Bryan Quinn began his career as a young engineer employed by ARGENT. Even at an early age Bryan realized that he had the uncanny ability to analyze designs and be able to optimize them to their full potential. However, when it came to creating his own designs, he often was at a loss. At ARGENT he made name for himself by solving design flaws in other engineer's work which earned him the nick name "The Finisher" with the top brass. His colleagues on the other hand, had other less flattering names for him when he was assigned to solve problems they could not. Bryan became involved in improving and upgrading the power armor that many of the operatives of ARGENT wore. He saw that ARGENT had really only scratched the surface of the potential of the suits and advocated a huge capital investment to improve the technology but was opposed by another research team that wanted to see that money go to their cyborg development.
After a particularly tense meeting in which Bryan pointed out the many flaws in the cyborg systems, he retreated to his lab where his newest prototype was nearing completion. There he was confronted by Dr. Schubert, the lead engineer of the cyborg project. They argued fiercely till Schubert pressed a small remote control and a hulking cyborg came into the lab. As he retreated, Schubert commanded the cyborg to kill Bryan, trash the lab and set it on fire. Bryan tried to flee as the cyborg chased him around the room but was finally struck down and left to perish in the fire.
Bryan was revived by the searing pain of his flesh beginning to burn and believed all was lost when suddenly, the windows to his lab burst inward. Bryan saw a large copper colored power suit begin to spray retardant on the fire. He heard a droning voice somewhere repeating over and over, "halon system engaged, please clear the area." It quickly became apparent that it was too far along to be stopped and Bryan would not last much longer. The armored figure picked up Bryan and turned to leave when Bryan cried out to save the prototype. His rescuer paused for a second, then moved Bryan to one arm and grabbed the suit with the other and flew out of the inferno in a roar of boot jets. The droning voice still carried on as Bryan again lost consciousness. "Halon system engaged..., Halon system... Halon... halon..." The armored man carrying him landed a short distance away from the ARGENT building and Bryan experienced a sudden lessening of pain and a brightness that consumed all else, this must be the end he thought as everything faded to black.
In time though, he did struggle back to consciousness to find himself suspended in some sort of vat of liquid. A sudden languid panic arose in him as he realized he was not wearing any kind of breathing apparatus and his lungs were filled with the liquid. As he tried to find some way out of the vat he saw a figure approach, this time it was golden, and slimmer, but still obviously a power suit of some kind. It touched a few controls and Bryan suddenly fell unconscious again. For a long time he was insensate. Then the dreams began to come, nightmares of fire and burning. "Halon system engaged... Halon system... Halon... HALON". Bryan awoke with a start, he had the sensation that a considerable amount of time had passed. He found himself in a bed this time, surprisingly primitive, in simple room with rustic features and log walls.
Bryan roused himself from the bed and dressed himself in the clothes he found waiting for him. He moved into the next room and found, to his amazement, his power suit on a table surrounded by various diagnostic equipment and supplies. He moved to the small kitchen and all the cupboards fully stocked and a small note on the fridge which read, "Stay as long as you like, you're safe here for the time being and will not be disturbed." Bryan decided to take the advice of his benefactors and stayed to work on his suit while he planned his next move. As his suit neared completion Bryan's thirst for revenge began to grow along with his determination to show just what his technology could do. But he also realized that his own flaw, a lack of true creativity, prevented him from taking the next steps he knew must be taken if he was to achieve a superior design. He thought again of his rescuer, if only he could examine that magnificent suit! But he realized that there were many places where he might find the technology he needed, much of it in the hands of people completely undeserving of it. Groups like VIPER, the Hunter Patriots, and his own ARGENT. And while this refuge did have the components to finish his design, he would need a place with manufacturing facilities, a place like his old lab had had, in the sub-basements. Bryan thought that they might still be intact after the fire and with the strength of his suit he might be able to scrounge what he needed. As Bryan prepared to leave he realized he had no idea where he was. He had looked around the cabin briefly, enough to see that he was in a remote, and lonely region with no apparent roads to or from his hideout. Which was fine since his suit could fly, but he wasn't sure how far.
As Bryan prepared to leave he was confronted by what he recognized as his Copper power suited savior. He was told that he had been rescued for a reason and that the interested parties were willing to help him with his endeavors. Bryan was more than a little suspicious but accepted the help. His benefactors had arranged to demolish the building housing his old lab but saved the foundries below while ARGENT was led to believe the entire facility had been lost. Bryan was able to create a "production" model of his blue power suit which he dubbed Cobalt, after the deep blue coloring it had. Bryan thought that would make a decent code name for himself, but what if in the future he changed the color of the suit? It wouldn't do to run around with a name like Cobalt if you were in fact orange or gold. The dreams came back to him, that word had stuck with him from the fire, Halon. Bryan thought he liked the sound of it and it would always keep the purpose of his mission fresh in his mind. He would call himself Halon. After that he began to raid ARGENT facilities to gain the technology and raw materials needed to continue the improvement of his suit, and to learn the location of Dr. Schubert.
During his raids on ARGENT, Bryan discovered information about new armor advances VIPER had made at a base in Africa. Since information about the African base was very limited, Bryan created a new stealth suit, incorporating some of VIPER's older camouflage technology, which he called Halon:Tungsten, to scout the base. What he found there unnerved him. VIPER was delving into arcane research and wielding forces Bryan could not comprehend. He began to doubt whether he could handle what lay in the bowels of the installation, and it made him afraid. But he chanced upon the plans for the new "Golden Nest" armor and also discovered that the material they were mining here, called Serpentium, was able to channel and redirect some of these supernatural energies. Bryan renewed his resolve and incorporated both the new armor designs and the Serpentium into a new suit that he called Halon:Iodine. With the Iodine suit, Bryan was able to assault the African Viper nest and bring their plans there to an end, for the time being. But his brush with the supernatural world left a cold dark pit of fear in his mind and he would not willingly faces that power again. Bryan returned to raiding Area 51 in the Iodine suit in an effort to retrieve alien technology and was eventually successful, even though VIPER's defenses became increasingly difficult to penetrate. Bryan found it nearly impossible to integrate the alien bio-technology with human designs, as had everyone else, but he did make more progress than others, and created an experimental prototype called Halon:Carbon but the alien interfaces were ultimately unreliable and he abandoned this design before it saw combat. With this setback it was becoming clear that he was again on the verge of losing his edge over his adversaries.
So he renewed his search for Dr. Schubert in earnest while he still felt confident of victory. His search lead him to the fabled Monster Island where ARGENT and VIPER were collaborating on several projects. One of which was his eventual elimination, being led by none other than Dr. Schubert himself. Bryan readied his newest suit Halon:Cobalt 3, and journeyed to the island to meet his destiny.
There he encountered an environment he was completely unprepared for and unwittingly walked into a trap that not only would catch him, but also use him as bait to lure his benefactors. Bryan was repulsed by the raw savagery on Monster Island and the bizarre experiments of Teleios and Dr. Moreau. It goaded him into acting rashly with a simple frontal assault on the base, fighting his way to the lower labs to find his quarry. There he faced something he had never expected, Dr. Schubert was there waiting for him, with a small army of Moreau's poor manimal creatures augmented and controlled with cybernetic implants. Bryan had never faced such foes and they were more than a match for him, even in his latest suit.
