Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Putting Out the Fire

(...with gasoline)

Magi's mega-fireball (last issue) blasted a hole in the Warmaster's tower, melting antennae and equipment and setting the top floors ablaze. A swarm of Qthraqi rooks mobilized immediately, so Magi dove for the cover of the entrance he had just created.

Blue Shift and her Ultra Agents took advantage of the chaos to mount their own assault. The other Scrap Pilers, apprised of the situation by Disco, were none too pleased. Disco wasn't far behind Magi, but it was far enough that, when he got there, the clashing forces of Ultra and the Warmaster were between him and the burning tower. Land Shark, following Magi's suggestion, began tunneling his way there. Professor Hemm prepared to teleport directly to Qth-raq.

Magi was finding his way down to where the Warmaster was coordinating the evacuation and rallying his troops. Disco used a light show to bring the spirit of love to several of the clashing troops around him. Land Shark was tearing up the streets. Magi found his enemy with only a few guards and the two squared off, but the fight was interrupted by the Professor's force field. Magi, not to be deterred from his long-awaited revenge, phased into another dimension with the intention of returning directly beside Qth-raq.

The Professor, having seen Magi use this stunt before, teleported himself and the Warmaster back to Kilroy's camp and continued to make the case that they were all being manipulated by the Azrak cult, partly by having Kilroy describe the attack on his world that had brought him here, including the fake Qthraqi rooks. Kilroy also confirmed that they had nothing like the samurai robots seen stomping Houston.

Land Shark, meanwhile, had just arrived at Qth-raq's tower when Magi returned from his dimension jump. Finding no sign of the Warmaster, Magi convinced the somewhat simple-minded Land Shark that the best thing to do would be to dig a tunnel under the tower. This, of course, collapsed the entire thing. The rest of the team found Magi and Land Shark taking selfies on the rubble. Disco was so mad that he threatened to leave the team unless Magi was expelled.

After breaking up a fight and getting everyone to agree to work together long enough to stop the war, Professor Hemm brought the Scrap Pile back to Earth to make sure nobody invaded the 80sVerse because of the robot stuff and to help liberate Houston. As Torpedo trashed the robot HQ and the army prepared to move in, they heard Kilroy's "rock and roll!" battlecry as a portal opened and neo-roboto units poured through to help destroy the samurai robots. In fairly short order, the remains of Houston were returned to human control.

Convening with a circle of occult academics from all around the Beta-Tripod metropolitan region, Professor Hemm and Magi determined that the best way to reinforce the frayed dimensional barriers would be to construct a "Pillar of Universes" artifact, complete with guardian homunculi, and activate it at a central nexus in subspace, creating a kind of space wall to shore up the cosmic infrastructure.

Plunging back into subspace, the Scrap Pile made their way to the nexus, only to find circle of cowled "dire sorcerers" defending it.
The sorcerers pooled their powers to create an enormous pterodactyl made of solid shadow. Terrified of their own creation, they shouted, "abandon the Nexus now or face Deathwing, the Devourer of Souls," cast another spell, and disappeared.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Earthlings on Fire

"I don't want knowledge; I want certainty!"

Materializing from Subspace in Dimension Q, the heroes found themselves in between clashing armies of centaurian cyborgs and some oddly familiar robots. Magi, recognizing the centaurs as Warmaster Qth-raq's shock troops, immediately chose the opposite side. Disco fired up a light show and made most of the soldiers run away, but the robots were unaffected. It turned out, however, that they didn't have to fight the robots, because they were modified "Roboto" drones under the control of their old friend Kilroy from the 80sVerse.

Kilroy explained that Qthraqi troops had invaded his world and the new government was striking back to prevent further incursions. Further questioning revealed that there was, in fact, something off about the invading Q Troops compared to the ones here. It seemed that the 80sVerse was also part of the Azrak cult's plan (as previously revealed by Gamma) to start an inter-dimensional war. Magi, eager to get revenge on the man who murdered his family, argued strenuously in favor of preventing the war by taking down Warmaster Qth-raq.

They decided instead to split up. Professor Hemm was able to cook up magical disguises so that Magi, Landshark, and Kilroy could infiltrate the city. Disco and the Prof, meanwhile, would approach openly and attempt to explain the situation to Qth-raq, hoping to shut down the war before it could really get started.

While the diplomatic team worked its way through functionaries, the infiltrators explored the streets. Passing through one of several bombed-out neighborhoods, they were attacked by a woman in a tech-accented super-hero costume and two silver-armored men shouting, "Die, Qthraqi scum!" After exchanging a few blows, they quickly realized they were all on the same side. The woman introduced herself as Blue Shift, an agent of Ultra. She had teleportation/dimension shifting powers of her own and was here from Beta City, responding to Qthraqi incursions at home, and said she had troops in place and would soon be ready to take down the Warmaster's entire command structure.

The diplomats, meanwhile, eventually got their audience with the Warmaster, a heavily scarred man who apparently liked to wear armor to diplomatic functions. Qth-raq said he was only fighting defensively (like everyone else) and was eager to get the coordinates for the Capitol so he could negotiate directly with Earth Prime's leaders. Really, really eager.

What followed was a lot of phone-calling and debate. Professor Hemm even returned to Beta City for a bit. While he was there, he found out that, while there had been a super-hero named Blue Shift who matched this one's description, there was no record of an organization called Ultra and no sign that there had been any official sanction for Blue Shift's mission. Also, samurai robots had taken over Houston and the surrounding area.

Magi, refusing to trust the Warmaster, was unmovable from his position that Blue Shift's plan was still the best. Disco tried to calm him down with a light show, but failed to overcome Magi's mental defenses. Magi, outraged at this betrayal, flamed on and jumped away, pursued by Disco. Making his way to the Warmaster's tower, Magi pumped his flame aura up as hot as he could and hurled the resulting fireball directly into Qth-raq's headquarters.

To be continued.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sideways Through Subspace

First, let's talk a bit about Subspace. I came up with this by grooving on a bit of Fantastic Four trivia. When it was first introduced (FF #51), the Negative Zone was called Subspace. Consistent with conventional sci-fi usage, Lee & Kirby's Subspace was a between dimensions kinda place, a means of getting somewhere, or at least that's what Reed was hoping. Somewhat less conventionally, although entirely sensible, was the fact that it was a weird and terrifying place.

Marvel never really developed Subspace as a means of getting anywhere else, though. Before long, it was the Negative Zone, more a cosmic ghetto for psychotic aliens than the funky hyperspace it started out as. That being the case, I thought it would be fun to take some of the elements of Subspace as it was originally presented, give it my own spin (more of that below), and feed the Scrap Pile to it.

