Issue 1, chapter 4: A Night at the Park
After thanking Rusty for his help and leaving him to his drink, RJ, Cass and Fade had left the pub, informing the others of their discovery of Prodesapia activity underneath Greenwood Park. Fade had agreed to transport Max Tuesday and Tracer to the latter's not inconsiderate base of operations. It transpires that Tracer has amassed a serious wealth over his life. Fade puts a hand on each of his team-mate's shoulder and the three of them disappear in a curl of black and purple smoke.
Cass stoically refuses a ride from RJ, and so all three men make their way to Greenwood National Park, a 3 square mile nature reserve in the centre of the city, one walks, one rides his motorbike and one runs along behind.
At Tracer's penthouse hangout, the three comrades face an impressive array of computer terminals running a variety of automated tasks, and Fade suggests searching local government records for any signs of recent archaeological activity, or anything else that would indicate a link underneath the park. With a quick few commands into a terminal, Tracer starts to hack into the records to pull out any relevant information. The park has been in the city for centuries, some ancient law banning development on the natural land. The group begin filtering through the results, which appear on the large display screen: a privately funded archaeological dig two years ago, a couple of now disused subway stations near to the park entrances, some minor seismic activity in the late 90s.
"It looks like there's an abandoned subway station on the east side of the park, imaginatively named 'East Park'" The team hear Fade's voice in their heads, thanks to Switchboard. Sledgehammer pauses in his run, still unable to quite figure out how the voices got inside his brain, and thinking about that and running at the same time proving to be a little too much of a cognitive challenge. RJ shouts back to Sledgehammer,
"You go to East Park subway station, see what you can find!" Sledgehammer grins his agreement and thunders off in the direction of the station, and Rough Justice continues onwards on his bike.
"Er, guys? Our new friend Max says he's picking up a radio transmission that's being broadcast on multiple commercial frequencies" Tracer's voice is heard in each of the team members' heads. Back at Tracer's building, Max Tuesday is aurally relaying the message being broadcast by a national news team onto multiple radio stations:
After speculation about what these disappearances mean and inconclusive conjecture about who, if anyone is behind the mysterious disappearances, Fade & Tuesday (who have teleported back into town) head to the East Park underground station and meet up with Sledgehammer. Planning to sneak silently through the tunnels, Fade quickly becomes frustrated with the lack of stealth displayed by the other two: Sledgehammer had lifted a locked gate, easily snapping the padlocks that had until very recently been quite good at deterring would-be trespassers. The locks had crunched noisly, and Fade leaves them to it. Transport being no trouble to him, he quickly meets back up with RJ in the park, who has come to the east entrance, overlooking the beautiful two-tiered lake that reflects the rising moon, its waterfall showering from the north lake down into the south. Seeing Fade coalesce into being, Rough Justice points at the waterfall.
"What do you make of that?" Following Rough Justice's gesture, Fade sees the water is bouncing off something as it descends, sending droplets off at unnatural angles.
"I'll check it out," Fade replies, and before his sentence can sink in, has materialised under the cascade of water at the point where it is interrupted.
As the deluge of water cascades out from the north lake, it beats down upon Fade who nearly slips as he attempts to discover what it is that's causing the water to bounce in such a way. He's standing on a thin ledge that tapers at one end to the point where it's flush against the rock face once more. A thought strikes fade and he's gone in a wisp of purple and black, appearing at Rough Justice's side once again.
"A door." He says. "A door that's slightly ajar, but not enough to slip through." The 'door' was big enough that the bottom of it had gone below the surface of the southern lake.
"Can we get in?" Replies Rough Justice.
"That's the easy part." comes the answer. He's gone in a swirl of black and purple. Re-emerging the other side of the door, Fade looks at the other side of it. There is an intricate system of mechanical and electrical equipment bolted and soldered to the door. He relays what he has seen to the others, to which RJ replies " So.. a little help?" Fade is already back, and puts his hand on his team-mate's shoulder, the two of them disappearing from view.