The Turning Point
In his darkest moment, help arrived in a brilliant flash of energy, the Copper power suit appeared in the underground lair and began to battle along side him. Even now it was obvious that the Copper suit was as magnificent as ever and the tide began turn, but then the room began to be flooded by robot troopers of a design that was completely unknown to Bryan. Their weaponry was devastatingly effective but suddenly, 2 more flashes illuminated the room and to Bryan's astonishment, 2 more power suited figures appeared. One Gold, and one Silver. The new suits were not as robust as the copper one, the gold one was a similar design but sleeker, with apparently fewer weapons. The silver suit seemed to be an almost entirely different design, it clung to the human form underneath like liquid metal and was apparently built for extreme speed. Again the tide of battle began to shift but Bryan was losing his momentum. He had always fought in small quick engagements, this was quickly turning into a war.
Then he spied Dr. Schubert watching from a raised viewing room at he far end of the chamber and began to force his way there when he was stopped by a yawning opening appearing in the floor in front him. At that moment he was forced to conclude that he had been an utter fool come here. Rising out of the opening was the massive form of a Mega-Destroid, retro-fitted with ARGENT and VIPER technology. Bryan was so dumbfounded that he almost didn't notice the black, power-suited form perched on it's shoulder. All fighting stopped as an amplified feminine voice filled the room with diabolical laughter.
(Dialogue to be filled in later)
... and then her arm lanced out as she fired a hot red beam from the strange long barreled canon mounted on her left arm. The beam didn't seem strong enough to cause serious harm but as it struck Copper, he cried out in pain and the fighting resumed as the Destroid and the black figure joined the fray. Most of the original foes had been vanquished but the giant robot was more than a match for the 4 heroes and they began to fall. The 3 that had come to Bryan's rescue seemed to be especially susceptible to the black figures arm canon, Copper had continued to fight and it was Gold who was the first to fall to her attack. Then Silver was struck down by the Mega-Deatroid's lightning strike. Copper then faced it head on while Bryan faced the black figure which he now could tell must have belonged to a woman.
The black and blue figures fought back and forth to a stand still but Copper began to weaken against the Destroid. Bryan knew it would be his turn next. As his mind raced trying to figure a way out, he became aware that the entire chamber was rumbling and shaking. Suddenly a massive shaft of energy burst through the ceiling and engulfed the Destroid just as Copper fell for the last time. The head of the giant robot sparked and exploded and the rest of it's body then slowly melted into slag. The black armored figure gave a sudden cry of alarm and stood away from Bryan and then disappeared in her own flash of energy. Bryan slumped to the floor in the sudden silence, he saw that Dr. Schubert had also vanished, he was alone. He felt a strange sensation, one he had felt before, a sudden lessening of feeling and a bright flash and he found himself somewhere else.
Bryan was confronted by the alien observer Zoar with the truth of his existence and he temporarily agreed to fulfill the role that the three men before him had, to protect the prime progenitors, of which he was one. The men wearing the Gold and Silver power suits were dead, their suits almost completely destroyed. Eric Dahaffabee, the man wearing the Copper suit, survived but would be in the regeneration tank for months. Bryan learned their origins and was allowed to study the ruined suits in order to augment his own. Though Zoar refused to provide Bryan with any technical further technical aid or understanding.
The encounter on Monster Island left Bryan drained and scarred. Before this it had been a bit of a game, a competition to see who had the best tech, but now people had lost their lives, to protect him, and he felt an obligation repay them. He also learned that the black figure was a woman known as The Marquise, who had dedicated herself to the destruction of the Prime, and was also now the sworn enemy of Halon. Although she was now the primary threat, Bryan would continue to harry ARGENT and VIPER and one day, Dr. Schubert would also pay for his crimes.
The complexity of the Zoar suits daunted Bryan at first. So much so that he was only able to incorporate the most obvious upgrades into his new model, Halon: Cobalt 4. Even after it was completed he was in no rush to don it and begin his work again. He began to wander the streets of Millennium City to reconnect with it's people. He no longer feared that his enemies would recognize him and possibly catch him unawares. One of the best 'perks' of working directly with Zoar was the use of it's matter transportation beam which could deliver and encapsulate Bryan in his armor in a matter of seconds.
It was during one of his walks that he heard the general alarm about a Mega-Destroid active in the city. Bryan decided it would be a good shake down for his new suit and had it beamed to him. As Halon, Bryan leapt into the fray already in progress, battering away at the giant robots legs trying to get it to fall. The battle touched his recent memories but he was determined to overcome his fear. The gigantic machine was a formidable adversary and heroes began to fall. Bryan noticed an oddly equipped hero flinging lightning bolts, jump in front of the Destroid's own lightning attack and absorb it, saving the already incapacitated catwoman lying on the ground near him. The worst thing about the Mega-Destroid, is it's ability to adapt to it's enemies and it quickly switched to a missile attack that took apart the other hero's suit and laid him out. Bryan acted immediately and fired his own missile launcher in conjunction with his chest beam which tore a large chunk out of the robots head and gained its undivided attention. The damage it was sustaining was making it falter and Bryan and the other heroes finally brought it down. Bryan went over to check on the fallen hero in the odd suit and to congratulate him on his bravery, if he was still alive. Pieces of the odd suit were scattered across the ground, none of them really seemed to match well. Bryan could see the man's helmet had come off and stopped in his tracks when he saw his face. It was none other than his own brother Norman, now known as Sigma. After Bryan got over the initial shock he ordered a transport beam for the both of them back to his hidden labs. Bryan was pleased to discover that Norman was only dazed and quickly recovered. The two brothers exchanged their own incredible stories that led to this encounter. With all that had happened, Bryan had decided to let his family think he was dead, to keep them out of harms way. Now that Bryan and Norman had found each other, they immediately vowed to work together and share their technology. With access to Bryan's manufacturing facilities, Norman was able to construct a brand new suit, one that matched and greatly increased his survivability. By studying Norman's designs, Bryan was able to increase the power and efficiency of both suits and together, they began to come up with some radical new designs, including some fully robotic types.
The brothers worked well together and the kernel of an idea began to form in Bryan's mind. Not long after this, Bryan was contacted by the hero known as Quartermoon, who had spotted Halon raiding VIPER's african base, and the idea took hold. Bryan decided that working alone would eventually lead to his own defeat, and invited the likable and gregarious Quartermoon to join he and Norman on their mission to destroy VIPER and ARGENT. Quartermoon agreed and Strike Team Zulu was born.
Bryan decided to use Quartermoon's social contacts in the hero world to try to find a robotics expert to aid them in their new projects and was delighted when he was introduced to a retired industrialist, Alexander Hartenau, who in turn would introduce them to another man known as Heron who was an inventor and accomplished roboticist. Mr Hartenau also introduced them to a mighty hero named Count Ubiquitous, who preferred to be called simply, the Count. With Heron's help, Bryan and Norman were able to construct a massive machine they called Sigmalon, in order to battle things like the Mega-Destroid on an even footing. Bryan invited both Heron and The Count to join the strike team and they agreed. During this time Halon saw almost nothing of the Marquise or her minions. Whenever they did appear to threaten him, he soundly defeated them, thus ensuring that their attacks were even fewer and farther between. But Bryan knew she was out there, waiting.