A bit of a rewind from last session: Our heroes weren't hurled directly into Dimension Q. Instead, they found themselves floating in the void. Torpedo, who had gone back to Earth to deliver Deathbird to the authorities, wasn't with them. There was no sign of the space station or any of the ships or supervillains that had been around it. The Earth glowed with searingly bright blues and greens, casting weird colors on the surrounding objects. The sun was a black sphere surrounded by a corona of dark tendrils.

Not far away, they saw Professor Hemm (or, as Disco said, "that guy with the bad hair"), who they had previously consulted on extra-dimensional issues, poking around without a space suit. The Professor flew over to them and explained that they were in Subspace. Any object with a large gravity well, like the Earth or even the Moon, would tear them apart because of the way gravity from the material universe interacts with Subspace and because their bodies here were adapted to occupy hyperspatial dimensions.

Subspace was peppered with asteroids, though, many of which were occupied by strange and deadly life forms that had found their way here from material space and somehow managed to survive. Orbiting closer to the deadly echo of Earth (and, presumably, other bodies with a gravity field strong enough to reach into Subspace) was a belt of xenoliths, transdimensional stone extrusions of other realities. The Professor had made his way into Subspace through one of these, and, with Magi's help, could probably locate one that could take them to Dimension Q.

Deciding to spread out to avoid missing anything, they got out a long rope and split into two teams. Disco and Land Shark took one end of the rope while Magi and Hemm took the other. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? As they floated carefully toward the Xenolith Belt, Disco and Land Shark saw a cool-looking asteroid off to the side, with domes and tubes connecting it to smaller asteroids, and something flying around it. Disco flashed a rainbow strobe at their teammates and the two of them let go of the rope to check it out.

A little closer, and they saw spotlights waving around in the dark, one of which found its way to them. Shortly after, a group of winged figures (and one with a rocket pack of some kind) started to head for them. Calling Magi and the Professor to help, they got ready to fight. Their enemies were four reptilian creatures with cybernetic enhancements (reptovors) and one borged-up guy bristling with weapons (a devastator). The Scrap Pile's opening move was for Disco to try a "fastball special" using his flight to accelerate Land Shark at their opponents. That didn't work out as well as it might have. Still, Disco was the only one who got knocked out in the fight, and they did eventually defeat the aliens. Or natives, I guess. Whatever.

Down at the Xenolith Belt, they found their portal rock, snagged it, and hopped on. Once there, they found a group of three hooded figures chanting over a cluster of crystals growing out of the rock. Professor Hemm recognized the chant as ancient black magic used by a half-forgotten cult known only as Dire Sorcerers.

Disco, already back in action, flew around and cranked up his light show to eleven, mesmerizing the sorcerers into a dazed reverence. The only information they provided was that they were trying to wear down the dimensional barriers. Then Disco introduced them to his friends and fellow deities, the rest of the Scrap Pile. Overcome with terror at the presence of so many gods, the sorcerers cringed and vanished.

That left our heroes free to move on to Dimension Q, which they did.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Groove is in the Heart

In space, no one can hear your soundtrack.

After taking some time to hone their skills and, in Magi's case, work on deciphering some of the dimension-jumping technology he had been gathering over several previous adventures, they talked to some contacts about Dimension Q and found out that there was a space station where technologically enhanced psychics were peering into other worlds, one of which appeared to be what they were looking for.

While they waited for their custom Scrap Pile space suits to be modified by the parent company (operations services had recently been bought out by Interlocking Technologies) the Angry Beet attacked with two strange ant-like henchmen. Apparently, he had been tipped off that the Scrap Pile was here and, confusing them with the Tripod City branch, come to settle old scores. Before long, Beet and his beet buddies were shipped off to Gladstone.

Out in space, as they neared the dimensional interface, Magi's mind shield power grew into a kind of telepathy. And their shuttle blew up. Torpedo and Disco were unconscious, but, miraculously, no one was otherwise hurt. Well, except the pilots. They probably died. The team was rescued by Freefall Brawler and Starbryte of the space-based branch of the team, Orbital Scrap. That's another two characters I need to put in the "supporting cast" thing, isn't it? Anyway, Disco was jealous of Starbryte's sparkly solid light powers and perfect hair.

Oh yeah, and stuff happened. They found out that it had been Azrak cultists (we talked about them, right?) who blew up their ship, and the same cultists were flying around stopping anyone from getting to the space station. FFB and Starbryte pointed out that the Azrak ship was coming back and they could take it over and use it to get to the space station. In the course of taking over the ship, they fought a bunch of the Gauntlet dudes and Gamma, a woman in glowing green armor who radiated deadly... uh... radioactivity.

In the cockpit, they found their old enemy Deathbird. This fight was considerably less humiliating than the last one, partly because Deathbird was confined to close quarters and couldn't maneuver as well. In the end, they took her down and the only casualty was the Gauntlet soldier Disco had brainwashed, skewered by one of Deathbird's spears.

Torpedo went with the Orbital Scrap team to take Deathbird to jail while the others moved on to the space station. By the way, it had at some earlier point become apparent that the Azrak cult had been maneuvering Qth-Raq and the human super-heroes into fighting each other because they wanted an inter-dimensional war to weaken the walls between universes and open the way to the Bright Cosmos.

The station was flooded with psychic screams coming from the ESP stations. The team was only able to proceed because of Magi's newly expanded shielding ability. Inside, they found some zonked-out telepaths ranting about stuff.

Then Baron Karza, who seemed to know Magi (even though Magi only had a vague memory of a bald guy who used to teach science) popped up and drained all the extra power that Magi had been collecting. Everybody got hurled into Dimension Q for reasons that weren't entirely clear. But that was where they were originally headed anyway, so I guess it's all good.

Worst write-up ever. Sorry.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

House Rules

We added a couple of house rules this time (session write-up coming soon) that seem to be working well.

Multiple Dodges: The first one is that you can keep dodging attacks, but you get progressively worse as the page goes on. Your first dodge is a normal roll, but after that penalties start stacking up. Minus one on the next dodge, minus two on the one after that, minus three on the one after that, and so on.

