Mr. Flibble (crispengray) wrote in ilovejeffparker,
Mr. Flibble
crispengray
ilovejeffparker

The Menace From Space, pt 2

Continued from here.

Venus found herself running through a forest glade. Her feet were bare- in fact most of her was. She almost fell upon stepping onto a patch of damp moss, but managed to balance herself and slide on her feet down a steep but short hill. She began to run again, taking in deep draughts of spring air. She could almost taste honeysuckle with each breath. A field by a stream was thinly filled with grass nearly as tall as she was, and she immediately followed the urge to plunge into it. The blades of the plants wicked gently at her skin, producing tingles that enveloped her body. As the growth turned thicker, she changed direction and raced to the stream's edge, kicking up sheets of clear water. She enjoyed the mud through her toes until reaching a small lagoon. Arcing her body, Venus dived fully into the still water that had been warmed all afternoon by the sun. Minnows darted out of her path as she propelled herself with long kicks. She paused to watch the plantlife flow slowly back and forth and felt her long hair matching the movements. The lengths of reed cast dazzling patterns of shadows that she could have watched until dark. Instead she pushed upwards to the shimmering surface, dotted with waterlilies. As she breached, several lily pads clung to her body like a garment. She didn't bother to remove them, they would fall off soon enough after drying out. Venus stepped carefully on her way to the edge to keep from breaking any of the reeds growing there. She soon stepped onto soft grass and sat down to let the sun dry her figure. After a few minutes on her back she rolled over on her stomach and rested her chin on crossed arms. Having indulged most of her senses, she closed her eyes to give her ears equal time with the wonders of nature. In this way she became aware of a family of birds fussing over their nearby nest, as well as a colony of frogs. The next animal to take her attention she wasn't sure had made a noise at all, but she could tell it was in front of her. She opened her eyes to see a small dog standing in front of her, wagging its tail. The woman smiled and patted at the ground in hopes the animal would take that as an invitation to come closer. It tilted it's head, and then took a couple of steps nearer. Then Venus felt Marvel Boy's hand touch her shoulder, and she woke up.

"Ah. Um. I'm sorry to disturb you... but we're... ah, the dream suggestion. It's happening again."

Awash in moonlight from her bedside window, Bob Grayson could see Venus' startled expression turn to a soft smile. "Really? And I was having such a beautiful dream, too."

"Yes, you were. I mean-- well, I watched some of it, to see where it was going. You know, to figure out what the goal of... whoever... was. You know, the people who made us dream about the skeletons."

Venus sat up now, gathering her silk sheet up against her. "Bob, I don't mind that you watched me."

"It was just work!" He stepped back from the bed some. "Then I thought maybe I better wake you up anyway, before some other suggestion was planted that might endanger you. Which could be happening to the others now, so we better go wake them up." Venus slipped a robe on and went to knock on Ken Hale's door as Marvel Boy went to Jimmy Woo's. Within minutes all of them were standing in the hallway.

"So how do you know this was another subconscious invasion," asked Jimmy. Grayson tapped at the solid black band on his forehead. "Just as I was falling asleep it occurred to me that our mystery villains might try the trick again, so I took my headband off the nightstand and put it on. I usually don't sleep with it on. It leaves enough of a ring on my head having it on all day. But sure enough, as I was entering REM sleep, the band alerted me to impulses that didn't originate in my brain."

"Nice of you to see to Venus before the rest of us," Ken Hale smirked. Grayson's face grew flush, and Venus interjected. "Ladies first!" Jimmy looked around at the paneling on the walls and back to the young man. "Can you tell who did it- where it came from?"

Marvel Boy put his fingers to his temple. "It's still happening, actually. Like a broadcast." His blue cape made a swirling flourish as the hero turned to walk down the hall. He reminded Ken Hale of an uncle who used to seek out water sources with a divining rod made of tree branches. Bob turned into the office and walked forward until he realized he was about to hit a wall. Then he went over to the window and stepped up into it. On the ledge outside M-11 turned his eyebeam onto Grayson. "Turn that off, you're blinding me." The robot instantly complied. When the flashes disappeared from Marvel Boy's vision he looked forward as his headband directed. "There." He raised his arm and pointed at a window across the street. In the corner was a metallic object that looked to be an oscillating fan in the dark. Marvel Boy quietly lifted from the ledge and drifted across the canyon of buildings to hover outside the window. The glass was open, and inside the room a dark figure stood by a machine, busily adjusting controls. The round end of the device was what looked like a fan from a distance. The man's hands stopped, and he turned to discover the observer floating above him. He scrambled wildly, knocking over other pieces of equipment and kicking wires. Marvel Boy now came down into the room and his wristbands glowed to fill the area with light. The man pulled a gun off a table and began firing repeatedly at his pursuer. Marvel Boy flew quickly to the left in a twisting path that the gunman couldn't draw a bead on. Then he pointed his flat hand forward and and the weapon immediately grew too hot to hold. As it fell to the floor, the man doubled around to another window on the same wall. Just when Marvel Boy thought he would stop, the man leapt, smashing through the glass and beginning the long fall to the street. From the Federal Building M-11 extended his right arm with such force it seemed another gun had been fired. The expanding bands that made up his limb hit their maximum length just as the man was falling out of reach. M-11's fingers then also extended, which surprised Jimmy as he hadn't seen them do that before. The alloyed hand clamped onto the man's shirt and the robot's arm began to retract.

"Gotcha, goofball." Hale's long arm grabbed the man's collar as M-11 brought him to the ledge. He was short and wiry, and kicked and flailed with such energy that even the gorilla had trouble containing him. "Where do you think you're going, idiot? I don't see a parachute on your back."

"He was already headed to the street," said Venus. "He must really not want to be taken alive. Calm down, sir. We just want to talk to you." As usual Venus was casually employing her effect so as not to alert her target to what she was doing. If someone knew about Venus they might be able to employ a mental exercise to hold her influence at bay long enough to escape. The thrashing man seemed so completely unaffected that she dropped any subtlety and began to sing one of her favorite traveling songs covered by Nat King Cole a few years back. Jimmy instantly plugged his ears. Since Ken had one hand occupied with the culprit, he launched into a series of grunts and hoots as a natural ape might. Besides helping mask the infectious tones of his teammate, this would often frighten criminals to the point of excessive release of information. Jimmy relaxed slightly, expecting a long confession to begin pouring from the captive. Instead he saw a flash of moonlight glinting from an ornate dagger that was clearly of the same make that the skeleton pilot brandished the day before. Just as Venus reached the lyrics "looks mighty pretty," the small man's arm swung out, raking the same spot on Ken's arm that the pilot had hit with his own knife. The ape howled.

