agents traveled deeper into the temple, the corridors narrowed. They were forced to march single file, and often their shoulders rubbed the hard stonewalls.

"I don't get it, man," grumbled Lance, "Why would this pharaoh make getting into this temple so hard? It would have to be relatively accessible for rituals and stuff, right?"

"Hotep III never wanted it to be easily accessible," said Dust, reverting back to his archeologist days. "He built it here on this remote island so he and his priests could study the Maelstrom a safe distance from his kingdom."

Minerva was surprised. "He studied the Maelstrom?"

"He wanted to understand its powers," said Dust. "He hoped it could be used as a means of glorifying Egypt, but he also understood the risks."

They continued down a narrow tunnel. It took sharp turns right and left turns and soon most of the party was so turned around that they had little perception which direction they were going.

"Hotep's priest advised him to build the temple in Egypt so everyone could see its splendor, but the pharaoh chose to build it here instead. He hoped to avoid tragedy and destruction in the event he lost control and the Maelstrom escaped."

"We don't need the history lesson," said Doctor Cyborg. "Just tell us how to get to the main chamber. We'll stop the thing and then we'll talk."

"Fair enough," said Dust. "We're be coming up to a group of spikes that will burst out of the wall soon. You don't have much room to maneuver, so you'll have to move exactly how I tell you."

He stopped suddenly at a faint line on the floor and the rest of the party bumped into him. Turning around, he pointed a finger at the team. "Watch closely."

Dust faced the hallway and took eight deliberate paces. As soon as he set his foot down the last time, a serrated blade shot from the walls behind and before him.

The spike sat there about four seconds before withdrawing into the wall. Dust paused and stepped forward another eight passes down the hallway before the same happened again.

Septimus seemed to get the idea and followed the Egyptian's lead. Sure enough, once he reached the given location, the blades surged forth and impaled the place where he might have been.

Dust's voice called from down the hall. "We'll be getting some breathing room soon. Once we'll out of this hall, we're be entering a large antechamber."

"It's weird how we've seen no Stromlings yet," said Andrew. "This place should be full of them."

"The Maelstrom can create illusions," said Katerina. "My synthfigs inform me that they are picking up massive readings about 100 meters down the hall. There's some Stromling in here, and it's big."

Lance called up to Dust: "Yo! What kind of Stromling is up there?"

The Egyptian was perplexed. He had no knowledge of this temple having Stromlings in it. "I don't know what you're talking about."

*****

Hertz smiled. The ape was dead and most of the monkeys had been torn apart by the powerful beam emitters. He sent his update to Windows and took a position beside Vinyaya.

Mutant Dinosaurs were pouring out of the jungle at a relatively constant rate. Only Raptors and Lizards were present, and Hertz suspected that the Mutant Tyrannosaur Rexes were being kept in reserve.

The Space Commando held a pair of electro binoculars to her eyes and looked out at the dark jungle. "I'm picking up a lot of heat readings," she said.

"What does that mean?" asked Hertz. Pure Stromlings don't give off heat. And even mutants were known for being unnaturally cold. Whatever was in the jungle was unnatural.

Vinyaya frowned and put her binoculars to her chest. "Hybrids." 

*****

...six... seven... eight. Minerva seized her advance as spikes shot out of the wall in front and behind her. She breathed out long and slow. These traps required more patience than Minerva had. This naturally increased her level of anxiety.

"What do you mean, you have no idea what he is talking about?" Minerva called out to Dust. "This temple is under the Maelstrom's control. Why wouldn't there be Stromlings inside, waiting to ambush us?"

Dust remained silent. Minerva rolled her eyes and continued forward as the spikes retracted back into the wall.

Thutmose is a fool, a new voice said, deeper and more aggressive than the previous one. He knows only of the temple's contents without the Maelstrom's influence. He will not help you find Zach. He is worthless to you.

Minerva bit her lip. She didn't like Dust, but that didn't mean he wasn't an important asset. I don't know, whoever you are. We would have already died if Dust wasn't here. And besides, I'm pretty sure none of us know where Zach is, and I'll probably have to go through a few more traps before I find him. Dust is kind of necessary.

The voice scoffed. You don't need that fool. We can lead you to Zach's location. He has just reentered the temple and will no doubt be returning to his chamber.

Minerva was still apprehensive. What about the traps?

They can be disabled. We can lead you to him! Are you willing to knock down this opportunity?

Just a bit. You are the Maelstrom. How do I know you are not just going to lead me into a trap and kill me?

Our dear, we could snap our fingers and something would kill you. Instantly. But we are interested in your team's plight. We wish to see how long it lasts. The voice faded away, and Minerva felt more unnerved than ever.

*****

"I'm here," Zach said.

Ahua turned around, scowling. He had been waiting within Zach's chamber for several minutes. "It took you long enough," Ahua snapped. "Long enough for Cranky to get killed."

Zach bared his teeth angrily. "Shut up," Zach said darkly. "What is the update in here?"

"Eleven Dino Attack agents have entered the temple," Ahua said. "They are approaching a chamber as we speak."

"And you want me to go kill them, right?"

"Wrong," Ahua said. "We have Stromlings throughout the temple that can deal with them. You are the last resort."

Zach shrugged. "Fine. What do you want me to do then?"

"Stay here, and wait." Zach rolled his eyes, but nodded in agreement.

