Friday, July 28, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 52 - Audio Sample

Here is a sample of ElevenLabs AI reading the first lines of Session 52. For the fun of it, I added a bit of musical intro from Akira Kurosawa's classic film Ikiru.  I then used another AI application Pictory.AI to create the video using images from "Way of All Flesh" Blog Story.   


Here's the audio by itself...

Note: Blogger will not show the Play Audio controls for whatever reason, but if you hover over the gray square and click the pop-out box then it should bring you to the file location where you can play it. Sorry for the inconvenience, but... well Internet. :P

Thursday, July 20, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 52

Eisenhelm trembled.  Along the tunnel wall, across from Pillbox C3-PB-A1, an enormous shadow moved in unison with the tremendous vibrations that attended each footfall of Obliterator Robot #5.  It was an unthinking, unfeeling creation of General Hertling's Moon-Nazi Robot Force.  Its mission was to obliterate Eisenhelm.

Within the Pillbox everyone hugged the walls and floors hoping that the behemoth machine would somehow not notice their presence and pass on by down the tunnel.  Hanna looked down at her rival, Moon Princess Ling as she tended Jacob. The fierce Captain Helmund lay dead, sprawled on the metal floor like a sack of red potatoes, one eye dangling from its socket where Jacob's machete still remained buried to the hilt.  

Seconds passed like hours as the shadow advanced along the wall. Everyone held their breath.

Moments before, Jacob and Ling had briefed Hanna on their plan of attack.  At the signal Vallnam was to open the elevator door and begin firing his machinegun at whatever guards he saw.  Three seconds later, Ling would open the secret door from the Pillbox using Admiral Ludendorf's Master Key, and slip inside Hertling's top secret Robot Force Command Center, C3-DZ-A1.  Once inside she would use Vallnam's distraction to stealthily seek the computer panel into which she could enter the Robot Force Self-Destruct Code.

The Earth and Eisenhelm both hung in the balance.  The Self-Destruct code would destroy the Obliterators as well as the Phallanx, the Earth-bound battalion of fifty Giant Nuclear Missile Robots on route to end all life on the planet.  

It was an improvised plan, flawed in certain respects, but under the circumstances the best they could do.  Originally, Ling had planned for Jacob to join in the attack, but as wounded as he was it seemed unlikely he could participate effectively.  It would have also helped considerably, she thought, if Jacob had been able to get to the elevator in order to join Vallnam so that the distraction of their gunfire would come from the same direction, and not draw anyone's attention to Ling's stealthy entry from the pillbox.  However, they discovered no way to get Jacob to that locaion, and the knife fight he'd had with Captain Helmund ended his chances of being an effective combatant at this point.  He would have to remain in reserve in the hopes that he could provide some cover for their escape.

Hanna had listened to this plan with a mixture of surprise and admiration.  It was a nonsense plan, she thought, based on a complete misunderstanding of Eisenhelm's operations and protocols, but it was nevertheless the most courageous thing she'd ever heard.  That the attackers were deadly serious and fully committed impressed her deeply.  That they believed they could save both Eisenhelm and the earth had a profound effect on her.

Fortunately for them, Hanna knew quite a bit more about what the heroes were getting into than they did. However, even her understanding only grazed the surface, and she knew that as well. She'd only seen a part of Hertling's Command Center.  

A few years prior she had been invited to the top-secret Robot Force Command Center with Admiral Ludendorf in order to meet with General Hertling about their recent discovery of the White Tunnel system and then once again when they discovered the mysterious spaceship they had named Shadow Hawk.  It had been about eleven months since the Admiral's Special Mining Team had first discovered the White Tunnels, which itself was an incredible shock as they had been occupying Eisenhelm for nine decades without any idea that such a system existed.  They'd certainly had nothing to do with its construction, as one could tell simply by looking at those gleaming white walls and indigo blue lighting arrays.  There was nothing in Eisenhelm remotely similar in design or construction.  In fact, their best technicians could not imagine how such tunnels could have been created.  Hanna remembered how terrified the Admiral had been, thinking that he'd stumbled upon some secret project of General Hertling's.  

She recalled that first meeting well.  The two Commanders had toasted one another so politely, and with such pomp and ceremony before the Admiral, with an almost casual air, belying the insidious glee he felt at catching the General off his guard, admonished him with a slight sneer and the wave of his hand.

"General Hertling, it is so good of you to meet with us in your Command Center. Vee appreciate your hospitality greatly, and zee security precautions you and your men have undertaken in order for us to meet with you in zee most secure conference room of Eisenhelm is an honor. Of course, I wouldn't have asked for such a meeting, as you know, unless zee fate of Eisenhelm itself were at stake, which it is."

The General had put his glass down and stared across the table at his peer with increasing interest and amusement, a slight smile crossing his lips as the Admiral spoke.  He hadn't a clue as to what the Admiral was getting at.  What could possibly be so fateful?

"You realize, you couldn't keep such a secret for long, my old friend.  Surely you knew my Special Minering Team was bound to discover your tunnel system.  It was only a matter of time, of course," he said, practically purring with pleasure. 

"What tunnel system is that?" asked the General, his amusement now mixing with perplexity.  

"Zee... White Tunnel System, of course," replied the Admiral with the coy satisfaction of a cat landing a paw on a mouse.

"Vhat are you talking about?" the General had asked with utmost confusion.  There was no White Tunnel system.

"Oh please, General, vee are olt friends.  There is no need for you to keep up zee pretense," the Admiral had said.

"I have no idea what you are talking about!" shouted Hertling with a thunderous fist landing on the table.  "What is zee meaning of this?!"

Now it was the Admiral's turn to be perplexed.  How could the General not know about his own White Tunnel system... unless... but that was impossible! There could be no other explanation. The tunnels had to have been built by Hertling!  

Except they hadn't been.

It had come as such a shock to both men that they nearly broke down in a panic once they realized that the tunnels were a complete mystery.  It was good that only few of their top officers had been allowed to attend the meeting, and fewer still allowed to see the tunnels, or Eisenhelm would have gone insane and disintegrated in mayhem then and there.  After all, for decades there had been insidious rumors of fearful entities living alongside them in the darkness of Eisenhelm, invisible, and most people believed, utterly inhuman.  To find out that an array of tunnels of unknown origin, and fantastically advanced design had been discovered beneath and alongside the fortress would have driven everyone stark raving mad.  

They kept it a secret, and had very quietly and discreetly sent in small teams to investigate.  Numerous teams had lost contact and were never heard from again.  The surviving teams recorded everything they could find, but they discovered no people, nor any occupying force within the tunnels.  Only mysterious doorways that they were unable to open by any means whatsoever.  And others that they could open freely, which they later fixed with their own bronze Key-Pass Locks, but which merely led into other tunnels or dead ends.  They found a handful of small chambers along the length of the tunnels, but they were empty and offered no clues.  And so they installed a series of cameras in whichever of the tunnels they had access to in the hopes that they might catch whomever or whatever lived there on video.  But nothing ever disturbed the silence of the White Tunnels. 