"SON OF A-"

Jimmy's leg fired upwards and his foot knocked the knife from the man's hand with such force that it stuck in the wall by the window. Continuing the motion, Jimmy's body turned with the kick in a complete spin, and his fist landed squarely between the man's eyes. Had M-11 not still been holding onto the man's shirt, the punch would have certainly sent him back out the window. Instead the man's head flopped forward and his body slumped towards the floor, still dangling in the robot's grip.

"Shucks, I didn't want to knock him out. Now we'll have to wait a while to get anything out of him. I was sure once you started singing he'd be spilling his guts to us in minutes."

"You have to get your kicks," joked Venus. Her smile dropped upon looking closer at the man. "Ooh. I don't think I could have had any effect on him," said Venus with a look of repulsion. She knelt down next to the unconscious man and pointed to his ear. Like the other, it was disfigured with scar tissue as if someone had melted candlewax in it. "He's been made deaf," said Jimmy. "Look, there's some other scarring around his nose too. He either went to the world's worst face doctor or someone prepared him specifically to be immune to you."

"He'll get worse than that from me when he wakes up!" roared Hale as he closed the medicine cabinet. The gorilla poured the rest of a bottle of Witch Hazel onto his reopened wound. Marvel Boy floated through the open window, careful to not hit the glass with the long device he bore under his arm. He sat the machine down on Jimmy' s desk and switched on the lamp. For better illumination he adjusted the bendable arm of the lamp, briefly thinking how it was a crude version of M-11's arms. The light revealed a device around four feet in length, with a conical dish at one end. The part that had looked like a fan from outside.

"It's a gun," growled Gorilla Man.

"Yeah, but what does it shoot?"

"Images. Ideas. Dreams." Marvel Boy peered around the device, nodding as he looked at various sections. "Impulse creation." Jimmy realized that in a strange way his Uranian-born friend was approving of the thought that had gone into making the machine, if not the purpose for which it was built. "It runs on standard current." He opened a small red box in the middle, then finding it of little use, closed it. Finally he came to the other end of the invention, which housed a glass canister full of liquid. Several wires ran into a small flexible shape that floated in the solution. It was roughly the size of a nearly-finished bar of soap. The space hero regarded this for a moment and then said simply, "Gosh."

"That looks kind of familiar," said Hale. "But I can't place it. You going to let us in on the gag?"

"Yes," answered Marvel Boy in a hollow voice. "You'd recognize it if it were in context of the whole thing it comes from, though." The others leaned in to see the floating object. Jimmy studied the creases running through it. Venus thought it looked like a sponge. "Well?" she asked.

"It's brain tissue."

"Brain tissue?" asked Venus, clearly repulsed.

"Yes- a brilliant if crude solution," replied Marvel Boy as he looked at the machine that had been influencing their dreaming minds. "Earth simply doesn't have very sophisticated means of computing yet. Your greatest computer is the size of a small house and can barely calculate a square root. Data is stored on tape reels and one has to enter commands with a punch card. Seriously, a child with an abacus can do as much."

Gorilla Man leered as he finished bandaging his arm. "Is all this anti-Earth propaganda going somewhere, or are you just cranky from being woke up at 3 AM?"

"I'm getting to it, Ken. So, to transmit specific imagery- as in a scenario where snakes bind you when a skeleton appears, say- you would need something to store those images. Dragging an enormous computer around would be nearly impossible. So what someone did with this device was use organic data storage from the greatest computer the planet has available... the human brain."

"Holy smokes," said Jimmy. "I wonder how they put the dream into the piece of brain in the first place?"

"The former owner of the brain merely observed the scenario. Then where the memory is stored, we extract tissue." Jimmy and the others turned in the direction of the new voice. It was the man Jimmy had knocked unconscious minutes ago. Ken Hale scooped him up and held him tightly by the shirt collar. The man's face looked considerably redder as he did so.

"All right, you! What's this all about? What are you trying to pull here?"

"I have very little hearing due to... alterations made upon me. So that I would not be susceptible to the young lady's power." The man seemed oddly calm, resigned in fact. "I can only read your lips and the gorilla is too difficult for me. If you have questions, they should come from one of the others."

"You say the brain tissue came from someone who saw the imagery?" asked Marvel Boy.

"Yes. We have many Datamen. They exist to use their senses to record information for us. Early on the process almost always necessitated the tissue donor's death, but now we have it refined. They all have artificial access ways riveted to the backs of their skulls, and special liquids help them regenerate new brain tissue. This works even better. After a few transfers, the Datamen have no memories of their own that could possibly interfere with the intended storage." The little man sat up more now, as if proud of this development.

Venus looked aghast. "Whoever you people are, you're monsters."

The man seemed puzzled at her judgment. "We only use indigents and drifters. No one who matters to society or the economy."

"Oh, well that's better." said Gorilla Man. "For a moment we were afraid you were up to no good. Okay Jimmy, let's turn him loose."

"Take that act to the Poconos, Ken. Okay pal, now who were these Derskin and Oglethorpe guys that started us on the goose chase?"

"Those are their names, Mister Woo. They just do not work for the Federal Bureau, as you have surmised by now. Their purpose was to lead you away from paths that would have crossed with our own. You cannot combat this organization as you might ordinary criminals. Our planning is very layered and has many fail-safes built in."

"For someone who was willing to kill himself to evade me, you're being pretty helpful now," said Marvel Boy.

"Because it doesn't matter now. Now that you have captured me, my life is forfeit. I may as well tell someone the wonders and horrors I have seen in my time with the Foundation. I don't think I realized until now just how much I wanted to share the arcane knowledge I have acquired." The strange man looked aside a moment, then spoke again. "It must be a similar thing with monks who have taken a similar vow of secrecy."

"Brother!" said the ape. "Now this guy thinks he's practically clergy! Come on, let's go introduce him to Jonas Salk and see if he'll share his Nobel Prize!"

"Salk didn't get the Nobel Prize, remember?" clarified Bob.

"Then he was robbed." grunted Ken.

"He is indeed a brilliant man, and we are already putting his immunization work to good use." countered the man, who was able to pick up on Hale's last statement thanks to the especially animated delivery. "I do envy him the public acknowledgment of his achievements. I shall die soon with no one knowing the leaps I made in developing the Dream Ray. Likely, the existence of the machine will never be public at all." The man seemed to be unaware of the others around him at this point, having a dialogue with only himself. "Still, I have always been well funded by the Foundation, and have had all the test subjects I needed. Not many scientists can say that."

