- SIMaS: Chapter 20 – The Raid
- SIMAS Chapter 1 – Link Moss and the Magic Hippo
- SIMAS Chapter 2 – In-Flight Memories
- SIMAS Chapter 3 – Link Moss: Devious Mastermind
- SIMaS Chapter 4 – Curiouser and Curiouser
- SIMaS Chapter 5 – Welcome to Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 6 – So I Married a Supervillain
- SIMaS Chapter 7 – Little Talks
- SIMaS Chapter 8 – His Excellence, King Link
- SIMaS Chapter 9 – The Megardian Royal Family
- SIMaS Chapter 10 – How Double Lives Start
- SIMaS Chapter 11 – The Morning Report
- SIMaS Chapter 12 – Paradigms Shifting Without a Clutch
- SIMaS: Chapter 13 – Thunderstruck, Enlightening
- SIMaS Chapter 14 – Eris Lives
- SIMaS Chapter 15 – The Guardian Spirit of Megardia
- SIMaS Chapter 16 – Midnight Council
In any other situation, Link’s inner commentary would have noted that at the moment, he looked every inch Darth Vader without the life support or futuristic samurai helmet. There he was, storming down the palace halls, the King’s Guard flanking him, palace staff scattering from their path like dry leaves before the mightiest of lawnmowers. The dread master of the domain was on a mission and everyone knew it.
More like, they didn’t want to impede their king, a determined-looking guy in a suit with no tie, but at any other time, his thoughts would be fanciful.
Not now. Not with the sword of Damocles hanging over his family and the country he’d just hours ago resolved to extend his empathy toward.
Mr. Cross appeared from an intersecting hallway. He’d probably been waiting there from the moment he heard Link was on the move. “Is there some sort of emergency, Your Excellence?” For once, their wasn’t any sneer or disdain in his voice.
The annoying little man was supposed to be playing assistant for him, Link recalled. “There’s a good chance one is headed this way. Mr. Cross, I may have heard and forgotten but refresh my memory: why doesn’t The Philanthropist attack Amanda here in Megardia? It isn’t as if she doesn’t know where the place is, right?”
That earned him a raised eyebrow, but Cross answered without commentary. “If she has any understanding of geography, she knows where the Palace is, yes. But the defense towers that surround the main island produce a nanoscale temporal flux that extends in a sphere surrounding the entire country.”
“I’m… not sure if that answers my question.” Link admitted.
Looking like he wanted to roll his eyes, Cross elaborated instead. “As may or may not be public knowledge, The Philanthropist was stunted into our time stream from one far advanced into the future. Her parents gave her bio-mechanical implants that grant her all of her considerable powers, and in order to safeguard the energy source used, linked it to a generator that delivers power to her from the future.
“As one can imagine, this leaves her with few weaknesses—except for the fact that the generator cannot compensate for temporal flux. While in the boundaries of a time flux—even one fraction of a nanosecond offset from real time, as Megardia is, The Philanthropist’s power source cannot reach her and she becomes a normal, baseline human.”
“So the place Amanda is strongest, The Philanthropist is weakest…” Link mused. Before he could comment on that, the important part of what Cross said came roaring back. “There are people operating those towers, right?”
“Do they know about the time flux thing? Why it’s important to keep it going?”
“Your Excellence, I assure you that the tower crews know that the flux aggregators are their number one priority.”
Link stopped walking, nearly causing Nadine to crash into him. “Seriously?!”
The assistant narrowed his eyes, dangerously close to treason if Link guess the words going on in his head. “Indeed. Why wouldn’t the people in charge of our defense know what your greatest defense is?”
It occurred to Link that no one else had reason to care. The fight between Queen Mageddo and The Philanthropist was personal, after all. The temporal flux wouldn’t stop anyone else, so it wouldn’t be a priority for anyone… unless they point was to precipitate said fight just like ERIS had been doing to the villain and hero communities.
“Cross, I need to you drop all the other background checks and vetting and go over every single person who works in those towers immediately. And get someone to check all of them and make sure we actually are still temporally fluxed.”
“The Palace staff is a higher priority, Your Excellence; they’re the one’s closest to—urk!”
Link caught him by the shoulder and dragged him off to the side, giving a nod to the King’s guard. Both women took up positions in the hall that effectively told other members of the staff to find another way around the place that didn’t include that hall.
“Listen to me.” He said, trying to affect a growl, “I don’t have time for you to treat me like a dumbass or a disgrace, or whatever else you might be calling me in your head. “ERIS is planning on getting the Philanthropist into Megardia at full power within a week. Do you have any idea what kind of damage those two do when they throw down?”
Most of the time, one of both of them was quick to take the fight away from populated areas. Back before he knew her secrets, Link always assumed that Mageddo did it just because she didn’t like being thrown through buildings, but now he realized that it was to mitigate damage.
