Saturday, August 19, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 54

Moon Princess Ling

Amid all the hell that had broken loose inside of Eisenhelm, the ultra-secret Nazi Fortress constructed near the north pole of the moon in 1943, an especially vicious battle had broken out within General Hertling's Doomsday Robot Force Control Center.  The effects of the Nazi Civil War were on full display. Now, all of Hertling's Nazis were laying dead on the floor, whereas his scientists and technicians had scurried away like rats as soon as the fighting had broken out.  Major Hanna Schiller gloated briefly over the body of her long-time rival Major Hrodwulf, whose forehead she had neatly punctured with one of her Duridium-capped bullets, courtesy of the scientists of Science Center 7, now deceased.  She noted that Hrodwulf's nasty little smirk had been transformed into a grimace of raw hatred and rage, although at the last a disturbing expression of unimaginable horror etched itself into his eyes.  It was not a good look.  A brief enigmatic smile graced her lips as she turned her attention to the action on the other side of the Control Center.

Jacob, still badly wounded, but healing rapidly with the help of his purple-bubbled environmental suit, positioned himself between Ling and the machinegun fire that had erupted from within the bronze-rimmed inner sanctum.  He made a valiant effort to shield her while he removed his new model adaptive combat rifle from its sheath and slung it painfully into the cradle of his arms.  Ling hugged the wall behind him. Having used Ludendorff's Master Key  to open the Bronze Portal, she slipped it back into her pocket and zipped it shut.  She had no intention of letting Hanna get her hands on the key. She well understood the look in that Nazi Major's eye, and she didn't like it one bit.  

Inside the octagonal inner sanctum they caught sight of several men clustered around a door on the far wall.  One of the scientists, clearly shaken by the attack, was visibly trembling as he fired a machinegun towards the portal entrance.  The bullets peppered the side of the bronze portal frame with sparks. Jacob and Ling ducked their heads as bullets ricocheted around them.  They glimpsed an impression of the room as being similar to the outer Control Center, though smaller, more compact, and yet with similar purple paneled computer banks, and a smaller Observation Screen on one wall.  There was a small metal table with a control panel, and a chair.  The room looked like it was intended to be manned by three people, maybe four at the most.

Jacob assessed the the men were trying to escape out the door on the far wall, but for whatever reason they could not open it and so they were trapped there.  Jacob was aware that the scientists of Eisenhelm were not trained for combat, and it must have been out of sheer panic that one of them had picked up a machinegun and was shooting it wildly without looking where the bullets were landing. 

At that instant the wounded Nazi soldier, a ferocious Corporal who spent his free time punching bags of gravel, was beginning to spin around, swinging his machinegun into position.  Having survived the first round of fire unscathed, Jacob took a shot at the soldier with his combat rifle.  The the bullet hit him in the arm, and penetrated his armor plating, but still barely made him grimace.  Ling also took aim with her Lewiston Beam Pistol.  She wondered briefly if the plasma beam might scorch a hole through the wall, which could produce an explosive decompression event if the other side of the wall happened to be another airless tunnel, or even the surface of the moon potentially.  But the wall she was facing had a door on it that looked like an ordinary door, not an airlock, and so, taking the chance, she pulled the trigger.  The thin red beam instantly burned a searing hole through the soldier's leg, and then through the wall behind him.  Nevertheless, he continued his spin, landed on one knee, and aimed his machinegun towards the portal.  The Corporal was a brute with a vicious streak a mile wide, and was tough as nails beneath his armored space suit. 

Hanna, catching sight of the plasma beam, was amazed.  A hand-held Plasma Beam Pistol?!  Such things were unknown on the moon.  Yes, the Obliterators had giant Plasma Cannons, but pistols? Impossible! She looked down at her SC-7 Special Luger with its Duridium-Capped bullets, and suddenly felt it far less exciting than before. Snapping out of the annoying thought, she coldly considered her options.  Currently she only had three soldiers remaining, and one was wounded.  In the Pillbox remained the last of the SC-7 Scientists, Karl Hoffman, with her prisoner.  "That's not going to work," she thought to herself.  She ordered one of her Commandos to get Karl and the prisoner and bring them into the Control Center.  She figured the Pillbox was likely to be incinerated by the Obliterator Robot lumbering down the tunnel as soon as it stopped playing footsie with the Doom Spheres, and she didn't want her prisoner burnt to a vapor.  She wanted him alive!  The other Commando was ordered to take control of Hertling's Scientist, whose finger she had just, quite usefully, broken. Having made her assessment and barked out her orders, she ran towards the bronze portal. She planned to create converts, or clean out the beehive once and for all.