Strike Team Zulu
The team did well together right from the beginning. There were very few threats put forth by Viper or Argent that they could not deal with handily. With Quartermoon providing intelligence and Heron providing the technical back up, the brute force team of Halon, Sigma, and Count Ubiquitous crushed their foes. They had such an effect that Viper and Argent began to change some of their operations considerably to reduce their losses. They began to break apart into small cells scattered across the world instead of the large fortresses that had proved to be ineffective against the team. This tactic forced the team to slow their pace, as it took time to track down all the new cells and then decide which ones would actually be worth striking at. Their foes even began setting up dozens of fake cells, designed to divide and waste the efforts of the STZ. Whenever a fake cell was struck, it gave the real cells time to evacuate and hide again. This began to frustrate Bryan immensely. One day, while gazing at the earth from the observation deck of Zoar's moon base, he hit upon an idea. His enemies were becoming harder to crush because they were a huge machine with thousands of moving parts, and none of those parts, by themselves, were vital to it's function. In order to beat their enemy, they would have to become more like them. They would have to become bigger, with a larger strike team they could hit multiple targets simultaneously and catch all the little snakes before they could slither away. Heron had already created several new prototypes for combat robots and their newest weapon, Sigmalon, was just about to come online.
Bryan decided that the team should become an organization, with each member a leader of a particular unit. He called a meeting of the team and discussed it with them. As he expected, his brother Norman and Quartermoon backed the motion immediately, they would follow any decision he made. Count Ubiquitous expressed considerable concern about the idea, and made many good points. Bryan was realizing what a brilliant strategist the Count was and frankly was beginning to feel a little uneasy about whether he could be fully trusted. Heron was excited for any reason to expand his research and a chance to see some action himself. Bryan had grown quite fond of the old man and felt trepidation at the thought of anything happening to him. In the end however, it was an unanimous decision to create this new force which one day might bring peace and safety to the entire planet. Bryan, Norman and Heron immediately retreated to the labs to begin designing and building new weapons, armor and androids that would make up the new Strike Team Zulu. In the meantime Quartermoon and Count Ubiquitous took their new roles as heads of the newly formed Strike Team Zulu Signal Corps and Strike Team Zulu Battleforce respectively. The Signal Corps was the intelligence and communications arm, which would be made up of covert operatives spying on the various targets of the Strike Team. The Battleforce would be the actual combat troops that would be deployed according to Count Ubiquitous's strategies and battle plans. All of this would overseen by Halon with his brother Sigma as second in command, although Norman really couldn't stand being in charge of anything and would usually defer to the Count if Bryan was not available. Heron of course was in charge of Research and Development. Almost immediately Bryan began to find new allies if not outright recruits to join the team. Shortly after this plan was put into motion he was able to convince Eric Dahaffabee, the former hero known as Copper, to join him again and he became the first officer in the Signal Corps, Avenger 1. Not long after that Heron was reunited with a very old friend that had been known as the Sky Marshal during World War 1 but was really a time traveler that had been forced to stop at this place and time and agreed to help as much as he could.
Another bold move was to establish a new base and production facilities on Earth. The moon base was more than adequate for their needs but Bryan wanted to make sure he always had a secret and nearly unassailable location to fall back on. Ferrying troops and equipment back and forth between to the moon and the earth was going to attract someone's attention sooner or later so it was decided to choose a new location on Earth. Bryan still wanted a remote and isolated place and so chose Antarctica. From there they set up a transport system across the globe and could tap the untouched resources beneath the icy surface. In the mean time they began to produce the first android soldiers on the moon and began to deploy them in small skirmishes and as workers building the new Antarctic base. In the beginning there were some small set backs, but the the cunning plans of the Count snatched victory from the jaws of defeat every time. Bryan was beginning to feel a great sense of satisfaction at what they had accomplished, what he had accomplished. He began to withdraw from his comrades, even his brother, as directing his growing force began to consume his every thought. From his vantage point on the moon he saw everything. The whole of the Earth, every country, every despot, every empire. He saw what his enemies were doing, and began to think that maybe they had the right idea. Everything down there would be much simpler if he ran everything, for the good of mankind. And if he were to rule, perhaps he should set himself apart. He began working secretly on a new armor. One that was powerful yet regal as well, one that bespoke leadership and control. Rather than being a continuation of the Cobalt series, this one he code-named Overlord.
About this time he was contacted by a powerful sorcerer known as Lord Xanadu. Lord Xanadu had recently learned of the Strike Team and was seeking allies against a deadly cancer that threatened to engulf the entire planet. Bryan still despised magic and refused to meet with him personally so Lord Xanadu sent a representative named Captain Arcane. Bryan was immediately intrigued by the Captain who was clad in a well built and attractive armored suit that seemed more akin to the old destroyed Zoar suits than to anything terrestrial. The Captain was also strangely persuasive, and convinced Bryan to ally with Lord Xanadu against this new threat, Karactacus and his techromantic army. Captain Arcane also asked to formally join the Team, which Bryan heartily agreed to since he also offered to allow his battle suit, which he revealed was in fact of extraterrestrial origin, to be studied. The suit turned out to have many advances and was the basis for a whole new line of medium armored suits that became the standard battle armor for the entire strike force. Bryan was even inspired to abandon his Overlord suit and build a new battle suit of his own, Halon: Cobalt 5. It was lighter and faster than his previous suits without sacrificing any of the durability. Captain Arcane officially joined the Signal Corps as he was a superlative spy. He quickly became a trusted ally who seemed tireless in his pursuit of intelligence.
A Call to Duty
Just as Bryan was about to turn his attention back to Project Overlord, Captain Arcane informed him that Harmon Labs was preparing to demonstrate an experimental sub-space teleportation device and that Viper was preparing to seize that technology. Technology that could be adapted to interfere with the STZ's power transmission systems. Arcane managed to have the core team invited as observers, in their civilian guises, while Quartermoon was invited to appear as "himself" a super hero celebrity. Upon activation of the portal technology, something went awry and a strange visitor emerged pleading for help. He claimed to be a member of a resistance force fighting an evil super powered dictator known to both worlds as Shadow Destroyer. Quartermoon made a pretense of "calling for back up" so Halon and the others could make their presence known. Halon was reluctant to proceed but Captain Arcane and James Harmon argued persuasively in favor of intervention. This Shadow Destroyer had already made his own forays into our own dimension and the STZ had faced him once before and narrowly defeated him when he had attempted take up residence on the moon. The team, Halon, Sigma, Count Ubiquitous, Captain Arcane, Quartermoon and the newly joined Sky Marshal followed the stranger through the portal into a world both strange and familiar. The resistance force was well organized but had lacked anyway to counter the power of Shadow Destroyer himself and his so called "Conquerors" since most other "super heroes" here had all been dealt with. The plan to bring down Shadow Destroyer had been formulated by the leader of the resistance, "the Old Man", who had been recently captured. The first priority was to free him and then to lend their power to the final assault. Halon and his team were cautioned not to do anything overt till they freed the old man, as he was the only one that knew how to counter the army of massive Mega-Destroids that hunted any super powered individuals.
