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By Steve Crow A tale of Deadlands Weird West

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Monday, August 12th, 1878 - 10:59 a.m. One day to Doomsday

"Mr. Rose, it's that time. Inform the men that we move. now." William Rose gestured the other Blackjacks in their group forward, then whistled over to Caufield and his group on their flank. Wendigo Garrison still looked doubtful about the whole thing, but he wasn't about to argue with Andrew Garret. Not unless he wanted to make an abrupt and permanent visit to Boot Hill.

Leaving his horse with the others, Andrew lead his group of men through the light drizzle. He knew that many of the men beside him were unsure about allying with the Sioux and assaulting Gulgoleth, but he also knew how many times Black Jack had saved his life, how much he owed the outlaw. If Jackie wanted Gulgoleth out of Elijah's hands, then that was exactly what he was going to get. Besides, there was no better place to be for a robber than ground zero of a fight. Someone was going to fall, and Andrew would be there to collect their belongings.

Garret's reverie was interrupted by screams and a burst of gunfire, somewhere up ahead. He instinctively ducked for cover, then glanced over the rocks to check on everyone else. The rest of the Blackjacks had gone to ground as well, but two of them were occupied. Garrison and Rose were near the front, firing at...

What the hell is that thing? Garret wondered. He'd heard the stories, of course, of strange things that happened in Gomorra: fu masters who could catch bullets, scientists who flew through the air with rockets strapped to their backs, and a towering demon that had strode the land one dark and twisted night. But he was new to the area, and didn't lay much stock in wives' tales of demons and black magic. He wasn't at all prepared for what was advancing on the Blackjacks' position now.

A crack of lightning illuminated the twisted, skeletally gaunt figure in the lead, dressed in brown robes. A hood hid its face, which was just fine as far as Andrew was concerned: he didn't care to see whatever passed for flesh and bone beneath. The figure held a weird long-barreled gun in both hands, and was spraying some kind of energy out of it like water from a hose. It advanced steadily, seeming unconcerned about the hail of bullets that the outlaws were pumping into it.

Behind the creature, acting as point man, were a horde of men dressed in red robes, wielding rifles and other "mundane" weapons. They look more like a cult than an army, Garret thought to himself as he brought his gun to bear. Suddenly, Rose ran from cover and threw himself over the rock protecting Andrew, his duster swirling. "What the Hell are they, Will?" Andrew shouted at him over the din of gunfire.

"Elijah's men! The two in front are called Cain and Abel!"

"And that... thing in the lead?"

Rose tried to get a bead on the advancing enemy, but a burst of energy drove him back down again before he could snap off a shot. "Truth to tell, Andy, I don't know!" he snarled, brushing dust out of his eyes. "I've heard rumors. You ever hear about somethin' called a 'Hangin' Judge'?"

"Hellfire and damnation!" Garrett swore, popping up and pulling off a shot. The slug slammed into the figure's chest, but other than a billow of dust, it seemed to have no effect. Ducking back behind cover, he tried to fight down his panic. He had heard of the Hangin' Judges, and he knew that you did not want to be an outlaw when one came callin'.

"My sentiments exactly," Rose snapped back, busy reloading. There was a sudden motion behind him, and he whipped out a knife as Garret drew a bead over his shoulder.

A black man was approaching over the rocks from the south. He wore a greasy black-leather slicker against the inclement weather, and fired a shotgun over the rocks every few moments, pumping and rechambering wildly. Diving down beside the Jacks, a cock-eyed grin on his face, he practically blurted, "Greetings, gents! Sorry to drop in on you, but it looked like you needed my help!"

Funny man. Just what Garret needed. "Who the Hell are you?"

"Name's Hastings. Texas Ranger. Looks like you folks have found the party."

"Ya think?" Rose yelled back, resheathing his knife and returning to loading his rifle.

"Scouts reported that Elijah's men were headed this way. Can you hold them?"

Rose paused for a second, listening for a break in the opposing gunfire. He popped up and fired two shots, surveyed the situation for a second, then dropped back behind cover. "We've lost six men already, Andy! Looks like Skunky took a hit. Maybe Darren as well. Elijah's men'll be on us in a minute. Maybe two."