Vallnam, meanwhile, was busy trying to put out the computer fires with the extinguisher he got from the power room. The enormous Observation Screen was cracked and dangling by its cables against the west wall, while the room was being filled with dark gray smoke and showered with sparks from all directions.  He could still see the red blips that represented Giant Nuclear Missile Robots heading towards earth through the screen's shattered surface, despite its fits of static.

Inside the inner sanctum the machinegun toting scientist continued firing wildly towards the portal entrance, his mind quaking with fear, his teeth rattling in time with the bullets.  Nevertheless, his luck was with him and he hit Jacob squarely without any idea how he had done it.  Pure luck. As our hero was wearing his purple bubble suit, and merely a set of riot armor overlaying it, the bullets strafed him along the right side and put him back on the ground, deeply wounded.  His suit immediately set about the healing process, but he down once again.  At the same time, the Corporal, having been hit twice, shot with his machinegun towards the door, but the pain of his wounds threw off his aim and the bullets went stray by mere inches, strafing along the wall next to Jacob's head.  Jacob leaned against Ling, gasping for air. The other two scientists on the far side of the inner sanctum panicked and made another attempt at opening the door.  But door was locked, required a special key, and they couldn't open it. It was impossible. They turned around, one in despair waiting to die, his face haunted with terror, the other glancing around for a new plan, his eyes gleaming with a fierce light.

Hearing the firefight Vallnam turned towards the bronze portal, and saw Jacob and Ling huddled at the door.  He took note that Jacob was badly wounded, again, but Ling was behind him, and he felt she was well enough protected by Jacob's body to be relatively safe for the moment from the machinegun fire.  He believed that the fires, which were starting to billow with flames from the open panels of the computer banks, were the most urgent matter facing them and continued to try to put them out.  Again he noticed that on the computer bank which he was standing in front of, there was a large red button under a glass dome, but he was determined to put out the fire before doing anything else.   

Hanna came running up to where Jacob and Ling were and peered around the edge of the portal door.  She no longer felt much for Jacob, now that she had met Ling, and discovered that Jacob was not really what he seemed.  Perhaps she was jealous. Perhaps Jacob had broken the frozen heart he had so recently, and momentarily thawed.  Either way, it no longer mattered.  Hanna was now back in control of her emotions, and she wasn't about to slip up again.

"All that suave talk from before has worn out, Otto" she said to Jacob.  "You and a Japanese girl, eh? Who knows what you're really up to?" she added as she glanced around the inner sanctum. The scientist and soldier were in motion, swinging their machineguns towards her as the other two were backed against the rear wall.  Suddenly, one of scientists bolted across the room towards the computer bank on the south wall with a fierce determination.  Jacob took shot at him, but he was too wounded to be effective and the bullet went wide, hitting a computer bank, showering the man with sparks, but this did not slow him down in the slightest.  At this Ling began to try to drag him away from the portal, hoping to get him out of the line of fire from within.  There was a good chance that one more hit would kill him.

At this point Hanna stepped forward through the circular bronze portal, taking on the machinegun barrage from the soldier and scientist.  Her Duridium armor deflected all the bullets, scattering them around the room. Hanna put her hands on her hips and laughed mockingly.  She strode to the room's center point and returned a single shot with her Luger SC-7 Special.  The Duridium bullet punctured straight through the armor of the Corporal's left leg, staggering him to the ground in agony. She did not wish to kill him, as she was hoping to convert as many of Hertling's men over to her cause as she could.

"Stop shooting now, or I vill kill you all," Hanna yelled.  Recognizing the tone of command in her voice the Corporal and scientist dropped their machineguns and put their hands up. But the third scientist, a true fanatic by the name of Konrad Schäfer, ran towards the computer bank at full tilt.  He was aiming for a certain red button.  Hanna suspected he was planning to pull the trigger on one of Hertling's Doomsday Traps, of which it had been rumored he had many.  She tracked him with her Luger, planning to put him down before he could do any such thing.