Free Activations: The other one is that everybody gets a free activation of each of their three qualities once per session. This was mainly because nobody in this group (including the GM) is used to the whole playing for determination points thing where you penalize your own character to get the bonus later. Also, I tend to forget to hand out the points for doing cool stuff, which, unfortunately, encouraged hoarding.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Mayhem on Mount Galahad

Following up on the lead from their seance, the team took the Scrap Van south and arrived at Mount Galahad State Park early in the afternoon. In the parking lot, they noticed a family of four (two adults, two kids), all apparently blind, each with their own doberman to lead them. Instead of taking the trail, the family wandered off into the woods. After a quick aerial reconnaissance by Disco, revealing only the bald stone mountain and the thick canopy of trees around it, the Scrap Pile decided to be thorough and take the trail.

Along the way, Magi sensed something otherworldly and, eccentric recluse that he is, just wandered off without telling anyone. By the time the rest of the team noticed, he was long gone, so they split up to look for him, leaving Land Shark on the trail as a reference point.

Magi followed his nose (metaphorically speaking) towards the dimensional interface he had sensed. Before he got there, he spotted the blind family picking their way through the trees, still guided by their doberman companions. When they stopped moving, he froze and tried to stay quiet, but it soon became clear that they had detected him. Turning their eyeless faces his way, the form of each hiker blurred and merged into that of its canine counterpart, finally settling on the image of the wraith hounds the Scrap Pile fought in Ontario.

Magi fought the hounds, aided soon by Disco and then the rest of the team. Of the newly deforested battlefield, Land Shark said, "They needed picnic grounds."

As they moved on to the mountain, it became apparent that the entire area was sparkling with windows to other worlds, no doubt accounting for many of the UFO sightings and other legends surrounding Mount Galahad. At the mountain, they found two armored super-humans blasting a wraith hound to ash. Each wore a glowing crystal. After some conversation, it came out that one of them, now called Bludgeon, used be Grasshopper. He and his compatriot, Scalpel, had been rescued and saved from their impending dissolution by "a great man" known as Covenant.

Image borrowed from The Great Game - Click to Check it Out
Hiding their skepticism, Magi and Land Shark joined the two Covenant fans in opening and exploring one of the mountain's many portals to search a crashed space ship for equipment that was supposed to help them become fully human. Magi quickly determined that the equipment they were looking for was actually more portal-access equipment. Magi surveyed the bizarre crash site and then asked Land Shark to trash it.

Meanwhile, Disco and Torpedo watched two winged men in black armor swoop onto the scene and demand that they vacate the area because they had claimed this mountain in the name of Warmaster Qth-raq.

The fight at the crash site moved outside as well, and, in the free-for-all, Bludgeon and Scalpel escaped while the two winged legionnaires both went down, partly because of Magi's berserk assault.

Magi, not much cheered by the victory, gathered up a number of components and went to work on some secret project.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Purple Rain

Featuring: Disco, Land Shark, Magi, Torpedo
(This was actually two sessions, but I never got around to writing up the first one.)

While deciding on what to do next about the ever more complex web of villainy sprawling out all around them, the team got word that some sort of monster had escaped from the Gladstone Superhuman Detention Center (aka the Gladstone Pits) in Tripod City and was trashing Wentworth outlets (the one the Scrap Pile destroyed in their battle with the Unbeholden was only one of many).

Heading out to deal with this unexpected disturbance, the team found a man-shaped being of crackling purple energy (radiating small amounts of deadly-to-Magi Qalnor waves at that) ranting about how they had stolen his humanity. Magi managed to get him talking and discovered that he had once been the supervillain known as the Grasshopper, one of Deathbird's former henchmen. Previously, the Grasshopper had not had any powers beyond those that his equipment gave him. Grasshopper believed that, somehow, the equipment he had been given had been deliberately designed to slowly change him into an energy creature.

It was unclear why he blamed Wentworth's for all this, except that the parts for his costume might have come from there. The conversation was punctuated with brief outbursts of violence after which it was necessary to calm the Grasshopper down again before the discussion could continue. Eventually, Magi talked him into turning himself in by promising that this was the best way to get a team of experts working on changing him back.

The equipment that Grasshopper was talking about was among the items taken from the supervillain equipment warehouse during the team's first mission, so there was no way to examine it. Torpedo had some friends at Beta City Community College, so the Scrap Pile went there in search of answers. There, they were introduced to a somewhat eccentric professor who called himself Doctor Concord. He believed that the effect was a result of exposure to a kind of between-space energy often found around dimensional gateways.

He then went on at some length about star-gods from the smaller, brighter universe of the past, and nebular corpses and other stuff, but nobody was listening.

Then the prison blew up. Well, they got a phone call saying it blew up, or a text message or something. Anyway, there was a big riot and they needed some super-heroes, so off they went. As they approached the prison, they saw another energy-form fly away, but, feeling that the riot took priority, they decided to keep going and just call the other escape in.

At the Gladstone Pits, they found that the prisoners had surged into the outer yard and were trying to storm the gates. They were held back by snipers and guards in high-tech armor. Magi was detecting more Qalnor radiation, but again at low levels. Disco put on a big light show while Land Shark and Torpedo worked on corralling the rioters in the yard. Magi jumped over to the main building to find the warden.

The warden reported that the prisoners claimed to be fleeing from some kind of weird purple lightning in the inner courtyard (which was actually a large indoor space, not a real courtyard). Despite Magi's invitation, he declined to leave his office. Disco's light show was, for once, not terribly effective, but Land Shark and Torpedo were still able to herd the prisoners into a corner with the help of some swarming stone shark fins. Magi, adapting his mind shield technology, was able to construct a device that helped contain the spreading dimensional instability.

Fighting their way into the core of the prison, they found the aforementioned open space lined with swirling purple portals. Not sure what to do about this, they paged Doctor Concord (after first attempting to call him at his office) and sent Disco to retrieve him. Concord was fascinated by the phenomenon, and proceeded to draw the energy of the portals into several large crystals he had brought with him. The portals disappeared and Concord muttered some thanks and started to wander off.

Torpedo, already suspicious because of the phone-hopping, slugged Concord just hard enough to knock him out. Strangely, although Torpedo got a good solid hit in, Concord didn't seem injured at all, just annoyed. Disco tried to brainwash Concord with a lightshow, but somehow the effect reflected back on him, convincing Disco that Concord was exactly what he appeared to be - an eccentric professor who had just helped them out. A much more successful light show against Land Shark left only Torpedo and the still-ambivalent Magi in the fight.

Torpedo, however, made a speech with the full authority of his Atlantean princitude, and was able to bring them to their senses. Magi was still not really all in, though, because his hesitation was based entirely on legitimate skepticism about their reasons for attacking the professor. After they encased Concord in rock and attempted to snatch his crystals away from him, the professor paused to concentrate for a moment and then vanished.