"That answer your question, Mr. Hastings?" Garret sniped.

"Well enough. I'd suggest you drop back. Maybe you and your survivors link up with us to the south, we can stop them before they get to Gomorra.

Rose didn't look too happy about any of this, but Andrew would have been surprised if he had: the Confederacy had several warrants out in William's name. But those warrants were issued a long ways away and there were more immediate concerns right now. "Order them to fall back, Will," Garret instructed. "Tell them to follow Hastings here. We'll make our stand." he glanced over at the Ranger.

"A quarter mile south and a little to the east."

Rose paused, but Garret didn't have time to coddle him. "Do it!" he shouted, then returned to Hastings and the plan.

Monday - 11:02 a.m.

Gus Gallagher circled his autogyro high above the battlefield. A low bank of fog had rolled in off the Maze, providing him some additional cover to the east, but he didn't care to use it. This was the kind of thing he lived for. Besides, the rain would wash the fog away soon enough; better that Gus not rely on it to get him through.

Cort had sent him up here to give the Agency a bird's eye view of the fighting, and to verify reports that the opposition had some kind of aerial support as well. So far, Gus hadn't spotted any opposing autogyros, though he did find Patterson's Confederate troops, advancing west of Gulgoleth. He'd also thought he'd spotted the Rangers southeast of the mesa. No doubt they were operating separately of the Southern armed forces. They probably weren't even informed about each others' positions. Bad news, Gus worried.

The rain restricted both forces' artillery. A good thing for everyone, Gus figured. It'll be hard enough to fight the Angels without a hail of explosives all around.

Something caught Gallagher's eye off to the east, a movement through a gap in the fog. He shoved the controls down and his autogyro screamed into a power dive. There! Three figures, by the look of them, heading south for Gomorra. Two men and a woman, and one of the former a walkin' dead. The other man was curiously dressed: wearing only a loincloth with a pouch at his side, his skin covered head to toe in tattoos.

Gus didn't recognize any of them, but they were marching out of enemy territory, so he drew his gun and loosed a couple of rounds at them. They ducked for cover and the tattooed man fired back, but they only seemed to be worried about defending themselves. Which meant.

There was an enormous crash and the sound of rent metal as something slammed into the autogyro's flank. Gus turned as best he could in his restraint harness to see a skinny leather-clad man, clinging to the side of his vehicle, a pair of broad wings protruding from his back. Guess the rumors are true, Gus noted as the winged soldier drove a flaming sword into the engine of the craft.

"Alastor sends you to Hell!" the man yelled, releasing himself. He plummeted down for twenty feet, then spread his wings and, after a brief dip, glided back toward the injured vehicle. Behind him, a horde of other winged figures approached.

Gus tried to feed more fuel to the engines, but it was no good. The autogyro's rotors sputtered out, and it started to fall. Gus tried to dead-stick the craft to the ground, scanning the area for a place that wasn't rocky or unstable. He managed to coast the craft most of the way down, but a rock outcropping sent the autogyro off its landing gear and spinning wildly across the ground. The force of the impact threw Gallagher clear of the gyro just as it burst into a fireball and sent dust and rocks up all around him.

Rolling over, Gus looked up to see the host of... angels? passing overhead. How can we hold the line against that? For a moment, his hopes dropped.

"What do we have here?" a woman cooed behind him. Gus turned, wincing in pain as his broken rib made its presence known, to see a pale, attractive woman approaching him - the one he'd glimpsed from overhead. Behind her, the two men, covering her approach. The tattooed man wielded an odd pistol: weird science, by the look of it.

Despite his circumstances, a wave of desire for the woman washed over the downed pilot. Some kind of witch, apparently. He checked his weapons; the gun had been thrown well clear in the crash, and the tattooed man would kill him before he could use his knife. "Finish him, Lillith," the Harrowed creature whined. "Or let me. I'm hunnngggryy."