"So what is this Foundation?" asked Jimmy, kneeling before the man. "What do they not want us to interfere with?" He waited what seemed an interminable period, staring at the man's glassy eyes. Jimmy finally realized that the eyes hadn't blinked in almost a minute. He reached out and touched the scientist' shoulder, and the man slumped over. In the moonlight from the still open window, the feathery plume of a dart could be seen at the middle of the man's neck.

Jimmy bolted up to look out the window, then stepped aside just as quick with the realization that he could be the next target of a dart. Bob Grayson raised his arm and projected a bright beam of light to the buildings across the street, scanning for movement in any of the windows. Seeing no movement he dived down to street level and began circling the blocks. The bustling city was unusually quiet. Finally he returned to the large open window to see Venus checking at the man's wrist and neck.

"I'm not finding the pulse."

"Well I couldn't find a suspect, so we're even," said Marvel Boy. "It's like a ghost killed him."

"So we're back to where we were, with diddly-squat to go on," said Ken, scratching at his itching forearm.

"No, we're not totally licked," said Jimmy Woo, walking over to shut the windows. "M-11, could you take this body downstairs to the infirmary?" The robot scooped up the corpse, carried it into the private elevator and down to the third floor. Jimmy stared out the window for a minute and then turned around.

"He said these people were worried about our paths crossing. What path were we on? It makes me think he was referring to what Bob was doing when he arrived the other night." Jimmy walked a few steps from the window as if he were retracing Marvel Boy's actions. "You had been to the new Space Administration in Huntsville."

Bob Grayson's headband pulsed quickly as he looked up at Jimmy. "You mean because I was advising on the space program."

"Right. I'm thinking that's what this is all about. Those fake FBI agents showed up, then I called for you to come back because there was suddenly a case to work on. Now, somebody is going to great lengths to pull off this caper, and they're obviously pretty dangerous with magic and science."

"That's for sure," said Venus. "If these people have the kind of science like this ray gun, they might not want competition like the new space agency will create."

"It's... the Russians..." said Ken, with his head much lower than usual. He wobbled forward as if his feet weren't finding the floor easily. His massive frame began to sway from side to side. "No good... I shoulda known... they got that Sputnik..." Hale then reached out his hand to Jimmy Woo's shoulder to steady himself, and fell anyway- bringing Jimmy to the floor with him.

"Ken! Are you okay?"

The gorilla's eyes rolled around, not focusing on any one thing. Jimmy looked at the bandage, which was pulled open a bit, enough to show Ken's blood bubbling into a froth around the knife wound.

"The knife!" shouted Venus. "It must have had poison on it!" She grabbed a glass of water from Jimmy's desk and poured it on the wound, trying to flush out the toxic chemical. Ken Hale's chest began to heave up and down in large motions.

"Bob! Can you do something?"

"Marvel Boy looked at a loss, kneeling over his teammate. "I... I can't... it seems like I should know how but-"

Grayson was cut off by a loud howl, much higher pitched than any Gorilla Man had made before. The sound then receded as if he were moving into the distance. At the end of it, the team could only hear a small gurgling. The ape's eyes went still and his limbs stopped where they were. Jimmy grabbed one of the massive arms and shook it. "Come on, big guy! Come back! You can fight it!"

A strange sensation played at Jimmy's palm. Where he held the gorilla's arm, he began to feel less fur in his hand. The form he touched also seemed to be moving inward. Looking to Hale's face, Jimmy saw the massive brow begin to recede, along with all the dark hair. His snout sunk in and lips began to form. Ken's whole body shrunk in size, though the form it took was big for a man, with muscular forearms and a square jaw. Ken Hale had once showed Jimmy a picture of himself when he was still human, and that was the face they all now saw.

Venus looked up to Jimmy and Bob, her eyes shimmering with tears that hadn't yet escaped.

"He's dead."

The teammates stood in shock over the human form of Ken Hale, and Jimmy Woo became aware of an impact repeating against the floor. It was M-11, who had walked quickly across the room and now stood at Hale's feet. His arm extended down, the hand halting over Hale's chest. Then two of the robot's fingers extended as well, connecting at symmetrical points on the upper chest. The cyclopic eye began to glow.

"700 VOLTS."

Ken Hale's body lurched where current entered his body. Venus jumped.

"M-11! What are you doing!?"

Marvel Boy looked up, wide eyed. "Get out of his way! Let him do this!"

"1000 VOLTS."

The body now jerked up even more, causing Hale's arms to swing outward. Jimmy Woo's eyes raced between the figure on the floor and the machine known as the Human Robot.

"1400 VOLTS."

At this discharge, the body arched all the way up off the floor. The robot's eye grew brighter, and then his arm retracted to it's regular position. Ken Hale's eyes began to flutter, and his arm slid to the side. He coughed a large burst of air, then drew in an equal volume of oxygen. His eyes opened to see his four teammates looming over him. Wiping at his face he realized he was using a very naked looking hand. He held it further away to focus better, and then brought his other hand up to his face as well. He looked over his forearms for the dark chestnut fur that usually covered his body to see nothing but the skin of a man.

"You did it, M-11!" shouted Venus, who tried to hug the large robot. Jimmy Woo ran over from his desk with a glass of water and held it to Hale's mouth.

"Here buddy, take a drink."

Ken Hale raised his head and neck and braced himself on one elbow. He drank the whole glass down in seconds and gasped, then wiped at his small brow again. "I'm... I'm..."

Before he could reach his next word, he felt the strange sensation of his neck growing wider. He felt his body raise from the point where his elbow rested on the oak wood planks as his upper arm lengthened. His mouth pushed out and his nose flattened as it did. He had the sensation of sinking into himself from his eyes as his brow protruded. His wide field of vision was again restricted to the point where he'd have to turn his head to easily see an object at his side. His wide nostrils issued a loud sigh and he raised himself up on his knuckles. The ape's head hung low for a moment, and then came back up. He moved a couple of steps forward to where M-11 stood and rested his massive hairy hand on the robot's shoulder. Venus wiped tears from her eyes with big motions of her arm and then buried her cheek in the furry shoulder of her friend. Marvel Boy stood up and smiled at the robot, resting his hands on his belt. Jimmy Woo leaned back from his position on the floor against the nearby chair and exhaled as if he hadn't been breathing for several minutes.

* * * * *

Morning began at the "It's Tops" Diner down on Market. M-11 had already left in the back of a truck with Bureau drivers who would take him to Chabot Observatory in Oakland, where Marvel Boy's rocket was hidden. There he would he would clamp his large feet into two recessed areas of the cockpit and await the other's arrival at the Silver Bullet. Back in the city, Venus lowered a new pair of sunglasses before her eyes. "Lamp my specs, boys, they're all the rage in Italy."