*****

Colonel stayed near the temple entrance. Mutant Dinos were flowing into the battlefield at a rapid pace. The Dino Attack was holding its own against the dinosaurs for now, but he was not willing to put all of his support on the Mutant Dinos simply overwhelming the Dino Attack. At least, not without aid.

Colonel glanced up at the fleet of T-1 Typhoons above. They were currently tangled with the reemergence of the Mutant Pterosaurs. Few of the flying reptiles would swoop down and attack ground agents, but otherwise the swarm of Pterosaurs stayed in the air.

Colonel knew what needed to be done. Navi! Colonel yelled out. A Mutant Pterosaur swooped down from the swarm and landed in front of the temple. On its back was a female Minifig/Mutant Lizard Hybrid whom they had named Navi. Colonel hobbled up to the reptile's side and extended his hand toward the Hybrid.

"Get me up!" Colonel commanded. Navi obeyed, pulling the crippled colonel on to the Pterosaur's back. "Now ride!" The Pterosaur took flight. It was soon high into the sky, flying over the battlefield.

Colonel glanced at the T-1 Typhoons. He knew this was suicide, but if the Mutant Dinos wanted to gain the upper hand, they needed some backup. "Now," Colonel began... 

----

Quietly, Maria tiptoed her way toward the front of Fort Legoredo. One sentry was standing next to a particularly nasty looking turret. She was quick to draw her knife, grab him, slit his throat, and then throw his body over the wall.

"Alright," she whispered to her comrades, trying not to wake any of the Hybrids below. "I'm gonna try and disable this sentry gun. There seems to be two of 'em. One on each side of the entrance. Clint, you take this side, Van Cleef, you go over to the other. I need you two watching my back. I'll let you know when I'm done."

Angel Eyes adjusted his hat before he turned to the stairs and worked his way to the other side. Maria slowly crouched down by the gun. There was a momentary gunshot heard, as Clint looked to faintly see Angel Eyes holding his gun behind a Hybrid's head as its body fell over.

Maria briefly used her vest to clean the blood off the knife and then used it as a screwdriver to remove a small panel, exposing a number of wires.

"Can you work with that?" Clint asked.

"No," replied Maria. Then she smiled. "But I can break it."

The barmaid yanked as hard as she could, pulling out a few wires and causing a few sparks. She cut a few more wires with her knife and then placed the metal plate back on. She took a few minutes to carefully rebolt it.

"That there's one gun that ain't goin' to cause no more trouble," Maria said keenly.

"What's the idea behind rescrewing everything?" Clint asked.

"Subtlety," replied Maria. "If it seems intact on the outside, they'll have less reason to suspect it of being broken within."

Slowly, Maria worked her way down the ladder and climbed to the other side of the gate where Angel Eyes was waiting. Once again, she opened the panel, tore up the wires, cut several of them, replaced it, and bolted it up like new.

"I think that there's everythin'" she said. "Let's get goin'."

"Well, I don't know about you, but I don't want to be around when these boys wake up and see what we've done," Angel Eyes said with a smile.

Clint came down to meet up with them. "We ready to go?" he asked.

"You bet," replied Maria. They walked over to the gate and slowly opened it as quietly as they could. They stepped outside, closed the gate, and got on their horses, Clint went back to the side to get his and then they rode off into the night sky, each of them thinking about how the Hybrids were going to react in the morning when they'd wake up to find found their commander and several guards dead, papers missing, and sentries broken. 

*****

The next morning...

Clint Wayne rushed towards Angel Eyes and Maria, who were both asleep in their bunks after a hard day's night. He shook them both awake, and wearily, they opened their eyes and grumbled about a wake-up call.

"This isn't good!" insisted Clint. "You have to wake up - they're gone!"

"What's gone?" moaned Maria, rubbing her eyes.

Glancing around quickly to make sure no one was listening, Clint hissed in a voice barely more than a whisper: "The paper that revealed the identity of the mole!"

This seemed to startle his companions awake. "What do you mean?" Angel Eyes inquired. "I thought you were going to keep it safe!"

"And so," Clint said with a grimace, "I thought I did. But look here..." With that, he held out his hand, and his companions saw a few smoldering ashes in the palm of his hand. "That's all that's left. Whoever burned the paper apparently did not do a very good clean-up job, or else wanted us to know that he burned-"

"Good morning, gentlemen!"

They startled and turned around to see Saboteur enter the room. The Alpha Team agent walked with firm confidence, and from behind his cowl, he seemed to be smirking. "Oh, I'm sorry, mademoiselle," he said, "so I should correct my earlier statement... Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!"

Everyone stared at Saboteur with most undisguised distrust. "What do you think you're doing?" demanded Angel Eyes.

Saboteur shrugged. "Sorry for popping in unannounced. But I'm sure you all had fun last night. You did a fine job, sneaking about zhe Hybrids' fortress. Even I'm a little proud. But... you were far too messy. You didn't think zhat ze Hybrids would notice a dead officer, a bunch of dead guards, and broken sentries?"

Clint Wayne, Angel Eyes, and Maria traded glances.

"Zhese Hybrids are much like Mutant Lizards, you see," Saboteur continued as the quasi-smirk disappeared from his expression. "Zhey are extremely adaptable, and even now, zhey are recovering from your little game last night, increasing zheir already-increased defenses. Luckily for you, it seems zhat Sarge has decided to take advantage of zhe situation and, even as we speak, is sending out zhe bomb cart to make sure we get zhe Hybrids before zhey fully recover."