On one door they found a mysterious Japanese symbol from an ancient Samurai Clan, but were unable to gain entrance through that door.  They had a small team of specialist technicians work on the problem, but they were unable to open it.  They'd even considered calling in Hans and Nick "the locksmith" to take over the work as they were the best of the best, but those two had long been identified by High Command as Renegades, and it was decided there would be no containing the secret once they had found out about it.  So neither Hans nor Nick had been included in the White Tunnel explorations.  

Then, about two months ago, Hanna had been called to a second secret meeting with Ludendorf and Hertling in the Conference Room inside of C3-DZ-A1.  One of their technicians had been using a Sonar Pulse Radar in one of the White Tunnels and had discovered next to Hanger B a cubic region within the cavern wall that was apparently a hollow chamber.  They spent weeks secretly digging away the stone from around the walls of the cube until they came to its impenetrable metallic exterior.  Then they discovered what turned out to be a portal.  The entrance was located on the far northern wall of Hanger B.  Inside this chamber, they discovered Shadow Hawk.  Melita and Hanna were put to work figuring out how to pilot the craft and they both made progress on short-distance flights.  Hanna had also determined that some of the controls must be for long distance space jumps but had not yet figured out exactly how those controls worked, though she felt sure she was close to understanding the bizarre intricacies of that system.  In the meantime the sub-hanger was kept top-secret, and only three guards were permitted to know of its existence so that they could stand as guards, operate the Hanger's Control Room and monitor White Tunnel System.  A very tight lid had been kept on the entire operation.

As a consequence, however, Hanna knew the internal layout of C3-DZ-A1.  The main observation deck led to a power station which was connected to the conference room via a corridor.  She had, like Vallnam, come in through the east corridor elevator.  The computers, she recalled, were oddly shaped mauve colored blocks, about seven feet high, and covered with glass panels, dials, monitors, metallic data ports, among other electronic apparatus.  The west wall was lined from floor to ceiling with a viewing screen, which at the time had been observing some operation of one of the Giant Nuclear Missile Robots as it crossed the lunar surface.  Knowledge of the internal design of C3-DZ-A1 could be vital to their success.

She understood from Vallnam's disclosure that he was waiting for the signal to attack the room from the elevator. 

"You are in contact with your man in zee elevator?" whispered Hanna.

"Yes," whispered Ling in reply, to which Hanna nodded, one eye still on the Pillbox slit-windows.  The shadow grew larger as she stared at it.

Meanwhile, Jacob realized that his symbiotic purple bubble environmental suit had been responsible for healing his wound. The fact that the pain had subsided completely around the wound site was the tipoff he needed.  Nevertheless, though, he was still seriously wounded, and not up to a firefight.  He'd have to hang back.  The suit was a good healer, but the wound was deep and a full restoration would take time.

Vallnam at that point was still sitting in a lotus position in the elevator, having already harvested the mystical energy he sought, and was now simply waiting for the Go signal from Ling.  Next to him sat a shadow wrapped in smokey darkness in the likeness of a dog.  Its Anubis-like head stared intently at the elevator door waiting for it to open.

Ling fingered Ludendorf's Master Key in her pocket.  She was ready to give the Go signal to Vallnam, wait three seconds and then open the secret door into C3-DZ-A1.

Hanna thought their plan over, and realizing its flaws, nixed the team's original plan.  It was far too risky, and in all likelihood would only serve to get them killed.  New factors had come into play, not the least of which was the fact that she was now with them, and wearing a one-of-a-kind experimental Duridium Armor Suit that she had obtained from the (now dead) scientists of Science Laboratory 7.  She also was in command of eight Nazi commandos, and the one surviving scientist, and three Doom Spheres.  This changed things.  

She looked around quickly. The Pillbox could only accommodate a maximum of five people at a time as it was designed for two occupants to man the machine gun turrets, and so most of her men were still outside, either on the fifty foot ladder or at the base on the tunnel floor.  The great shadow on the tunnel wall pressed forward. 

"Here's zee new plan," she said.  "Vee vill use zee Master-Key to get into C3-DZ-A1.  I vill rush in first followed by several of my soldiers.  After a count of three, your man vill attack using his machine gun from zee elevator.  Zee pincer attack should gain zee upper hand.   Then she," she said pointing to Ling, "can slip in and begin searching for zee Self-Destruct Code computer panel."

Jacob grunted approvingly.  He planned to crawl into the corridor that connected the Pillbox to C3-DZ-A1 and provide whatever supporting fire he could to protect Ling while she conducted her search.

Hanna was aware that General Hertling's men might or might not opt to obey her commands, depending on what exactly they knew, and who was in command within the Control Room.  She was likely to outrank most officers there, although there was a good chance they would dismiss her authority based on the fact that she was under Admiral Ludendorf's command hierarchy.  In normal times she would have no influence over Hertling's forces.  But these were not normal conditions.  She might be able to usurp command if she played her cards just right.

Vallnam thought about the Mystic Powers he now had access to given his renewed psychic energy.  He went over the list of powers he had studied at the Castaneda Academy back home.   Some seemed potentially promising given the situation at hand.  Clairvoyance might help to provide him insights as to who might be within the Control Room.  Mind Shield might help defend him from psychic attacks.  Narcoleptic Beam could put a soldier into a deep sleep.  Psychic Persuasion might allow him to convince one or more of them to agree to a suggestion he might offer.  And Wizard Eye could potentially allow him to send an eye into the chamber to roam around.  He mulled these options over, but didn't seem to feel that any of them would prove particularly useful.

Then he looked down at the Elthos Tarot Card he was still holding in his hand.  The Empress.  He knew he could call upon the power latent within the card to have a notable effect on him during the upcoming battle.  The Empress would grant him significantly augmented dexterity.  However, the negative aspect of the card could diminish his mental capacity for the duration of the battle, which would mean that he could not make use of any of his powers while the card was in effect.   He thrummed the card with his fingers trying to decide what course of action would be best.  In the end he decided it was probably simpler to use the card when the elevator door opened and utilize the Empress's dexterity augmentation during the firefight as it would give him far better accuracy than normal.

Hanna planned to attempt to take command of the Control Room as soon as she entered.  She would give her men orders to refrain from firing unless they are fired upon, or she herself begins to shoot.  Vallnam would come up in the elevator and have to decide in the moment whether or not to join the  firefight.  She recognized there was a risk there that he would not interpret things correctly, but it was a risk they would have to take.

She quickly and quietly gave her Commandos their instructions.  Ling slid the Master Key into the bronze trapezoidal key reader hidden in a corner panel of the pillbox.  The inner door opened with a hiss.  Hanna sealed her helmet and stepped into the short ten foot corridor that lead to the next door ahead.  Ling stepped in behind her, followed by the Commandos.  Ling again used the Master Key and the second door opened with a hiss.  Inside was C3-DZ-A1 Robot Command Center buzzing with feverish activity.  It had the feel a World War II bunker, like nearly everything else in Eisenhelm. On the west side of the room, taking up the entire wall was a huge screen that showed a view of planet earth.  In the foreground, moving silently through space in a phalanx formation were fifty Giant Nuclear Missile Robots.  

