230 - A New Hope

Exiting the funicular chamber reveals a new part of the city entirely different from the previous one. While the lower chambers were relatively small, made of interconnected chambers, this one is a single colossal cave. It’s almost too big to fathom.

But it’s here that Pyrrhus’ influence is strongest. The cave has been filled with platforms, connecting pathways, cables, workshops, and all manner of artifice. All of it is made out of the same plastic material. And now the team can see where it’s coming from.

The whole cavern is crawling with robotic cyclopean spiders, similar to those encountered in Cairo. Some of them are spinning new structures out of a plastic webbing they create internally. Others are crawling across half-finished plastic cables, using their lasers as cutting devices and their arms as manipulators to arrange the stuff into more complex shapes.

“You guys,” breathes Alex. “I got a new name for this Pyrrhus asshole. Arach-nerd.”

The cavern is naturally dark, lit only by the lamps mounted on the walkways, and the occasional flash of a spider eye or laser beam. There may be more secrets here, lurking in shadows just beyond the meager lighting.

Some of the soldiers are here, wearing their tactical suits and masks. Other humans can be seen operating the consoles and workstations spun from plastic by the spiders. And below, there’s a thrumming and a constant updraft of hot air, even against the Antarctic chill.

“They’re building something here. A lot of something,” John surmises.

“Guess we’re here to break it,” Emma grins, cracking her knuckles.

“Guess so. Anyone got a better plan?” Alex asks.

“No - Yes.” Nono speaks up, sounding uncertain but doing her best to rally herself. “What are they building? And how?”

The others look at each other, and shrug. “Okay, let’s find that out,” says John.

The team skulk downward into the depths of the spider-spun citadel.

“This is bad,” Alex breathes, when they reach the bottom.

Rows upon rows of antigravity “hopper” tanks are lined up in storage. Beside them are a dozen or so overly muscular bronze robots, with rockets attached to their backs. Racks of interesting high-tech weapons and body armor are nearby.

“What the fuck is a ‘decimaser’?” Emma asks.

“A what?” Alex asks, and approaches.

Emma points at one of the nearby consoles, unmanned at the moment. “Decimaser printing progress, it says.”

Alex rubs their hands together. “Finally, something I can properly hack. Okay, let’s get some answers…”

The plan is interrupted by klaxons blaring throughout the cavern. Red emergency lights activate, giving the place an even eerier ambiance than before.

“Oh come on, I didn’t even touch it yet!” Alex protests.

1 Like

Alycia is at a disadvantage in the wager she proposed. It came out of her mouth on automatic pilot - the thrill of competing with Jason again overrode her reason. But if he knew to the number of paces where she’d be, while she’s entirely disoriented, it’s a losing proposition.

Who cares who wins, a deeply guarded part of herself says. I just want this.

At first she thinks she can listen for his footsteps, then sprint in that direction. Then the klaxons sound, and horrifying doubt fills her heart. It was a trick after all.

Well, she’s out of her cage. No reason she can’t keep moving.

Two Alycia Chins and two Jason Quills converge at a four-way intersection. All of them are dressed identically: the loose-fitting plastic bodysuit of a prisoner.

In the distance, they hear the klaxons, and the pounding feet of guards mobilizing in response to the alarm. These sounds give the meeting some urgency.

Alycia thinks she gets the tactic. It wouldn’t have been hard to just station troops outside the prison cells, in preparation for this eventuality. It wouldn’t be hard to position the cells over lava, or ice, or in the air, or in some other fashion that prevented escape. This isn’t a restraining tactic. This is a mind game.

She can see the rules of the mind game flash processing in the minds of the others, via the expressions on their faces. Identify the Mirrors. Escape them, or dispose of them. Find a way past the guards, who will be equipped with detectors, signs and countersigns, or some other mechanism to identify the Mirrors. Or perhaps the guards will simply throw all Alycias and all Jasons into their respective cells, and nobody will learn anything new except never to trust anyone.

And most importantly, if any of us accuses one as being a Mirror, the other Mirror will accuse the accuser. There’s no value in snap accusations, even if we’re morally certain we’re right.

“Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta,” one of the Jasons announces quickly, pointing to each person in turn. The two Alycias are Beta and Gamma. The Jasons are Alpha, with Delta being the one who proposed the names.

“Acceptable.” “Accepted.” “Fine.”

Alycia thinks rapidly. Everything Jason said in the cell about Mirror behavior and despair is automatically suspect. But it made logical sense, and fit the observed facts. It’s not a bad place to start–

“At most one of you can be the real Alycia,” says Jason-Alpha.

“And there’s no guarantee there’s a real Jason either,” Alycia-Beta says.

“But if there’s two originals–” starts Jason-Delta.

“–then they should be able to independently identify the Mirrors,” finishes Jason-Alpha.

“How do you know that?” demands Alycia-Beta.

“I was able to identify a Mirror Alycia on sight,” Jason-Alpha reports.