"What?" exclaimed Clint, blinking. "He's actually going to do it? He's going to blow up Fort Legoredo?"

"We can always build a new one," declared Saboteur. He turned to leave, but then stopped. "Oh, and forgive me if I am mistaken, but I do believe I heard something or another about... zhe identity of zhe mole?"

Clint, Angel, and Maria instantly put on their best poker faces.

"Nice poker faces," said Saboteur, smirking again. He leaned in closer, as though trying to pressure them. "But, do tell, since I am most curious indeed... who is zhe mole?"

Nobody spoke.

Saboteur's smirk disappeared once more. "Very well, zhen. I get it. But first, let me warn you something... even if you know who it is, you still might not know who it truly is. Firstly, while I'm sure zhat I am zhe only Saboteur of Dino Attack Team, zhere have been incidents where multiple agents have signed up under zhe same codename. For example, zhere are two Alphas and, last I checked, at least three Hunters. If you heard it was, say, Alpha, zhat narrows it down, yes, but not to a certainty. Secondly, it might not even be a codename. It could be a given name, or a surname, or even an occupation, or even a codename zhat zhis individual does not go by in Dino Attack Team, but rather a codename zhat zhey are known by XERRD. Thirdly... Hybrids are not zhe most reliable source. Even if you are absolutely sure who it is... it could very well be a red herring set up to deceive you."

Saboteur turned away, lighting a cigarette as he did so. "If I were you, I would burn zhe evidence and make sure nobody finds out." Without another word, he departed, with Clint Wayne, Angel Eyes, and Maria watching in disbelief.

As soon as Saboteur was out of the room, Clint lit a cigar and muttered, "I really hate that Saboteur. Just when you think you're rid of him, he pops right out of nowhere."

"You think he told the rest of the squad?" Angel Eyes asked.

"Probably," replied Clint. "Now they're going to be pushing a mine cart along a track to the fortress."

"How do they even do that?" Maria wondered. "Are you seriously tellin' me they went through all the trouble o' buildin' a track just so they could push some filthy mine cart toward that there fort and didn't get noticed?"

"Like I said," insisted Clint, "they're amateurs. We may still have a chance though."

"What's your plan?" asked Angel Eyes.

"Get back into town," replied Clint. "See if you can organize a posse."

"A posse?" Angel Eyes repeated.

"Yes," said Clint. "Get me a couple dozen men, women, children, anyone who can pick up a gun."

"What's all this?" asked a familiar voice. The trio turned around to see the faces of Firecracker and Harmonica staring at them.

"Good," said Clint. "At least you two aren't involved with this madness."

"Oh, actually, I was going to go blow up the Hybrid commander," Firecracker said. "Just need to get my explosives an-"

"Ain't goin' to do you much good there," Maria said.

"What do you mean?" asked Firecracker.

"Tragic accident," Maria explained sarcastically. "His gun went off and shot him in the head, then a knife accidentally landed on his neck and sliced it right open."

"I see," said Firecracker.

"Now listen," Clint instructed. "I got a plan. Now, Saboteur said the Hybrids could adapt, and obviously they will, but our actions were still a setback. They should at least slow them down somewhat, if nothing else. Now we're goin' to do this right. Angel Eyes, get to town, get your posse together. Harmonica and I will go with them."

"Oh, what about me?" Firecracker asked.

"Why you've got a very important job," replied Clint. "How many explosives you got?"

"A couple hundred. Why?"

"Because you're goin' to blow up a few things, not necessarily the fort. You wouldn't make it, but I need you to keep the Hybrids occupied. Can you do it?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"Good," said Clint. "Harmonica, Maria, you two stay with me. We'll keep an eye on things, and as soon as Angel Eyes' posse gets here, we're goin' to take that fort ourselves."

"I'd better get goin' then," Angel Eyes said as he stood up. "Gotta get to town on time."

Angel Eyes walked out of the building. The sound of a horse neighing was briefly audible before its hooves quickly faded into the distance.

"Clint," Maria started to ask, taking him aside. "Clint, what about... um..." She cut herself off noticing the two other men. "You know what."

"We don't have the paper, but we do have the name," said Clint.

"What if what Saboteur said is true?"

"That's why we're to tell no one until we are absolutely sure."

Clint turned back toward the two men standing behind them. "What are you waiting for? Get going already!"

Firecracker hastily picked up the briefcases containing his explosives and ran outside, and soon the noise of a motorcycle faded into the distance. 

----

Donnie smiled as he rolled a full strike. "Yes," he muttered as he turned back to the area where Dude, Walter, and their friends were sitting.

Dude was telling a strange anecdote. "... And then they pooped on my carpet," Dude was explaining.

"That carpet really tied the room together didn't it?" Walter replied sarcastically.

"What's going on?" Donnie asked keenly as he approached them.

"Were you listening to Dude's story?" Walter said sternly.

"I was bowling," replied Donnie.

"Then you have no frame of reference!" snapped Walter. "YOU'RE LIKE A KID WHO WANDERS IN THE MIDDLE OF A MOVIE AND WANTS TO KNOW WHAT HAPPEN-"

Pierce leaned slowly towards Sarah. "Is he always like that?" he whispered.