Around the room were numerous large mauve colored computer terminals whirring with magnetic metal-tapes and blinking lights.  There was a Nazi soldier standing next to the door and a scientist at a computer console next to him, busily typing into a keyboard.  A second Nazi Soldier stood a bit further away toward the center of the chamber.  The computer banks were seven feet tall, and so they could not see around them, but the ceiling was eighteen feet high, and so the observation screen was in full view.  

As she stepped into the room Hanna opened her helmet vizor so her face could be seen.  The two guards turned to look at her, but the scientist continued to work steadily at his console without glancing up. 

"You men come with me," she ordered the soldier and scientist as she stepped forward into the room.

From the point of view of the people in the room, a high officer of Admiral Ludendorf's Command had just invaded General Hertling's innermost sanctum.  It would be a tough call for them to ignore the fact that she had no authority over Hertling's hierarchy.  But she was ready to take the risk.  Her commandos followed in close behind her, hands on machine guns, ready to open fire at the slightest provocation, as per her instructions.

The soldier next to her gave her a Nazi Salute.  The scientist, seeing the soldier accepting her order, accepted her command as well, though inwardly unwillingly, and the two of them were ushered along behind her by the commandos.

Between the computer banks she strode towards the center of the room.  The second soldier in view was a Captain whom she recognized immediately by the long scar crossing over his left eye.  The two of them matched ranks.  As she strode forward the scientists in the room kept focused on their work, but all the soldiers had now faced towards her, and all machine guns were in ready positions.

She strode up to the Major.  

"Major Hrodwulf," she said, "we have an Obliterator Robot heading towards zee pillbox outside.  In Cavern 8 the science center has been destroyed, and experiments of an unknown nature are escaping.  All of the scientists there must be presumed dead.  Eisenhelm is being destroyed.  We must shut down zee Robots."

The Major was following along with her statements up until she demanded that the robots be shut down.  At that he stared at her in disbelief.   

"Vee cannot shut down zee Robots!"

Hanna had the impression that C3-DZ-A1 Command Center controlled The Phallanx as only those robots could be seen on the observation screen.  Her assumption was that the Obliterators, therefore, were on automatic pilot.  After all, since their mission was to destroy Eisenhelm in a final act of suicide of the human race for Hitler, it only made sense that the control center would not be in control of them.  

"The Obliterators are coming toward this pillbox right this minute," she stated emphatically.  "Vee need to escape Eisenhelm. And zee only place to escape to is back to zee Earth.  Vee cannot have Zee Phallanx destroy zee earth until vee get there and find a secure location!  There is no place in Eisenhelm for us to retreat to."   

He looked her with shock, amazement and a palpable revulsion.

"You vant to escape?!" he sneered violently.  The implication was clear - she was a disgusting, disloyal, wretched coward unwilling to die for the cause!  

Hanna considered his point of view.  In fact, as she glanced around the room she realized that all of his men shared the same sneering appraisal of her worth.  She suddenly realized they all wanted to die with Eisenhelm because that is what Hitler had ultimately ordered.  It was their duty!   They were all expecting to die, and none of them believed that there was any other possible outcome.  After all, the Delta-Z plan had been activated by Captain Helmund, and it meant that Earth was to die, and Eisenhelm was to die with it.  Where the hell else could there be to go?  Nowhere at all.  They were all resigned to their deaths.

Hanna recognized that she was fundamentally different from all of them.  She was young and beautiful, talented and committed.  She did not want to die.  

Major Hrodwulf stared at her with absolute disgust and contempt, as did all his men.  She stared back with her icy blue eyes into his with equal conviction and determination. She wanted to live!

And that is where we left things that game!

Thursday, July 06, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 51

Jacob looked intensely at Hanna Schiller, the Nazi Ace Pilot of Eisenhelm with whom he had teamed up.  They were still deciding exactly what they would do next.  At that point, Ling was on her way up the Pillbox ladder in order to prepare for the attack on C3-DZ-A1, while Vallnam was meditating in the elevator shaft one level beneath C3-DZ-A1, preparing for Zero-Hour. Hans and Nick, the two best technicians Eisenhelm had to offer, had madly made their way to Level 7 of the Science Center out of sheer and foolish curiosity.  Nick had picked the lock, which was quite difficult as there had been a containment mechanism attached to the door that would have electrocuted them both to cinders, but the power had been turned off in the building, and so he only needed to bypass it for the door to open.  It took him a few seconds.  He was the number one expert at this task, which had earned him the nickname "locksmith".  The lock clicked, and Nick put his tools quietly away. Hans slowly pushed the laboratory door open.  Nothing moved, except the thin veil of mist that covered the floor.  Inside the dark chamber they observed by the thin green beams of their flashlights a circular white tub filled to the brim with a greenish liquid that bubbled every few seconds.  It was positioned in the center of the white tiled room.  On the far side was a massive steel mirror that took up most of the wall.  Nick watched in heart-racing terror as his courageous companion stepped gingerly into the room shining his flashlight in all directions, and then settling on the tub.  The liquid bubbled, and there was a ripple across the surface as the greenish mist rolled over the rim of the tub onto the floor.  The two Technicians were never seen again.

Meanwhile Jacob was looking into Hanna's beautiful ice-blue eyes, and thought about the situation carefully.  The problem was that she had ordered her men to switch the power coupling from Hanger B back to the Science Center in order to, hopefully, give the scientists time to re-secure whatever it was that might be escaping from containers within the various laboratories.  The problem with this, of course, was that de-coupling power from Hanger B would strand the technicians working within and stop them from pursuing the goal of repairing the UFOs.  They were working diligently under Vallnam's instructions, and had seized on a tiny sliver of hope that they might escape from the seriously disintegrating Eisenhelm.  He suggested that her Nazi Squadron could take care of whatever came out of the Science Center, but she seemed to believe that they would have no chance of survival.  Jacob vaguely wondered about what kind of monsters lurked within the Science Center that could be so lethal, but he drew a blank.  Hanna's eyes revealed nothing other than absolute certainty.

Within, however, her thoughts betrayed conflicting goals, and she was silently trying to work out what path had the greater odds of success.  One was to escape Eisenhelm in the UFOs as Jacob had mentioned. Then there was the other possibility that Jacob suggested, which was his plan to somehow stop the Giant Nuclear Missile Robots before they finished destroying the magnificent Nazi fortress.  The first possibility had a clear and immediate path, which deviated from Jacob's in only one detail.  She wanted to get to Shadow Hawk, the mysterious and incredible spaceship of questionable origin that she had been test piloting with Melitta Riecht for several months since it had been discovered by Ludendorf's team of Lunar Miners.  Needless to say its discovery came as a complete shock.  It implied, though there was no direct proof, that some other group had made the moon a base of operations in secret.  Only a select few had been informed of the discovery.  Hanna suspected that Ludendorf was on his way there to meet Melitta and escape into space before Eisenhelm was melted down.  She had decided to intercept them and gain entry to that flight.  Hence her squadron of Commandos had been leading the way there when she discovered the power in Cavern 8 had been turned off somehow.  She had been investigating with the scientists in the Science Center when she discovered how grave the situation actually was.  They sent her out with one of their members to divert the power back to the Science Center with the assurance that failing to do so would release "untold horrors" onto the surface of the moon.  