Back at the University, their friend reported that Doctor Concord had never actually worked there. There was just something about the way he asked that made her think it was a good idea to cover for him this once. He had, apparently, known the heroes were coming all along. The only thing they found that might have come from him was an odd diagram on a scrap of paper.

Torpedo gathered some mystic friends together and they held a seance to try and find out more about Doctor Concord. This led them to some trippy scenes of alien star fleets and black stars and civil wars and finally to Doctor Concord and a place south of Beta City called Mount Galahad. A final image showed Concord overlapped with a ruby-masked figure and the name, "Covenant."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Giant Size Scrap Pile #1

I wasn't quite prepared for what I wanted to come next in the campaign, so I whipped up this goofy one-shot instead and figured it would be like an Annual sort of thing. Annuals are usually in the summer, though, so I reached even farther back for the "Giant Size" tradition.

Lounging around the Scrap Pile base, the team was surprised to see an inter-dimensional portal open up before them. Out stepped a young man with heavily styled blond hair. "People of 1983, my name is Jonathan Chance. I come to you from 2015 to bring you a grim warning of days to come. Help me change the future!"

Upon being informed that this wasn't 1983, Chance expressed confusion and asked where the household Roboto guards were and if this was a rebel stronghold. Eventually, thanks in part to Magi's interest in dimensional travel, they worked out that Chance had in fact traveled across time to an alternate reality, instead of back in time as he intended.

Chance explained that, in his reality, a politician called Doctor Righteous had seized control of virtually everything by stirring up a panic about rock and roll. Using the death of one of his followers in a concert riot, he had gotten a performer named Kilroy prosecuted for manslaughter. For some reason, he used imported Japanese robots as his enforcers. Soon, people were burning albums and guitars in the street. Chance was a member of an underground movement that was trying to stop Dr. Righteous and bring back rock 'n roll.

They were trying to help Chance return to his overwrought concept album reality when the device went off on its own, transporting them all to a crater with some other well-coiffed rebels. They were in the midst of fighting robots led by a man in a black uniform. The robots had faces that were sculpted to resemble a grotesque parody of stereotypical Japanese features. In short order, all of the rebels but Chance had been disintegrated by ray guns. The robots had some kind of telepathic attack in addition to their guns, but this proved ineffective against the heroes.

The unformed man turned out to be a skilled teleporter, able to blink away from attacks and respond with several of his own, but they eventually took him down as well. Chance recognized him as Lt. Vanish, one of Dr. Righteous's lead enforcers.

Chance mentioned that he had made contact with Kilroy, who had recently escaped and wanted to meet at the old Paradise Theater, so they piled into Vanish's van and headed over there while a giant holographic Righteous head lectured the public about purging the poison of rock 'n roll from society. In the abandoned theater, they found a "museum of rock 'n roll depravity" complete with cheesy automatons. Among other things, it depicted an enraged Kilroy beating a clean-cut Majority for Musical Morality protester to death with his guitar.

Anyway, Kilroy showed up disguised as a Roboto and they discussed strategy. It was decided that Kilroy and Chance would hold a concert to rile people up and to create a distraction while the others broke in to Righteous Towers to take down the Doctor himself. Except Disco. Disco was helping with the concert.

All of that worked out pretty well. The concert was a hit, thanks in no small part to a spectacular Disco lightshow. Righteous and his attendant, Colonel Hyde, were taken down relatively quickly once the team reached the top of the tower. Magi was able to fix up the cross-time gadget and talk the rockin' rebels into letting him keep it, so they all went home to their own version of reality.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Disco Inferno

Having read through the Clown's research notes, the team realized that they needed to get Magi to take off the gauntlet he had taken from the alien raiders. He had been showing signs of heavy dependence on it, and had even been sleeping with the device still on his hand. He was, at first, unwilling, and even managed to fend off a tough-love punch from Torpedo. After they convinced him to test his own mental defenses, however, he was able to shut out the gauntlet's impulses and realize what was happening. Taking the glove off sapped so much energy that he immediately lost consciousness. After a day in the hospital, however, he was almost himself.

The team still had a lot of Clown pages to discuss. To do that, they needed a meeting hall. After getting some financial support from the parent group, they proceeded to tunnel under an old garage and have a base built underground. While several of the chairs were still those awful foldy things, they were still able to put together a relatively high tech base complete with big round meeting table.

Going over the notes, they discussed several possible concerns, one of which was that Nightmare Pixie sounded really scary. Magi noted several possible connections to his enemy, Warmaster Qth-raq of Dimension Q. Also, one of the entries was just a bunch of song lyrics. What they settled on, though, was something that looked like a realistic short term goal that might actually help some people. The Clown had mentioned a massacre committed by Sarana. They had a date for this event, and the likelihood that it would have happened close to the Ocelot Bay facility.

While records of events in the lawless wastes of Ontario were hard to find, they did discover that a group of young hikers had gone that way and never returned. The report gave them a good idea where to look, so they piled into their captured boat, despite Land Shark's suggestion that they just drive around the lake, and headed out to follow their trail.

Eventually, they found the exterminated town described in the Clown's notes. The massacre had happened almost ten years ago, so the corpses were mostly skeletons and the place was collapsing into ruin. Exploring the town, they discovered that the skulls had all been marked with a star, reminiscent of the star tattoo around Sarana's left eye. The only life was a pack of dobermans that watched them for a few minutes and then wandered off.

North of the town, they found the camp grounds where the corpses of the hikers from Beta City were. Suspecting that some occult connection had been made, they set up a bonfire to cleanse the skeletons. On their way back, as it was getting dark, the five dobermans met them on the road and refused to let them pass.

When the team attempted to go on anyway, they transformed into shadowy humanoids with odd circuit patterns glowing on their flesh. The fight was tricky, because the hounds had the ability to become intangible at will. One of them stunned Magi early on, overwhelming him with an otherworldly chill and taking him out of the fight.

Once defeated, the hounds melted into a black ichor and faded away. Free of obstructions, the Scrap Pile proceeded to gather the bodies and burn that mutha down. While the bonfires burned, they took some time to try and figure out what kind of poison gas Sarana used to kill everyone. Eventually, they thought to review the security cameras from the various places that used them. They discovered that, in fact, it had only appeared to be a sudden affliction because of Sarana's combination of stealth and super-speed. In fact, she had killed them all with her sword.