"Venus, you don't really have to tell people to stare at you. It just kind of happens." Ken Hale pulled his porkpie hat down lower on his head. "Don't hide yourself, I need you to draw attention away from me."

"Aw, thanks Ken."

Jimmy Woo's agents dressed in civilian apparel so as not to attract attention. Ken Hale wore a hat, sunglasses, and a trenchcoat with the collar flipped up, and he still got looks at 7 in the morning. Their favorite waitress Edie led them to the most private booth in the restaurant, though it still was near a window. Jimmy Woo tapped at his own forearm as he spoke to his friend. "How's that arm this morning, Ken?"

The gorilla pulled back his sleeve to show a nearly perfect simian arm. "Barely even a scar now."

"Whatever the poison was on that blade, it must not be as strong as the ancient curse that makes you a gorilla," said Bob Grayson.

"You mean the blessing that keeps me from having to be a man?" The ape worked his way into the clamshell booth and rested his long arms on the backs of the padded seats. Though it was no secret that Ken Hale longed to be human again, he almost never complained about his condition around the team. In his days as a Soldier of Fortune, Hale was known to walk around with serious injuries that he would hardly mention. Still, Jimmy knew that the brief moment of humanity had only rekindled Hale's hopes before dashing them again. Picking up a newspaper that someone had left on the table, Jimmy saw something that would surely take the ape man's mind off his condition for a bit.

"Hey Ken, you haven't seen the paper since we left the other day, have you?"

"Nah, I'm giving up on reading. It's overrated."

"You don't have to read. Here. Just look at this photograph."

Jimmy slid the sports section into the gorilla's field of view. Hale looked down to see a horse with a smiling jockey on its back, and a large horseshoe shaped collection of roses around the animal's neck. Ken Hale stared blankly at the image, and then his eyes widened to offer the rare view of white around his pupils.

"Tim Tam! He did it! Ho boy, look at that! YEAH!"

Any effort to be inconspicuous was dropped as Hale went on for the next ten minutes about the Kentucky Derby, horses and racing in general. Then he leapt over the table and grabbed his hat from the hook on the wall.

"Hey, where are you going?" asked Jimmy. "We've got to get to the rocket after breakfast and head out to the Space Center."

"I'll meet you there! My bookie has something for me--Scratch that. He's got a LOT of something for me!" With that the ape rushed out the door and loped quickly up the street. From the window Jimmy watched his friend amble away, and took a drink of his coffee. Over the edge of the cup he noticed something through the glass. Across the street, a man in a dark coat and cap watched the ape as well, and pulled his lapel out to speak discreetly. Jimmy could see a small transmitter with an antenna just inside the man's coat. Woo erupted from the booth and ran through the door.

"Jimmy, what's up?" asked Venus, too late to be heard.

The man with the transmitter saw Jimmy Woo coming through the doorway of the diner and ran. He made his way down the block and turned, and then crossed the street. Jimmy Woo was closing the distance quickly when the man ran into a small brick and iron structure. It was an entrance that led below street level, possibly a train access. The door clicked shut just as Jimmy reached it. Jimmy pulled on the handle but it wouldn't budge, having been locked from within. Marvel Boy flew down with Venus on his arm.

"Jimmy, what is it?"

"Some guy was spying on us, and reporting in to somebody," said Jimmy who was now kicking at the lock. Finally he produced his gun from his jacket and shot the handle. The door swung open.

The three ran down a long series of steps. The stairway was pitch black, but Marvel Boy's wristbands soon made it as bright as the street above. "How deep does this go?" asked Venus.

"It's probably an old unused train entrance." said Jimmy, skipping steps to move faster. "We've gone much lower than the platform would be though. I know there's tunnels under the city, but they're not supposed to be this far down." The group emerged in a large area of tiled wall. A quick look around revealed no exits or even vent shafts that someone could climb through.

"We didn't run past any doors did we?"

"No."

The three grew quiet and listened. No footfalls or breathing. Jimmy saw a faded image on the large wall. Walking closer he could see that it was an antiquated version of the globe, held by the kneeling god Atlas. He touched the wall, which was covered with dust.

"I feel like I should know some magic word. Open sesame." The wall and its artwork remained still and silent.

* * * * *

Outside the building in Huntsville, a silvery craft lowered gradually to the testing launch pad. From the windows, men in short sleeve dress shirts were scribbling madly upon notebooks and clipboards, noting details like the lack of smoke from the Silver Bullet's flaming retrorockets. The vessel then lowered forward slowly by means they couldn't determine and came to rest on the asphalt as airplane might.

One female lab assistant gave the scientists an incredulous look and then scribbled on another piece of paper with a large marker. She then pressed the piece of paper against the glass so that Jimmy Woo's team might look up and see her brief but clear message of HELP. Jimmy was already looking at the source of her distress. For a second he had thought that the parking lot ended a ways from the Marshall Space Center then realized that what he assumed was foliage was moving. The dark green shapes filling the space between the scientists' cars and the front door was overrun by hundreds of alligators. Several engineers sat or stood atop their vehicles, unable to enter the workplace and now afraid to step down to open their driver's side doors.

"I didn't know alligators lived this far north," said Venus.

"You're not more impressed that they're all working together?" asked Ken Hale. Jimmy shouted over to one of the men perched nervously atop a Buick Sedan. "What's going on with all these gators?"

"This has happened a couple of times already this week," returned the man, steadying himself. "I don't know if they're looking for food or what, but we're losing valuable work time and falling behind schedule. I haven't heard of it happening anywhere else in town. Or the whole state, for that matter."

Jimmy turned to Marvel Boy. "Bob, could any of the equipment they're working with in there be attracting the animals?" Bob Grayson looked at the complex and his headband glowed briefly.

"No."

The dark green mass kept moving around the building's perimeter, forming what was essentially a reptilian moat. Jimmy looked around and noticed a pickup truck in the parking lot, its driver still inside. "Sir," called Jimmy. "May we use your truck for a minute? I think we can get you back to work." The man nodded anxiously. Jimmy spoke quickly to M-11, who then proceeded to where the truck was parked. The robot extended his arms and picked the truck up, walking carefully to not step on any of the alligators. His course took him by each trapped scientist, who then jumped into the bed of the truck. The ape shook his head.

"You know, years ago I would have just broke out the guns and we'd be cornering the market on alligator-skin boots right now. I guess I'm getting soft in my old age."