Except Megardia was the ‘bad guy’ country. Who knew of those rules would still be in effect. And besides that, even the farming areas looked densely populated on the maps he’d seen. Anywhere the fight passed through could do terrible harm to tiny Megardia.
Cross must have thought the same thing, as he nodded with almost half the respect he showed Amanda.
“Good.” Link said, letting go of the other man. He honestly didn’t know what he would have done if Cross hadn’t backed down. He was a thinker, not a fighter, and talking tough was about as far as he could go without getting lost. He wasn’t cut out to even play at being the evil overlord. “Get that done and tell no one else about this. I don’t want people panicking until I have a chance to discuss it with Amanda.”
“Of course, Your Excellence. I will do so at once.” The sneer was back. Not even Cross had bought Link’s attempt at aggression even if he believed the threat.
Link didn’t pursue it. There were more important things than Mr. Cross not liking him. He merely inclined his head and set off again toward the War Room.
When they came through the doors this time, a young man in business casual was waiting there, standing in front of a work station slightly less robust than Amanda’s. “Your Excellence.” he greeted, preforming the standard salute, “Her Majesty anticipated that you might wish to watch the mission and ordered your personal workstation readied. If you need assistance in operating it…”
“Thank you,” Link said, raising a hand to cut him off, “but I’m sure the King’s Guard can show me what I might have missed earlier. Do me a favor and clear some airspace around me: I need to communicate with the Queen in privacy.” He didn’t have to add the ilia and Nadine’s presence constituted ‘privacy’.
“You will be done, Your Excellence.” replied the young man, moving aside so as not to impede his liege further.
Link held in a sigh of relief. He was just a few more steps from the works station; a few more steps from being in charge. He’d never wanted to be in charge of more than his kids. His highest career aspirations included a private lab, not a corner office or a board room and certainly not a throne.
He sank into the work station’s chair gratefully. Making sure Nadine and Ilia were mounting skiffs of their own, Link focused on the holographic display in front of the chair. At the moment, there were only two display surfaces: a slightly concave rectangle hovering directly in front of him at eye level, and a flat square below it, angled in the same manner a normal keyboard might be.
The later had the same control interface on it that the skiff had, and it didn’t take Link long to get the workstation rising into the large empty bit of airspace that had been swiftly cleared for him. Illia and Nadine rose up to flank him as they had on their march to the War Room.
“Voice command?” Link asked more than stated. Thankfully, the interface didn’t read anything into his inflection and the workstation delivered a warbling noise to his ears, followed by a flat, synthetic voice declaring, ‘Voice Print accepted. Welcome, Your Excellence.’
He almost laughed. Someone had programmed the computer to say that. Amanda probably specified that exact greeting. Supervillain or not, her sense of humor was still the same. “Good…” He said absently, trying to remember exactly what he needed to asked—there was no point in hoping a computer could infer one’s meaning. “Establish a secure communications linkage to Her Majesty.”
The warble that came as his reply sounded like someone had tried to synthesize the sound of a child blowing a raspberry. “Unable to comply. Target recipient is in transit and cloaked. Connection failed.”
Of course. Link had expected that.
“Okay, establish the connection as soon as she’s not in transit. Can you give me an ETA on that?”
“Estimated time of arrival at separation point: eight minutes, twenty-two seconds. Estimated time of arrival at target: eleven minutes, five seconds.”
Link blinked. “Wait… why are there two ETA’s?”
Movement entered his peripheral vision; Ilia leaning into his view. “I can explain that, Your Excellence. On some missions such as this one, Her Majesty separates from the transport before landing so that she can draw enemy attention and fire from her expeditionary forces.”
The logic didn’t escape Link. “Everyone gets so worried over the Big Bad that they don’t bother with the henchmen.”
He knew he’d said the wrong thing even before he heard the unhappy and almost imperceptible noise in Ilia’s throat. “S-sorry.” he said quickly. “I’m still getting used to being… on this side?”
How was he supposed to describe his position, anyway? Amanda and Linda didn’t shy away from the ‘supervillain’ label, but where did that leave him? Wasn’t everyone the hero of their own story? Amanda’s rationalizations seemed to suggest she still thought of herself as a hero to Megardia and that the ‘villain’ stuff was ironic, but still…
“Of course, you Excellence.” Somehow, that made Link feel worse than if she’d been insulted.
Mercifully, Nadine broke the awkwardness. “If you want, Your Excellence, you can survey the area around the house with the surveillance drones.”
“There are surveillance drones already at the house?” Again, he was just a little faster of the mouth than with the brain. Of course there would be surveillance drones. Not just on the house, but watching the heroes (especially The Philanthropist) and whatever else was of interest. They were probably tiny, unobtrusive, and able to get nigh-impossible camera angles.