Sarah nodded. "Trust me," she said. "This is one of his better moods."

"Calm down, man!" Dude shouted.

"YOU ARE OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE, DONNIE!"

"Walter, would you kindly be quiet?" Sarah asked. "Dude was just talking about some annoying 4+ figures who defecated on his carpet before the war started."

"Oh yes," said Donnie. "I remember them."

"SHUT THE ZNAP UP, DONNIE!"

"Why exactly do you hang out with these guys?" Pierce asked.

"Because I don't have much better to do," replied Sarah. "Check this out."

Sarah got up and walked over toward the small rack where the bowling balls were kept and stepped onto the lane. She rolled the ball slowly, and got a firm strike.

"Wow," said Dude. "I don't know how she does it, man! I been playin' for years, she's only been in here for a few months." 

----

Nazareno leaned on a counter, panting lightly. His battle with Zelda had worn him out greatly. While Zelda wasn't nearly a good fighter as Zach, her smaller size and lack of a giant laser cannon arm allowed her to move quickly and strike faster than Zach.

Zelda now sat on a bed, her breathing ragged. Fuchs, Wade, Copper, and Crusher worked furiously around, occasionally stopping to jot down an important note. Nazareno imagined the four doctors' examinations were unnerving her even more than she already was.

After several vomiting fits, Zelda managed to inform the doctors that she couldn't see; that she was blind. However, after 15 minutes, her vision was restored. Further tests showed she was severely dehydrated, malnourished, and just downright sick. Her face was sunken and her body was extremely pale.

Nazareno stood up and walked toward the end of Zelda's bed and looked at her. She looked back, her eyes half-closed and clearly in pain. Nazareno glanced up and saw a purple streak running down the middle of her hair. Nazareno frowned.

"Your hair was black and red, right?" he asked her.

Her eyes opened slightly wider. "Yeah," she moaned. "Why?"

"Now it is black and purple."

"What?" she asked, confused. Nazareno went over to the counter and grabbed a small mirror. He returned to the bed and gave it to Zelda. She looked at it, her eyes widened in surprise.

"It seems that the Maelstrom's power can dye your hair," Nazareno noted. "However, I'm not quite sure if you are locked into strangeness yet. The purple might fade away. Or it might not."

Zelda nodded absentmindedly, staring at her hair in wonder.

"Oh," Fuchs said, looking at a small monitor.

"What?" Zelda asked, concerned.

"There is still Maelstrom in your body," Fuchs said sadly. "I had hoped we could've gotten rid of it."

"What?!" Zelda screamed.

"Calm down," Saran said slowly. "What do you mean, Fuchs? The Maelstrom was leaving her body, we could see it."

"Yes," Fuchs said. "It did. However, the Maelstrom must have realized that she was still alive. There is only a small trace of Maelstrom remaining. It must have latched onto her at the last minute."

"What will happen now?" Zelda asked fearfully.

"You will need to get a good wrap around your emotions," Nazareno said. "Although my knowledge of the Maelstrom is limited, my studies and recent events seem to suggest the Maelstrom will cause negative emotions and feeds off of them, making it stronger. I can help you gain control, but other than that, you may be own your own. You may have the Maelstrom in you for the rest of your life."

Zelda looked at Nazareno, her face full of shock at his words. Finally, she sighed. "You're right. You will help me?"

Nazareno nodded.

Zelda smiled shyly. "Thank you." 

*****

Hotwire swung the Talon around to fend off a formation of Pterosaurs. He primed and discharged the PLARXX radar ray, and the five Pterosaurs became jumbled, breaking their formation and wheeling about in confusion. The T-1 Typhoon continued its rotation, and Loop shot them down with the rear cockpit's sonic screamers.

Loop... Hotwire was trying his very hardest not to think about the fact that a vicious murderer was currently strapped calmly in the gunner's seat, completely obedient to his every order. It was a strain on the mind. Katerina Schattenberg had assured him that Loop -- Lupus Schattenberg -- was thoroughly conditioned to obey her will completely, and she had directed him to regard any and every Dino Attack agent as a similar authority. And yet, Hotwire could still see Loop's same rage burning behind the blank wall of compliance in his eyes. It was difficult to trust such a creature just on the word of a friend.

And that friend? The Kat he had known was unrecognizable. Hotwire hadn't had the chance to really talk to her yet, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to. The minifig who quite firmly called herself Katerina Schattenberg had said that she was still the same person, but Hotwire was doubtful. From what he'd seen so far, his friend Kat was, for all intents and purposes, as dead as Tracer.

The thought of the jumpy rookie agent reminded him of his leg, which was beginning to hurt again. Wade had told him not to take pain suppressants any more often than once every three hours, but the dose he had taken less than an hour ago was already wearing off. He grabbed another painkiller tube, but then hesitated.

Overdose of heavy pharmaceuticals plus giant helicopter... not good. At the same time, though, the pain in his leg would soon make it difficult to maintain his concentration. Very not good indeed. 

*****

It was dark, and Dust rubbed shoulders with the narrow walls of the passageway. He had never been claustrophobic; in his youth, he had explored plenty of temples with his mentor Professor Kilroy.