"Or maybe your perspective has changed a bit," said Venus. Having collected all the space center technicians, M-11 walked the truck over to the front steps and held the rear of it a few feet from the door. A woman inside opened the door and the engineers quickly rushed in. Marvel Boy held one arm around Venus and flew her into the entrance as well. "Wait up!" shouted Ken Hale, who took a running leap that got him to the branch of an oak tree by the entrance. He swung to and fro for a few seconds to build up momentum, then released to land on the hood of the truck. He climbed over into the building, making a mock salute at his mechanical teammate as he did so. Jimmy walked back to the edge of where the alligator mass began, having thoroughly checked the area for any more stranded workers.

"Looks like everyone's in the clear- hey! Some team you are, I'm still out here in gatorland!" Jimmy looked down as some of the reptiles began to advance in his direction. He knew one of the group would realize his absence in a minute, but decided not to wait. He ran forward and leapt into the swarm, using the backs of the alligators as stepping stones. It took him five jumps to reach the door, and he closed it from the inside as several very agitated beasts charged towards it.

* * * * *

Jimmy and his team spent the next hour going over the work the Space Center had been doing lately. "We've been expecting spies," explained Chief Engineer John Siuntres. "But we weren't quite ready for nature itself to turn against us. Mankind's quest into space is hitting enough snags without all these extra obstacles in our path."

The gorilla snorted as he drank coffee from a paper cup. "It's not just bad luck, Doc. The gators are someone's big idea of sabotage, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that." Ken Hale took another sip of coffee and then became aware of the leers aimed at him from around the operations center. "Oh yeah. I guess all you guys are rocket scientists."

"I agree with Ken, Doctor," said Jimmy Woo. "We've had a lot of unlikely stuff happen to us lately that has turned out to be related. I believe someone doesn't want you making any progress, and they don't want Bob here helping you out."

"We've barely even made use of Marvel Boy's knowledge," said the flustered scientist. "All we really asked was that he go up and check out the Sputnik satellites to see if the Soviets were much ahead of us." An aide entered the room and whispered something to Dr. Siuntres.

"It seems Assistant Director Wall from the FBI has sent a transmission for you," explained the doctor. "I'll go down to the radio room and bring back what the lab boys taped. Excuse me."

As the scientist left the room, Bob Grayson felt something tugging at the bottom of his cape. He turned to see a boy of about nine. "Mr. Marvel Boy! Will you sign my comic?" His father leaned over from a nearby console. "Sorry. I bring him to work a lot and I guess he heard us mention that you were coming to visit. Caleb, they're here on important business."

"The future leaders of this planet are pretty important business too," said Marvel Boy with a big smile. He kneeled down and shook hands with the boy.

Ken Hale stared at the cover that had an image of his caped teammate fighting mutant cavemen. "Wha... you got a comic book? When did this happen?"

"It was a few years back," answered Grayson as he scribbled a message on the cover of the periodical. "The Uranian High Council suggested I try to appear in Earth media to build a good reputation in society. They thought it would make my work easier. While on a case in New York one time I ran into some nice gentlemen named Bill and Joe who said they'd love to create a book for me at the company they worked for. It was..." Marvel Boy searched his memory for a moment before rolling his eyes at how dense he was being. He looked down at the cover of the comic. "Timely. Anyway, the whole point was to let people know the Uranians were nothing to be scared of and that I'm available to help in really dangerous situations."

"I don't remember hearing about this," said Jimmy.

"That's because it didn't work. It had the opposite result. People who saw me assumed I was promoting the comic book, and that I was using special effects to fly. I thought once they saw it in print they would accept the facts, but it seems books work differently here."

"Welcome to Earth, headband. Can I see that, son?" Ken Hale reached for the comic and the boy handed it over, delighted that a gorilla had just spoken to him. As the ape flipped through it, the youngster walked around behind him and looked on his back for a zipper.

Ken was engrossed in the boy's comic. "Heh. Look, the speech bubbles have ya saying 'gosh' all the time."

"That's called a word balloon, Ken," corrected Venus.

"Oh yeah, you worked as an editor for a while, guess you'd know."

"Well, that was for Beauty magazine. That reminds me, I should check up on Whitney. I mainly focused on interviews, we didn't run any comics except single panel gags. I just remember that term from when Timely printed my comic book."

The gorilla looked around as if he just found himself in a new place. "What... you had one too? Next I'm gonna find out you guys all had movie deals and didn't tell me." He looked behind him at the robot that stood unmoving, and rapped his knuckles on M-11's chest. "I guess we don't rate, huh?" The mechanical man gave his usual response of silence. Dr. Siuntres returned to the room.

"Okay, Mr. Woo, here's the audio we were sent." The man with glasses opened what looked to be a briefcase and drew out a thick electrical cord which he plugged into the wall. A click of a toggle switch started two tape reels turning. Jimmy leaned in to listen. First there were hisses and pops, then several bursts of what sounded like a human voice underwater. It did indeed sound like gibberish or something that had been mangled in transmission. As the sounds faded out, the scientist shut off the tape player. "And that's it. I wouldn't have wasted your time with it, but we don't want the Bureau to think we're not trying to cooperate."

"Thanks," said Jimmy. "It wasn't a waste of time Dr. Siuntres. That's the way they often send us transmissions. Okay, M-11, play it back, please."

The robot's visor flashed a couple of times, and then an internal speaker played the message from the tape, now unscrambled.

---THIS PORTION OF THE EXCERPT IS ON FILE IN THE ARCHIVES---

Jimmy Woo turned to Ken Hale. "Well, that's pretty interesting, huh?" The ape nodded. "We better check it out."

Dr. Siuntres pushed his glasses back up his nose as the strange crew departed.

* * * * *

The shining missile raced across 1200 miles of ocean, banked south, traveled 220 miles before heading east again. It kept up this path over the Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska in its search for the Natty Bumpo, the ship that had gone missing out of the Port of Seattle. At the port itself waited Jimmy Woo and his team of G-Men, investigating the area as Marvel Boy's headband periodically flashed to let him know another sector had been ruled out. All around the docks men lay back on whatever surface was comfortable, staring at the cloud formations.

When Jimmy Woo's team had arrived by rocket, the entire port buzzed with excitement, gathering around. Some had produced guns for fear of an attack. Unlike the similar visit at Hunter's Point, the Port of Seattle wasn't under Naval control and there were no orders given for the inhabitants to accept the strange visitors. When the hatch to the rocket opened and a one-eyed robot stepped out, every Saturday night drive-in movie with invaders from another world leapt to the minds of the Northwest workers. In seconds a hail of bullets ricocheted off M-11's body from all directions. The android's eye began to glow and its white light crossed the spectrum to red. The voice of Jimmy Woo blurted "M-11! Stand down! Do not attack!" The robot's eye returned to its usual dim glow.