Coming home with a case solved, the team was rewarded with comfy chairs all around. They settled in and discussed their next move. Eager to discover what sort of invasion from Dimension Q the Nightmare Pixie was covering up, Magi wanted to investigate her background. The others, more than a little concerned about going anywhere near that particular villain, were in favor of pursing Deathbird and the Cult of Azrak in Beta City.  No final decision was reached.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Excerpts from the Clown's Laptop Files

This being the journal of Doctor Mock, beginning 7 June, 2001. I call myself Mock here, but they will insist on calling me the Clown. No matter. The marks of the old world must be covered. We are human here, after a fashion. Oh dear, I have rambled on a bit, haven't I? This Nightmare Pixie creature we encountered amidst the chaos of this world's preliminary upheaval fascinates me. She claims to be a native, not a creature of the old world like us. It is true that she does not bear the brand of the Court. And yet… Enough. This device tires me.

14 September 2001
Dendritic cells (DCs) are sentinel cells of the immune system and are essential for inducing a proper immune response. The mechanisms driving the development of DCs are not fully understood. Although the roles of cytokines and transcription factors have been a major focus, there is now substantial interest in the role of microRNAs (miRNAs). miRNAs are small RNAs that regulate gene expression by targeting messenger RNAs for translational repression and ultimately degradation. By means of deep sequencing, we have assembled a comprehensive and quantitative resource of miRNA expression during DC development. We show that mature DCs and their hematopoietic progenitors can be distinguished based on miRNA expression profiles. On the other hand, we show that functionally distinct conventional and plasmacytoid DC subsets are indistinguishable based on miRNA profile. In addition, we identify differences between ex vivo purified conventional DCs and their in vitro Flt3L-generated counterparts. This miRNA expression atlas will provide a valuable resource for the study of miRNAs in DC development and function.

5 January 2002
They have me doing all the interrogation work for this facility, now. It's interesting work, but somewhat of a distraction. Still, they have provided me with the best laboratory I'm likely to find for a while, and given me a fair amount of latitude regarding the disposition of post-interrogation materials. Sarana and Erith are excelling at their considerably more aggressive roles. I find this "Unbeholden" alliance to be a rather interesting anomaly for this region. Some of their enemies are quite committed, despite the inevitable collapse of the structures they adhere to. What interests me more, however, is when information about the Unbeholden comes to me from captives, information which has not reached me from my allies. I suspect that the Unbeholden's inner circle is considerably more ambitious than the Nightmare Pixie would have me believe. Or maybe she doesn't know, either.

25 April 2004
I'm in them: every sprouting tree, every child of peace, every cloud and sea. You see with your eyes. You see destruction and demise, corruption in the skies from this fucking enterprise. Now I'm sucked into your lies through Russell – not his muscles, but percussion he provides for me as your guide. Y'all can see me now 'cause you don't see with your eyes. You perceive with your mind. That's the inner. So I'mma stick around with Russ and be a mentor – bust a few rhymes so motherfuckers remember what the thought is. I brought all this so you can survive when law is lawless, feeling sensations that you thought were dead. No squealing! Remember that it's all in your head.

26 December 2005
Darling Sarana has murdered another of these primitive settlements. Her brother insists on taking the blame, but it would be ludicrous to believe that he committed such a precise series of executions. I must admire her artistry – the villagers almost appear to have been struck down by a poison gas that magically opened their veins all at once – but it seems wasteful. I explained to the Pixie that they are only children and that I will remind them of the need for self-discipline. She seemed unconcerned, however, even pointing out that these creatures are prolific breeders, so there will always be more to collect for the work.

32 January 2006
Advancements in genome editing have relied on technologies to specifically damage DNA which, in turn, stimulates DNA repair including homologous recombination (HR). As off-target concerns complicate the therapeutic translation of site-specific DNA endonucleases, an alternative strategy to stimulate gene editing based on fragile DNA was investigated. To do this, an episomal gene-editing reporter was generated by a disruptive insertion of the adeno-associated virus (AAV) inverted terminal repeat (ITR) into the egfp gene. Compared with a non-structured DNA control sequence, the ITR induced DNA damage as evidenced by increased gamma-H2AX and Mre11 foci formation. As local DNA damage stimulates HR, ITR-mediated gene editing was investigated using DNA oligonucleotides as repair substrates. The AAV ITR stimulated gene editing >1000-fold in a replication-independent manner and was not biased by the polarity of the repair oligonucleotide. Analysis of additional human DNA sequences demonstrated stimulation of gene editing to varying degrees. In particular, inverted yet not direct, Alu repeats induced gene editing, suggesting a role for DNA structure in the repair event. Collectively, the results demonstrate that inverted DNA repeats stimulate gene editing via double-strand break repair in an episomal context and allude to efficient gene editing of the human chromosome using fragile DNA sequences.

15 August 2006
The Nightmare Pixie exists in a semi-transcendent state, much like we would, if not bound by the Court's censure. I suspect that, like us, she is immortal, but cannot be sure. Her easy, natural size-changing is not a physical transformation, but an uncanny distortion of space itself. The manner in which this is accomplished is still beyond me. The Caterpillar is silent on the matter. As to the Pixie's other powers, I am, of course, no stranger to necromancy, but I would be interested to learn where she studied it. Once, she took particular care to wipe out all signs of a raid by creatures that claimed to be from a place called "Dimension Q." Could this be a clue to her own origins? Once I've finished vivisecting this Hero Corps agent, I shall look further into the matter. I find it exceedingly irritating that the animal keeps losing consciousness. Stimulants are difficult to requisition here.

14 November 2009
My hydraulic reanimation experiments proceed apace. Today I finally solved a problem that has been plaguing me for some time: odor. Zombies don't smell good, and they leave chunks behind that smell just as bad. It doesn't help that all the mechanical equipment I've installed generates heat. My first thought was to install those plug in air freshener things on their backs. It was quickly determined that the smell of rotting flesh and jasmine is not much better than the smell of rotting flesh. Next I tried sewing quicklime pockets all over their uniforms. Lime worked in the old days, right? This led to some problems though. For instance, although the electronic systems in my hydraulic zombies are not waterproof and the creatures have been programmed to avoid the stuff, some of them still seem drawn to the swimming pool. It was a particularly bad day when I lost two mine sweeper zombies and a carrier to the pool, and then one of our (living) patriot soldiers emerged with second degree burns all over his body. It seems that lime is rather caustic when mixed with water. Who knew?
     Finally, I got my hands on a unique vinyl based embalming fluid. They say it's the same stuff used by the creators of Val Kilmer. After some tinkering with the formula (I don't know what Barker has been saying, but he volunteered and I'm not the one who "melted" his ear) I managed to adapt it to my needs. Now I just drop my new acquisitions in the tub and let them soak. A few hours later, I have a corpse with clean, odor locked flesh and a dense, rubbery consistency. The pool is still a problem, though.