Shivering more from excitement than cold, he shone his flashlight down the hall. A thin mist was starting to appear the deeper they descended into the temple, and condensation was forming as their warm breath met the cold stonewalls.

So far, he had seen negative effects on Mathew Cyrista and he was suspected that Minerva was going through her own tribulations. The Maelstrom was most dangerous psychologically, and he assumed that would worsen the closer they got.

That was when the voices started.

What are you afraid of, Gahiji?

The Egyptian turned around to see if Andrew had said something but he simply looked up inquisitively at Dust.

"Is something wrong?" asked the Elite Agent. "Is there something we should look out for?"

Dust shook his head. "No, I just thought you said something."

Andrew just shrugged, and Dust turned to continue down the passage.

You have not answered my question, Gahiji, said the voice. What do you fear?

I don't know fear, thought Dust.

I don't think that's true, said the voice. You fear a lack of control.

I'm in control, thought Dust. I have been from the start; these people are exactly where I want them.

That's not what I meant, cooed the voice. You fear a lack of self-control.

Dust shook his head and smiled. Who are you?

But the voice was gone.

*****

The pilots of the Renaissance moved the helicopter so it faced the tree line. Pulling the trigger, agent Fate fired the incredible twin rotating Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters into the jungle and shredded the tree line. Mutants fell in droves, but for every Lizard down a Raptor took its place. The monsters' force fields were not effective against sonic weaponry, but it still took a considerable amount of firepower to kill the things.

On the ground, the Minifigure/Mutant Lizard Hybrids crossed the grassy No Man's Land between the jungle and the temple gate. They were armed with rifles but for the most part they used them as clubs rather than guns. They descended on the agents like a pack of dogs, and often times the metal helmets were no match for the powerful clawed swings of the Hybrids. The counterattack was from the Steel Sprinters. The Dino Attack drove headlong into the swarm and downed hordes of mutants with energized lances and Cosmotronic Rays. Hidden in the jungle, agent Shotgun systematically picked off foes one shot at a time.

David's Fire Hammer was soon rescued from its precarious position, and David entered the battle once again. It appeared that the first group of Dino Attack agents had entered the temple. David wished he could be with them, but he was sure he would get his chance. For now, though, he could make himself useful in fighting the remaining Mutant Dinosaurs outside the temple. 

Catless was having a great time. So far, only Lizards and Raptors were out and about. She had developed a useful strategy. She would jump on a Raptor's back, and get the other Raptors and Lizards to claw, spit acid, and attack in various other ways. She would jump off before they reached her, and the Raptor would bear the brunt of the attack and go down. She would jump back on her Steel Sprinter, and find another Raptor. Rinse and repeat. 

A Mutant Pterosaur rammed the Renaissance hard, and Fate had to work hard to compensate the massive craft. A blast of lightning shot into the craft and fried one of the consoles.

Hertz ducked as sparks shot along the interior and was careful to maintain his balance as he rolled perilously close to the door.

Vinyaya gave a battle cry and pumped an entire round of ammunition into the Mutant. It screamed and fell away from the craft.

"You okay?" Vinyaya asked as she helped Hertz up.

"I'm fine," responded Hertz. "The computers are, too. The Renaissance is fitted with advanced surge protection so I'll be online again soo-"

A hot blast hit the helicopter, and the techie was knocked of his feet again. He hit his head hard on the floor, and then there was a thin trickle of red down his face.

Wiping the blood aside, he glimpsed the Mutant Tyrannosaurus Rexes emerging from the jungle.

*****

"There!" Colonel yelled to Navi. A T-1 Typhoon flew before them, desperately fighting off the deadly Mutant Pterosaurs. "Call them off!" Navi yelled out in her strange growl. The Mutant Pterosaurs screeched in acknowledgement and fled the helicopter.

*****

Vinyaya's eyes widened. Mutant Pterosaurs seemingly fled a T-1 Typhoon for no apparently reason. Then she saw it: a single Mutant Pterosaur with two riders on its back. The riders were leaving the Pterosaur and attempting to board the helicopter.

"Take out that Pterosaur!" Vinyaya yelled.

*****

Navi was clinging onto the side of the T-1 Typhoon, standing on top of one of the Quintronic Sonic Beam Emitters. Her hand was extended toward Colonel. He was about to grab her hand when the Mutant Pterosaur was suddenly stopped flapping its wings. Colonel immediately realized a PLARXX Radar Ray on a T-1 Typhoon had knocked out the Pterosaur. He desperately reached for Navi, but his hand slipped and he and the Pterosaur began to free-fall.

The Pterosaur slammed into the ground, killing it quickly. The flying reptile managed to cushion Colonel's fall. He rolled off the Pterosaur and used his metal pole to get back on to his feet.

Navi! Colonel called out. Are you on board?

*****

"There is a Hybrid on board!" an agent screamed over the radio. Vinyaya grimaced. She had heard of the Hybrids' ruthless nature and was not anxious to meet one.

"Take it out!" Vinyaya responded. She was met with static for several minutes. She glanced out the Renaissance again. She saw a Minifig in samurai armor fall out of the T-1 Typhoon. It fell hundreds of feet and slammed into the ground, most likely killing it.

"Did you kill it?" Hertz asked.

"Y-y-yes!" they heard the agent stammer. "It's dead!"

"You alright, agent?" Vinyaya asked uncertainly.