The woman considered for a moment, then nodded. "I'll leave him to your tender mercies, Moloch. We must be about our business. Otherwise I would... enjoy myself at some length, I think." Gus didn't know whether to be flattered or revolted at the woman's morbid compliment, and it didn't look like he'd have time to think on it.

"Moloch" staggered forward, drool and ichor welling in his mouth. Gus closed his eyes, waiting for the end, only to hear a sudden crash, and the sound of metal impacting flesh.

"I think not!" a welcome voice cried out. Gallagher opened his eyes to see the robust man known only as the Crucible standing over Lillith's Harrowed underling. Before the other two could react, he pulled back and threw his enormous hammer, straight and true, into the tattooed man's hand. The weird science pistol exploded and the tattooed man fell backward, grabbing his sizzling, broken hand and shrieking in pain.

Moloch was already staggering to his feet as the Crucible grasped Gus by the arm and easily hoisted him up. The pilot's gratitude far exceeded his need to scream at the awful pain roaring through his chest as the Crucible boomed, "Get back to Williams and the others. Warn them."

With a shove, the Crucible sent Gallagher on his way, then loosed a tremendous battle cry and turned to grab Moloch in a vice-like bear hug. The zombie seemed unimpressed, returning the Agency man's grapple, and the two warriors fell into a death grip, arms locked about one another's throats.

Gus ran, ignoring the screaming agony across his torso, and headed south. The Crucible watched him go, the warmth and tingling of asphyxiation already rushing up his neck. He knew that he could not destroy the abomination in his grip, but he also knew that his death would give Gallagher the time he needed to get out of the area - back to the Agency's field outpost, where he could make a difference.

Monday - 11:48 a.m.

Jordan Caldwell paced nervously. She didn't care for being out in the open, much less in a cemetery. Anyone could spot her: Rachel, the outlaws still loyal to Jackson, the Law Dogs, anyone. The Collegium schoolteacher had apparently escaped, though the surviving zombies had indicated that she might have been mortally wounded in the fight.

Jebediah had commanded that she wait here. Caldwell doubted that the Whateleys would be happy with the offensive so far, even if a quarter of Gomorra lay in ruins. But she also knew that the fighting at Gulgoleth would last at least another day. Twenty-four hours. That was a long time - more than enough to wrest control of a town full of simpletons.

"Greetings, sister," a voice addressed her. Caldwell's rifle was already out, and she brought it up in surprise at the sound, toward three figures who'd entered the graveyard. None of the newcomers - a pale, wispy woman, a much-degenerated walking corpse, and a pale man painted with tattoos over every inch of his body - were known to her, though the latter two looked to have been in a brutal fight recently.

"You are the Whateleys' representative?" the woman continued.

"I'm standing in the middle of a graveyard, surrounded by undead, circus freaks, and a vampire. You figure it out, 'sister'."

The tattooed man stepped forward. "I am Gnosis, and the 'vampire' is the one we have come to talk to."

"I'm in charge of this little posse," snarled Caldwell. "You talk to me, or..." She paused. The man's tattoos. moved, each shape seemingly snarling and snapping at her. Jordan's own origins were steeped in black magic, but this man was something else altogether.

"Go ahead," she spat, stepping aside and gesturing to Meizhu. "She's all yours."

Gnosis nodded once in feigned gratitude, then stepped over to the vampire. Meizhu looked up, dimly at first. "What do you ask of me?" she finally whispered.

"The battle at Gulgoleth goes well. Elijah commands that you lead the undead in an assault on the Sweetrock offices." Gnosis paused for a moment, wincing at a sudden stabbing pain, then continued, "Now is the time to eliminate all that might arise against him in Gomorra."

"We have already driven the townsfolk before us," Meizhu pointed out absently.

"Not enough. Sweetrock and the town's others defenders must fall. You must strike now. Jebediah and the other Whateleys will be here momentarily, as will our own forces from above after they have scouted the town. Sweetrock's agents have joined forces with the Sioux and the Collegium returning from the field, and the hosts of the Lord say they are..." Gnosis faltered again for a moment, "...are gathered near the power plant."