“Never mind.” he interrupted before Nadine could start explaining or wonder just how ignorant her King was. “I just wasn’t thinking. Computer, give me the feeds for all drones in the vicinity of the target location.” Four new displays appeared on their side of the concave one in front of him, forming a quarter-circle of video playback as they each began streaming information from the drones.
The views weren’t surprising: a top-down look at the house and the immediate surrounding neighborhood from above, a straight-on view of the front of the house, one from the back, another facing down the street crossing in front of the house, and one from the woods beyond the back yard. The last last one was slightly askew and showed no natural light. It took Link a moment to realize that the drone was perched atop the cabinets in the kitchen.
Amanda probably had the drone stationed there for years, just in case something happened. The only thing that made Link wonder was how there was one actually in the house that he hadn’t seen. Could other villains or even heroes have planted something like that at the house—or on Megardia?
A control pad, much like the one that operated the work station, appeared below each of the drone displays, augmented by a few extra controls for the cameras.
Link left the drones be for the moment and took stock of what he could see straight off.
Police tape cordoned off the driveway and sealed the front door from unauthorized entry. A pair of ERIS security personnel were posted in front of the door and two more in back, all wearing white body armor and armed with guns that Ari and Dkembe would have approved of. A black van sat across the street. It was unmarked, not even going for the shallow ruse that it might belong to a florist or a plumber.
The van couldn’t have held more than six people and big guns or no, the security forces would be like toddlers fighting the world heavyweight boxing champ if they tried to go up against Amanda and her armor. A battalion of those guys might keep her from her objective by making the curb-stomping she gave them too monotonous for her to bear. Might.
And yet, ERIS set two on each door and called it a day?
It didn’t take a genuine evil overlord to see that T-R-A-P spelled ‘trap’.
Link’s eyes flew over the four holographic screens, looking for anything else that might have seemed out of the ordinary. He considered that there might be a superhero hidden in the van, but discarded that idea: if he knew Amanda, the van and everyone in it would be disabled before anyone even knew she was there.
It took a few experimental taps of the controls, but link soon had the drone in the house airborne and scanning about. The kitchen was clear… to a certain extent. ERIS had clearly been looking for anything they could use against Amanda, opening all the cupboards and cabinets and dumping the contents in untidy heaps on the floor. The refrigerator, stove and dishwasher were gone, ripped out of the walls.
Because they might have some kind of super-tech in them, Link realized. Knowing he wasn’t going to find anything useful in the ruins of the kitchen, he turned the drone toward the open door leading to the hall. Their house was fairly old, and rather than connect directly to a dining or living room, the kitchen was actually at the end of a hall that connected to the foyer with the living, laundry and downstairs bathrooms branching off from it.
The hallway was clear in the same sense the kitchen was; the table next to the door had its drawer ripped out, the foyer closet had been thrown open and tossed including an umbrella lying in the middle of the hall that had popped open in the process of being dropped.
There wasn’t a door to the living room, just an open frame and a step down onto the plush carpet. The room was dark, but that made it easier for Link to notice the silhouette standing by the window. Careful maneuvering brought the drone fully into the room and at last, Link got a good look at who was lying in wait for Amanda.
The man was just under six feet tall despite his boots. The word that immediately came to Link’s mind was ‘cowboy’, but that wasn’t right. He was wearing a top hat instead of a ten-gallon hat or a Stetson, and his black-waxing-to-gray mustache was waxed and curly at the ends like a robber baron’s. In place of the traditional duster, the man was wearing a dapper-looking burgundy waistcoat with a tan vest and white shirt underneath. He leaned on an ornately carved cane, while his other hand was simultaneously moving aside the blinds so he could see out and holding a gold fob watch.
“Who the hell is that?” Link wondered aloud.
“Accessing facial recognition database.” The flat computer voice announced. “Please wait.”
Something about the man seemed familiar to Link, but he couldn’t place him. While the database tried to match the face, Link looked up at Ilia and Nadine for help. Both women shook their heads. They hadn’t been off Megardia and didn’t know any superheroes that didn’t routinely make international news.
That didn’t leave Link much to do but study the other man and ponder where he’d seen him before. He didn’t get much time for that before a warble sounded and the computerized voice returned. “Queen Mageddo has disembarked from the transport. Re-figured estimated time of arrival two minutes, nineteen seconds.
“Can I talk to her now?”
“Cloaking remains operational. Communications not established.”
Link groaned and squeezed his eyes closed. “You mean to tell me there’s no emergency ban or something? I have to warn her about the ambush on top of the disaster that might be impending here at home.”
The computer didn’t reply. It might not have understood him.
Before he could reword his question, however, a piercing alarm sounded and a new display appeared above the five drone displays. This one contained a dossier and photo of the man waiting inside the house. The huge, red letters at the top drew Link’s eyes and made his mouth suddenly go dry.
‘WARNING CLASS D REALITY WARPER. THREAT CLASSIFICATION: MAIMUM’.