However, once they got into space, what then?  As soon as "The Phalanx" arrived at Earth it would obliterate the last remaining vestiges of human civilization there and blanket the planet in ultra-lethal radiation, exterminating all life on Earth once and for all.  In addition, Eisenhelm was being destroyed by a smaller force of Giant Nuclear Missile Robots known as "The Obliterators", and so the fortress would soon cease to exist as well.  So where would they flee to in Shadow Hawk?  She had no idea, except one.  There did happen to be a small base on the far side of the moon that had been occupied for a time, but was now deserted.  There would be air, and food, and supplies there.  Perhaps that's where Ludendorf and Mellita had planned to go?    

It was the old Red Mercury Mine that had originally been Admiral Ludendorf's Ace-in-the-Hole, and due to which his fleet of 1000 UFOs would have manifested.  How glorious that would have been! And all had gone well there, until the miners one by one went insane and killed each other in the most brutal ways imaginable.  She'd seen the magnetic tape recordings. It had been a nightmare from which she never quite awoke. 

The mine closed after that, and since then no one dared travel to the far side of the moon at all.  And this was why they wound up with only twenty UFOs, instead of the Thousand Ship Fleet that Ludendorf had planned.  To Ludendorf's unending frustration General Hertling had somehow predicted this, and once that happened his own Giant Nuclear Missile Robot Army became far more popular and successful.  Ludendorf clenched his teeth and fists every time he thought of it.  The problem for Hertling, however, was that his forces put everything they had into their construction and maintenance, but there never was a practical use for his doomsday machines. After all, they were designed to end all life on Earth and the moon.  Not exactly practical.  And so they had sat idle for decades, requiring vast amounts of ongoing maintenance, but never to any discernable purpose.  His command had begun to suffer a sense of disillusionment over time.  

And so both the Grand Admiral and the Major General had been stymied, and neither of them would admit it.  The entire socio-political structure of Eisenhelm had slowly decayed as a result.  The long slow slide to disintegration suddenly seemed to Hanna to have been inevitable.  And yet she was not the kind to despair for one second.  She sought a way out.  And so she was heading to Shadow Hawk, and the first step was through the Bay Door of Hanger B, which happened to be the straightest path to her goal.  Otherwise she would have to double back through moonquake rattled tunnels and access the Shadow Hawk Control Center through the White Tunnel system, if possible.  Better, she thought, to re-route the power and open the door from the outside.  There was after all a manual override lock next to the gigantic bay doors, but they required power to operate.  Had she been a technician, however, she would have known the trick that Hans had used to gain entrance to Hanger B.  But she was not, and so she did not.  Nor did any of her Commandos, nor even the scientists, who after all would never sully their hands with technician's work unless they absolutely had to.  Only a top technician like Hans would have known that trick.  At any rate, Hanna's plan had been to gain entrance to Hanger B in order to get to Shadow Hawk, and if in the process she managed to provide a means by which the scientists could save their rotten lives for a few extra minutes by re-securing whatever monstrosities that had been released, so be it. They'd all be dead soon afterwards regardless.  She was leaving Eisenhelm.  "Good riddance!" she thought suddenly.

But now this plan had been suddenly altered by a new possibility.  One that stood out as far better, were it only truly possible, and not some diabolical distraction.  But she felt that Jacob was telling the truth.  She didn't know why she felt that way.  No one in Eisenhelm ever told the truth.  But his voice sounded so sincere.  It was hard to believe.  And yet there it was.  She trusted him.  Even though she knew he was lying!  And she was both terror stricken and hugely relieved by the idea at the same time.  This was a girl with significant conflicts going on behind those beautiful icy-blue eyes.

"So you know a vay to stop zee robots, Ja?" she asked in her crisp High German.

"Yes," answered Jacob.  

Hanna grabbed him by the collar.  "How?!"

"Well, we have access to the Robot's master control room," answered Jacob, but Hanna found this highly improbable.  She couldn't imagine how anyone under Ludendorf's Command Hierarchy could possibly have gained access to the pass-keys and codes necessary to gain entrance to General Hertling's Primary Command Center.  It didn't make any sense!

"Only General Hertling could provide access to zee control room!" she said with a steely intonation, now suspecting she should simply shoot Jacob between the eyes and get on her way to Shadow Hawk.

"Well we do," he said.  "Like I told you, I'm Special Forces," he added.

"None of our people have access to Hertling's infrastructure.  It seems impossible," she said eying him suspiciously.

"I told you, I'm Special Forces.  I have acquired access to it," he asserted again.

"Acquired access..." she repeated incredulously.

"Discretely," he added.

"You stole it?!" 

"Are you really going to object to it at this point?" he asked in amazement.

"I need to know that I can trust you," she replied.  "How did you get it?"

"I won it," he said.

"You beat zee General in cards?!  How did you even get into zee game?!"

"No, I didn't say that," he answered with a grumble.  "I said I won it.  And I won it honorably," he added.

"What proof do you have?" she asked with a mocking edge, nearly convinced the answer was a bullet through the forehead.  But he just stared it her.  He had already broken through her defenses by striking at her vulnerabilities: her jealousy of Melitta and her fear of dying along with everyone else in Eisenhelm.  He was her knight in shining armor, and she wanted to believe.  And so she did.

"You have zee access code?" she asked finally.

"Yes, I have the access code," he reassured her.  "We have set up a breach, and we have twelve minutes and counting to get there.  It will take about one minute to get to the Pillbox from here at a flying sprint.  I should get going,"  he said.

Hanna made some quick calculations.  She had eight loyal Nazi Commandos, and one scientist.  The scientist and two Commandos were in the Power Coupling Station working on diverting the power back to the Science Center from Hanger B. The other six Commandos were with her.   She estimated from what the scientists told her that whatever monstrosities were escaping from their containment chambers, they were likely to break out within the next few minutes if the power was not restored by then. Twelve minutes.  

"You four," she said to pointing to her Commandos, "vill come with me.  You two," she said pointing to the remaining men, "go to zee power station and protect zee scientist."

"Hold on a second," said Jacob, "if your guys switch the coupling then you're going to disable the technicians working on the UFOs, right?"

Hanna felt that the technician's efforts were a fools errand.  Those old derelict UFOs in Hanger B could not be repaired in time. But she was not a technician, she was a pilot, and she decided there might be a hope that some of the UFOs could be repaired.  She thought about it for one second.  She considered sending the scientist and the four Commandos to help the technicians inside Hanger B.  But the way was blocked because there was apparently a pile of derelict UFOs bracing the bay door closed.  Vallnam had seen to that.  Hanna knew that because the Scientists had told her a band of Technicians had entered the cavern and slipped into the Hanger after diverting the power.  When they released the Doom Spheres the Technicians sealed the door behind them and nothing was going to get through.