“I was,” adds Jason-Delta. “In Cairo.”

“Yes, Cairo.”

“A Mirror Alycia confronted me at the airport,” Alycia-Gamma says quickly. “But I was too busy to notice any particular tells. She fought exactly like me.”

“Muscle memory would be preserved by the nanobots when the Pyrrhus gestalt was formed,” Jason-Alpha points out. “The Pyrrhus we met at the Atlantean exchange could mirror and anticipate our movements too.”

“We’re wasting time,” barks Alycia-Beta. “Bite your hands. Hard. Show me blood.”

Everyone does. Everyone has signs of superficial bleeding.

“That’s preparation,” whistles Jason-Delta.

“We could pair off, but a Mirror could physically overwhelm a flesh and blood person,” observes Alycia-Gamma. “We have to settle this now.”

“That’s 50% odds,” Alycia-Beta points out.

Jason-Jason and Alycia-Alycia pairings guarantee that any originals in the quartet will be overwhelmed. A J-A and J-A pairing has 50% odds of being right or wrong. Two Mirrors won’t attack each other, so the odds are the same however many originals are present.


“Who won the race?” asks Jason-Alpha, abruptly.

“I don’t know how far away your cell is–” Alycia-Beta starts to answer.

There’s an energy weapons discharge, then another one. Jason-Delta and Alycia-Gamma dissolve into piles of ash-black nanobot residue. A weapon barrel slides out of the shadows, followed by a steely-eyed Amir Quill.

Jason shrugs and smiles at Alycia. “I freed him too, of course.”

Alycia lets out a long-delayed sigh of relief. Then she walks over and punches Jason - her Jason - squarely in the face.


Alex and Nono are hanging out at the console. They’ve figured out a few key things. First, that the manufacturing process here is like a 3D printer or molecular lathe at a huge scale. It can assemble molecules into almost any configuration - you just have to provide a schematic and some feed matter, and you’ll get any kind of weapon or tool you want. Second, that Pyrrhus has been using this to build a really staggering arsenal.

“He’s gonna invade a freakin’ country with all this,” mutters Alex.

Emma and John are hanging out on the catwalk above. They’ve also figured out a few things. For example, that the soldiers who are rushing the assembly area have a really solid grasp of tactics, but astonishingly little strategy. They make use of cover, use suppressive fire to allow movement as a fireteam, and have pretty good aim. But they’re just not doing anything smarter.

“They’re like AIs in a first person shooter,” announces Alex from their console. “Hey John, I think stealth is over with. How about getting your bird friend in here?”

Bullets ripple off John Black’s invulnerable carbon armor. “Yeah, sounds good.” He whistles, loudly, into a radio, carefully shielding it from the incoming fire.

The soldiers begin to fall back. “I guess they’re afraid of a wild turkey–” Emma quips.

Pyrrhus drops from some catwalk far above and lands between John and Emma. He lays the girl out on the deck with a savage side kick to the ribs, then turns his attention to the android. John launches a punch, which Pyrrhus easily parries and turns into a throw.

“Startin’ to hate that move,” John mutters, and kips up in a heartbeat.

Below them, Nono turns to Alex. “We can gum up the works here, I think,” she says, pointing at the chemical equations feeding the printing process. “Methyltriacetoxysilane should weakly bond with the resin he’s using, but it’ll be unstable. The chemical printing is highly exothermic. The result will be um, like leaving plastic in the window of the car for an afternoon, but in minutes. Here, type in C7H12O6Si…”

Alex claps her on the back with a grin. “Spies are a dime a dozen. A genius chemist is one of a kind.”

Nono blushes intensely for a moment, then glances up and gasps at the battle. John is now taking a defensive position over Emma, giving her a moment to recover. But Pyrrhus has as few mortal limits as he does, and the two artificial bodies are clashing at speeds too fast for the eye to see. One thing is clear: John is already battered, in an early-generation carbon shell, and has no way to rebuild himself by absorbing local materials. Pyrrhus has the advantage.

“Hey. Brains. You said nanotech has a heat problem. Yeah?” It’s Emma, gritting her teeth to control the pain of cracked or broken ribs.

“Yeah,” calls Alex worriedly, unable to divert their attention from the console reprogramming to check on their teammate.

“Hey, space cowboy. Outta my way.”

John looks back. Emma is on her knees, holding her side with one hand, the other outstretched. The android darts to the side, and Pyrrhus is engulfed in a blue-white inferno.

Moments pass before Emma lets her power wane. As the fire fades, wisps of smoke drift away from the point of ignition.

“Did we get 'em?” Nono asks.

Emma is about to answer when the soldiers start firing again. Nono watches her take a round and collapse on the catwalk, and screams.

John grabs hold of Emma and leaps down to the console area, and lays the girl safely behind one of the consoles. Alex kneels beside her quickly, assessing the damage. “Heavy bleeding, but she’s got air and a pulse. I think I can stabilize her.”