Then Marvel Boy had exited next, flying. This alarmed the men further and immediately the bullets went towards the moving target. Bob Grayson poured on the speed and raced out of range. Ken Hale was about to leap out from the rocket when Jimmy Woo pulled at his shoulder. "Come on, Ken. What do you think they're going to do when they see a big gorilla jumping out at them? You're not bulletproof like M-11!"

"Yeah, but I can outshoot any of those dockjockeys. All I gotta do is get hold of one gun..."

"No. Leave this to me." Jimmy pulled out his FBI identification and climbed up over the edge of the hatch.

"Look! The Reds are behind this!"

The hail of bullets returned low and peppered the spaceship where Jimmy Woo had barely gotten to look out. "You idiots! I'm FBI!"

Venus spun around in her seat and smiled. "Would you like me to wrap this up, or are we going to play Wild West all day?"

"We get so deep into missions that I don't watch a lot of television or read the papers. I forget how Cold War crazy the world is. Go on, take 'em out."

Venus pushed her hair back and tilted her head up. Even before her mouth opened Jimmy and Ken could feel the ethereal voice ripple through them. The air seemed to shimmer and sparkle as Venus' lone chorus began to permeate the port. Sounds of metal hitting the ground came from all around, and then she stepped out of the ship. The men who had been holding guns stood with their arms at their side or reaching before them. Their eyelids hung low, as did their jaws. Standing on the rocket Venus sang louder and the populace fell on their backs in a wave, like a stack of dominos that had been set in motion.

As the men of the area laid back seeing their deepest desires seemingly brought to life, Venus asked around about the ship that had gone missing the previous week. Within minutes she had ascertained the exact type of vessel that Bob Grayson would send his rocketship hunting. After that, the group looked around at the many ships and the massive cranes that would lower and raise their cargo. They only had to kill time for about ten minutes.

"I'm getting a message from the Silver Bullet!" said Marvel Boy. "It's located the ship about 650 miles to the southwest. It'll be back in a minute to pick us up." Jimmy got up and stretched. "That's one impressive wagon you have there, Bob."

Marvel Boy shrugged. "Actually it's kind of limiting. My father made it with the instructions he was given by the Uranian High Council, and I've improved upon it since. But I wouldn't have used the rocket design. I can't put it down just anywhere. The scanning range could be a lot better, and I could really use a meteor smasher on it. If I ever get some time, I'd probably start from scratch and work off the flying saucer model."

"Then everybody's gonna think you're a little green guy with a big head," returned Ken. "Stick to rockets, that's Earth-style." Grayson stood deep in thought as if he were planning the future saucer at that moment, and the Silver Bullet returned.

* * * * *

As the rocket approached the lifeless ship it slowed and fired hull nozzles so it could hover over the ocean surface, then went into a circling orbit around the vessel. At the next closest pass, the team jumped from the open hatch onto the ship's deck and the rocket pursued its elliptical course.

"See, if I had a saucer, it could just hover there indefinitely. Right over this boat."

"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a wonderful Christmas, flyboy. Okay, what are we looking for here, Jimmy?"

"Whatever the real reason for stealing a ship on the west coast was, before we went on that wild goose chase. I gotta say, we're up against some pretty sharp cookies this time. Usually the bad guys just have one goal with any given operation. These people hit about two or three birds with one stone. They got Bob away from helping the Space Center scientists to go after one of the missing ships. Which turned out to be a trap that almost got us killed, since they put a whammy on us in our sleep. Then we find out the FBI agents we met were fakes, and write off the whole thing as a decoy. Then it turns out even that was a trick, because this ship, the Natty Bumpo, actually went out to sea. You really can't take anything for granted with this outfit, they think things through. But I think it was all about whatever this ship was supposed to do."

"I've been thinking about that myself," added Ken, leaning on his knuckles. "The fake agents fed us some of the truth, which made it so convincing. Ships from all up and down the seaboard were taken. I don't think it was for smuggling now though. It looks to me like they wanted ships in the water ready to go, but they didn't know where they'd need them. So they covered all their bases. And whatever they were looking for, it turned up at this latitude."

Bob Grayson took mental notes as Jimmy and Ken threw out theories. Deceit and subversion were still largely foreign concepts to him, but his time on Earth was teaching him more on the matters every day. He still hadn't adopted what he thought of as the casual attitude his teammates seemed to have towards it all. Though he did like the problem-solving aspect that went with it.

Then skeletons began pouring over the deck, from the sides, hatches and pilot house.

"There's dozens of them!" shouted Venus.

"Hey bones!" blurted Gorilla Man as he grabbed a long pole. "Do I look frozen this time? Thought we'd be a bunch of sittin' ducks, huh?" The gorilla whipped the rod around quickly, knocking the skulls off six of the skeleton army. Several of the skeletons erupted from a deck door and began to lock their fingers around Venus' legs. "HEY! Someone! These guys don't have the right body parts for me to influence!" Within a second Venus felt something cold wrap around her waist, and then she rose quickly through the air. Once safely out of the grasp of her assailants, she realized that M-11 was holding her aloft with an extended arm. His other arm swept several of the undead off the side of the ship and into the waves. With no flesh on their frames, they sank into the deep blue.

One skull after another began to explode into white powder. Some were the result of Jimmy Woo's automatic gun, and others were from the laser blasts of Marvel Boy's wristbands. The skeletons stood briefly as if waiting for the return of their heads, then charged into battle again. Marvel Boy widened the field of his blasts and the tenuous cartilage that held the bodies together evaporated in the heat of his beams. Bones rolled over the entire deck until walking or running became perilous. Finally there was but one skeleton left, wielding an ornate dagger like the first one they had met, and the inventor of the Dream Ray later. Kenneth Hale leaped farther than his friends had thought possible and landed before the dagger's bearer. In one quick motion he pulled out the arm with the blade and slung it out into the sea. Then he brought his large forearm back and broke the creature's spine in half. Finally he grabbed the skull with a large hand and squeezed it. Bone shrapnel burst from the gorilla's grasp. Jimmy Woo winced as he touched at his own skull.

"Okay. I think we got the right boat this time," said Jimmy, stepping over bone shards. "Besides that it actually traveled a ways, our mysterious enemy made sure it had the most backup in case of trouble."

"I bet these creeps work cheap," said Hale, opening a deck door and poking his head down into it. His next words echoed in the hold. "If skeletons ever get unionized, then we'll have these bad guys where we want 'em. Hey, Living Laser–come over here and light up this cargo hold, please."