The team was escorted through the Multifarian underworld by a small group of resistance fighters. One of them was a young man, no more than 18, who seemed somewhat familiar to Halon. When asked his name, the young man replied, Paul Quinn. Bryan was a little taken aback, he could see now, the boy could easily be a younger brother to he and Norman. There was a distinct family resemblance though he also seemed to be part Asian. The chances for chit chat were few and far between and so Bryan did not learn much else from him. The team left their escorts behind as they infiltrated the prison holding the Old Man. Inside, Quartermoon, Captain Arcane and Sky Marshal donned disguises and covertly instigated a riot while also freeing some captured resistance heavy-weights. After the prison was subdued by a massive psionic wave, the team was able to assault the maximum security cells. Here they were able to free a few more members of the resistance, though few of them were in any shape to fight. Most of these prisoners had undergone "special treatment". Some would not survive long. Halon wrenched open the last cell to find a man barely clinging to life. That man, was himself. Bryan couldn't believe his eyes. His other self looked at Bryan's armored form blearily and whispered, "Paul?" Halon asked the man who he was, wanting to know what had lead him here. He said that he was Brian Quinn, and that he had been the Shadow Destroyer's chief technologist for years. He had willingly helped build everything around them and subjugate the human race in the name of order and peace. Halon felt a chill as he heard his own words coming from the man's mouth. Describing many of the things he himself had planned on doing on his own Earth. Brian Quinn then said all of that changed after he had a son, Paul, and realized that Shadow Destroyer was going to leave this world in ashes. Brian tapped Halon's armor and said he had made something like it to fight his master but had been discovered before he could use it. Halon promised to get him out of the prison and hoisted him to his feet.
The team succeeded in freeing the Old Man but were shocked to discover that he was none other than the infamous Doctor Destroyer from their own dimension. The team almost abandoned the mission right then and there. Count Ubiquitous had to be restrained from crushing the Old Man's neck after he re-equipped his old armor. Doctor Destroyer reminded them that he was the only one that could deactivate the destroids, leaving Shadow Destroyer open to attack. The team returned to the resistance base but Brian was fading fast. The fighting and flight had been too much for him. He hung on long enough to see his son one last time and told him that he had left a legacy of power and responsibility for him hidden in the ruins of their old home. Halon then asked to speak to Brian and Paul alone. After everyone left he removed his helmet so they would know who he was. He then swore to them that he would free this world from tyranny, and he would fight to make sure that nothing like this happened on his own Earth. Brian asked Halon to look out for his son, and then quietly passed away. Halon turned away to join the battle when Paul suddenly asked to go along. Halon acknowledged that Paul was destined to fight many battles in defense of his world, but not today. Paul hung his head and watched as Halon rejoined his team as they assembled for the final battle.
True to his word, Doctor Destroyer was able to deactivate all of the automated aspects of Shadow Destroyer's army. The team waded through the hordes of human troopers and defeated Shadow Destroyer in the heart of his on domain. Again, Bryan was forced to face unspeakable magical horrors. There were no words to describe how much he despised them. After their triumph, Doctor Destroyer made a few veiled threats, but took no action against the STZ before he promptly vanished, just as Count Ubiquitous again lunged at him. The resistance was able to reactivate the portal to Earth-1346 but the sub-space interference was increasing by the minute and Halon and the team quickly returned. Just as Halon was passing through the portal he thought he heard the whine of approaching jets. Once through he turned to look at the collapsing portal. An armored figure burst through at the last possible moment and careened into the far side of the lab. Halon recognized many aspects of the armored suit, they were very reminiscent of his own, though the suit itself was the color of polished Bronze rather than the familiar cobalt blue. Bryan knew right away that it could only be Paul. Before Bryan could say anything, Paul collected himself, shouted "Didn't you see it!? We have to stop it!" and made for the nearest exit faster than anyone could stop him. Bryan had no idea why he had followed them here, or why he had run away, but he was going to find out because there was no way to send the boy back home.
After some rest and recuperation, Bryan decided to admit to the rest of the core team, including Heron and Avenger 1, just how far he had been planning to take them in pursuit of victory and how ashamed of that he now felt. He also told them that although they were in a good position to continue their campaign against VIPER or ARGENT with their current forces, they would not continue with the massive buildup that he had been envisioning. The team, in general, agreed with his change in policy and the reasons behind it. Count Ubiquitous argued that they should however continue to be preemptive in their struggle rather than revert to the reactive approach and Halon and the team agreed with this. Before that could continue though, Bryan had work to do. Another unfortunate revelation of the Shadow Destroyer battle was that some of Bryan's technology, that he had pilfered from Argent or Viper, had in turn been stolen from Doctor Destroyer. When Destroyer had activated a fail-safe built into his technology, it had partially deactivated some the Cobalt 5 suit systems. Bryan and Norman had worked feverishly, cannibalizing some of the Sigma systems, to make Bryan's suit combat worthy again. Bryan and Norman consulted Heron who had been exploring some radical new concepts while they were one. They all agreed it was time to focus solely on their own technology, though Heron had to admit that some of his own designs were actually based on 51st century technology brought to him by none other than Sky Marshal. The trio spent several weeks redesigning their systems, the results of which were realized in the designs for Cobalt 6, Iodine 2 and Sigma 7. Bryan finalized and constructed Cobalt 6 while using Iodine 2 as a testbed for new technologies. Norman built Sigma 7 as a much heavier and durable alternative to his Sigma 6 design. In the mean time, Count Ubiquitous had used the time to press the attack on ARGENT with moderate success. He had learned that Doctor Schubert had resurfaced in the ARGENT hierarchy and was rebuilding his own power base. While the Marquise might be considered the nemesis of the entire STZ, Dr. Schubert was most definitely Bryan's. With the completion of his completely new suit, Bryan decided it was time to put aside his sociopolitical machinations once and for all and get back to some good old fashioned revenge. The hunt for Dr. Schubert resumed.
Following the shake down period for Cobalt 6, Bryan was satisfied that this was his finest suit yet. He liked it so much that he returned to leading missions in the field just to spend more time in it. He began to concentrate his raids on ARGENT primarily. No longer concerned with what technology he could find, his primary goal was information on where to find Schubert. At the same time, the STZ began it's draw down of the battle force and a halt to construction on the Antarctic facility. In order to get that settled quickly he asked most of the team to directly oversee their various departments there. In the mean time Bryan planned his next move. Suddenly, contact was lost with the Antarctic base. There had been no alarm or indication of a problem, but the complete cessation was more than a little unusual. Bryan consulted Zoar, who oddly seemed to have little information as to what was going on, it only suggested that Bryan use the alternate ingress teleport pad if he intended to investigate.
Aside from a few androids, the moon base was completely empty, Bryan had sent everyone down to help organize the base. He went down alone. Finding no one on guard, he made his way quietly down the hall till he met the first door and listened. The surveillance gear in his armor working flawlessly, he overheard someone that was obviously not one of his people, indicating that the base had indeed been raided. Bryan thought ironically that someone was beating them at their own game, they had been untouchable for so long, this kind of attack almost seemed unthinkable. Bryan overrode the door controls and took the two on the other side by surprise. They managed to get a few shots off, electric bolts from their hands, but they went down quickly. Bryan could tell immediately that they were from ARGENT. Their bodies were suffused with subcutaneous capacitors and emitters, they were cyborgs, Dr. Schubert was here. The old anger rose in Bryan and he was tempted to throw caution to the wind and storm the rest of the base, but he remembered that somewhere in here were over 2 dozen men that were depending him.