12 January 2009
I have obtained the body of George Reeves and he is soaking in Kilmer fluid while I work on the structural supports necessary to animate his highly decomposed flesh. The kids have made several trips to Beta City for one of my other projects. Am looking forward to reviewing their findings.

14 January 2009
Had lunch with the receptionist today and slipped some blowfish toxin into her drink. This led me to consider some interesting possibilities. My approach has always been to use a standard electronic CPU in controlling the reanimated. Attempts to stimulate necrotic brain tissue have so far been disappointing, so I usually just scrape all that stuff out and feed it to the mutts. While this is fine if all we need is traditional zombie work, it does not bring back any of the original personality, so I have to just make that part up.
    So I started thinking - maybe I can encode a few necromantic incantations onto a silicon chip - maybe something that would enable the CPU to get in touch with the appropriate soul. It would still be a scientific reanimation; there would just be that one download from the netherworld to bring back some personality. Reeves needs a lot of work, but my assistants can handle the cosmetic stuff. I, on the other hand, have a big stack of unhallowed texts from the office library and a dead receptionist to experiment with!

07 March 2009
I disagree with the plan to establish a foothold by way of Lightfoot Island and Tripod City. The organized crime presence that is already prevalent in those locations will be far more trouble for Unbeholden enterprises than the over-confident government of Beta City, thinking that they're safe behind their wall of slightly enhanced primates. Perhaps the Pixie will listen to me. I tried at some length to explain my position to one of Plague Dog's mutts, but the creature was panting and watching a nearby squirrel through almost the entire conversation. One is led to suspect that a certain amount of replicative fading is involved.

24 June 2009
By the teeth of Ravana! That was NOT George Reeves! Surely, though, with all those rhinestones, the creature will be easy to find and re-capture.

17 April 2011
Small GTPase Rac1 is a member of the Ras superfamily, which plays important roles in regulation of cytoskeleton reorganization, cell growth, proliferation, migration, etc. The aim of this study was to determine how a constitutively active Rac1b regulated cell proliferation and to investigate the effects of the Rac1b inhibitor sanguinarine. Note to self: request more pre-sliced sandwich cheese.

18 April 2011
Three HEK293T cell lines stably overexpressing GFP, Rac1-GFP or Rac1b-GFP were constructed by lentiviral infection. The cells were treated with sanguinarine (1 μmol/L) or its analogue berberine (1 μmol/L) for 4 d. Cell proliferation was evaluated by counting cell numbers and with a BrdU incorporation assay. The levels of cleaved PARP-89 (an apoptosis marker) and cyclin-D1 (a proliferative index) were measured using Western blotting. This cheese is terrible. Make a note to requisition that supply clerk for experimentation.

27 April 2011
In 10% serum-containing media, overexpressing either Rac1 or Rac1b did not significantly change the cell proliferation, and the clerk's screams were most satisfying. In the serum-starved media, however, the survival rate of Rac1b cells was significantly increased, whereas that of Rac1 cells was moderately increased. The level of cleaved PARP-89 was significantly increased in serum-starved Rac1 cells, but markedly reduced in serum-starved Rac1b cells. The level of cyclin-D1 was significantly increased in both serum-starved Rac1 and Rac1b cells. Treatment with sanguinarine, but not berberine, inhibited the proliferation of Rac1b cells, which was accompanied by significantly increased the level of PARP-89, and decreased both the level of cyclin-D1 and the percentage of BrdU positive cells. After careful review of these findings, I can only conclude that Rac1b enhances the cell proliferation under a growth-limiting condition via both anti-apoptotic and pro-proliferative mechanisms. Sanguinarine, as the specific inhibitor of Rac1b, is a potential therapeutic agent for malignant tumors with up-regulated Rac1b.

17 December 2014
I was able to get a number of surreptitious scans of our "Azrak" friends, and have noticed several possible similarities to the Ilkani technology present in the Twice Born. Could Covenant be playing us for fools? No deception would surprise me from Covenant. I can read nothing from him, and that disturbs me.

05 January 2015
Increasing evidence suggests that proteins exhibiting “prion-like” behavior cause distinct neurodegenerative diseases, including inherited, sporadic and acquired types. The conversion of cellular prion protein (PrPC) to its infectious protease resistant counterpart (PrPRes) is the essential feature of prion diseases. However, PrPC also performs important functions in transmembrane signaling, especially in neurodegenerative processes. Beta-amyloid (Aβ) synaptotoxicity and cognitive dysfunction in mouse models of Alzheimer disease are mediated by a PrPC-dependent pathway. Here we review how this pathway converges with proinflammatory cytokine signaling to activate membrane NADPH oxidase (NOX) and generate reactive oxygen species (ROS) leading to dynamic remodeling of the actin cytoskeleton. The NOX signaling pathway may also be integrated with those of other transmembrane receptors clustered in PrPC-enriched membrane domains. Such a signal convergence along the PrPC-NOX axis could explain the relevance of PrPC in a broad spectrum of neurodegenerative disorders, including neuroinflammatory-mediated alterations in synaptic function following traumatic brain injury. PrPC overexpression alone activates NOX and generates a local increase in ROS that initiates cofilin activation and formation of cofilin-saturated actin bundles (rods). Rods sequester cofilin from synaptic regions where it is required for plasticity associated with learning and memory. Rods can also interrupt vesicular transport by occluding the neurite within which they form. Through either or both mechanisms, rods may directly mediate the synaptic dysfunction that accompanies various neurodegenerative disorders.

13 January 2015
By happy chance – some sort of scuffle on the lake – a specimen of the Azrak soldiers has finally come to me! They are not Ilkani, although I see tantalizing similarities in their technology. I find radiation signatures that suggest potential chronal displacement, although this could just as easily have resulted from extended hyperspace exposure. The level of symbiosis present in their cybernetic attachments is impressive, although I suspect that the tools they use naturally would be quite dangerous to the local life forms. I shall have to send the children out to gather material.

27 January 2015
The Azrak, it seems, have discovered quite an elegant solution to the problem of army-building. The soldier and the weapon are one and the same. What I thought was a controlling operator was simply a host, no more than a disposable biological matrix. Any material would do. I suspect that, in no time at all, the creature to which I have attached this set of armaments will be indistinguishable from the Azrak from which I removed them. This being the case, it seems we have very little information on the true appearance of the original Azrak, assuming such a creature even exists.