Bob Grayson floated over above the dark opening and drifted down, filling the area with golden light. He mused to himself how Ken's latest quip was in fact a pretty good name.

The hold was largely empty but for a couple of large pieces of metal at opposite ends of the room. As the team made their way inside, they took turns looking at what appeared to be wreckage of an odd sort.

Both pieces of metal were warped and charred on the outer surface. "It looks like it was blasted apart from the inside," said Ken. Marvel Boy put his fingers to the scorched metal. "These are radiation burns." Jimmy raised his palm. "Hey, maybe you guys should back away from that, it might be radioactive."

Grayson shook his head. "My headband would have picked up on that right away. You're right, it should be radioactive if it was bombarded like this, but it's not for some reason. Maybe something absorbed the radiation." Marvel Boy leaned over and put one piece of the wreckage next to the other and looked back at his team. "I thought this looked familiar."

The caped man carried one piece of metal over to the next, and put the halves together. He turned around, holding the heavy assemblage in front of him.

"It's a cone." said Venus.

"A nose cone!" clarified Ken Hale.

"Right. It's the nose cone of a rocket. One I tried to locate for the folks at the Marshall Space Center. But when I went up to scout for it, it was gone. See, look." Marvel Boy pointed at the charred but still readable name stamped on the metal cone. It read:



* * * * *

The explosion blew a cloud of snow and steam for a kilometer and black clouds of birds emptied the surrounding forests. Several men in fur hats wiped moisture from their glasses and shook their heads towards the ground. Water trucks raced to the launchpad and began dousing the flames around the area. In the watchtower a burly man pulled off a pair of headphones and slung them at the nearby console. He tried to find a clear patch of sky through the tower window but it would be an hour before the haze would settle. The moisture provided perfect cover for the far more successful rocket now racing down to the remote sector of Siberia.

"Well that was lucky," said Venus. "I mean, not for them so much, but we could have been zipping around this country for hours without finding their launch facility."

Marvel Boy set the Silver Bullet guidance system for landing and turned to his attractive teammate. "I think our odds would have been pretty good to detect activity even without a failed liftoff. As I told the fellows at the Marshall Space Center when they were worried how far they were falling behind the Soviets' space program... my guess is they're putting more resources into their program and firing off many more rockets. And charting that on a bell curve would show a lot more disastrous attempts than they're probably letting on about."

"Well that would be none, because from what we hear, everything they try works like a charm," added Jimmy Woo. "Their main guy, the- what do they call him... Chief Designer? You'd think he's the Earth equivalent of you the way they go on about him and his knowledge of rocketry."

"Yeah, well we got Von Braun on the Disney show. We're gonna have cartoons in space before them." The gorilla grabbed onto the ring on the wall to steady himself as the rocket lurched backward and lowered behind a hill some distance from the Soviet scientists. Bob took off his cape and put on a coat, sweater, pants and boots over his usually sparse costume. Ken Hale whistled at the young hero. "Look at the ordinary Joe! Who'd know this kid grew up on a planet where they think capes and shorts is the style?"

Grayson pulled on a wool cap as well. "When in Siberia, to paraphrase your old saying. I could keep myself warm by powering my armbands up more, but then I'd be a spectacle- and I don't think Jimmy wants any extra attention on us."

"That's right," returned Jimmy, pulling on his own coat. "We're just here for some info, and this is a touchy situation. As an FBI team we're way out of line coming behind the Iron Curtain like this. Venus is going to take the lead on this one. I'll keep my trap shut and maybe they'll just think I'm Chinese."

"Hey, you set off a war between the U.S.S.R. and Red China, that would be something," said Hale.

"No one's getting hurt today, because we're doing things my way." Venus ran her hands through her long hair and its silver color took on a bluish hue. "Just to really play up the effect. Let's go."

The Soviet guards were discussing as always when they might be able to leave this temporary post, when one heard the crunching of feet upon snow. Their guns raised at the figures stepping out of the woods and walking towards them.

"M-11, incapacitate those gunmen, but leave them alive. And jam all transmissions from this area."

The robot marched forward and a hail of bullets rained upon his metal casing. Rather than ricochet off as the bullets in Seattle had, these stuck to the android, who now generated a magnetic field to protect the team members behind him from any stray fire. The guards emptied their clips and reloaded or grabbed extra guns from nearby vehicles. It was becoming difficult to distinguish the robot's form as the covering of rounds grew. One of M-11's arms was extended and wrapped around the fragments of rocket found in the Natty Bumpo. His free arm extended rapidly to its full length, followed by the fingers on that hand. From the tips of the fingers burst arcs of electric current that filled the clearing and connected all the Soviet gunmen for an instant. Briefly their grips contracted to force even more machine gun fire, and at once the attack stopped as they each collapsed in place. Jimmy, Ken and Bob turned over a few who had fallen face down in the snow to keep them from smothering, and the team continued forward. A telepathic scan by Marvel Boy revealed the Soviet scientists to be holed up inside the watchtower. Ken Hale pushed the locked door until it popped off its hinges and the troupe proceeded up a metal staircase.

At the door to the launchroom Jimmy turned and whispered. "Any guns in there, Bob?"

"Just one. They're all hiding behind tables and equipment."

"Okay, let's go. No one talks but Venus. It's your show." The men put their fingers to their ears.

She nodded, and began to hum. As she let her voice get louder, the thud of the gun being dropped could be heard. Ken then pushed this door open as well to let her step inside. Jimmy held a hand up to M-11 indicating for him to stand in the hall for the moment.

In the control room, several Russian and German engineers held onto whatever structures they were near as if on a ship that was rocking gently, yet steep. They were all delighted when the bearer of the unearthly voice entered. Venus kept singing and held out her arm as if to introduce those that followed- a short asian man, a tall nordic man, and an extremely large gorilla. While her voice worked through their heads the entourage seemed perfectly normal. Then the singing stopped and the group seemed the oddest ensemble the scientists had ever seen. Still, they were no longer terrified of what the guards must have been firing upon, and the calm stayed with them.

---NOTE FROM AGENT WELLINGTON, TRANSCRIPTIONIST--

The following exchange between Agent Venus and the Soviet scientists has been translated from Russian. These have been triple-checked by Linguistics, who have the reels made from M-11's playback.-A.W.-----


"Greetings, Earth Men. My crew and I are visitors to your world. It is our understanding that you seek to travel the reaches of outer space."

"You speak Russian?" asked a man with thick framed glasses. "Is our language like yours?"

"No," replied Venus, stifling a smile. "To speak our language you would need four more mouths and an extra octave range. We are appearing to you in bodies representative of your highest life forms for your own comfort. You are not ready to see beings such as us yet."