He found a few of his android troopers scattered here and there, overwhelmed by the electrical attacks no doubt, something they would have to remedy. He came to the motor-pool and finally found what he was looking for. There were a dozen of Schubert's Electro-men with an equal number of his own troops deactivated, and his friend Heron lying on the floor, trussed up and struggling to breathe. He was being watched over by someone Bryan had never seen in person before. He knew her from the STZ's known enemies files, she was called the Huntress and Quartermoon had brought her up as someone he had faced a number of times. She was known to be an exceptional marksman but had no real powers. Bryan didn't want to chance hurting Heron so he tried to reactivate several of the troopers in the room remotely to cause a distraction, which they did. He charged into the room and took out the Huntress with one blow. The rest of the Electro-men weren't much harder, their electric blasts didn't get past his force field. Bryan untied Heron and helped him get his rebreather working correctly again. Heron said that the attack had been so sudden, the Electro-men had just appeared out of thin air, and emitted some sort of EM pulses that had disabled much of their technology. They were shielded against those kinds of attacks of course, but it had worked anyway. Heron said that he was well enough to fight, Bryan didn't want him to come along, but there was no telling what he still had to face so the pair, with several rebooted androids along, moved on to the primary robotics lab
There they found another assailant with several bodyguards, attempting to commandeer their Sigmalon robot. Again, after some consideration, Bryan recognized the armored figure as Baron Luftjaeger, an arch foe of Sky Marshal. Although he had managed to get Sigmalon activated the Baron couldn't command it yet, so Halon and Heron struck before he could. The Baron had a few tricks up his sleeve but still went down fairly quickly, instead of surrender he seemed to teleport away. The sound of their combat had raised the alarm with the invaders finally, a group of the Electro-men burst into the room but they were outmatched. Bryan heard laughter coming from the adjacent lab and he and Heron went investigate. There he found something incredible. Count Ubiquitous unconscious and restrained by one of their own force fields. Bryan had thought there was nothing in the world that could bring the Count down. Next to him was one of their recent recruits, his avenger battle suit in tatters, he too was unconscious. Between them stood a VIPER operative. At least it seemed that way but a closer look at the armor he was wearing showed many customizations. The man stood there grinning and threatened to kill both of his captives but Bryan didn't even let him finish. He let fly with both his missile and chest beam and pounded the man into the wall behind him, shattering his chest plate. Heron quickly released the two captives. The Count regained consciousness quickly and identified his captor as his long time foe Duke. He had been caught by surprise by a gas attack but already felt recovered from it. More Electro-men came at them, now that both sides had lost the element of surprise it was a straight up fight. The Count said he believed that Quartermoon and Sky Marshal were up ahead in the barracks and storage areas.
With a handful more reactivated droids, the trio made their way down the central corridor. They first went towards the storage area. In a side room they heard muffled shouting and burst in to find Eric Dahaffabee, also known as Avenger 1, armor-less and railing against his captors who appeared to be toying with him using micro-shocks. They didn't know what hit them. After being released, Eric quickly made his way to the still sealed armory and suited up in an Avenger armor and joined the rest as they stormed the storage area where they found Quartermoon. There, besides a knot of the Electro-men, they found a cyborg none of them recognized, all green and silver, he was extremely fast and took out several of the androids before being brought down himself. Quartermoon said the man had called himself "Green Lion" and like the others, had appeared out of nowhere to take him by surprise. Now with 4 of them and 20 androids functioning, Bryan figured the rest would be a cake walk, he was wrong. Returning to the central corridor, the team was ambushed by 20 of the Electro-men. They took a few more androids but were vanquished by the core team.
he team proceeded to the barracks where they found the rudest surprise of all. Inside they found a mercenary team that they had all heard of, but never met before. The former soviet super team known as Red Winter, all six of them. This was a fierce battle. Heron and Quartermoon went down again. Bryan, the Count and Avenger 1 battled on to victory but it was touch and go for awhile. Inside they were able to activate their reserve forces and they found Sky Marshal captive but more or less unharmed. Sky Marshal said that something was going on in the main control room and that he had seen Dr. Schubert there. With most of the androids now back on line, the Electro-men no longer posed much of a problem and the core team proceeded into the control room. There they found that a lot of damage had been done and the room was not empty.
Finally, after 5 years, Bryan was face to face with Dr. Schubert again. He was not alone however. Schubert had dozens of his minions and another group of super powered mercenaries with him. The battle that ensued was quite epic. The room itself and the equipment in it were devastated. Dr. Schubert made a pass at fighting but quickly fled when Bryan went after him. In his way stood another armored figure. This one was an ARGENT model, one he was intimately familiar with. He knew it's weak points and disabled it quickly but Schubert was out of sight, headed toward the reactor vault. Bryan rushed after him. He found him standing in the reactor monitoring room waiting.
"Why did you come here Schubert if you're just going to keep running from me?" He asked.
Dr. Schubert chuckled and said, "Oh my dear boy, turnabout is fair play don't you know. You have been hitting us hard this past year. We decided to hit back."
With that, Dr. Schubert held up a small remote control and pressed the button. His body faded from view, a broad smile on his face. Behind where he stood, Bryan now saw a small device counting down. 3... 2... 1... flash. A bright light, the old familiar sense of lightness, and Bryan found himself back in his moon base. He was in the main hangar bay. Everyone was there with him along with a number of the droids. Zoar had beamed them out.
"Zoar, what happened?" he called. "The Antarctic base has been destroyed." it replied coldly. "How the hell did they find it?" he asked. "Insufficient data." it replied. "We have a spy somewhere", Bryan thought to himself. Suddenly it occurred to him that 2 of their members were still missing. His brother Sigma, and Captain Arcane.
Shoot for the Moon
Bryan quickly convened a meeting of the core members to decide the next course of action. During that meeting, Quartermoon began receiving a signal from Captain Arcane on the Signal Corps' secret emergency frequency. It was simply a string of coordinates, on Monster Island. Bryan felt his gut twist. Nothing good ever happened on Monster Island. Bryan decided that this time, he and Quartermoon would reconnoiter the location before they went charging in. Wearing his Tungsten 2 armor, Bryan was able to locate the source of the signal coming from a series of lava tubes on the North-West side of the island. It was clear this was Schubert's base, his Electro-Men were every where, along with the standard hulking ARGENT cyborgs. At this close range they were able to get a directional fix and followed the signal into the volcanic mountain, their stealth fields hiding them from the enemy forces.
They approached what appeared to be a brig of some sort, cells were built into the rock walls with several minions standing guard. This included an armored individual, the one Bryan had faced in the Antarctic base, or at least some one wearing a similar model. Suddenly the armored figured looked directly at them as if seeing through their stealth fields, and sprang into action. However, it was not against Bryan and Quartermoon, but rather the rest of the guards. The armored image shimmered and in it's place was Captain Arcane, cutting down the enemy with lightning quick strokes of his energy sword. Bryan never ceased to be amazed at the Captain's guile. Once the guards were down, Captain Arcane moved to a cell and opened the door. On the floor lay what appeared to be another Captain Arcane and on the bed, lay Bryan's brother Norman. Captain Arcane reached down and removed a small device from the prone figure and the armored guard reappeared, the Captain had taken his place to watch over Norman till help could arrive. He explained that Norman had been kidnapped several weeks earlier and replaced with a surgically altered impostor. Dr. Schubert had not only captured Norman, but also his technology, the Electro-Men were a direct result of that. Bryan couldn't believe he had been duped so easily, but in retrospect he realized that he and the rest of the STZ had been so busy that they had not noticed how separate the impostor had kept himself. It had been a mistake to interrupt the surveillance duties of the Signal Corps during the draw down, only Captain Arcane had stayed on the case, they would have been lost without him. Arcane went on, describing how he had picked up Schubert's trail when his minions stole an Electro-voltaic Polyturbine from a vault that Norman had been using to store valuable technology. He managed to ride the same teleportation beam to this base and was present to witness Dr. Schubert and his minions return from the destruction of the antarctic base. He then learned that the polyturbine had been stolen to be used as part of a massive pulson array that was aimed directly at the moon. Bryan couldn't believe what he was hearing. The Captain continued to explained that this wasn't just a plot by Schubert to eliminate them, it was part of a larger initiative within ARGENT. They had developed a series of new products and services under the corporate name of Moonstone Inc. designed to take advantage of the global destruction and chaos that would ensue.