"So how are you planning to get into Hanger B.  The door is sealed," she remarked.

"Um.  Well, that was set up by Vallnam," he said, fumbling for an answer to a very salient question. "I'm not sure what we're going to do about that, frankly.  Maybe it won't be necessary - if we take out the Robots."

Vallnam, meanwhile, was listening in on the radio transmission while meditating.  He was trying his best to focus so that he could accumulate enough mystic energy for the battle ahead.  So he said nothing and continued to focus.  Good man.  

"If you can't give me a vay to get into zee Hanger then I might as well turn on zee power to zee Science Center," said Hanna.  "So if you vant to trust zee technicians to get zee UFOs into space, it is fine.  But you either provide access to Hanger B, or I switch the power over.  Vhat vill it be?"

"We need to use the crane inside to move the UFOs that are piled up against the door," replied Jacob.

"Zhere is not going to be enough time for it," replied Hanna.  "Zee monsters inside zee Science Center vill not wait.  Vee have maybe a few minutes, no more."

Jacob tried to radio into the Tech's channel and find out what their progress is.  But he didn't have the frequency that Vallnam had been using to communicate with his team.  It was another crucial oversight.  Vallnam was busy meditating, and Jacob understood that, and so he didn't want to interrupt him.  He thought furiously.

"Do your thing," she said.

He considered blowing up the door.  He needed explosives.  Hanna's Commandos probably had access to explosives, he thought to himself.  Hanna was watching him closely.  He was taking too long to decide.  She decided for him.

"Vee vill evacuate zee Science Center and all move to zee Pillbox for zee attack.  If vee can gain access and your self-destruct code for zee robots vorks vee vill not need zee UFOs, you are right.  If it does not vork vee can take zee secret tunnel from C3-DZ-A1 to zee Secret Shadow Hawk Hanger and escape.  You and me!  Jah!"

She looked up at the green glass on the seventh floor of the Science Center where the handful of scientists were anxiously waiting for her to divert the power so that they could reactivate the containment units.  She would evacuate them all.  She got on the radio and flipped the frequency to the Science Center radio.

"Achtung!" she announced into her mic.  "Herr Nachtnebel!  Come in!"

The reply was a disturbing mix of screaming, hideous gurgling noises, splintering bones and what sounded perhaps like splattering entrails, possibly.  She noticed several spots of dark splatter on the green windows and turned the switch back to Jacob's frequency.  She looked a little pale.

"Vee have to go now," she said in a quite whisper, turning away from the Science Center to look at him.  She switched the frequency to her Commandos.  "Stop zee vork on zee power coupling!  It is too late for zee Science Center.  Come here immediately.  Vee are going!"

Three flashlight beams were seen emerging from the Power Coupling Station at a run and began traversing the cavern towards them.  

"Do you have explosives?" asked Jacob.  "Perhaps we can cave-in the tunnel entrance and buy us some time."

"Ja! Good idea," she said. "My men have explosives enough for zee job.  However, I need two minutes.  You go ahead and lay zee charges.  I vill catch up vith you!  You men follow zee Doom Spheres and vait for me.  You two lay zee charges!"

Not far away was the abandoned Military Complex at the southern end of Cavern 8, in which there happened to be a single prisoner.  Hanna would not, and could not leave him behind. It had been her plan all along to bring him with her.  He was extremely important.  She ordered two of her Commandos to come with her as she ran to the dark and abandoned Military Complex to secure her prisoner.  

She made no attempt to explain herself, but did take a moment to order the Doom Spheres to take a position in the tunnel five hundred feet east of PillBox C3-PB-A1 and wait there for her as she ran with light bounding steps followed by two of her Commandos.  The Scientist and the two Commandos from the Power Coupling Station arrived and followed after the Doom Spheres on Hanna's radioed orders as she bounded away.

Meanwhile in the confusion Jacob took thirty seconds to bound back to the rock pile.  He clambered down and grabbed his Lewiston Beam Pistol from the crack he had hidden it in and shoved it into its holster.  As he did this, the Commandos that had run forward stopped at the mouth of the tunnel to plant the explosive charges.  The Doom Spheres moved silently past the two of them into the tunnel and proceeded forward in a single file, followed by the other Commandos and the scientist.  Jacob bounded down the tunnel until he caught up with the forward team.  Exactly five hundred feet east of the Pillbox the Doom Spheres simultaneously stopped moving.  Everyone hunkered down behind a boulder for a few moments to assess the situation.  

The tunnel was filling with smoke from Cavern 7 and the ground was trembling.  From that position they could see up the north branch tunnel towards Staff Operations Center 4.  A quick glance down its length showed that through the dust cloud the tunnel had caved-in.  It was completely blocked.  Jacob caught sight of an arm sticking out of the rubble but it was unmoving.  Ahead of them to the west, on the side of the tunnel wall they could make out through the haze Pillbox C3-PB-A1, about fifty feet up on the wall, and reachable by a metal ladder.  Beneath it were two gimbled machineguns.  The slit windows shone dimly with red light but they could not see inside from that angle.  

Further up the tunnel the silhouette of a monstrous Giant Nuclear Missile Robot stood out out against the fiery glow behind it.  It suddenly discharged a searing scarlet Energy Beam from its cyclopean eye-slit deep into Cavern 7.  There was an enormous flash of yellow light which Jacob presumed was the detonation of Military Complex 7.  The smoke billowed into the tunnel and the ground shook so that rocks and sheets of dirt fell from the ceiling.  Then the giant robot slowly turned toward the main tunnel.  It was a full thirty feet tall, had dark gray armored skin, and on its shoulders they could make out various weapons arrays.  Its fists were clenched into giant wrecking balls.  The scientist muttered under his breath as he zoomed in on the robot with his Eye-Lens, "Zee Duridium plating has not a single scratch on it!  Vundervoll!"

When Hanna got to abandoned Military Complex 8 she found, as per usual, the main door was dangling open on one hinge and broken glass was scattered across the steps leading up into the squat pentagonal three story solid steel building.  She and her two Commandos entered the dark entrance hall, and shone their flashlights forward. The walls were scored with scorch marks and there were bullet holes in the thick glass windows that lined the hall.  The famous Battle of the Wolf Brigade had taken place here.  Some space suits riddled with holes lay on the ground in the frigid airless moon cavern.  There was no movement, and dust covered everything except a small path along the floor.  According to all personnel this complex was abandoned.  However, among Eisenhelm's many secrets was the fact that Military Complex 8 was not actually as abandoned as it seemed.  She went through another broken door, down a corridor passing a number of doors, most broken in, some not, turned left, and found a locked door.  She opened it with her pass-key.  There was a stairwell going up and down. They went down one flight and through a series of passage ways.  They came to a solid metal door with a slit window, which was illuminated.  A gimbled machinegun had been tracking them as they came down the corridor.  Hanna stopped and flashed her metallic key-pass and looked squarely at the glass window.  