“Good.” Nono turns to John, holding up two of her patches. “Your strength. My flow. Let’s link up.”

John breaks into a feral grin. “You got it.”

Nono slaps on the patches, and John’s android body snaps shut around her, creating an invincible armor.

She leaps upward with newly superhuman strength, processing what she sees in the moment. Several soldiers, using cover. Weight of the cover? Some fixed walls or partitions, some storage units - crates and the like. “Grapples,” she calls, and John reads her eye movements to pick out targets. His grapples lash out and drag crates away, and the combined combatants leap forward through the newly emptied space to smash into the soldiers.

“Leave them extended,” Nono directs, and John obeys. She takes hold of the grappling lines in carbon-armored hands, then lashes out with them like twin whips. Soldier after soldier takes a hit to the head or the neck and falls, while others retreat out of range.

It’s all so unreal, like a dream of dancing. Nono can see her dance partners, feel her weapons, and join the two together with just a flick or a twist. She’s light on her toes. She’s fast, and graceful, as she leaps from platform to platform and level to level, breaking through barriers or swinging from ceilings with John Black’s android aid. The soldiers are shooting at her, of course, but what difference does it make?

She doesn’t need to use words now. She can just grunt - “haa”, “yah”, “rrr” - and John takes the cue to do eye tracking and aim the grapple system where she wants it. Her mind is free to guide her through the optimal path needed to take down every single stinking Pyrrhus soldier in this entire complex.

Alex has done their level best to stabilize Emma’s bleeding. The ribs are another matter, but an improvised splint will have to do for now. This leaves a minute to finish up the goopification of the weapon printer. And while that’s happening, Alex checks on the manifest of weapons already in production.

“Hey gang,” they call delightedly over comms. “Y’all remember that EMP bomb in Cairo? They have more in stock. Who likes fireworks?”

1 Like

Amir’s energy weapon aims itself squarely at Alycia’s head.

“Hey. We talked about this,” Jason warns. “She’s different.”

The barrel wobbles, and lowers. “Fine. Now what?” Amir asks. Jason and Alycia both take a breath.

The trio heard the activity of soldiers, and assumed it was for them. But now there’s gunshots - distant ones. “We go help whoever’s here,” Alycia declares. “Amir, where’s the armory you got that from?”

“I didn’t,” he answers. “There were guards at my cell.”

“Oh. Well done. Come on.” Alycia leads the way, picking out directions by ear, following the familiar sound of violence.

Nono has come down from her vengeful fury, and she emerges from John’s armored exterior near the console where Emma is laying. Before she can say a word, Emma holds up a hand. “Healing factor. Just need time.” Her words are stilted, and her throat rattles from pained breathing. But it’s good enough for Nono to release a long sigh of relief.

John, meanwhile, prompts Alex. “What’s this about EMP bombs?”

Alex points over at one of the weapon storage areas. “A bunch of them, laying there. Pretty sure they’ll lay out any nanobot in the place. Thing is, we gotta place em effectively.”

“Leave that to me,” John vows. And as the Phoenix crashes through several plastic platforms in succession and lands just above them, he grins. “Leave that to us.”

The human soldiers are withdrawing, including recovering their own wounded or unconscious. “Nice of Pyrrhus to include that in their programming,” muses Alex.

Unfortunately, the spider-bots are now swarming from other parts of the underground citadel, and the team can see them converging on the team’s position. Alex shakes their head. “I take it back, fuck Pyrrhus.”

The tempo of gunfire is changing. Alycia, Jason, and Amir climb staircase after staircase, using rapid strikes and surprise to disable the soldiers they find along the way. And then a black shadow swoops overhead.

“That’s a Phoenix!” Jason cries.

“That’s my team!” Alycia realizes.

“They’re gonna die,” Amir points out, gesturing up at the lines of swarming spiders descending in lines along the plastic webbing of the city.

“No. They won’t.” Alycia, still running, clenches her fists. “I will not allow Pyrrhus to hurt anyone else. And I think I know how.”

John is halfway done loading up the EMP bombs onto Loosie Goosey when Jason, Alycia, and Amir arrive. Amir has been a crack shot with his weapon, taking down a few of the spiders, but it’s clear that there’s too many to deal with via small arms. The team is going to have to move quickly.

“Hey, Otto said Summer sent something for ya!” calls John, upon seeing Alycia. He pats the Phoenix and points, and obligingly the bird-bot unloads its cargo.

Alycia’s eyes widen. It’s her Vyortovian hover-cycle, but there’s more than that. As she approaches, she finds something unexpected.

“Packie…” She picks up the fuzzy Al-Pack-A backpack and hugs it, not caring who sees. Finding it surprisingly lumpy, she opens it up. Summer has packed a handful of MREs with smiling suns hand-drawn on the packaging, all of Alycia’s spare grenades, and a spare set of her shock gloves.