Bryan had heard enough. He called Zoar to send the entire remaining STZ to begin a direct assault on the base. Meanwhile he asked Quartermoon to get Norman out of the tunnels so he could be transported back to base to recover. Bryan and Captain Arcane decided to move ahead and attempt to sabotage the pulson array before it could be fired. On the way, Arcane showed Bryan where the internal transport pads were, but they were heavily guarded. Bryan wanted to change out of his Tungsten armor in order to be ready the battle ahead. Nearby, was an apparently volatile section of the volcanic interior being held in check by force fields. Captain Arcane disabled these force fields causing a sufficient distraction for Bryan to use the pads and have Zoar beam his Cobalt armor to him. With the distraction of the volcanic intrusion, Bryan and Captain Arcane began a direct assault on the interior while the rest of the STZ, under the command of Count Ubiquitous, began the outer assault. The base's personnel, pulled in 3 different directions, were in complete disarray. It didn't take long for Bryan and the Captain to find the pulson weapon. Dr. Schubert was personally overseeing the work of a group of technicians feverishly trying to get the array to fire immediately. Bryan was tired of sneaking around. He opened fire on the giant weapon directly.
The room turned as one in his direction, the Electro-Men and guardian cyborgs charged but were simply no match for the pair. Dr. Schubert again made a few salvos of his own and then fled. Bryan ordered Captain Arcane to remain there to ensure the destruction of the array while he pursued Schubert, he was not going to get away this time. He pounded through the corridors after his nemesis, the occasional knot of minions slowing him slightly allowing Dr. Schubert to pull ahead. Suddenly, Bryan burst into a large chamber that contained a great monstrosity. He couldn't quite tell if it was a machine or a beast but it was horrific, and well armed. Dr. Schubert whirled and began firing on Bryan again. The monstrosity came alive and moved toward him. Bryan ducked and weaved, trying to avoid the creature's ponderous attacks while seeking a clear shot at Schubert. He quickly realized that his new suit was more than a match for the beast and destroyed it utterly, but this allowed Dr. Schubert to flee once more. Bryan pursued him doggedly. He emerged into what appeared to be a large hangar. Minions were preparing an aircraft for launch but Schubert was no where to be seen. Suddenly a bolt of electricity caught Bryan from the left, he turned to see that Dr. Schubert had had time to don his brother's own suit, Sigma 7. Bryan felt a moment of grim satisfaction realizing that Schubert was more or less admitting that he and Norman now had the superior technology by trying to use it against them, turn-about indeed.
However, Bryan and Norman had learned a trick from Doctor Destroyer, and included deactivation circuits in their latest suits, he simply turned his brothers stolen suit off. Dr. Schubert sputtered with panic, struggling to extricate himself from the suit when the room was inundated by his Electro-Men retreating from the fighting with the rest of the STZ. Electricity burned the air but the minions fell quickly as Bryan and his team decimated them. As the smoke cleared he found Dr. Schubert trying to crawl away. As he raised his arm to fire, Schubert pleaded for his life, blubbering and trying one last exhortation.
"I give up! You win! You win!" He yelled as he continued to cower on the ground, his terror clearly written across his face.
"You think this is a game?!" Bryan shouted back. His anger at Schubert turning into contempt.
"Of...of course it is!" he replied. "You have been a parasite living off of ARGENT's technology, our creativity, only to turn around and shove your improvements in our faces time after time. You never made any attempt to stop us, or to expose us to UNTIL. Just this endless back and forth, over what?!" His fear turning into anger and frustration. "Listen to me, I am sorry, alright? I am sorry that I tried to kill you. We both lost our tempers, but I never wanted this fight. When the brass realized who you were, they insisted that I be the one to take you down." Schubert's face was streaked with tears and his frustration gave way to exhaustion. "The damnable thing about it was that you were right. I knew you were right, even at the beginning. My cyborgs would never stand up to your suit technology in the end. This has all been such a waste of time," he said as he sat up and put his head in his hands.
Bryan paused for minute, not sure what to do. The rush of battle was over. Around him, the fighting had died down as the remaining Electro-Men surrendered and the STZ began to gather about them. He wasn't sure he could kill Schubert now, or even if that was what he had ever wanted to do. He had to concede, it had been a game, at first anyway. It wasn't any longer.
"Do it," someone said, repeated by a few others. "Ha ha, make him beg!" someone else said. Bryan looked around. Nearly everyone in the STZ had an ax to grind with ARGENT or VIPER. They wanted to see this finished.
"So what do you expect now, mercy?! This is not a game to me, this is about making you pay for what you did to me, to us! You were about to blow up the damn moon just to get at us!" Bryan raised his hands again and Schubert shifted to his knees in abject supplication.
"Wait, wait wait!" Please listen, this whole thing was part of a huge plan to capitalize on disaster relief! Destroying you too was just a bonus." If you hadn't been so fixated on getting to me, you might have noticed that. Listen, you can turn me over to the authorities, this was a company plan, not mine. I will tell them everything. I'll be in prison for years! I... I'll never bother you again!" The fear and panic had returned. "And if you let me go unharmed, I'll tell you why you've never been able to track the Marquise, and how to find her".
Response to Responsibility
The sounds and spectacle of the Monster Island battle attracted the attention of Bureau 17 who arrived just as the STZ was marching their captives out of the base. This was the first time they had actually captured an entire base with the intention of holding it. Before, they had simply taken the data or materials they wanted, caused a lot of damage, and left. The had never had prisoners before partly because they themselves would have been classified as outlaws. However, Bureau 17 was quite unobtrusive and was happy to take the prisoners into custody, including Doctor Schubert. Some of their members even surreptitiously asked for autographs or photos with members of the team. When all was taken care of, the STZ returned to their lunar base. At least, most of them did. Bryan's decision not to kill Dr. Schubert was unpopular with some of the recruits. Some of whom had resigned from the group right then and there. Others had returned with them but had made their dissatisfaction known. Bryan quickly convened a meeting with the core members. From Bryan's point of view, it was clear the team needed a new direction. They needed to be something other than just another super powered gang fighting a gang war. Most of the team agreed, all except for Count Ubiquitous. He pointed out, most vigorously, how Bryan had let the STZ down. How he had squandered his considerable resources, allowed a potent fighting force to all but disband, and now had proved that he didn't have the backbone to finish the fight he had started. Bryan argued back that it was time for all of them to "grow up" and start acting like responsible adults instead of children with toys. That they needed to look at the larger world view and fight for their fellow man, instead of playing games of tag with the people they despised. The Count would hear none of it. Just when it seemed they might come to blows, which was a terrifying prospect given the Count's power, he looked around the table, saw that he was alone in his convictions, even his old friend Heron was against him, and simply said "you will rue this day" and strode out. He made a short announcement of his departure, asking any men that were dedicated to the idea of destroying VIPER and ARGENT to follow him. Most of them did. Bryan was not sorry to see them go. Many had been fairly violent men, often recruited by the Count, and the STZ would be quite satisfied with the android troops they had.