Inside was a sardonic old sourpuss named Corporal Klaus Himmelstein, who never lost his Most-Bored-Member-Of-The-Human-Race expression, ever.  He'd been guarding the prisoner for many years by now, as that had become his one and only job in Eisenhelm and he intended to to his job well.  His orders had been "Never speak to the prisoner.  Do not let him escape.  Make sure he stays fed, and don't let him die."  In fact, he'd done a near perfect job for all those years. 

When he saw the Key-Pass Assessor Light flicker green on the panel he moved back from the machinegun control and snapped to attention.  He walked crisply to the door and gazed at Hanna's eyes through the glass.  There was a small chamber between the two doors.  Klaus snapped his heels and provided the standard Nazi salute, all without changing his expression in the slightest. He recognized her, of course, but didn't move a muscle to open the door.  Not until she responded with her reciprocating salute.  She saluted in kind, and only then did he pressed the red button which unlocked the outer door with a dull hiss.  There was an airlock for her to go through. 

"Corporal," she ordered, "I am here to relieve you of your duty.  You vill secure zee prisoner.  Vee are leaving in two minutes exactly."  The ground trembled again as she finished her sentence, as if to emphasize the urgency of her order.

"Ja," said Klaus as he began the process of unbinding the prisoner from the wall and putting him in a bright yellow prisoner space suit.  The prisoner himself was gaunt, with deep brown eyes, long stringy grey hair, and a slight smile on his boney face.  He also never seemed to lose that expression.  In this sense, he and Klaus were a like two rival peas in a pod.

It took one minute for Klaus to put the prisoner into an emergency space suit, and get his wrists cuffed.  The prisoner offered no resistance.  After that Klaus stayed behind him and they all made their way through the Military Complex labyrinth and back out into Cavern 8, with Hanna in the lead, and the Commandos following up in the rear.  Off to their right they could see a few large and disquieting flashes of green light from the upper three stories of the Science Center.  The windows silently shattered outward but they did not stop to watch.  They bounded as fast as they possibly could toward the tunnel entrance.  

As soon as they passed into the tunnel the two Commandos there waited for them to get clear and then pressed the detonator plungers.  They all bounded westward towards Pillbox C3-PB-A1.  Behind them the explosive charges ignited and their was a bright flash of light along the tunnel walls. Rocks and debris sailed through the vacuum from behind them, but no one was injured.  It was a perfect demolition.  The tunnel cave-in completely sealed the entrance with tons of rock and rubble.  Whatever was emerging from Science Center 7 was no longer their problem.  Those poor technicians in Hanger B, however, might not be as lucky. They ran down the tunnel towards Pillbox C3-PB-A1.  It would take them another minute to get there. 

Meanwhile, the Giant Robot was now lumbering into the tunnel from Cavern 7.  It was moving slowly, and appeared to be searching for stragglers of the Nazi forces that had tried to ward it off from the Cavern 7 Military Complex.  When it spotted a soldier scrambling among the rocks machinegun fire from its shoulder mount riddled the target so that it suddenly danced along like a crimson splattered marionette, and then lay on the ground in a disjointed heap.  There was a lot of smoke in the tunnel so it was hard to see clearly, but their impression was that there were a number of soldiers still trying to escape into the tunnel.  Bad for them, but good for our heroes as it would buy them a little more time.  

"I'll need to explain things before you come up, so stay here and wait for my signal," radioed Jacob to the Commandos that had come forward with the Doom Spheres.  He went ahead and climbed the ladder to the Pillbox, opened Hatch 1, slipped inside, operated the airlock as he had learned to do from Hans earlier, and then opened Hatch 2 and peered inside. 

The Pillbox interior was illuminated by a lurid red light, and there he saw Ling backed up against the wall, her hands in the air.  Looming over her was the ever resourceful Captain Helmund, who had apparently woken up and escaped his bonds.  In fact, he'd woken up before Ling had returned from Cavern 8, effected his release with the sturdy straight dagger he always had sheathed in his boot, and after retrieving his Luger pretended to still be sleeping and bound to the post with steel wire... until she came close enough.  He lunged at her and easily karate chopped her Lewiston out of her hand.  She was helpless and without enough Mystic Energy to even try to put him to sleep again.  She had a fierce expression on her face as Helmund leered at her menacingly.  She was not planning to surrender easily to the brute.

Fortunately, at the moment Helmund's back was to the airlock. In his fascination with Ling, the ferocious Captain made one mistake.  He did not turn around at the faint sound of the airlock opening to see Jacob emerging.  Such was the power of Ling's incredible beauty that despite his decades of relentless training and ruthless experience, at the crucial moment when it mattered most, he was distracted by the pretty girl.  Such is life!

Jacob, assessed that firing his Lewiston inside the Pillbox would easily bore a hole straight through Helmond, and just as easily then bore a fist sized hole through the Pillbox wall.  This of course would cause an explosive decompression which would likely kill Ling who was not wearing her helmet.  He also found that the tight space in the airlock would not allow him to get his New Model Combat Rifle out of the holster on his back and into position to take a shot in time.  So he silently slid his machete out from its sheath and sprang at Helmund from behind!

Helmund was wearing an armored space suit, without the helmet, while Jacob was wearing his (long forgotten Modroni) purple bubble environmental suit with riot armor over it.  Jacob lunged from behind with his machete, but Helmud saw his movement reflected on a glass panel and the experienced war-dog stepped slightly to the side.  The blow landed on a weak spot between the joints of his armor, but his evasion caused the machete to only puncture through enough to wound but not disable the Nazi Captain.  The two faced each and Helmund pointed his Luger at Jacob's stomach.  Seeing as his smaller opponent was armed with only a machete, the Captain smirked. For one such as Helmund, shooting Jacob would provide a hollow victory.  His reputation for honorable kills was legendary.  He tossed his Lugar to the ground and unsheathed his straight dagger from the side of his boot.  The two warriors circled one another like tigers.    

The battle was brutal.  Helmund's combat experience was profound, and knife fighting was one of his proficiencies.  His metallic armor was designed to absorb bullet damage so it was very hard for Jacob to get through with a machete.  Nevertheless, Jacob was a vicious adversary, more agile, and had an equal level of expertise to Helmund in the art of knife fighting.  The two men stabbed at each other many times, often missing or glancing, but now and then drawing blood.  Helmund got in a good slashing attack at Jacob's left arm cutting him deeply.  He grinned at his opponent, taunting him.  Then Jacob, infuriated, leaped suddenly and with expert precision rammed his machete between two plates of Helmund's armor, and the Captain went down on one knee.  It was not enough.  Helmund quickly got up again and continued fighting viciously as ever.  

As the men were fighting, Ling had been stealthily moving around the side in order to get to Helmund's Lugar.  She picked up her Lewiston along the way, but knew that firing it inside the Pillbox would be a fatal mistake.  