"And the Agency?" asked Meizhu, showing some interest in events for the first time.

"Far from here," Gnosis sneered. "You needn't worry about them. But... damnation! What bothers me so?"

"What is it?" Caldwell demanded, stepping forward again.

A sudden spasm of pain bent Gnosis over. He held his head in his hands as if to contain some overwhelming pain. "Technology. all technology. I am sensitive to it. And the spirits as well. When the two merge. someone is playing a dangerous game." Gnosis kneeled for a moment in the graveyard dirt, mustering some inner resource, then looked up. "The Collegium," he whispered. "An experiment."

"Elijah says they are unimportant now, that we are to focus on Sweetrock and the Sioux."

"Things have changed," hissed Gnosis. "One of the scientists has bound a powerful spirit with technology. We must find whoever dares to create such an atrocity without our leave, and destroy them!"

"Then we'll need reinforcements," Jordan observed. "The Sioux, Sweetrock, and the Collegium. This wasn't the plan."

"Then reinforcements you shall have!" Jebediah Whateley's voice bellowed across the tombstones. A small mob of undead and twisted animal-creatures followed him through the gates of the graveyard, approaching the unholy summit.

Caldwell looked the Whateley patriarch over. "About time!" she quipped.

Jebediah chuckled, a truly frightening sound. He seemed in unusually good spirits, a state that Jordan had never experienced during their short acquaintance. "Let us spread out throughout the town, and finish what you have started. if you're ready, of course."

At Caldwell's nod, the army of abominations swung ponderously around and flooded back into the streets of town, Jordan and the Lost Angels right on their heels. As the crowd shambled away, no one noticed the door of the graveyard's largest mausoleum swing open, or the many shadowy figures that shambled out.

Monday - 12:44 p.m.

Sandra Harris threw down the pencil and paper with an air of finality. "There! That should do it!"

Outside, the sounds of battle had grown louder, but she couldn't abandon her post. Not yet. Max had asked her to keep the lines of communication open as long as possible, and she was determined to do so. Besides, this was her dispatch office, and the fighters in the streets would have to pry it from her ice-cold fingers.

Sandra grabbed her satchel, then froze as she caught sight of two figures standing in the doorway: Melissa Thomas and a weary-looking older man, curiously stout, with a shock of white hair and a well-oiled raincoat. But it couldn't be Melissa.

She was. "Why, Miss Sandra Harris, as I live and breath. so to speak," Thomas chuckled, stepping into the office.

Sandra's heart skipped a beat, and she remained silent. Thomas took another few steps forward and continued the conversation without her. "Mr. Brash and myself thought we would pay you a little visit. see how business was doing. You've been somewhat of a nuisance, you see: helping to end the fighting. That's something I'm afraid I just can't abide."

"Neither can we," another woman interrupted. Melissa turned leisurely, but the man at her side remained motionless, staring straight ahead at nothing. In the doorway were a pale, attractive woman dressed in gray robes and a twisted undead mockery of a man.

"Lillith," Thomas hissed. "Why, it's been centuries."

"More on your side of the fence than mine, I think."

Moloch sidled into the room and wavered. He seemed eager enough to attack, but watched his mistress carefully for the cue to go into action.

"You can't be here by coincidence, Melissa. What do you want in Gomorra?"

"The same as you, dear Lillith, though perhaps for different reasons."

"Our time draws near, Melissa. The Last Kingdom is at hand. I'm sure even you don't want to be around when the ritual is complete."

Sandra moved quietly, carefully towards the back door. The only one of them even remotely looking in her direction was Brash, and Harris wasn't sure he was aware of anything anymore.

"On the contrary, actually," Melissa said. "They're going to win eventually anyway. We both know that. Best that I have a front-row seat for the storm."

"What do you think, life-stealer? That they'll just give you all these delicious fruits after they've gone to all the trouble to fatten them up?"

Melissa smiled. "I have to admit. They've done a fine job here. I don't think I've seen so many people so utterly consumed with blind acceptance before. They don't even blink as your kind move in and take over. So ripe. So unsuspecting."