Over the next several days the STZ rested and took stock of who and what they had. Almost all of the Signal Corps had remained, they were not usually combat personnel, there were 29 combat ready androids with the new Mk 3's just beginning full scale production and about 15 percent of the human soldiers remained though many of them expressed their misgivings about what the future would hold. Norman Quinn was still shaken by his ordeal. He told Bryan that he had no desire to resume field missions and would instead devote his time to the labs and developing even better technology for the team. With Sigma and Count Ubiquitous gone, that left the core team with 4 active members, Halon, Quartermoon, Captain Arcane, and Avenger 1. Heron had also expressed a desire to remain in the labs and out of the field. Although he obviously continued to regain his health, he decided that the missions were just too disruptive to his work, as he was nearing some significant breakthroughs. Heron's friend, Sky Marshal, although a willing and able fighter, often had his own affairs to deal with and could only aid them on a part time basis or for emergencies. The core team continued to meet and discuss their options till they finally came to a consensus on their future. The STZ would no longer act like a bunch of thugs and raiders. From this point forward they would refocus their efforts in aiding Avenger 1 with his responsibility to Zoar and protecting the Prime Progenitors and they would do their best to abide by the law, no more overt vendettas. Their one stumbling block was that they unanimously refused to accept the registration process of super heroes in the United States. Well, almost unanimously, Quartermoon was already registered. The solution seemed to have already presented itself. Bureau 17 had been quite amiable to the team and had asked no questions of them whatsoever. Captain Arcane was tasked with presenting a proposal to them and the Japanese government, that the STZ be officially sanctioned as a Japanese super group and that the government would then be their liaison to U.N.T.I.L and other governments. The Japanese government accepted the proposal enthusiastically, their only stipulations being that the team be responsible for their own expenses and that they be available for a few public appearances on a yearly basis. After assuring them that the STZ was completely self sufficient and Quartermoon volunteering to make as many appearances as needed, the Japanese government designated them a special response team under Bureau 17 and were assigned a liaison code-named Dr. Clearwater. Dr. Clearwater himself was a semi-autonomous operative who was in the process of restoring a recently damaged underwater base on an island north and west of Monster Island. He was a brilliant biologist, a field the STZ had sorely been lacking expertise in for quite sometime. Bryan hoped this was the start of a long and fruitful friendship.
Lost and Found
With these new underpinnings in place, the team turned to it's most important task, acting on the information given to them by Dr. Schubert, the location of the Marquise. The Marquise could not be found or tracked by Zoar because she attacked this world from another dimension. A flaw in Zoar's second program that it's creators apparently had not planned for. Zoar however was designed to be infinitely adaptable and it created a new detection net to locate and identify extra-dimensional entities and incursions. While the Marquise's specific frequencies were not immediately detected, another anomaly they were looking for was, Paul Quinn. Despite his promise not to, Bryan had nearly forgotten about him with all that had gone on in the past few months. Zoar pinpointed his location in northern Canada. Rather than rush in, Bryan decided to track him for a few days to see what he was up to. After 4 days Paul appeared not to move from his initial location so Bryan decided to approach him to see if he was alright. Bryan, Captain Arcane and Quartermoon were beamed to Paul's hideout. There they found the former ARGENT outpost practically demolished, in the center, a scorched pit had been burned into the floor. Leaning against the wall was Paul's armor. It was a little battle worn but seemed to be in good shape. At first it seemed empty, but then the whole suit suffered a quick intense tremor. Then the helmeted head lifted and turned in their direction. "Help me..." Came the soft voice from within as Paul raised his hand to them.
Halon and Quartermoon moved to him and managed to get his helmet open. Inside Paul was pallid and stiff, his body gripped by some sort of rictus. Then his armor suffered the strange vibration again and he relaxed slightly. Bryan had all of them beamed back to the moon immediately. Bryan, Heron and Doctor Clearwater managed to get Paul out of his suit but he immediately fell into a coma. They were all at a loss to explain his condition until Heron discovered that Paul had apparently added some rudimentary temporal circuits to his armor. They then asked Sky Marshal to consult with them and he was able to recognize Paul's condition as a type of temporal displacement sickness, brought on by his prolonged exposure to a very foreign time stream. Since Heron already had extensive experience in adapting Sky Marshal's temporal and nanogen technology, he was able to create a much more efficacious therapy for Paul, by adapting new nanogens to work with the upgraded circuits they added to Paul's armor. It would now act as a temporal barometric chamber to help Paul's body adapt to it's environment but they all agreed it was a stop gap measure. Paul would need to find a way home if he was to survive. After a few days treatment, Paul regained consciousness. He was still disoriented, Bryan was present when he awoke and Paul kept calling him "Dad". Bryan decided to keep his distance till he recovered more fully so as not to confuse him further.
After a few more days, Paul was able to leave his armor for brief periods and was completely lucid. He explained his reason for coming to E1346, chasing what he believed to be some sort of demonic entity bent on their destruction. Paul had taken to calling this thing, the Wretched Whisp. He had pursued the thing across Canada and parts of America, finally attracting the attention of a mystic known as Ravenspeaker. Together they had finally trapped and destroyed the Whisp right there in his own hideout. Paul explained that he had been feeling the effects of the strange temporality of E1346 right from the start, eventually realizing what the cause was and had been building the new circuits to help stabilize his condition as circumstances permitted. After the last battle, his condition quickly worsened, he had been able to make something that would keep him alive but not much more than that. That was around when they had found him. Now that the Whisp had been dealt with, Paul agreed that he was ready to go home. Unfortunately, the dimensional portal at Harmon Industries had been dismantled and none of them, not even Zoar knew how to cross dimensional barriers. They realized, with some irony, that the best chance they had to get Paul home, was to finally capture the Marquise and find out how she crossed dimensions.
Friends and Enemies
As if on queue, the new detection net registered her incursion patterns in Taiwan, followed by another similar but larger incursion pattern right after. The team assembled, Halon, Quartermoon, Captain Arcane, Red Copper and Doctor Clearwater. Paul insisted he was feeling much better and since he was forced to wear his armor anyway, he might as well go along. Bryan agreed. They moved as quickly as possible, hoping to catch her off guard, and beamed to the location with virtually no intelligence. They knew it was a cavern, several hundred feet below the surface, but not much else. It turned out to be a war zone. They had beamed in close to the cave wall, the cavern was large, with various types of machinery and equipment installed, including a large ring to their left. Weapons fire crisscrossed the cavern. On their right, the Marquise and her minions, including Joan Jett and Slayer, were fighting a pitched battle with a silvery clad armored figure and a battalion of large, well armed robots coming from the ring on their left. The Marquise was losing people quickly. She was engaged with the other armored figure, her traditional weapons, not seeming to have near the effect on him that it normally did on them. His weapons on the other hand, were taking her apart. After being blasted to the ground she turned to the new arrivals and pleaded with them. "Help me! Help ME, PLEASE!!" Paul spoke suddenly, "That voice, it's... Mom?! MOM!!" Bryan was stunned, Paul thought that Bryan's mortal enemy was his mother? He didn't have time to mull over the ramifications as Paul dashed towards her. The silvery armored figure also turned towards them, he shouted at them in a language none of them could understand and then opened fire.
None of the Marquise's remaining troops fired on them, considering the other intruders the greater threat, and so Bryan gave the order to engage this new enemy. Since all but the armored figure were robots, they did not have to show any kind of restraint, still the machines were large, powerful and difficult to bring down. Paul,reached the Marquise just as the silvery armored figure fired twin hot green beams from it's forearms that burned into the woman's armor, making her scream. Paul tried to shield her but the beams started melting his suit as well. Halon laid into him with everything he could muster. It stopped the attacked but barely staggered him. Paul fired all he had at the figure and he was forced back a few more steps. The rest of the team had brought down half the robots when the silvery figured yelled something at them again and then fled for the portal, his robots covering his escape.