5 February 2015
It's amazing what these primates will carry into their secure facilities when it looks like one of their own.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Everybody Loves Land Shark

After some deliberation about not only their plan, but their whole reason for being here in the lawless wastes of Ontario, where even their somewhat iffy Hero Corps privileges didn't give them any legal standing. Settling on reconnaissance for now, they circled the facility and found out that the parking lot was somewhat isolated by the surrounding hills, poorly covered even by the control tower.

Magi came up with a plan to set off a car alarm, then steal the uniforms from whoever showed up to deal with it. Two armored "patriot" guards with weird mystical darkness guns showed up and were fairly quickly dispatched. Torpedo and Disco put on the suits, leading Land Shark and Magi at gun point as if they were captives.

Heading into one of the warehouses, they were told that they shouldn't be bringing prisoners here, that they should bring them to the Clown in the admin building. After much the same experience in the other warehouse, just to make sure that it was, in fact, a warehouse, they went to the smaller building, tried to talk the receptionist into opening the lost-and-found box, then got buzzed in and headed back to find the Clown.

In a large, windowless room at the back of the building, they found a mad scientist's dream lab. In it, they saw a man in a lab coat and clown makeup, working on the corpse of one of the armored raiders they had fought on the smugglers' island. He wore a strange device that covered one eye with a multicolored lens. The Clown experimented with a number of different voices while the heroes tried to wheedle information out of him. Eventually, he realized he was dealing with imposters and pressed an alarm button by the door.

Before the Clown could do anything else, he was beaten into unconsciousness by Torpedo and Land Shark. Torpedo also moved to destroy the lock on the door so they couldn't be sealed in.

As Torpedo was moving away from the door, he was slashed from behind by a sword. Before he could do anything else, he was slashed again. Sarana, a small woman clad mostly in black, stood before them. Before she could take another swipe, Torpedo grabbed her sword and yanked it away from her. Dodging punches on the way, Sarana knifed Torpedo into unconsciousness and dashed over in a blur to snatch the Clown. Magi managed to burn her and trap her in coiling rings of fire before she could get him. Meanwhile, they could hear clanking footsteps coming down the corridor.

Erith clanked into view in the doorway, waves of heat rippling off his glowing red armor. Sarana took the opportunity to make an astounding leap and flip through the rings of fire to freedom. Still badly wounded, she zipped out of the room and didn't come back. Torpedo pulled a pro-wrestler style "now I'm really mad" regeneration and was back in the fight.

They traded a few punches with Erith, then Land Shark, whose skin was thick enough to take the heat, grappled and held him. Torpedo revealed his power to turn into lava and Land Shark handed him over to Lava-Torpedo. They then found out that Erith was able to absorb the lava heat and use it to increase the power of his own heat aura. Losing faith in Torpedo's efforts, Disco turned on his light show and made Erith love Land Shark.

While Erith admitted to "confusing emotions," Disco's emotion control effect manifested primarily as protectiveness. Erith's goal now was to go out and stop the rest of the security guards and supervillains from descending on the lab and killing or capturing Land Shark. He was intent on talking to "Nightmare Pixie" to arrange their freedom. Disco, meanwhile, started sending files from the Clown's laptop to Scrap Pile HQ.

Patriot guards were, in fact, piling up in the corridor. Torpedo tried to intimidate them, but they didn't budge. Some discussion followed, during which Torpedo proposed that they needed a tactical leader. His nomination of himself for this position met with awkward silence. Eventually, they tied up the Clown with data cables, took off his headgear, grabbed his laptop, and escaped through a tunnel courtesy of Land Shark. Torpedo ran off to distract the guards for a while, was flown back by Disco, and they all got to the boat and headed home.

Back at HQ, they settled in to interrogate the Clown some more. Except for Torpedo. He was hurt pretty badly and needed to go home to rest in his salt water aquarium. As they started, Disco declared that this wasn't really the Clown. He could see now that they were just dragging around the corpse of the armored raider that they had found in the room.

While the team puzzled over this, the Clown tossed an improvised gadget he had pieced together from stuff in his lab coat (which nobody bothered to search). There was a blinding flash, and the Clown started hopping away. Unfortunately for him, the heroes had all shielded their eyes in time and were able to nab him, this time taking away all his stuff.

After a few really cool light shows, they got some information from the Clown. He, Sarana, and Erith were "exiles from the Court of the Rakshasa King," although attempts to pry out a clarification of this were always met with giggles and coughs. The three of them had encountered the Nightmare Pixie shortly after their arrival in this dimension and joined the group because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Clown was not acquainted with the Unbeholden's inner circle, but he knew it consisted of Mistress Terror, Beasty Boy, and the original Plague Dog. Beyond the names, he didn't know much about any of these, except that Mistress Terror was a mage who had made the darkness guns wielded by the patriots. Nightmare Pixie was in charge of the facility they were at.

The Clown didn't know where the Unbeholden's main headquarters was. He did know that the armored raiders were not part of the Unbeholden. They were part of something called the Emissaries of Azrak. The Unbeholden's relationship to this group was strictly commercial.

They also got most of the Clown's research notes. Significant excerpts can be found here.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Scrap Pile '95

We were joking around about a dark future for the Scrap Pile, kind of like the 1990's comics, and came up with this revamped team:

  • Copper - Magi has seen too many of his friends die. So he's going back in time with big guns and is now known as Copper (pipes pulled from your house).
  • Bazooka Shark - Land Shark with a big rocket strapped to his back and carrying twin uzis
  • Rayve - Disco, now with a bomber jacket over his costume, and a mullet
  • Revenge - Torpedo, now extra-angry about the destruction of Atlantis and with mini-missile launchers on his big steel shoulder pads

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Oh, What a Night

Featuring: Disco, Land Shark, Magi, Torpedo

The heroes were somewhat awkwardly introduced to Disco, a flamboyant hero whose rainbow aura could be both dazzling and mesmerizing. As it turned out, Captain Scrappy had sent him to join the team. Or something. Doesn't matter – he's in.

Before heading out to Ocelot Bay, the team decided to investigate that "Wentworth's" lead from the end of last session. First, they went incognito just to check it out. Well, sort of incognito. Torpedo wore a robe with only a green speedo underneath. Magi's powers came from his cool-looking but bulky equipment, so he just used an overcoat to cover it up. Disco wore the same sparkly costume but removed his cape and mask. Land Shark was probably the least conspicuous in a sweater with fins and a shark-mouth hood.

Wentworth's consisted of a consignment shop, which was open regular hours, and an auction house, which was open sporadically for auctions. There were two guards watching the door from the shop to the auction hall and one standing at the front door going outside from the shop. Torpedo headed for the two guards in the back and distracted them by pestering them with odd, possibly Atlantean, behavior. Land Shark talked to the shop clerk while Disco approached the front door guard. Magi kept an eye on the group as a whole in case of trouble. 