She turns to the team. “I know what Pyrrhus wants. Jason and I need to go confront him - distract him - to let you set those bombs. The EMP from Cairo, I assume.”

She turns, then, to Amir. “I want you to lead this team right now. Get them out of here safely. More than anything else, keep them safe.”

Amir’s eyes stay narrowed. “I still don’t know that I can trust you, Alycia Chin.”

She smiles back at him. “But I know that I can trust you, Amir Quill. I trust you with their lives. And mine.”

Amir shrugs, but doesn’t push back. Instead he takes stock, first checking on Emma, then Nono. “Okay, you four. It’s go time. Saddle up on the bird. You - need a carry?”

Emma scowls, and rises to her feet. Her almost-fall is halted by Nono on one side and Amir on the other. “Yeah, you’re fine,” Amir grins, reading Emma’s pride from her scowling face. “Names and powers, you first…”

As he takes charge, Alycia beckons for Jason to hop aboard the hovercycle. She slips on her alpaca backpack, slides on the shock gloves, revs the engine, and takes off.

“You think you’re in charge now,” Pyrrhus says, over the bike’s comm system.

Alycia vaults the hovercycle off some of the webbing, crashing through a handful of approaching spiders. Behind her, Jason is pulling grenades out of the pack and tossing them with expert precision.

“It had occurred to me,” Alycia answers. “We’re out of your cells and blowing up your base.”

“Bases can be rebuilt,” Pyrrhus counters.

“But we can’t. That’s why your spiders aren’t shooting at us.”

“True. Say, have you figured it out? Tell you what. Let’s trade master plans. You tell me what you’ve deduced. I tell you the parts you couldn’t possibly know about. It’ll be a fun way to pass the time.”

Alycia laughs at that. “Sure. I think you genuinely wanted to kill Jason and I at first. But that changed, after the Atlantean exchange. You saw an opportunity. Because the one thing the nanobots have taken away is the one thing they can’t give back. The capacity for hypergenius.”

“You could say I was of four minds about what to do,” laughs Pyrrhus. “But yes, you are correct. Keep going!”

“That’s why Sidorov is working for you,” Jason adds. “You needed that hypergenius, and he was someone you could control, even now.”

“But he wasn’t good enough for what you really wanted. You could push your connectome back into a human body, but doing so would destroy that person, and the mutation you need,” Alycia says.

“And you could clone someone, or create a new host body, but that still takes months, like the ANTIBODY program in Russia,” Jason says. “Maybe you’ve got clones of both of us growing somewhere in tanks, but it’s not happening fast enough for your plans.”

“True, true, I do,” Pyrrhus answers. “Good luck handling that!”

Alycia banks the hoverbike left, plowing through spiderbots in a flurry of sparks. Without a clear idea, she’s heading for the center of the web, reasoning she’ll find something important there. “So you keep us alive, because we might be compatible hosts. You’re made partly of our minds, so stuffing your connectome into our skulls might just work.”

Pyrrhus cheers. “Fantastic!”

“But you haven’t,” she adds with a smirk. “You had us at your mercy. But you didn’t just wipe us out. Why not? I think it’s because Jason and Alycia are part of you too, and they won’t allow it. I think the copies of us inside you are fighting you. They’re making you vulnerable. And that’s why we’re going to win.”

“All entirely on the nose,” Pyrrhus concedes. “Except the last part, because I have a trump card. Now, my turn. I realized more than your individual usefulness to me. I realized through memories of the Menagerie what I really had available to me. A boy who could synthesize minds to order. Minds with real emotions, real souls. Another boy, empowered by cosmic forces that will attract themselves to anyone with sufficiently strong virtues - which can arise from a machine. Genetic and magical lineages of power, encased in artificial bodies. A mélange of Quill and Chin isn’t enough. I can build an army of ultimate super-men, starting with the two of you.”

“We won’t let that happen,” Alycia scowls.

Pyrrhus’ voice turns alarmingly casual. “Say, Jason… Why not tell Alycia how you got out of the cells?”

Alycia glances over her shoulder at Jason, who’s smiling sadly. “Cards on table, I suppose.”

“What does he mean?” she asks, suddenly uncertain.

“I was lured to Cairo by a Mirror Alycia. I disabled her, at the cost of control over my nanobots, but somehow her consciousness got wedged in my head. So I’ve been carrying around an electronic copy of her - of you.”

Alycia’s temper flares. “Something like that would have been nice to know about before!”

“She thought I was going to delete her,” Jason explains sheepishly. “I said… I couldn’t do that.”

“Well I can!”

Pyrrhus laughs across the radio. “A delightful domestic dispute. What do you think, Alycia? Is your partner already compromised? Is your mission to eliminate me going to cost you Jason Quill as collateral damage?”

Alycia scowls, and revs the hovercycle until she can’t hear anything else.