"You've been helping them." Lillith's shock was clear through her words.

"I'm a little busy at the moment, love, and I really must be going. But let me offer you this little morsel," Melissa smiled, patting Brash on the shoulder gently, "as a momento of the old times. A reminder of the fun we had as the world burned."

Sandra ducked out the door just as the fighting began. Moloch lunging forward, and Brash brought one fist up, gripping a lit stick of dynamite. A huge explosion followed, ripping through the Dispatch Office and the neighboring stores, throwing her clear of the building and into unconsciousness.

Monday - 12:46 p.m.

"Miss Harris?"

Painfully, Sandra opened her eyes, blinking away the rainwater. A man was looming over her, one that she recognized. "Gus?"

"In the flesh, kinda. Cort sends his regards." Gus observed the smoldering ruins of the buildings not twenty feet away. "I didn't know blowing up the Dispatch Office was part of the plan."

"It wasn't," Sandra groaned, rising to her feet and dusting herself off.

The office - her office - was nothing but a pile of scorched, shattered wooden rubble now. "You brought the old girl out of mothballs," Sandra said, looking over to Gus' backup autogyro, its rotors still turning.

"Ran into a bit of trouble myself," Gus said. "I'll tell you about it on the way. My orders are to get you out to the Colorado - assuming that's still part of the plan."

"It is. Let's get the hell out of here."

Harris paused at the sound of shifting rubble, turning to the ruins of her office. A figure slowly pushed itself free of the debris. A woman, dressed in a blue dress of the Northern style.

"Go!" Sandra shouted, shoving Gus towards the gyro. It took only seconds for Gus to help Sandra onto the autogyro, leaving her to strap herself in as he rounded the other side and took the pilot's seat. And seconds more to rise up into the air.

Harris' ears were ringing. A concussion, perhaps. Then she remembered. "We have to find Zarkov!" she shouted over the rotors. "He has something I need!"

"What?!?"

"Find Zarkov!"

Shrugging, Gus pulled the autogyro into a banking turn. Below them, Melissa Thomas rose and brushed splinters from her blue dress. "Another time, darlings!" she called cheerily to the autogyro, then sauntered away, toward Town Square.

Normally, the odds of spotting any one person in such carnage would be astronomical. But when Erik Zarkov was about he tended to be... obvious. Gus simply looked for the area of greatest devastation, figuring Zarkov would be right in the middle of things. Spiraling outwards, it took them only a couple of minutes to spot the biggest battle in town. Almost a hundred figures skirmished near the power plant: Indians, gunfighters, scientists, undead, and the winged men Gus had seen earlier.

"There!" Harris shouted, pointing to port. Zarkov rocketed up from the battleground and picked angels off with a sparkling electrical gun.

Gus pitched the autogyro off to the left, looking for a clear spot amidst the sky-combat. Zarkov spotted them and blew a hole in the opposing forces, then soared in their direction. A second later, a mechanical winged demon came flying down towards them. Erik zigged left and as the creature passed underneath him, he kicked down, hard. Disoriented, it spiraled down towards the chaos below.

"Follow us!" Sandra yelled through the fighting, who gripped the safety straps as Gallagher swung back hard to starboard. A large bird, nearly the size of a great eagle, flew by, soaring up from the plant and heading towards Gulgoleth. For a second it caught Sandra's eye and she could have sworn that it winked at her, but the next moment it vanished into the rain.

Monday - 12:57 p.m.

Coleman had to admit: Mad Wolf Striding was good.

The warrior, backed by the other Sioux who had committed to the Gulgoleth assault, had carved an impressive path of destruction through the opposing forces west of the mesa. Unfortunately, it appeared that the Sioux were running out of steam, leaving J.P., Bobo, Rex, and the remaining Texas Rangers to pick up the slack.

Without warning, a bolt of fire lanced down out of the sky from one of the hovering angels and slashed through Mad Wolf. The Sioux warrior hunched over without a sound. Coleman darted over to his side, firing wildly to keep the angels away. He was only somewhat successful, dimly aware of a few bullets plugging into his lifeless flesh, but he ignored them, focusing on Mad Wolf's injuries.