Disco's mark was the most productive. He got the unusually buff guard to check out something outside, then dazzled him with his emotion-controlling lightshow, scoring not only information, but a date. The information he got wasn't quite enough, though, so they decided to check out the regular auction that night. Magi and Torpedo noticed a few people who weren't bidding, so Torpedo sidled up to one of them and pretended to also be waiting for the "real" auction. A few sly misdirections later, the group had enough information to show up at the right time and get into the black market auction.

Torpedo put on a nice suit for the event, but refused to wear shoes. He did attempt to paint fake ones over his feet with shoe polish. Just back from his date with the guard, Disco was wearing civilian clothes - really tight civilian clothes. Magi, of course, had little choice but to stick with his overcoat, and Land Shark didn't see anything wrong with his hoodie. At the auction, they sat through several odd supervillain-y items, including a mummy previously owned by mob boss and dabbler in mystical mad science, Joe Cassanelli. Several known supervillains were there, including Firetemple, an employee of the infamous Lizard Moll who nevertheless often worked with Citrus Shocker and Captain Scrappy.

The auction was being conducted by what appeared to be Plague Dog, but a quick call to headquarters confirmed that their prisoner from the island was still in jail. There was no way to be certain which, if either of these two was the real Plague Dog.

Disco decided to look for a back office and headed that way under the guise of looking for a restroom. Almost immediately, he came back, reporting that he had found nothing interesting. Actually, a villain called Putty had duplicated his appearance and slipped past him while he was in the office. The real Disco dug around and found some useful information in the office before he was attacked by a humanoid mass of carbon slurry called Tar Pit. Disco yelled for help and the others were off to join him, Magi first by way of his newly named "Magi Meteor" maneuver.

Somewhat farther back in line, Land Shark found himself suddenly under attack from behind by Putty. After an initial attempt to pummel him into unconsciousness with her stretchy fists, she said, "try your own power on for size" and conjured up a gigantic earthen cobra, the size of which surprised not only the terrified auction-goers, but Putty herself. Land Shark heroically stood his ground, took control of the cobra, and turned it on its creator, who barely jumped clear as it arced through the ceiling and back down into the auction house seats.

Meanwhile, Magi had partially set fire to Tar Pit and Torpedo was getting his fists all gloppy. Disco managed to fly free and dazzle Tar Pit, so everyone got clear while he flailed around. Putty, not liking the odds, declared that she always bounced back and super-leaped out through the open space that used to be the roof. Land Shark encased Tar Pit in a giant urn. Disco and Magi chased after Putty, but, one rocky fist later, Disco was unconscious and plummeting to the ground, and Magi was busy keeping him from going splat. When that was all settled, Putty was gone.

Looking around the crumbling remnants of the auction house, Magi said, "They call us the Scrap Pile because that's all that's left when we're done."

After arguing for a while over the best way to get across Lake Mohawk to Ontario, Torpedo and Disco went ahead under their own power while Magi and Land Shark took the boat they confiscated last time. Scouting out the area, they found a couple of warehouses with a smaller building nearby and a control tower of some sort higher up on the slope. Several uniformed guards patrolled the area, and a couple more of Plague Dog's Mutts were spotted as well.

And that's it for this session. Tune in next week for the exciting… well, it might be the conclusion. We'll see.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

If Fish Could Talk

Featuring: Land Shark, Magi, Torpedo

Somewhat demoralized and unsure what to do next, the heroes milled around indecisively for a bit. Captain Scrappy was called back to deal with something in Tripod City, but stayed long enough to introduce Torpedo, an Atlantean prince and pet store owner (specializing in salt water aquariums). There was some concern that, without Captain Scrappy, the team would just be a Pile, but eventually they got over it.

Anyway, after a quick background check from Scrappy, they accepted Torpedo into their ranks, Captain Scrappy left, and the team went back to work.

Remembering that Deathbird had flown toward the lake, the team started searching in that direction. Torpedo went for a swim and the others rented a boat. As they searched farther and farther north for anything unusual in Lake Mohawk, Land Shark, frustrated by the tedious and potentially fruitless task, mused that he had never thought he'd find himself wishing for an aquatic teammate with fish telepathy.

Eventually, Torpedo spotted a heavily laden boat heading north and followed it. This led them to an island with a hidden cove, where a bestial humanoid was directing two armored men, who fit the description of the warehouse raiders, in unloading the boat. Once everyone was ready, or maybe a little bit before, the Scrap Pile attacked. Torpedo, living up to his name, shot through the water at full speed and leaped out at the last minute to take a flying punch at the "werewolf." Following his example, Magi burst into flames, bounded across the cove, and cannonballed into one of the armored goons, who blocked him partially with an energy shield and blasted him. Land Shark stayed put for the moment.

Before the beast-man could do anything, Torpedo downed him with another punch. Land Shark squashed one of the goons with an earth fist and Magi, despite his wounds, finished off his own opponent and took his gauntlet. Land Shark was particularly enamored of the glider wings and grabbed a set of those for himself. Magi found he was able to heal himself with the gauntlet, but began to suspect that he was somehow becoming addicted to it.

Ignoring the boxes on the pier, the team moved on down the road and found a wide, deliberately-flattened clearing with a shed at the edge. Land Shark reconnoitered for underground facilities, destroying the shed and pushing up great mounds of earth all through the flat space. Then he tried out his new wings and saw a helicopter approaching from the north. The heroes hid in the trees around the clearing and watched. The helicopter approached, hovered briefly over what used to be its landing pad, then started to climb again.

Land Shark asked if anyone had seen Jaws 2, then pulled down the helicopter with a giant earth hand. Apparently the shark got a helicopter in Jaws 2. Working the battered pilot and co-pilot for information while pretending to be working for the same organization, they discovered that the local person in charge was someone called "Plague Dog," and that this stuff was being stolen for an organization called the Unbeholden. After picking up cargo here, the copter's next destination was "Ocelot Bay" to the north.

Gathering up their captives, the team headed back to Beta City to return the stolen goods. Magi also wanted to visit Nick Veccic in the county prison. Under threat of barbeque and letting everyone in the prison know he had helped super-heroes, Veccic revealed that he had also heard something about a place called Wentworth's from a villain called The Grasshopper, in connection with the technological enhancements he and his cohorts had been given. He suspected that the only reason Grasshopper would have done this could be that the store was crooked somehow.