The spiders’ lasers are barely heating up the Phoenix’s exterior. But they’re still a menace to Alex, who is therefore enclosed in John Black’s armored form while programming the bombs. Amir is inside the cockpit, with Emma and Nono piled together behind him.

“So we’re setting these on a timer,” Alex explains. “Pyrrhus may set up some kind of radio jammer to block transmission of a detonation signal. One neat and calamitous thing is the bombs will set themselves off if they detect an EMP pulse - so if one goes, they all go. This guy is really committed to wiping everything out, ain’t he.”

“What if Jason and Alycia aren’t out in time?” Amir growls from the cockpit.

“Their bike breaks down if it’s not shielded, and then a huge amount of infrastructure falls on their heads because of the chemical tweak we did to the factory which is hugely volatile and everything probably explodes?” Alex guesses.

“How about hacking the soldiers’ command and control systems to evacuate them now?” John says. “That way we’ll know if Pyrrhus is really preoccupied or not.”

“Hm, good call. Okay, bombs are ready! Just drop them in equidistant points around the center…”

Alycia and Jason pull the hoverbike up at the center of the web. Neither of them expected to find an exact replica of the Quill compound’s conversation pit, complete with Pyrrhus lounging on a couch, wearing a smoking jacket.

“Do the two of you know about the Battle of Karansebes?” he asks.

“No,” Jason admits, pulling out more grenades from Packie the backpack.

“Not a clue,” Alycia confesses, warming up her shock gloves.

Pyrrhus holds up a hand. “A minute - I promise. It’s tragedy and farce.”

“Go ahead.”

“Caransebeş, Romania. 1788. Emperor Joseph II of Austria leads a multi-national army. They receive word of Turks nearby, but the Emperor isn’t worried. His generals promise him victory. Meanwhile, his hussars ride out in search of the Turks, and instead find people who sell them liquor.”

“Another unit crosses the river looking for Turks. They find drunk hussars who won’t share. Shots are fired. Miscommunication escalates the conflict. An Austrian commander sees the chaos from afar, assumes it’s the Turks, and orders the cannons into action. The fighting commences in earnest.”

“The Turks find 10,000 fallen Austrians, two days later when they actually arrive.” Pyrrhus shrugs. “Ten thousand dead from a foolish misunderstanding. Do you appreciate how galling that is to me? Because I know how easily it could happen again. People are so naturally self-destructive.”

“That’s why people need to communicate,” Alycia counters. “Instead of fighting each other, we need to talk.”

“Then talk,” invites Pyrrhus with a wave of his hand. “Or do you want to go right to the grenades and high voltage?”

“We’re not going to let you hurt people,” Jason says. “We’ll do what it takes to stop that.”

Pyrrhus turns to stare at him. “Do you know what I want, boy? I want this to stop.” He abruptly rises and starts pacing a circuit around the center of the pit. “I want all this chaos inside me to stop. And it’s because of you, and people like you, that I’m like this! Byron Quill’s nanotech, the programmed embodiment of his hubris. Your decision to arbitrarily punish your parents. Their inability to cooperate until the time was past for them to meaningfully accomplish any positive change.”

The nanotech mastermind is positively fuming. “I was born of this self-destructive nature you all have! I can’t escape it! I can’t fix it! Even now, the best you’ve got to offer me is explosions and smug moral superiority! I’m not Achilles Chin - I’m not going to reorder the world in the name of some harmonious ideal. And I’m not Byron Quill - I’m not going to flirt with the established order when it’s convenient for me. I will have my peace when nobody can fight each other any longer. When all the screaming inside of the human soul is silenced.”

He looks from face to face, haggard and panting. “Can you give me that?”

“Only by destroying you,” Alycia says softly.

“Then may you be damned to hell if you fail,” Pyrrhus declares. And he launches himself at them.

1 Like

Two mortal fighters, with hypergenius-enhanced fighting skills, versus one nanotech monster.

Oh, there are moments of hope. Once Jason notices that Pyrrhus regenerates by absorbing matter from the conversation pit simulacrum, the grenades quickly get used up in blasting apart whatever object he’s trying to feed off of at the moment. The shock gloves give Alycia an advantage, and she uses the grappling system to evade Pyrrhus’ attacks. He’ll synthesize weapons out of matter in turn, only to find Jason expertly disarming him to use them himself.

Tactics and gambits and plays, honed over four lifetimes of conflict, exhaust themselves one by one. The rest is just the application of force against one’s opponent.

The hypnotic rhythm of it all gives Alycia time to reflect.

Pyrrhus is right, in one sense. Despite her talk about communication as a solution to conflict, they didn’t have an answer for him after all.

What other solutions exist? Perhaps Leo Snow’s heart factory might be used to rewire Pyrrhus’ mind, neutralize his fractured nature, realign his synapses into a more benign configuration. But Alycia knows that nobody has the wisdom to use that power properly, and knows that even Leo knows that. The world isn’t mature enough to wield control over the soul.