"Bobo! Over here!" J.P. screamed, noticing Mad Wolf's comrade Seeking Fury as he cut a path to his fellow Sioux.

With a last flourish of cards, Bobo downed a great gray wolf and reached the former sheriff's side. "You be callin', boss?"

Seeking Fury shoved the huckster aside and knelt over his comrade, running his hands hesitantly over the man's seeping wounds. Coleman was no expert with Injun magic, but even he could see something was wrong.

"The spirits abandon us," Fury spoke. "The Tree grows weak."

"Will he live?" J.P. asked. He could care less about the warrior, but their numbers were already stretched thin. As soon as the strongest of them started falling, it was all over.

"Yes," Fury replied. "But he will not rise. Not today."

"Damn! Bobo, looks like it's time for Dex's plan." Both of the Rangers knelt over Mad Wolf. "It's time for the Bible, Sioux! We use it now, or we all go down."

Struggling to remain conscious, Mad Wolf shook his head. "It's cursed. Use it, and we're damned."

Coleman snarled, "Damned if we do, damned if we don't." Then he shoved Seeking Fury aside, dug in the fighter's pouch, and grabbed the Bible. Even his long-dead fingers could sense the book's cover crawl, suckling his fingertips like a newborn babe. The skittering of the manitou through his decaying shell were as strong as he had ever felt them, and he felt a welling hunger unlike anything he had ever experienced. Then the moment passed, and he tossed the Bible to Bobo. "Do it!" he shouted.

The Cajun huckster snatched the book out of the air and thumbed quickly through the crisp pages until he found the right one. Coleman was still too intoxicated by the appetites of the manitou within him and Seeking Fury was busy with Mad Wolf, or they might have questioned how LeVeux knew which page contained the proper spell. As it was, however, the huckster was left unmolested, and began to chant in a language that made everyone's ears ring and the wounded warrior moan in pain.

A moment later, the chanting somehow rang out across the field of battle and everyone froze. Angels, undead, Indians, and Rangers all paused as Bobo swelled with raw, dark power. The only motion in the area was a tremendous bird soaring towards them from the south, a hawk, though larger than Coleman had ever seen. The hawk dipped toward to the ground and shifted, landing as a vibrant Sioux woman of incredible youth and beauty. She immediately moved towards Bobo, but Coleman stepped in the way.

"You have no idea what you're doing!" Strikes a Hawk shouted into his face.

"So I've heard," Coleman muttered, holding her back. For the first time, the woman saw his taut yellow features and smelled his dry, molding flesh, and went for her knife. But before she could swipe at him, the surrounding area was rocked by an enormous, silent explosion. A visible shock wave of energy passed through the combatants and across the plains. Strikes a Hawk, and other Sioux all over the battlefield, clutched their eyes and ears, and collapsed to the ground.

Turning, Coleman saw the wave of light taper off in the distance as the brunt of its force washed towards Gulgoleth. Angels and undead fell before it, or retreated from the ungodly energies. Bobo was kneeling on the ground, the Bible still open before him, its pages riffling past of their own accord. A second later, the cover slammed shut and a crack of thunder rolled away from it. Like a crack of Doom.

J.P. whistled admiringly just before a new wave of gunfire rang out. To the south, Coleman saw Jessie Freemont leading a mixed force of Law Dogs and townsfolk. Deputies, he assumed. "Up and at 'em!" Coleman commanded. "Tend to your wounded as quick as you can, and get moving. We've got reinforcements! Let's use 'em!"

The fighting had started up again to the north as well, and Coleman could make out cries of triumph among the Confederate troops assaulting the mesa. Bobo's spell had apparently weakened the enemy forces there as well. He found it hard to smile just yet, though; he knew that they were still quite a ways from beating Elijah back.

A shuffling sound drew his attention to Bobo's drained form again, where Strikes a Hawk, now recovered and back to hawk form, soared up into the air, the Bible clutched in her talons.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Coleman thought, returning to the battle.