The Marquise's minions were decimated. Joan Jett was still alive and being restrained by Captain Arcane. Her own robot, Slayer, was down but still functional. Red Copper made sure that it ceased functioning for good. Paul crouched over the Marquise, trying to get her helmet off. Bryan approached them, seeing that her armor had been severely damaged and that she might already be dead. The helmet finally came off, and Bryan was shocked again. The face that greeted them, while appearing to be human, had blue skin instead of pink, and the blood oozing from her wounds a dark purple. Bryan had assumed she was just another parallel human being like them. Paul too, was surprised. He mumbled to himself more than to anyone else, "No, no you're not my mother. How could you be." But he still held her gently, clearing the matted black hair from her face. But she responded, "Poul? Poul?? No, you can't be my Poul, he is still little, my Poul." Bryan knelt down beside her, suddenly feeling sympathy for her despite the years of fighting. "Who was that?", he asked. Her eyes wandered and then focused on her old enemy. "He is the devil. He is my enemy. Now he is your enemy. Does that make us friends?" She managed a wan smile. "Where do you come from? Why did you do this?", Bryan asked. "All I have done, I have done for my Empress, long may she rei..." She faded away then and slipped into death's embrace.
Paul began to sob. Bryan sighed, it had not ended at all how he had expected. He had considered that they might have to kill her to stop her attacks, but had hoped it would not come to that. He had also hoped he would understand why she had opposed the 4th program. Why she, apparently an extra-dimensional and/or extraterrestrial, would care what goes on in their universe. The portal at the far end of the room had closed down after the silver figure had left but otherwise appeared to be intact. Bryan considered having it all beamed up to the moon base but thought better of it and asked Heron and Norman to beam down and get to work on deciphering the technology. He did have the Marquise's body and other equipment beamed up for study.
The Devil You Know
Under interrogation, Joan Jett finally revealed the origin of the Marquise. The inter-dimensional conqueror known as Istvatha V’han, who had attempted to invade E1346 once before, had used her vast powers to travel the time streams to find our vulnerabilities. One trip far into the future made her aware of the 4th program on Earth. Further investigation revealed that it was not something that could be opposed overtly, that inevitably led to a worse outcome once her involvement became known. She set on a plan to covertly disrupt the program by sending a single agent that would strike at specific targets that would eventually ruin it. Istvatha V’han understood Zoar’s weakness of not being able to detect dimensional incursion and recruited an agent from V1346, tangential to the target dimension, and outfitted her with advanced technology and a plan of attack.
At first the plan worked. The Marquise’s attacks were too sudden and unpredictable for Zoar’s minions to stop. Then she went after Bryan Quinn and he proved to be an elusive target. The Marquise moved on to other targets but Zoar began to discern her pattern and sent Halon on the defend the progenitors. The Marquise began to take the defeats personally and began to focus her attacks on Halon himself, thus leading to allying herself with Dr. Schubert. Knowing that it was likely that Schubert would give away her secrets after his capture, The Marquise decided to try making her attacks less predictable by venturing into another dimension at random first and masking her signature. She had the profound misfortune to arrive in E6431, also known as the Left Handed Universe. A dimension even her empress had long ago written off as irreparably damaged. Before she could continue on to E1346, she was set upon by an armored enemy that quickly destroyed her dimensional gateway and nearly killed her right then and there. He hounded her across the twisted world until the Marquise was finally able to rebuild a new dimensional gateway and flee. This was where Halon and the others had found her.
These revelations had an immediate and profound effect on Zoar. It unlocked a 5th program left behind by it's creators the Lukovians. The Lukovians had been aware of Istvatha V'han and her penchant for conquering dimensions and interfering in the natural progression of things. They saw the V'hanians as an invasive species that would upset the natural balance of their dimension. Zoar's 5th program was designed as a campaign to counter the Empress and her allies in the event of invasion or interference. Phase one of the 5th program called for the elimination of all hostile, non-native, life forms on the planet with a few notable exceptions being the Selenites whom they shared the moon with, the Malvans who at one time were allies of the Lukovians, and the aliens known as the Progenitors.
The 5th program now gave Bryan and his team a new mandate, to seek out and deal with alien incursions that threaten life on Earth and completion of the 4th program. This also happened to be one of the responsibilities of Bureau 17, and Dr. Clearwater knew exactly where they should start, with the Gadroon. In the mean time, Heron and Sigma worked on understanding the Marquise's portal technology. With Zoar's help, they quickly identified the portal as not being Imperial technology which only deepened the mystery of their former enemy. Paul confirmed that aside from her skin color, she was a perfect analogy of his mother, just as Bryan was of his father. Bryan was touched by this, how in one reality two people could love each other and in another, they were deadly enemies. He was also troubled by the armored figure they had battled. Bryan had a sneaking suspicion he knew who he was. His robots were very advanced yet familiar. They were similar to his own Sigmalon robot but smaller, yet larger and much more durable than their androids. Between examining them, and the Marquise's armor, Bryan was able to glean new technologies, including her very potent sub-space canon which he was able to amplify and integrate into his chest beam.
Paul's condition had stabilized but continued to worsen. Heron and Sigma had been working feverishly and were now ready to begin testing of the portal technology. When they believed they had the correct coordinates, they prepared to send Paulback. Not knowing what the situation was now in Multifaria, and fearing that the silver intruder had in fact come from there, Bryan decided that he and the core team would accompany Paul back to make sure he was safe and then return. After passing through the portal, their first impression was that they had not gone anywhere at all, they appeared to enter exactly the same cavern. A quick perusal however showed they were in fact somewhere else, the columns behind them were much larger and further apart, and the cavern had suffered far greater damage. Before long, they realized they were in another parallel world instead of Multifaria. A place were everything was reversed, including the nature of the people. Evil and wrong doing were considered "good" and good deeds were considered contemptible. They had found E6431. They could not return to their own world immediately and Bryan was forced to confront another counterpart to himself, Argon, the silvery armored man they had fought before. His armor and technology was superior to theirs, the alternate version of Zoar here gave him full access to it's technology, but in the end they were victorious. When they finally confronted the evil observer, Raoz, they found that it too was opposite of their own. Instead of trying to advance mankind, it was hastening it's demise. Rather than being obtuse and seemingly obstructive with it's secrets and technologies, Raoz was quite open and helpful since it determined that providing advanced technology ahead of intellectual maturity, would cause more harm rather than good. They were also able to commandeer several of the large robots that were left, including Argon's best, Ultimax. None of the team were keen on staying in this twisted reality, but Heron admitted that the portal technology in this dimension worked on vibrational principles that they could not decipher. Any trip might take them home, or it might take them somewhere else.
The final consensus was that it was better to move forward than to stay there, so they re-geared themselves as best they could, considering the reversed polarities and what not. Taking advantage of Raoz's openness, Bryan had been able to re-engineer an entirely new suit based on his counterpart's armor which he dubbed Halon:Cobalt 7. They also improved Paul's support system so that he felt relatively fine as long as he stayed in his armor. Finally they all gathered at the portal, Halon, Quartermoon, Heron, Captain Arcane, Red Copper and Xenon, (as Paul liked to call himself), and stepped through again.