Chapter Two: “MORE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH”
The reinforced door of the Chief’s main laboratory was thrown open with a resounding WABOOM! and the entire cavernous room shuddered with the force of the impact. Cliff Steele stood in the doorway and he cranked his voice amplifier all the way up as he shouted; “This had better be really important!”
He stalked across the concrete floor. The sight of a robot dressed in ragged jeans with shiny metal knees showing and a sleeveless Miskatonic University sweatshirt might have been bizarre anywhere but here in The Doom Patrol’s headquarters. Robotman teammates were used to Cliff’s habit of dressing in human clothing on his days off.
Cliff stopped in front of Niles Caulder’s wheelchair. The red-headed scientist intently read his Palmer Technologies computer tablet and seemed oblivious to the imposing orange-gold robot towering over him.
“Bad enuff you an’ Will Magnus gotta be scannin’ and examinin’ me all up the wazoo and whatnot. I finally get you to finally give me a day off to try an’ watch a lousy ball game in peace and the priority alert goes off!” Cliff whirled on his teammate Larry Trainor who stood off to one side, quietly amused. “An’ what’re you smirking about, mister?”
“Admiring your choice of wardrobe. You think you might want to take up modeling for a career?”
“Gentlemen, please.” The Chief sighed and placed the tablet in his lap. “Cliff, I’m truly sorry to have interrupted your day off, but a pressing matter that needs our immediate attention has come up.”
Cliff folded his long arms and his hinged square lower jaw dropped open an inch as his artificially created voice grumbled; “So what? Jeez, ain’t there anybody else out there who can handle these things? It ain’t like they’re shy when it comes to takin’ bows in front of the cameras.”
“Cliff, I think when I tell you what’s going on, you’ll agree with me as to the importance of this mission.”
Larry interrupted, rubbing his freshly bandaged hands together. “Chief, if this is a mission briefing, then where’s Rita?”
“She’s not going on this mission.”
Cliff’s jaw dropped all the way open and Larry’s face under the bandages twisted in alarm and dismay. “What’s happened to Rita?”
“She’s fine, Larry, she-”
“Lissen, Chief, you tell us straight and fast what’s happened to Rita. Is she hurt? Did Dayton do something to her?”
The Chief was rapidly losing patience with his teammates which they plainly heard as his voice became sharp and clipped as he answered, “Rita is just fine. She is attending to a personal matter that she consulted with me about a few days ago and I assured her she had my full support. Unfortunately, this matter has come up and we shall have to deal with it without her.”
Larry shook his head. “It’ll be weird with just Cliff and I going into action….”
“You’ll do no such thing.”
“But you just said-”
“I said that we would deal with this situation without her. I never said you and Cliff were going alone.”
“Hiya boys,” said a familiar, most unwelcome voice from the door. Cliff and Larry whirled to see a wickedly grinning Steve Dayton standing there, his newly redesigned Mento helmet in one hand and his costume thrown over a shoulder. “The kid and I figured we’d lend a hand since the missus is tied up elsewhere.”
From behind Dayton, a green kangaroo bounded into the room and in mid-bounce turned into Gar Logan who landed in Cliff’s arms. “Didja miss me, Uncle Cliff?”
Rita Farr Dayton looked at the address on the card in her hand and matched it up to the one on the door. 119 MASTRION DRIVE.
Rita rang the bell and shortly it was answered. The slim dark-haired woman with a rather narrow face ending in a pointed chin and wearing granny glasses perched on her small nose smiled. “Mrs. Dayton? So glad to meet you at last. I’m Dr. Jacqueline Ascher. Please come in.”
Dr. Ascher led Rita through a small foyer and a modest waiting room into her office which boasted a fireplace and a view of nearby Oceanside Park. The thick brown French carpeting and rich dark wood of the walls made Rita feel more at ease and she was beginning to think maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Would you like some coffee, tea?”
“Only if it’s decaffeinated, please. Either one will be fine.”
“I’ll join you. And while I’m making it, perhaps you’ll start by telling me why you feel you need psychoanalysis.”
“Oh NO!” Cliff roared, dropping the startled youth on his butt. Gar yelped in shocked surprise as he hit the floor. In a burst of emerald energy, he changed into a green rabbit and hopped out of harm’s way. “There’s no way I’m goin’ anywhere with him!” A long metal finger stabbed in Dayton’s direction. ” Chief, what the hell’s comin’ off here?”
“Niles, I’m with Cliff on this one.” Larry said firmly. “First to tell us Rita’s not coming with us with no warning or word of explanation and then to hit us with Dayton as a partner…”
“Don’t forget me!” the green rabbit squeaked. Beast Boy was ignored as the four men argued.
“It’s not like Dayton hasn’t gone on missions before, Cliff,” Niles Caulder said.
“Yeah, Cliffy…you’re treating me like a red-headed stepchild when I’m practically a bonafide member of the team. A member who’s saved your shiny metal butt more than a few times as I recall…”
That was enough for Cliff. A quarter ton of furious Robotman lunged at Dayton. Hands powerful enough to rip a tank in half aimed right for his throat.
Fast as Cliff was, Dayton was faster. He clapped his Mento helmet on his head. The helmet amplified Dayton’s latent mental abilities, such as telekinesis, to incredible levels.
Cliff stopped as if he’d slammed into a solid titanium wall. He fell backwards, sounding like a dump truck unloading scrap metal as he hit the floor. Dayton stood behind his invisible mental shield and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Want to try again?”
“That’s enough!” Niles Caulder roared. “Dayton! Take that helmet off and Cliff, get up and control yourself! I swear, the boy acts more like an adult than the pair of you!”
“Wow…thanks, Chief!” Gar said from Larry’s elbow. Larry bent down and whispered in Gar’s ear, “Don’t push it, kid.”