What of the Concordance? They prize Virtue, use it as a source of power even, but when it comes time to take responsibility, they fail catastrophically. Adam Amari, a callow youth, shows more maturity and wisdom than the Rainbow Warriors who supposedly replaced him as the Concordance’s chosen emissaries on Earth. They, too, perhaps possess the power to change people. But Alycia cannot imagine ever asking them to use it, on anyone, for any reason.

Earth’s superheroes were equally a disappointment. The HHL covered up its own failures, and then sent half of their number into space on a quixotic mission, equal parts revenge for their planet and rehabilitation for their image. In a way, it’s comforting. Mythological culture heroes always seem to fall to their failings in the end, and so the old stories prepare us when it happens again.

What did Leo say, about her past, about how AEGIS treated her?

“You have a disease”.

Doug Lindsay, bedridden for 11 years, invented the surgical procedure that cured himself. Other people have found cures for themselves or their loved ones. Not all were successful, of course. Not all tried. But every last one of them was motivated.

Those who are inflicted with this disease of destruction must be the ones to find the cure.

That’s what she’s doing here. That’s what she’s fighting for. She may not know how to save Pyrrhus. But maybe she can learn from him to save someone else. Nobody else will ever be so motivated as her. Nobody else knows so exquisitely what’s at stake.

“You got five minutes,” comes Alex’s call, via the Vyortovian hovercycle’s radio.

Pyrrhus, busy throwing Jason across the room, wheels and grins at Alycia. “I know your plan. The bombs. Leave now and live, and I’ve got time to disarm them. Or stay and die.”

She looks at Jason, and remembers what he said about traveling the world. About having all the time in the world.

Part of her whispers mission first. The Mission before everything.

No. Not anymore.

She’s already on the bike by the time Jason is on his feet, and she beckons urgently. He leaps aboard, and the two roar away from the half-destroyed conversation pit and its mocking master.

“We’re on our way,” Alycia calls over the radio. The Phoenix is hovering outside of the base’s vehicle access bay, over a crowd of Pyrrhus’ soldiers standing on the hard rock of Antarctica’s surface. Here in the lee of the plateau, and with heating equipment found in the bay, nobody’s in danger of freezing to death at the moment.

“Soldiers are safe. He already ordered them out,” Alex responds. “Like he knew.”

“He’ll always know,” Alycia calls back, and Alex can hear pent-up emotion in her voice with even that short phrase. “Pyrrhus - he’s going to disarm the bombs once we’re out. All we can do is get to safety.”

“And he’s just gonna keep doing his thing, forever?” John asks.

“We’ll keep on his trail. When he rebuilds, we’ll just have to find and stop him then.”

John shakes his head. “No. That’s not good enough. Hey, Alycia. Do you know the meaning of Rocket Car?”

“Yes, Otto told me. About how–”

John leaps off the Phoenix, and uses his grappling hooks to swing his way back into the base.

“John, wait!” calls Alex nervously. “What the fuck are you doing, man?”

“He’s going to set off the bombs manually.” Alycia’s voice is drained.

“He can survive the EMP. Maybe there’s a chance he’ll survive the base collapse. Shit. Shit. Maybe not.” Alex is panicky. “We gotta stop him.”

“He knows what he’s doing,” Alycia says, so softly the radio almost doesn’t carry it. “He’s accepting a risk only he can take. It’s not fair to him, but… he’s doing it anyway.”

The Vyortovian cycle emerges, and Alycia and Jason operate the controls on the vehicle access bay to shut the door. Given its massive size and sturdy construction, it should contain the effects of the EMP. But they won’t know until it happens.

A few minutes pass. There’s a violent tremor in the earth.

“Monitoring a sudden drop in all electromagnetic activity and thermal emission,” reports Alex. “Alright you wacky kids, I think we can say that Pyrrus’ place is closed for business.”

Emma, in the cockpit, is being cradled by a worried Nono. Amir is silent and watchful. Alycia and Jason on the bike are melancholy. Nobody’s cheering.

“Also monitoring a big-ass airplane,” Alex announces out of the blue.

Big Bill, in his jetliner configuration, sets down on the ice shelf near the huddled soldiers. His loading door opens and Inspector Lee Yan steps out.

“Sorry we couldn’t call ahead, but the brass insisted on secrecy!” she yells. “Got some people to load up for evacuation?”

“Lee Yan!” yells Jason excitedly. When Alycia looks at him, he grins. “My father consulted with her a few times. She’s one of the intelligence world’s experts on Achilles Chin.”

“Huh. Never heard of her,” Alycia muses, thoughtfully.

The Vyortovian bike pulls over to Big Bill, and the Phoenix lands as well. Amir takes charge of directing the dazed soldiers onto the plane.

“They’ll be taken to hospital ships being escorted by an Australian ice-breaker,” the Inspector explains. “We’ve been watching via satellite surveillance. When everyone started coming out, we gave Big Bill here the go-ahead to take off.”