Finding himself wounded and fighting a wily and unexpectedly skilled adversary, Helmund looked for a way to take Jacob down quickly and put an end to the fight.  Ling, however, achieved her objective before Helmund noticed what she was doing, grabbed the Lugar and pointed it at him.  She wanted to avoid shooting because a bad shot or ricochet risked penetrating a window and causing explosive decompression of the Pillbox which would have killed them.  She demanded he surrender, shouting "Stop or I'll shoot!" but the Nazi Captain would never surrender in a million years.   

Helmund made a sudden feint to the left to avoid her possible gun shot, and then spun quickly in midair and lunged at Jacob from an unexpected angle with all his strength and skill.  This caught the hero by surprise.  The dagger penetrated between the plates of his riot armor, pierced deeply through the purple bubble suit, and sunk in close to his heart.  Another half inch to the right and he'd have been killed instantly. Jacob staggered backwards grasping his chest, blinded momentarily with excruciating pain. 

Ling took the shot.  The bullet pierced the armor into Helmund's thigh, but this was not quite enough to bring him down.  Now he became like a wounded animal, and Ling suddenly became his primary target.  Forgetting his own wound, Jacob leapt at him with his machete in order to protect Ling from the Captain's savage retaliation.  

Meanwhile, not terribly far way, Vallnam was sitting on the floor of the glossy white-walled elevator in a lotus position with one hand over his heart chakra and the other resting on one knee in the Guyan Mudra position.  He was focused on accumulating Mystical Energy so that he would have at least a few options when it was time to attack. Through half slitted eyes, however, he noticed that a circle on the elevator door was slowly darkening.  It gradually turned an interstellar black and began to seethe.  He did not break concentration and continued to stay with his meditation regardless.  He calmed his heart and mind in order to stay focused.  

Helmund and Jacob grappled, and slashed at each other's armors without effect several times, and Jacob had managed to keep between Helmund and Ling.  Both of men were severely wounded, but Jacob had the worst of it.  He wasn't going to be able to keep fighting this way for long. "Shoot damn it!" he shouted.  

Ling shot again, but the bullet ricocheted off Helmund's armor.  Jacob reeled dizzily from pain, but still managed to block Helmund from getting at Ling.  Her next shot penetrated square-on, and this time Helmund was brought to his knees.  His dagger dropped from his hand with a clatter.  He backed himself against a wall, panting heavily, blood sputtering thickly from his mouth.  Jacob, bleeding profusely and swooning, made a last-ditch full-on attack, grabbing Helmund by his metal helmet collar.  Before the final blow he stared down into the Nazi Captain's steely, unrelenting eyes.  Between the two men was a begrudging respect that only those who have fought each other with knives to the last ounce of strength can truly ever know.  Jacob put all his strength into the finishing blow, and stabbed his machete through Helmund's right eye down to the hilt. 

And so Helmund died as fiercely and heroically as he had lived - a true man's man, brutal, and unrelenting - a cold-blooded Nazi Captain to the last breath.  

Ling immediately ran to Jacob as he slid to the floor with a groan.  His wound was terrible, but unbeknownst to him or Ling, his purple bubble suit had already begun to perform healing actions and had instantly applied anesthesia after Helmund struck the grievous blow, which is how he managed to continue the fight despite the severity of the wound.  Ling applied first aid, and began the job of treating the wound, which would have been mortal had the purple bubble suit not taken immediate action.  

Meanwhile, Vallnam observed the dark interstellar spirit that had been devouring the soul of the young  Nazi soldier he had shot in the back as it slid through the door into the brightly lit glossy white cylindrical elevator.  He wondered if this type of spirit would attempt to devour him while he was still alive, or if it was merely a scavenger of souls that would only feed on the recently dead.  He thought back through his folklore studies under Master Carlos of the Castaneda Academy in the deserts of New Mexico. It seemed to him that he recalled it was the latter case, as according to the lore of the Wiederg√§nger such creatures devoured the lost souls of the recently dead. If their eerie void-like presence not slay the living with fear, then they bided their time, waiting for the inevitable.  They usually arrived in small packs where battles were soon to take place.  It had been a common superstition among the German folk for countless ages.  

So deciding he was not in immediate danger, he continued his meditation in silence, assuming that the monster was lured by the scent of deaths soon to come.  It would not be long now.  And sure enough the darkness massed into a black smoky circle, then billowed into the room, but did not attack him. It smelled rancid and wicked as it formed into a shadowy cloud that took on the shape of what might have been a bulldog with the head of Anubis.  It circled around him three times and then sat next to him like a sphinx.  Had he not activated the Mentarian Power of "Mighty Eyes" Vallnam would never had guessed that such creatures were lurking on the moon.  It sat waiting, patiently, like a well-trained attack dog.  And Vallnam sat next to it, focused only on one thing - the manifestation of Mystical Energy for the battle to come.

At this point, Hanna and her crew had made it to the Pillbox.  Her Commandos were outside observing the Giant Robot as it laid the Nazi stragglers at its feet to waste.  She signaled for her men to follow her, and dashed to the ladder to climb up.  When she got to the base she saw the body of one of Helmund's subordinants laying on the ground dead.  Explosive decompression from a gunshot wound through his space suit did him in.  She stepped over it and quickly climbed up the ladder.  It felt oddly thrilling to be invading General Hertling's domain this way.  

When she gained entrance through the airlock she found Ling tending Jacob's wounds, and saw with some dismay that the infamous Captain Helmund, Hertling's best and bravest, was lying dead on the floor with a machete through his right eye.  She had never liked Helmund, actually.  No one did. He was a hell of a brute, and cruel to the bone. But she respected him for his valor and stoic integrity.  And she noted that unlike other men in Eisenhelm, he had never stooped to ogling her, and never once spoke to her rudely.  It would be an overstatement to say that she admired him, but like everyone else in Eisenhelm she found it impossible not to respect the man.

Hanna then took note of the oriental girl wearing a purple bubble suit tending to Jacob's very serious looking wounds. 

"I see you have been busy," she said to Jacob as she stared down at Ling.  "And who is this?" 

"Special Forces," he gurgled through the blood in his mouth, and gave a weak thumbs up.  It seemed clear he wasn't going to be a font of information at that point, so Hanna addressed Moon Princess Ling insolently and with deep German disrespect.

"So, vhat is your story?" she demanded.  Thus far Ling had not turned her attention away from Jacob to so much as glance at Hanna, a point the young German Pilot found instantly infuriating.  Ling looked into Jacob's eyes and stayed silent.

"She's with me," Jacob sputtered faintly as Ling dressed the wound.

The thing that was most clear to Hanna, however, the thing that stood out the most alarmingly, was that whomever this beautiful Asian girl was, she was absolutely not German.  She could somehow ignore Jacob's odd barely-German accent, and strange unfamiliarity with standard Nazi protocols, and his tortured logic, and obvious lies, but this she could not ignore.

"Grab her," barked Hanna to her Commandos.  Jacob weakly raised a hand in protest but the Commandos were already drawing their Lugers and began marching forward from behind Hanna to grab Ling by the arms.  However, Moon Princess was nothing if not fast.  Her Lewiston was out and pointed at Hanna's chest before her men could get their guns fully drawn.  Everyone stopped moving.