"Y-y-yes!" the agent spat out. "It was just... a little unnerving."

Vinyaya nodded slowly. "You'll make it, troop," she said sympathetically. "Keep up the fight."

"Yes, ma'am!" the agent said, his voice cracking.

"Alright!" she said. "Keep attacking those Pterosaurs!" 

*****

Kara charged a Hybrid riding a T-Rex, firing her gatling gun at it. The shots had no effect.

"Okay, new strategy," she muttered. She started firing at the ground beneath it.

The Hybrid hissed, "What bad aim you have!"

The bolts of sonic energy were not solid, but perhaps they were more useful for that quality. By now, the bolts had started to make the ground churn. Think of it as the world's most advanced Roto-Tiller.

The ground was unstable beneath the T-Rex's feet; time for phase two of her plan. She summoned her ship with a beckon call, and directed it to fire its fuel rod cannon between the T-Rex's feet. However, it "missed", instead shooting and killing the T-Rex! Her A.I. must be getting trigger-happy.

The Hybrid jumped down, and swung its staff at Kara. She jumped back, and X2, occupied with another Stromling, tossed her his MagnaGuard staff. She caught it, and blocked the Hybrid's next swing.

*****

Garry was quick to step into the infirmary. "How's it going?" he asked.

Fuchs approached him. "So far, so good," he whispered. "We've managed to help the patient gain some sense of individuality, but unfortunately some piece of the Maelstrom remains and we're not sure what to do."

"Could you try to surgically remove it?" Garry suggested.

"Probably not," replied Fuchs. "'However, depending on where it's located, we might be able to remove it through a transplant."

"You think it could work?"

"Well, it's just a theory," admitted Fuchs.

"I don't want theories," demanded Garry. "I want answers." 

Nazareno couldn't help but overhear Garry and Fuchs talking. He walked over to the group.

"The Maelstrom isn't something that can just be removed," Nazareno said. "It is an incredibly powerful and somewhat sentient force of evil. Although I hope there is a method to finish it off, I have doubt about the simplicity of it. There is one last hope, possibly. If I remember correctly, Dr. Cyborg could extract Maelstrom from bodies. We could try that when, and if, he returns from the temple. However, I fear that even that may not work. The Maelstrom may fight against such an extraction, but now it's the best and most likely hope."

"Look," said Fuchs. "I see where you're coming from, but the Maelstrom can't just be supernatural. The supernatural is just science we do not understand. Now, theoretically, I think that if we can find the source of what Maelstrom is still left in her and cut it off, it should at least buy us some time." 

"I have an idea," suggested Garry. "I don't like it, but at this point, I think it might be worth taking a chance."

"What's your plan?" Fuchs asked nervously.

"Those prisoners that were brought in earlier," replied Garry. "One of them was a scientist, probably one who had experimented with the Maelstrom. I don't want to let a XERRD member in here, but at this point, if we want results quickly, I think it's worth the risk." 

*****

Minerva shivered. Despite the stuffy heat inside the temple, she occasionally felt a sudden burst of cold. She couldn't tell if anyone else felt the cold, so she assumed the Maelstrom was playing with her again.

She remained calm, but she could feel that shield deteriorating quickly as the hallway seemed to go on forever. The hallway narrowing did not help her much. "How much farther?" she called to Dust, her voice cracking suddenly.

"Not much farther," Dust responded, clearly lost in thought. Minerva shuddered again and she continued, her shoulder rubbing against the wall. They seemed to be closing in on her more and more, trying to suffocate her. Crush her. She suddenly felt a hand touch her shoulder gentle. She jumped and turned to face whoever touched, bruising her shoulders against the wall.

"Who-" she looked and saw a Minifig that she knew was called Kat. Or at least, used to be called Kat. She wasn't sure who it was now.

"Are you alright?" the minifig formerly known as Kat asked. "You are breathing rather heavily."

"Oh," Minerva said, embarrassed. She didn't want to appear to already cracking to the Maelstrom's pressure. "I think I might be a bit claustrophobic. I feel like the walls are closing in on me."

"Don't worry," Katerina said reassuringly. "The Maelstrom is most likely trying to break you. Making illusions to weaken your mental defenses. As long as this 'Dust' character remains trustworthy, there shouldn't be any immediate danger unless Stromlings suddenly appear. Which seems very likely at the moment, according to the synthfigs, despite Dust's denial."

Minerva breathed out long, allowing herself to calm down. "Yeah," she said, slightly dazed. "You're right. Thanks Kat..." she drifted off. She still wasn't sure who this person actually was.

"Katerina Schattenberg," she said, showing a small smile. "Best keep going. We are holding up the others." Minerva nodded and continued forward, feeling slightly better still had a sense of dread.

*****

Rotor and Amanda Claw fought their way through the Stromlings surrounding them, with Rotor firing his machine gun and Amanda slashing with her knife. Rex, whose wheelchair was pushed along by Kate, helped them out by firing at whichever Stromling he could with his Sonic Screamer.

The Stromling Explorers clawed and shot back at them, while the Stromling Islanders in the lead jabbed at them with the spears fused to their arms. However, in comparison to a Mutant T-Rex, the Stromlings were fairly easy to dispatch, and the Dino Attack agents pushed their way through the crowd. As soon as they broke free of the ring of Stromlings, Amanda took over the pushing duty from Kate as they ran down the hallway of the Temple of Creation. Only Rotor stopped briefly to turn around and fire at some pursuing Stromlings with his machine gun before moving on.