“How did you become part of this?” Alycia demands.

“Your friend here invited me to collaborate on intelligence analysis on this base,” the Inspector shrugs innocently, gesturing at Alex.

Alycia turns, eyes burning, and Alex holds their hands up. “I’ll explain everything later! I promise.”

She returns her attention to the Inspector, and looks her over closely. “I feel like I’ve seen you before,” she says at last.

Lee Yan shrugs. “It’s possible. I have one of those faces. Good for infiltration missions.”

“Did you infiltrate my father’s organization?”

“Dr. Chin? Oh yes. He made me pretty quickly, though. Not the high point of my career.”

Alycia nods, and starts to turn away. She feels a hand on her arm, and looks back to see Lee’s earnest face.

“You want some good advice, Alycia?”

Alycia raises an eyebrow. “Go ahead.”

“There’s life after Achilles Chin. He’s powerful and persuasive, even when he’s not here any more. Don’t let him consume you. I get the feeling there’s loose threads here, and that you’re going to keep chasing them. I’ll back you up on that, if you ever need me. But go live your own life, as much as you can. Think you can do that?”

Alycia spares a glance back at Jason, and remembers his words in the cell. She turns to the Inspector once again, and lets herself show the most honest smile she’s revealed in a long time. “Yes. I think I can do that.”

Emma is riding back in Big Bill, to be seen on the hospital ship. Nono and Alex volunteered to go with her. Amir is riding with the soldiers. John is gone.

That leaves Alycia and Jason in the cockpit of the Phoenix, hovering over the remnants of the Antarctic base.

“This isn’t over,” she says at last.

“Not with the Mirror Alycia in my head, clones of us growing somewhere in a tank ready for Pyrrhus to re-manifest, maybe other bases, digging John Black out of the rubble there, stopping Sidorov–” Jason ticks off item after item.

“All those things, yes, but… the Pandora’s box Pyrrhus has opened. Self-aware nanotechnology. This ‘Poppet system’. The drug Cháwǎn. All these new technological dangers, and all based, one way or another, on things our families have done.”

Jason hums. “Maybe. But the last thing out of Pandora’s box was hope. You and I are the products of those families too, and we’re going to keep the world safe from the worst of our legacy.”

“Together.” Alycia sighs. “But right now there’s something I have to do. Something only I can do.”

The stack of paperwork lands on Agent Parker’s desk. Alycia and Parker stare at each other eye to eye.

“My report. I’m filing it personally,” Alycia announces. “I trust you’ll offer the usual criticisms of my performance and approach. I’ll take those in writing when you’re ready.”

“I’ll review your report immediately, Agent Chin,” Parker responds dryly. But her eyes are smiling. “We have chosen to overlook your accidental fall out of Ozma-9 on its flight back to the United States, and the circumstances surrounding your refusal to check in after that, in light of what is no doubt a successful mission.”

“Yes ma’am. The mission was a success.”

Parker takes hold of the paperwork, upends it, and taps it against the desk to even out the sheets. “Very well. I believe you’ve earned yourself a furlough. Please spend it getting some relaxation.”

“Unlikely, ma’am.”

Alycia departs the office, a pair of finger-guns her last gesture on the way out.

That is the end of the Agents of AEGIS story!
The Agents themselves will return, of course, as will the dangers they talked about - and perhaps Pyrrhus himself, in some form…?

How do we feel about the story?

1 Like

I deeply enjoyed the whole AOA story and the ending definitely lived up to what had been set up before. There seems to be so many threads left open where I could see any or all of these picked up later.

This was wonderful fan service. :laughing:

1 Like


Feels a bit too quick, but there are some efficiency aspects to her decision that make sense (she does trust him, within certain parameters, and he’s obviously got experience).

What Pyrrhus doesn’t fully realize is that, for Alycia, every mission is full of compromise and collateral damage, because she can never be as ruthless as her father, nor as compassionate as … whatever polar opposite she has set up against him.

She does a lot of cycle revving in her life.


I will presume here that she is planning to see what his metaphorical point is here, since this military anecdote is right up Achilles’ alley to train Alycia in from multiple perspectives.

One of the most nicely described villainous motivations I’ve read recently. Well done.


Also a very nice scene.

The next best thing to running Jason and Alycia is reading really good Jason and Alycia fan-fic. Well done.

And also neatly done, Alycia and Lee Yan’s encounter. Much more satisfying than, say …

Of course, and what I always consider a better tribute than detailed analysis and critique: I want more …


The bad guy won his Pyrrhic victory - he’s gone (maybe…), but the technological Pandora’s box is open, and cooperation between the two houses of Montague and Capulet Quill and Chin is guaranteed.

I’m glad that it worked well, because “there’s life after Achilles Chin” was my through-line for this story. And given the choice of saying something for the sake of her own feelings, or sharing wisdom that she thought would help Alycia out, Lee chose the latter. For me, that’s an important choice too.