The Chief rolled his wheelchair in front of Mento and Robotman and his booming basso voice echoed in the huge lab like the rumble of a war chariot’s wheels. “I don’t remember inviting debate or discussion about who and who isn’t a member of this team. I say who goes on a mission and who doesn’t and I will not have my decisions questioned by any or you at any time! Is that crystal clear to all of you?”
There were quiet nods of assent. Eve in a wheelchair, Niles Caulder could command attention like few men could. “Then I want everyone over by the conference table right now. Dayton, I’ll want a word with you in private right after the briefing.”
Larry fell into step next to Cliff. “You okay?”
“Hell, no…Larry, what’s going on around here?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, pal. All I know is, Rita’s got some explaining to do.”
Rita put down her empty Duvynchy china tea cup and sat back in the leather chair. “I suppose that’s all I have to say, Dr. Ascher.”
The psychoanalyst tapped a red-nailed finger against her chin. “So. You wonder why it is that even after achieving a measure of fulfillment and success as a member of The Doom Patrol and marrying a wealthy and handsome man, you still feel…’freakish’…that is your term, is it not?”
“Yes…yes…I just want to understand what it is I’m feeling about all this. I’m practically still a newlywed and while I should be building a life with my husband, I’m gallivanting around the world with my friends fighting all manners of bizarre enemies….”
“You love your friends very much, don’t you?”
“I consider Larry and Cliff my brothers and Niles…under that cold intellectual shell, he’s got a heart warmer and more caring than anyone could imagine. I can’t picture leaving them…but is there any reason I should stay?”
It was three hours later when Larry Trainor landed The Doom Patrol’s customized Summers XM5 helicopter on the landing pad of the NovaTech BioResearch Complex located some ninety miles north of Midway City.
Spread over two hundred acres, the research complex boasted cutting edge work in the rapidly growing field of nanotechnology and its applications in medical procedures.
The main building was a dome some fourteen stories high and the foursome walked toward the main entrance.
Steve Dayton yanked at the tight collar of his Doom Patrol uniform. Both Cliff and Larry insisted that he abandon the garish purple costume he normally favored and wear a Doom Patrol jumpsuit like Larry and Gar. Steve was beginning to think maybe this was a bad idea after all. He’d never gotten along with Trainor and Steele and maybe he’d been a fool to think that he ever would. If Rita hadn’t made him see how important it was to her and Garfield, he wouldn’t even be here.
They were met at the door by a smiling, barrel chested man with thinning blond hair atop his blocky face. “Hi! I’m Dr. James Fynes. I’ll be your liaison while you’re here to help us with our little problem.”
Larry made the introduction and after hands were shaken, he got right to the point. “Dr. Caulder said that you were afraid some experimental nanobots had infected some of your test animals?”
Fynes nodded. “Come along, we’ll head for the animal habitat and you can see for yourself. Mr…Mento? Or do you prefer Mr. Dayton?” They all stepped on a slidewalk that took them deeper into the complex.
“Whatever,” Steve grunted.
“Could I please ask you not to use your mental abilities until asked? We’ve got literally trillions of nanobots of many different kinds and we’re still not sure how many of them react to psychic talents.”
Fynes seemed a bit perturbed by Steve’s attitude but he appeared satisfied enough with the answer and started his explanation.
“About eleven months ago, we created a totally new breed of nanobots using alien technology brought back by a member of the Justice League, The Atom. Not only was this technology alien, but it was also from a microscopic culture that only he has visited. Well, to say that we were excited is putting it quite mildly. Using this technology, we’ve made extraordinary leaps that might have taken us another seven or eight years to reach.”
“According to The Chief, ” Cliff said, “these new nanobots have somehow taught themselves to shrink like The Atom does? How’d they pull that off?”
Fynes shrugged and spread his hands. “That’s what we were hoping you could tell us. Mr. Dayton has the best chance of finding them with his considerable mental abilities and you, Mr. Steele can be able to confine them within your robot body. I believe Dr. Caulder has incorporated nanotechnology into your systems?”
Cliff nodded. “The Chief’s reprogrammed the nanites that act as red and white blood cells for my artificial nutrient fluids. Once Mento here locates ’em and zaps ’em into my system with his TK, my nanites will latch on and reprogram ’em to behave.”
“Quite…quite…” Fynes fished for a keycard and slipped it into the lock. The door irised open and the slidewalk continued on.
“Now how exactly do these animals fit in?” Dayton asked. “Seems kinda screwy to have these nano things near animals that can be infected by them.”
Fynes turned around and the change in his face was frightening. His skin had suddenly turned a shade of purple and his eyes bulged out as if about to pop from the sockets.
“Quite…quite…” he said just before he exploded.
Steve Dayton didn’t know exactly how long it was before he regained consciousness. His Mento helmet was gone and he lay spread eagled on a metal table, held down securely with metal binders. “Garfield!” Dayton turned his head frantically from side to side. On identical metal tables on either side was Larry, unconscious as was Cliff and Garfield.
“You worry for your friends?” a screeching voice like rusty tin cans rubbing together asked from above. Steve looked up and wondered if he had lost his mind.
A giraffe was talking to him. But not like any giraffe he’d ever seen. This was was covered in greyish, moldy skin with patches of nanobots that moved and writhed with independent life. The giraffe had triangular metal teeth that gnashed and rubbed against each other with painful sounds.
Between the animal’s front legs, Dayton could see a transparent section where something moved in a thick golden liquid. Even as he looked on in horror, rubbery golden hued three fingered hands flowed from the transparent section to pick up Dayton’s Mento helmet and hold it before him.
“What in God’s name are you?” Steve asked.
“Call us Te Ukiri…and if you do not do exactly as we say you can call us the executioner of your friends.”