Monday - 6:18 p.m.

This jog is rather refreshing, Quon Lin thought, knowing that he wouldn't have been able to keep up with his prey if she had kept her horse at a full gallop. Fortunately for him, though, it seemed her need for stealth prevented her from running her roan full out.

Quon was stationed at his new vantage post when he witnessed the Lost Angel's departure from the mesa. His orders were straightforward: intercept anyone who left Gulgoleth alone or in small numbers: Intercept, interrogate, and kill. Mind that you get it in the right order! Po Yu had cackled. Unfortunately, Lin had been unable to close with the female rider before she reached Gomorra. Perhaps, if fortune was with him, she was headed to her co-conspirators, or would reveal part of Elijah's plan.

"There he is!" someone shouted. He'd been so intent on his prey that he'd failed to notice the men stumble onto him. There were ten of them, led by a tall blonde man wearing the badge of sheriff.

Hunter? Quon Lin wondered. The scout had stayed out of town while the Rats retreated to Shan Fan, tending to Lord Kang's operations and the Spiritual Society's affairs elsewhere in the Valley. He'd never met Nate Hunter, but the man before him now bore little resemblance to his description. The Sheriff carried a double-barreled shotgun and wore a two-gun holster, with bandoleers of ammo looped over his shoulders. His eyes burned with fury, reflecting the sporadic fires throughout town, and his teeth were bared in a feral snarl, a challenge.

"Arrest him!" Hunter snarled, and the men behind him surged forward. Quon dimly noted that several of them had loops of rope, and that none of them looked like they cared to give him a fair trial. Too many to fight, and his cover was too important to risk. Reaching into his belt pouch, Lin tossed a small clay sphere in front of the mob. As it exploded in a burst of smoke, Quon Lin turned, ran to the next corner, and...

...stopped dead. Looming before him was a huge man-shaped figure, carved from metal. Its mock-face leered down at him and two enormous pincers clutched at his arms. Lin smoothly ducked the attack and dodged between the automaton's legs. Behind him, bullets ricocheted off the robot's metal hide.

"He's with the Collegium!" Hunter shouted to the others. "And he's got one of those hellish creations with him. Take it down, boys!"

Distracted, the robot charged forward toward the noisier targets, and Quon Lin counted his blessings. Now to find the woman again.

Monday - 11:21 p.m.

"Impressive," Sandra acknowledged, looking over Zarkov's remote relay console.

"Why, yes," he blushed, "it is, I suppose. Perhaps if it works here, we can consider using it on a more permanent basis."

Sandra glanced around the old wooden shack, left behind by the former miners of the Colorado Lode, and considered the possibilities. It was hardly as comfortable or - convenient - as the Dispatch Office, but then, beggars couldn't be choosers.

"So why were you fighting amongst yourselves, anyway?" Sandra asked.

"Hmmm?" Zarkov mumbled, soldering a connection.

"That flying robot. It came after you. I figured it was one of yours."

"No, that wasn't one of ours, as far as I know. It's not that we in the Collegium don't have our little internal squabbles, but some of our enemies are starting to use technology nearly as advanced as ours. Ah ha! That's got it!"

Sandra looked warily at the jury-rigged connection of wires, tubes, and a half dozen parts she'd never seen before. "Perhaps you should start it up and transmit the first message.." she mumbled.

"Thee of little faith." Zarkov chastised, toggling a few switches and dials. "Let's see. Mr. Ponds of Sweetrock has one of our relay consoles. Where did I put that microphone.?"

"'Microphone'?"

"Latin. I believe Oswald coined the phrase before his injury," Zarkov answered, picking up an odd, cylindrical device and holding it up to his mouth. "Its function is simple enough. Press down this button, speak into the mesh end, and your voice should be transmitted directly to Mr. Ponds. Switch the transmission frequency on this dial here, and you can reach any of the other relay consoles we have out there."

Putting deed to word, Erik flipped the power on. There was a huge burst of sparks, and he hastily cut the energy flow. "Drat! Well, back to the drawing board." Sandra sighed. It was going to be a long night.

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