Max Tuesday had only been assigned to this team for a short time, but had quickly learnt some of the idiosyncrasies that dwelt within it. For example, this large humanoid, designated Sledgehammer, was incapable of thinking too hard and continuing to walk forward. Max had decided it was with this man that he was most needed – the brains to his brawn – and the two of them had set off down a maintenance tunnel that they had discovered. As the unusual pair walk the tunnel, they come across an unlit section, slowing their progress.
"Box" says Sledgehammer suddenly, pointing to a metal box recessed into an alcove in the tunnel. It was the only thing of note that either one had seen as the tunnel had curved its way round to the right, and after a quick examination, it is evident to Max that this is a control panel for the tunnel's maintenance electrics. He flicks the switches in a preset order, and the lights on the tunnel come on, and they venture onwards.
After some minutes, after emerging into a second tunnel, they come across a gate with its padlocks broken. They had come full circle.
"We must have missed something." Max's metallic voice buzzed. "We should go back the way we came". Sledgehammer nodded in agreement and they doubled back on themselves.
Fade and Rough Justice find themselves in a near pitch dark tunnel hewn roughly from the rock it carves its way through. It takes their eyes a few minutes to adjust to the gloom, but they can make out some lights in the distance. The start to move forward and it's apparent that the lights are attached crudely to the wall like miner's lamps. After a time, the pair come to a fork in the tunnel. Looking at each other briefly, Fade takes the left tunnel, and as he continues onwards, the lights become sparser and sparser until he's in pitch darkness. He feels his way forward in the tunnel, which has started to curve back around to the right in a large arc.
RJ, taking the right path, also notices that it curves gently back around to the left. As he makes his way forward, he hears the dripping of water up ahead and before long he arrives at the entrance of a small, rounded cavern. The floor is a mirror, a still pool of water reflecting the artificial lights attached to the walls. It's not deep; Rough Justice can see the cavern's rocky floor refracted below the water's surface. Stalactites hang down from the ceiling of the cavern, a few of them joining their stalagmite counterparts in the middle, centuries of natural water flow causing them to meet.
As he takes in the scene before him, he sees something which takes him by surprise: a man enters the cave, wearing a white lab-coat and holding a strange hand-held device.
RJ quickly ducks back out of the light of the cavern and takes stock of the situation. The man has entered from the opposite end, higher up than where RJ is standing. A rocky ledge curls around the opposite and right sides of the circular cave, emerging about 5 foot from the rock face at its widest point. As he takes another look, Rough Justice sees that there are roughly cut stone steps leading from the pool up to the entrance and ledge.
He relays the information mentally to Fade via Switchboard. Fade is frozen in fascination as a small red dot emerges from the darkness, shining its red light hypnotically upon the walls. The dot sways slightly as it grows larger. Suddenly, Fade realises that the dot isn't growing larger, it's getting closer. The red dot is at head height, and is in fact attached to the head of someone coming right towards him!
In an instant, Fade dematerialises and reappears silently on the ledge in the cavern with the pool. He is close to the man in the lab coat, who is studying the wall intently, occasionally checking the hand-held device he carries. Catching Rough Justice's eye from across the rocky pool, Fade stealthily creeps behind the man, hoping for a better look at the device and to discover the man's purpose here.
The man's device is showing readings measuring the strength and concentration of something he doesn't understand. The man himself is staring intently at the walls of the cavern, which appear to be covered in a layer of gelatinous, brown-green fungal slime.
The man begins to turn, and Fade is gone, returned to the tunnel from the left fork.
Meanwhile, having turned back on themselves, Max Tuesday and Sledgehammer are slowly making their way back around the maintenance tunnel, looking for anything they have missed. About half way around, they find it: a dark recess hides a ladder, folded up on itself.
"I get", states Sledgehammer quietly. His long arms easily reaching the ladder, he yanks it down and the ladder slides into place.