"If she shoots that," sputtered Jacob weakly, "it will blow a hole through your chest and out the back of the Pillbox. Explosive decompression. That'll be the end of everything right there."

"If she shoots, kill them all," Hanna ordered her men sternly.

"We're all gonna die before they have that chance, you goof!" sputtered Jacob, now getting a bit excited at the turn of events.

"You have a lot to explain to me, and no one is saying anything," said Hanna, her eyes having narrowed to slits as her blood started to boil.

"Is the moon blowing up?" asked Jacob. "Is a giant robot heading down the tunnel towards us?   Is the earth going to be destroyed by giant robots?" he continued, trying to push himself up on one arm.

"You do not seem to understand," replied Hanna grimly as she stared at Ling. "She is not supposed to be on zee moon!"

"No one is supposed to be on the moon!" rasped Jacob angrily.  "It's literally a non-atmospheric wasteland. None of us should be on the moon.  Don't talk about where people should and shouldn't be!" 

Hanna ignored Jacob.  She looked at Ling and said, "If you do not say anything, my men vill open fire."

Ling finally turned to face Hanna, and said in a still and clear voice "Konnichiwa."

There was a pause as Hanna stared at her intensely.

"Who are you that you don't know your own history?" rasped Jacob emphatically.

Hanna paused.  She walked straight up to Ling and stood directly in front of the Lewiston.  Ling sensed the woman's fierce determination.

"I am the only chance we have to stop the robots," said Ling in her best German.

"I do not trust you.  I no longer trust him," replied Hanna gesturing towards Jacob.  "You better explain yourself, or this is over."

"What is there to explain?" asked Ling, "We need to get into C3-DZ-A1 and stop the robots.  Do you have problem with that?"

"How do you know how to stop zee robots?" asked Hanna fiercely.

"I have the self-destruct sequence in my head," replied Ling with a voice as cool as moonlight.

"Have you ever heard of the Varangian Guard?" rasped Jacob from the ground.

"Vhat about them?" answered Hanna.

"The Varangian Guard were the bodyguards of the Byzantine Emperors," he rasped slowly, "... Selected specifically because they were foreigners so that they could not be corrupted by members of local Byzantine factions.  It is the same thing with the top brass here at the base.  Japanese body guards.  Toned and disciplined over the long years.  Used only for special secret missions.  Elite agents.  The best."

In fact, as it turned out, Hanna had seen Japanese insignia on a door in a one of the secret white corridors at one point after they had discovered Shadow Hawk.  She had remarked to herself how strange that seemed but was instructed to remain silent about it by Ludendorf himself.  Jacob's story could be true, despite the fact that she'd never seen any indication of the presence of any actual Samurai.  But still... it was possible, and could potentially explain a few strange occurrences in the past that she'd never understood.  And besides, one thing she did know for certain: Eisenhelm was filled with secrets.  

Hanna looked Ling in the eyes and said, "Maybe you are telling zee truth. Maybe. I vill be keeping my eye on you."

"I need to attend to him," replied Ling, gesturing down at Jacob whose wound was only half bandaged. "Is that ok with you?"

Hanna nodded her assent.  Then she turned to the scientist, Karl Hoffman, who happened to be an excellent medic.  "Karl, deal please vith this," she said to him.  Karl stepped over to Jacob and took out his medical kit. He began dressing the wound.

Hanna thought about the secret tunnel system.  She knew some of the white corridor tunnels, but she was sure there were more that she'd never seen as Ludendorf had always kept her on a short leash, preferring to share his secrets with Melitta instead.  Nevertheless, she was familiar with the one that led into C3-DZ-A1 because it was through that tunnel that she had once been admitted when accompanying Admiral Ludendorf to a special meeting with General Hertling.  Shadow Hawk was simply too fantastic a discovery for Ludendorf to keep to himself.  The General had been hopping mad to discover that Ludendorf might have a new lease on life for the UFO fleet.  Hanna recalled how amusing she had found it at the time, and how thrilling it was to be there side-by-side with Melitta as the only two pilots who could fly that amazing ship.  In any case, because she had attended that meeting she was familiar with the layout of the C3-DZ-A1 Control Center.  And she also knew that the elevator tunnel one floor down led directly to the Admiral's Control Center for the UFO Fleet.  And she knew how to run the Control Center, and launch the ship into space, as well as pilot it.

She was also quite aware that if she simply waltzed into C3-DZ-A1 they would recognize her as one of Ludendorf's Ace Pilots, and such was the rivalry between the two factions that they could easily decide to shoot her and her men on the spot.  While she may have had senior authority by rank, it would only apply in Ludendorf's Command Hierarchy.  Among Hertling's people she would be treated like a subordinate.  The rivalry between the factions had been intense for decades.  So their reaction depended on which officers happen to be in the room at the time, and what they knew about what was going to happen.  And that she could not know. She might not at all be able to simply command them to obey her.  They might well resist. She bit her lip. 

"How vere you planning on getting in and dealing with zee soldiers inside?" asked Hanna.  

Jacob replied that they had a key to the room from the Pillbox.  And that they had a man in the elevator.  Their plan was to hit them from two sides in a surprise attack and have Ling sneak over to wherever the panel is and enter the codes while everyone was distracted.

"Certainly with your substantial help, this should be no issue," rasped Jacob as Karl tightened the bandages.   

Hanna thought about this.  At that moment a flash of red light, brighter than the interior of the Pillbox compartment, came through the slit windows from the tunnel.  Jacob slid down the wall and laid himself as flat against the floor as he could.  Everyone followed suit and moved away from the windows.  Outside they could see the shadow of the giant robot approaching along the tunnel wall as a fiery beam emitted from its cyclopean eye.  They could feel heat of the beam, and the tremors caused by its twenty ton footfalls.

Meanwhile, Vallnam was still sitting in a lotus position in the elevator.  Next to him sat the sphinx dog composed of swirling black shadows. It stared, as he did, at the elevator door, waiting.  Vallnam had been tremendously patient and focused.  He had let nothing distract him for ten full minutes.  Therefore he could now try to harvest the accumulated Mystic Energy.  And yet, at the very last moment, as the accumulated energy hovered over his head ready for harvesting, a gremlin of some sort, a tiny spikey little smoke-spirit of mischief fell from the hair of the dog and scampered across the glassy white floor towards him.  With this unexpected and bizarre occurrence, Vallnam's mind became distracted.  The accumulated ball of mystical energy began to waver and weaken.  It seemed that the energy would dissipate and be lost, but somehow in that moment Vallnam heard a sonorous voice in his mind.  

"Stay focused... stay focused... stay focused" it repeated and then faded.  

He had no idea whose voice that had been, but we know it was the first time his intelligent purple bubble suit spoke to him directly.  And with encouragement he focused intensely, and so the ball of energy brightened and then descended into him, granting him renewed Mystical Power.  And when this happened the tiny mischief vanished in a puff of black smoke with a high pitched squeal that no one heard except the Wiederg√§nger, who silently growled as the smoke returned into his mane.

And that is where we left things that night.