Or did he realize it - and offer this as one last test to Alycia (“to get rid of me you have to get rid of Jason”), and see how she reacted?

On the one hand, I could see Pyrrhus deciding to let it all come crashing down around him as his way out, not through an overt act, but by just not doing anything.

On the other hand, that blend of personalities? Unlikely. But perfectly plausible that he just deactivated the local bomb, dropped through a planned exit to the subshuttle network that crisscrosses the globe, and will pop up where least expected and most dramatically inconvenient. Because tropes have power.

A good through-line for her. She’s gone from “Who am I?” to “How do I best thwart my father?” to “… and still lead a fulfilling life and bring happiness to others around me, particularly the guy with those stunning blue eyes …?”

And, like I said, it beats Lee Yan slugging Alycia in the stomach, tearing off her rubber mask, and walking away, free to be an international spy for all time. :slight_smile:

The joy of characters like this is that there are wheels within wheels, and you can alway peel down another layer and find something to chew on.

1 Like

Time for the big grand list of trivia items for Agents of AEGIS as a whole, in no particular order.

  • The overall tone of the series was intended to evoke James Bond, Jason Bourne, and similar globetrotting spy flicks. I made some concessions to the superhero world here and there, but mostly it was a high-tech team confronting better-than-average but mundane dangers.
  • I did a lot of research while writing this stuff, so most references to organized crime, mundane places and what you can find there, etc. are all real. I actually changed a couple of minor plot points when a real place didn’t support what I’d hoped it would. I also wanted to do justice to the inhabitants of these places, while remembering that we were seeing the seedy, criminal side of everything because that’s the tone of the story.
  • Parts of the Antarctic city of the ancients were actually drawn from the Masks-616 universe, where we had multiple ancient civilizations kicking around, animated stone technology, and other weirdly primitive/elemental science.
  • At one point, Jenny Byrne drugs Jason aboard the plane, and he concludes he’s been out for days. Why? He got ahead of Pyrrhus’ plans to use him as a hostage against Alycia, and actually got out of Jenny’s control for a bit. If not for being chased by an ANTIBODY who had been designed specifically to take down him and his father, plus equipped with the Poppet System, he’d have escaped Moscow and been free to go help Alycia on his own.
  • My goal for Jason was to give him an authentic all-new adventure that felt like all the stuff hinted at in his backstory, including daring escapes, deathtraps, girls of the week, semi-comic masterminds, sudden plot twists, and so on. But it also had to recapitulate his history, so we saw the Dragonfly, Jenny Byrne, an old Chin lackey, etc. make appearances. The only thing I couldn’t reference was the cartoon.
  • SNOWMAN met up with the Newman group, and it broke up quickly. Their conflict isn’t over, and it’ll be complicated because he set off the bombs.
  • Emma didn’t destroy Pyrrhus (obviously) but forced him out of the shell he was wearing at the time. I thought about giving Pyrrhus some dialogue, but I thought it’d be better to just have him attack the team - unlike Alycia and Jason, he has no reason to spare any of them, or spar with them either.
  • Alex got the least amount of character growth (in my opinion) but they also don’t have a lot of open conflict right now. I used them mostly as a foil for the other characters this time around.
  • It wasn’t super clear (my fault), but Pyrrhus opening fire suddenly at the Atlantean drug deal was because he could tell Alycia and Jason were silently conspiring. On reflection, I should have added some fun dialogue there.
1 Like

I was curious about what was going on here, but now that you point it out, it seems obvious. Guess I’m not the only one blending those story beats. :wink:

While I can’t speak for Dave on what he thought, I loved that part of the story. So many fun elements: the Poppet system and Jenny, TALOS, Sidorov, and adding another AI Alycia to the pile :laughing:. I could read pulp action stories like this all day and couldn’t be happier.

Another plot point I’m excited to see.

I agree with this, but I also see Alex acting as the grounding for all the other characters. They definitely dipped into everyone else’s drama, as a good supporting character should. But I would also like to see what an Alex-centric story would look. Perhaps we’ll see that when they dig Snowman out.

I’d have to go back and re-read that section but I feel like I got that. Might not have been super clear, but it’s been a while and my memory isn’t the most reliable.

I both love and hate this part. Love it because it’s so interesting. Hate it because it’s so hard to explain why your new obsession is Plateau Station without sounding weird. :wink:

Also, highly appreciate the trivia session here. So fun to revisit the story beats likely ahead of a reread now that the story is wrapped up and I can read the whole thing in a sitting or two. And later do another reread (the first one will be for fun, this one will be for research) to see how I would break this down into a 6, 8, or 12 issue comic series (I still have Jason’s SotM deck to do and I’ll want to mine a couple quotes from here).


It was delightful.

It took a bit to find but I found it! This is where my understanding of the recent Alycia-Amir dynamic had come from.

At the risk of patting myself on the back, I love this shit.

1 Like