"I will ascend first" buzzes Max, and he starts to climb. With Sledgehammer not far behind, the two climb twenty or thirty feet up this ladder before it stops, opening out into a giant cavern, more than one hundred foot across. Max turns down towards Sledgehammer and puts a metallic finger against where his lips would have been. Sledgehammer nods his understanding and the two quietly emerge from the hole in the ground that the ladder has lead up to. As they look out across the cavern, they see four or five men, all with their backs to them. Everyone in the cave is inspecting the walls. An unusual light is glinting off of the arms of a couple of the men, casting strange reflections on the walls around them. Artificial lights dot the cavern, extending the whole way around the circular area, before ascending up in parallel with some stairs carved in the rock, leading up and round to a second tier on the right.
Fade teleports behind the red-eye man and grabs him. The man drops the box he is holding in surprise and tries to let out a yell but Fade is too quick for him. Draining the man's energy, Fade pushes the other's head against the rocky wall and a sickening thud tells him that his attack has been successful; the man is out cold.
Rough Justice watches the man in the lab coat turn and leave the cavern, unaware that moments previously there had been somebody else right behind him. Once the man has left, RJ dashes across the pool of water, splashing noisily as he does so. He bounds up the steps to the entrance opposite, and runs on through. The man in the lab coat hasn't gone far into this second cavern. This one is much larger than the previous, and he hears Rough Justice's footsteps as he sprints towards him.
"Intruder!" He yells, and several other men in the cavern look over and rush with astonishing speed to the steps leading up to this second tier of the cavern. Max and Sledgehammer hear the call from across the cavern and look over to see their colleague Rough Justice charge toward one of the men, arm outstretched to the other's neckline and clothesline the man, bowling him over into the ground.
Fade has teleported back to RJ's location, and sees the fight break out. In seconds, the other men, who up until now have been quietly inspecting the walls, rush into the men, followed by Max and Sledgehammer.
Catching them in a pincer movement, most of the men go down without much of a fight, but one of them, bigger than the rest, with all of his limbs replaced with metal prosthetics, glares at them with two bionic red eyes glowing in the dim cave. He sprints at high speed towards Rough Justice and launches himself at him using the full momentum of his enhanced speed. He catches RJ, but is too late, as Rough Justice saw the manoeuvre before it happened, and parried the attack in such a way as to deflect most of its damage. Coming up behind him, Sledgehammer pounds a gargantuan fist into the base of the enhanced man's spine, bringing him to his knees with a cry of pain. Staggeringly, the man starts to get up again, but Rough Justice sees this and delivers a swift, targeted kick to the other man's jaw, and he sprawls out upon the cave floor, unconscious.
Only one of the bionic team of scientists remain, at the very far end of the cavern. Sledgehammer, still full of fighting fury, thunders towards him bellowing and the man simply panics. He tries to run away but trips. Seeing this pathetic display eases Sledgehammer's ire and he sits on the man, amused by his attempts to escape.
The others rejoin him, and Rough Justice questions the man:
"What are you doing here?"
"I… I… can't tell you."
"You want my friend here to take off your head instead?"
"No.. no please. We're collecting samples. This fungus… it only grows here… it's special." The man splutters, struggling to breath as Sledgehammer restrains him.
"Collecting samples for what? What does it do?"
"Really, I can't say… I can't say." Something about the way the man repeats himself suggests to the group that the man really rather wishes he could say. He is not lying, something is stopping him from telling what he knows.
"I guess we'll just have to find out for ourselves, Sledge?" Rough Justice looks at Sledgehammer, who interprets the question correctly, and flicks the man's head against the floor, knocking him out easily."
"If you came from over there," says Fade gesturing toward the upper tier of the giant cavern, "and you two came up from here right?" He points at the nearby hole in ground. "Then there's one place we haven't been yet." He gestures at a tunnel leading off behind them, and the four team-mates set off into the darkness.