As the group made its way through the Temple of Creation, Rex found himself in awe of the temple around them. The arched ceiling towered above them, with great pillars carved from stone reaching up to meet it. On either side of the hallway, they saw dark passageways leading off to other chambers, but it was too dark to see anything beyond the mist and fog that seemed to swirl all around them. Half-heard voices, thoughts, and ideas whispered in his ear, creating an ambiance that seemed to both lull and alert Rex.

At last, they found themselves in an expansive chamber that seemed larger than the Aztec Village itself, with a ceiling that seemed to reach higher than Dino Attack Headquarters. The group stopped in silent awe. Before they could recover, their attention was drawn to a statue not far away from them. Without hesitation but rather with speechless incredulity, they slowly approached the statue.

The statue was of a faded blue hue, and rather simplistic in design: three featureless Minifigs standing equidistant to each other, facing each other with their arms raised high. In the space between the three Minifigs, there was a bright blue orb. It was small, not much larger than Rex's hand, and it flickered as though threatening to go out, but it glowed brilliantly and cast blue light upon the statue and the Dino Attack agents.

The closer they drew to the statue, the more they were filled with a peaceful bliss that calmed them and relaxed their nerves. Rex felt himself at peace, as though a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Amanda Claw, for the first time in so many years, felt as though everything was going to turn out right in the end. Rotor was filled with a sense of an almost-nationalistic pride, the same feeling he got whenever he emerged victorious from a great battle. And Kate Bishop felt all her worries and fears leave her as a comforting warmth took their place.

"This is it," Rex whispered, unable to raise his voice any higher. "This is the Imagination."

"It's so..." murmured Kate, "beautiful..." She was closest to the statue, and reached out towards the bright blue orb of Imagination.

"Careful. You may look, but you mustn't touch."

Everyone froze instantly as the voice rang through the chamber. It echoed so greatly that it seemed to come from all sides, but slowly, everyone saw a figure emerge from the shadows and approach them.

Rex's jaw dropped in disbelief. "You...?"

*****

Chompy the T-Rex looked bitterly upon the chaos and destruction he saw. Before him, a great battle was taking place, as the Dino Attack Team struggled to combat the forces of the Maelstrom in the form of a Stromling and Mutant Dino army.

Beside him, his female companion's nostrils flared. "This place stinks of those abominations," she growled. "It goes against my every instinct to even stand here."

"We have to," sighed Chompy. "Dino Attack Team is clearly losing this battle, and we must make sure that they can survive long enough against the Maelstrom to bring an end to the Mutant Dinos."

The female T-Rex groaned. "And what use is it, just two of our kind up against the Maelstrom?"

"Every raindrop raises the sea," Chompy murmured quietly.

The female T-Rex blinked in surprise and turned to look at Chompy. "That's from a story that our alpha always told us when we were hatchlings. I'm surprised you still remember that, after... well, you know."

Chompy made some deep noises that were roughly equivalent to chuckling. "We were separated as hatchlings, sister. I am glad to meet you one more time before we die fighting side-by-side to protect our alpha's home and family."

With that, the two T-Rexes roared and then charged into battle, joining the Dino Attack Team in their battle for the Temple of Hotep III.

*****

Zach paced around the chamber, slightly irritated. Ahua had left momentarily to check on the status of the battle, leaving him alone in the temple. Almost as soon as Ahua left, Zach decided to see exactly who had entered the temple. He swirled the Maelstrom pool in the chamber into a screen that was spying on the agents. Right now, they were walking through a passageway that led to a large chamber.

Dust was the first minifig he noticed. Zach wasn't really that surprised. He knew the temple and even though the team distrusted him, he was their best option. Without him, Zach soon realized, the other agents would be dead. Zach held a high level of hate toward the agent and intended to kill him if he got the chance.

Next he saw was Commander Carl Lutsky. Zach smirked at Lutsky's somewhat-disarray hair. Zach hated Lutsky as well. He was loud, annoying, and just a terrible commander in general. He, in Zach's opinion, could not manage to bring the Dino Attack to the Maelstrom Temple in the fashion that Semick did. Zach would also like to end Lutsky's life himself.

He soon spotted an Ogel Drone with the group. Zach raised an eyebrow with interest. He was pretty sure Ogel was not on the island. He quickly came to the conclusion that the drone was the one called Septimus. Zach would be interested to meet such a peculiar drone, but alas, the meeting would never take place in Zach's current state.

He was more interested to see Lance Williams, the surfer, in their group. Zach wasn't aware that the surfer had joined the Dino Attack, most likely indicated he was not as prominent at fight dinosaurs as he was surfing. Zach shrugged Lance off, seeing him as mere cannon fodder.

He rolled his eyes as he noticed Dr. Cyborg among their number. He had discovered that Cyborg had sent some sort of message to him about trash-talking that he disregarded. As evidenced in the battlefield, Dr. Cyborg could be an extremely dangerous opponent to the Maelstrom with his abilities to extract the dark power from bodies. Zach was somewhat interested in seeing how this power held up against actually organic beings such as himself, Colonel, or Ahua compared to the pure Maelstrom Stromlings on the battlefield. However, he wasn't interested enough to actually send himself or the other commanding Stromlings to him. Dr. Cyborg's apparent immunity to the Maelstrom also meant he would have to be killed as opposed to corrupted.