Two of the scientists looked at each other and spoke in their native German. "Gorillas are one of our highest life forms?"

"Yes, they are," Venus replied in their direction, which startled the men. She reminded herself for later to not share that part with Ken. "We are curious about certain parts of your space program. Last year you sent up your second capsule into orbit. I believe it had a passenger... a dog, you call it. Is this correct?"

A few of the men looked down in apparent shame. "Yes," said a thin man with a kind face. "Laika."

"Was the capsule designed to return to Earth with this passenger?"

The thin man wiped his eye. "No. Our instruments were to test if one could survive the gravity pull and weightlessness. She... would not have lived more than a few hours."

"Really." Venus turned towards the door. "Automaton, please bring in the debris we found."

The calm of the room evaporated as the massive form of M-11 walked in, his torso at 90 degrees to his advancing legs. Once he had cleared the doorway with the metal he carried, his body rotated back into alignment. The expanded arm retracted to place the two halves of the Sputnik II space capsule on the floor of the men who assumed they would never see the craft again.

"You brought it out of orbit!" The man turned to the others. "I knew it! I knew once we began going into the cosmos we would attract attention! We- we have only peaceful intentions with our program... we only seek to fly around our own planet! Please do not destroy us."

Venus raised an eyebrow at M-11. Naturally they were assumed to be peaceful emissaries until the menacing android appeared. "We are not angry with you, but something you're telling us doesn't make sense. We found this debris on Earth."

The burly man who had thrown his headphones in anger earlier stepped forward. "I am Korolyov-- the Chief Designer." The man paused a minute to compose himself. He had never planned to tell this news to his superiors at the Kremlin, and assumed no one outside his immediate staff of engineers would believe it either. Now he found himself facing beings who would likely not find his story unusual, so he began.

"Sputnik II was not designed for reentry. We are not at that phase yet. But a month before launch, I had a dream... several of us had the dream, in fact. In the dream we were shown plans to fit the capsule for life support. Others were shown how to produce a chemical to be injected into Laika, as well as device to be implanted under her skin. The dreams recurred and compelled us to follow this new plan. It was only at liftoff that we all realized we had been influenced. We thought perhaps... creatures such as yourselves may have done this." As he explained in more detail the additions they had made, an engineer in the corner named Kragoff jotted down notes furiously on his clipboard.

"Perhaps," returned Venus. "It was not us, however."

Kragoff stepped a bit closer and spoke. "What do aliens want with such information? How do we know you are not spies?"

Marvel Boy floated up three feet and hovered over across the room to look down on Kragoff. The balding scientist retreated back to the desk where he had been scribbling notes.

"We do not want your secrets, we were only curious as to your motivation," answered Venus. "It is clear you were not under your own control during this mission."

The Chief Designer spoke again, feeling oddly free to share information as his audience was not a part of the politics that governed his life and work. "Please excuse him. We are forced to take great measures with our space program, such as moving our launch sites to different parts of the Union." He looked out the window at the bleak cold sky. "I would never have brought us here- I was sent here many years ago, to a gulag. I believe soon we will be able to build a permanent center outside of Moscow, where our program can proceed at full pace. We would welcome you to return then, to our Star City."

"Thank you. But we have many other planets to visit and document. Perhaps we will return one day. Now we must say farewell."

Marvel Boy's headband glowed quickly, surprising the engineers. Venus nodded his way and then asked a new question. "Yes. Do you have anything of the animal... a blood sample, perhaps?"

The thin man walked over to Venus, his head still hanging as he reached into his coat pocket. From the jacket he produced a small leather collar. Marvel Boy's headband pulsed again.

"May I keep this?" Venus asked. She politely kept the quality of her voice to a level that wouldn't coerce the man. He nodded his head.

"Thank you. We are very grateful."

As the strange visitors exited, Venus turned once more for a final question. "One more question. Why do you have so many people with weapons around this noble venture?"

"Our leaders fear that others on this planet will learn our methods... and possibly reach the heavens before us." Korolyov felt flush at what he had said. "That must sound quite ridiculous to beings such as yourselves."

"I wish it did," said Venus.

* * * * *

The small leather collar with the red metal star lay on a round glass surface. Colored lights from all across the spectrum raced around the object, and a transparent image of the collar appeared above the actual object. Strange text began to appear in the air as well, reading out from right to left, and from bottom to top. Jimmy Woo reached his fingers through the odd glyphs to see if he could feel them, but of course he did not. "So what's this gizmo doing, Bob?"

Marvel Boy flipped a switch on the console of the Silver Bullet that would keep it on a clear course, and rotated his seat to look at the analyzer his friends were gathered around in fascination. "It's analyzing traces of the animal's genetic structure. You can see that there are a few hairs to work with, and the leather has absorbed oils from the dog's skin."

"Sweat too, huh." added Jimmy, fixated on the holograms.

"No, dogs aspirate through their paws and by panting," said Ken Hale, equally transfixed. He felt the eyes of his team upon him in the way that generally irritated him. "Why is everybody surprised when I know a little science? I'm an ape of all trades! I could fly this rocket too, if pretty boy let me." Then a new hologram projected, of planet Earth. It began spinning quickly in the direction of the actual planet, then vertically. Hundreds of thin lines crossed through the image and more arcane text appeared.

"It's searching the planet now for a match," explained Grayson. The gorilla looked over at a container and turned back to them. "Hey! We should do this with one of those fancy daggers those skeletons couldn't stop stickin' me with! That oughta take us right to whoever's behind this nutty scheme."

"It won't work," explained Bob. "It's a good idea, and you're catching on quickly to how devices like this function, Ken, but even my technology isn't to that point yet. The only way this is going to work- if it does- is if there's an actual living creature somewhere with the corresponding DNA chain. For an instrument like this, living bodies function almost as transmitters, constantly broadcasting their code as they expend energy. The skeletons were animated by some other force, they weren't alive." Grayson's headband seemed to glow slightly as he mused on the point he just made. "It's probably just dumb luck on the bad guys' part. But using the skeletons was the perfect way to keep me off their trail." He had little time to think on the matter further as a light began pulsing on the projection of the globe, which then enlarged to show more detail. The glowing region then lifted out of position and produced an exploded view, showing in progressively greater relief the geographic location that the analyzer had found its match.

"It's found something!" said Venus. "Does this mean... the little dog is alive?"

"Yes. Though it's not the readout I expected to see. Something's... different. I'll put in a new course, I expect Jimmy wants to go there immediately."

Jimmy Woo leaned in closer and nodded a yes. He felt a cold wave pass over his skin as he saw the location.

"Washington, DC."

* * * * *

Continued...
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