What was most interesting was a woman walking with them. She was flanked by four men and they were all wearing black. The four men all resembled that Inferno agent Loop that Zach encountered during the battle of the camp. Zach soon recognized the woman as Kat from images he had seen on the database. Zach frowned. Didn't Kat get killed by Loop? Wasn't she now a sentient T-1 Typhoon? Zach wasn't sure. What he was sure was that this "Kat" and these Loop-clones needed to killed. Soon.

Then he saw Andrew. And after him, Minerva. Zach smirked. He knew exactly why they were here. They were acting on Minifig!Zach's "plan". Find Zach in the temple and somehow "save" him from the Maelstrom. Zach scoffed. He had to admit, the two were bold heading into the temple on the directions a Minifig trapped inside his mind. However, they would only suffer in the end.

He truly could not fathom why Andrew and Minerva were risking their lives to save him. He only knew Andrew from LEGO Island and rarely communicated him in the last eighteen years. As he thought about more and more, he barely even knew Minerva. He had communicated with her only a few times. They fought together once and that was it.

And then she had saved him from Mutant Dinos during the village and XERRD guards in the fortress. In the case of the latter, Zach could detect her feelings toward him rather clearly. Her brother Oswald could see it as well. She needs to learn make her feelings less apparent, Zach noted. I wonder why she continues like this. I... he is gone and yet she is willing to die to save me... him?

Zach shrugged. It didn't matter. If the Maelstrom stayed true to its word, she would be joining him soon enough. He couldn't deny his own feelings in the matter... 

----

A loud BANG echoed through the desert as Clint and Maria rode to the edge of town on horseback. Harmonica's music played close behind.

"Listen, Clint," Maria said. "You sure it's a good idea that I wait out here with ya?"

"Yeah," replied Clint, lighting a cigar. "When Van Cleef's posse comes, you're going to join us."

"Yeah," sighed Maria. "You forget one li'l detail. In case ya haven't noticed, I'm a woman."

"So?"

"You've seen how 'em boys are," explained Maria. "If anyone sees a woman wearin' men's clothing, they ain't goin' to want to listen to ya."

"I know," replied Clint. "We'll figure something out." 

----

Loop fell into a rhythm of aiming, firing, aiming, firing, at any Pterosaur that came within range of his Sonic Screamers. He felt... odd. Calm on the outside, completely compliant with all orders he received, but somewhere deep in his mind, he could still feel him anger and resentment burning. The return of Executive Schattenberg was especially irksome to this part of his mind. Looking at the matter rationally, he had to admit that he really hadn't known what he was doing when he impulsively exposed himself to the Maelstrom in the wreckage of the Founder's Island; he simply knew somehow that it was necessary. It was only Katerina who was able to tell him what his purpose was. For that, he was devoted to her.

And despised her, with every one of the few fibers of his being that remained free.

The way she so casually disparaged Agent Cane was what incensed Loop the most. The man who taught him everything he knew, an incompetent fool? Impossible. It was Canis Schattenberg who gave Loop his purpose, not the man's pretentious aunt. At that moment, Loop vowed to himself to overcome the psychological conditioning that kept him obedient to Katerina and the Dino Attack team. He paused in his thoughts and glanced around towards the forward cockpits of the Talon, where Hotwire was piloting the craft. And I think I know who my first victim will be.

Hotwire had other things on his mind. The autopilot had been knocked out at some point -- probably during the rough landing which had marked their arrival on the island -- but of course this had gone unnoticed, since Kat had still inhabited the flight computers. And now the pain in his leg was becoming almost intolerable. No painkillers, I lose my concentration and crash this boat of a chopper... extra painkillers, and I lose my motor skills and crash. Either way I lose, so I suppose I may as well lose relatively painlessly. With that, he stabbed the tube of pain suppressant into his thigh.

He looked up again to see a Pterosaur flying directly towards the Talon. Suddenly, it was struck in the side by a missile and plunged towards the ground in a blossom of flame. Did I just...? No, Hotwire was sure he had not fired. And yet it was out of range of the other T-1 Typhoons, which were behind the Talon relative to where the late Pterosaur had been.

The answer came moments later, as three Agents Supersonic Jets flying in tight formation came screaming down from above. They then split apart, drawing the attention of several more Pterosaurs. Simultaneously, a new voice broke over the open comm channel.

"This is Agents Defense Organization Captain Osprey, calling Dino Attack. Have brought backup. Six jets and three Aerial Defense Units."

Hertz was the first to respond. "Much appreciated. We didn't expect any reinforcements at all."

"We've been picking up a considerable increase in activity around this island on our satellites for the past few days." Osprey explained, "and I, along with Dino Attack agent Helm, managed to get clearance to bring a squad here. Sorry if we're late." Hotwire couldn't help but grin at this latest announcement; he hadn't seen Helmie since the aftermath of the Goo Caverns mission. And despite the Agents' classic barging-in act, he couldn't help but be grateful for the reinforcements. A similar sentiment ran through all the Dino Attack forces in the air.

"Our jets can engage the Mutant Pterosaurs," Osprey continued. "You'll then be able to provide more support for your forces on the ground."

*****

The narrow and pe