Vallnam was still eying the other large red button, thinking it was very interesting looking indeed,  Yet the extinguishers were specifically designed for electrical fires and thus quite effective, and the fire in front of him was put out shortly, and so without further ado he spun around and ran to where Ling and Jacob were to see what he could do to help.  Ling was dragging Jacob along the floor, a thin slick of blood trailing behind him. Vallnam skidded to a halt by her side, his gaze locking onto hers for a single moment. Then with a glance into the inner sanctum, he deftly retrieved his single Thermobaric Grenade from his satchel.  He prepared to pull the pin and throw it inside. At this Ling's eyes went wide, and her mouth opened as if to scream. Fortunately, a small yellow label on the side of the mighty weapon caught his attention at the last possible moment, mercifully.  It read "Thermobaric Grenades are used to destroy entire three story buildings or their equivalent.  Avoid using indoors unless you wish to die along everyone else within three hundred feet," or something to that effect.

"...Nah..." he said quietly, and gingerly put the Thermobaric Grenade back in his satchel. Instead he pulled out... his Mini Flame Thrower!  Ling raised an eyebrow.  Without hesitation, he aimed the barrel towards the inner sanctum and squeezed the trigger. In an instant, a torrent of fiery napalm erupted from the nozzle, morphing into a sinuous, blazing serpent that coiled its way through the air, devouring the hapless occupants in its merciless embrace. The room erupted into an inferno, its every corner consumed by the relentless onslaught of billowing flames.

"Toast," said Vallnam over the screams of the scientists and soldier as the room was engulf in fire.

"OMG! You stupid oaf!" yelled Ling.  "What if the Robot Force Self-Destruct Computer is in there?!"

"Um, maybe we should close the door," said Vallnam sheepishly, shielding his face from the infernal heat with his arm.  Ling, seeing the utility of not allowing the flames to flood into the main control room, reluctantly slid the Master Key into the lock.  The enormous bronze doors slid silently shut.  She was beside herself as that was likely their last and only chance to to enter the Self-Destruct Sequence into the computer.  "So the earth is doomed after all," she thought with a sudden feeling of overwhelming despair.

Meanwhile, inside the chamber, a bit startled by the sudden blaze, Hanna looked around.  The billowing flames all around her were disorienting, particularly since she was unsure where they had come from.  She turned around to see the portal had been sealed, so there would be no exiting in that direction.  The scientists and Corporal were shrieking and running through the fire with their burning arms flailing helplessly in the air.  The scientist who had been running to the computer bank perished horribly with one blackened hand reaching out towards the button on the computer bank.  She thought it must have been one of Hertling's traps, but wondered how the scientist had managed to trigger it, since he died in a burning heap before making it to the button.  She shrugged and continued scanning the room.  Inside her Duridium armor she felt quite comfortable, actually.  She discovered to her satisfaction that there was no danger of mere fire harming her in the slightest, as the armor was impervious to all forms of energy attacks, hermitically sealed, and had its own internal oxygen supply and temperature control system.  She looked around the room at the burning bodies, computers, Observation Screen, now melting, and purple-hued computer banks, much of which were engulfed in flames.  It struck her all as rather amusing.  

On one of the computer banks which hadn't caught on fire yet she noticed an array of black and white buttons in a checker-board configuration.  This must be, she thought, the panel that the Japanese girl had been looking for.  She walked over to it. Indeed there was a bronze trapezoidal shaped plate above it.  It must be the one!  Unfortunately, she had no idea in what sequence the buttons had to be pressed in order to execute the Robot Force Self-Destruct command.  She was even still a bit doubtful that Hertling would have programmed in such a thing in the first place, as this seemed somewhat out of character for the old buzzard.  Yet, Jacob and his friends believed it was so, and she was willing to believe it was at least possible.  Somewhat concerning was the fact that the black and white buttons were starting to smolder under the intense heat of the blaze.  

"Hello.  Otto.  I don't know what happened," said Hanna into her radio mic, "but zee entire room is in flames, Hertling's men are all dead, and zee bronze portal is sealed shut.  Zee good news is that I have found zee Self-Destruct buttons," she added.  Jacob heard her over his headset.  

He grabbed Ling's arm weakly and groaned, "She found the panel. You have to get in there."  But Ling just stared at him without moving.  She imagined that if she opened the portal the fire would come roaring into the main control room and kill them all.

"Ling, can you hear me over zee radio?" barked Hanna impatiently.

"Yes," replied the Moon Princess.  "I can hear you."

"Good," responded Hanna. "There are only a few moments before zee buttons catch on fire.  Already they are starting to melt.  What do you need me to do?"

"Do you see the bronze trapezoidal plate above the buttons?" asked Ling.

"Ja, I see it," answered Hanna.

"The Master Key is necessary for the buttons to operate. It must be put into the bronze plate, and then the buttons can be pressed.  Without it pressing the buttons will trigger some sort of deadly Doomsday Trap.  The Control Center will explode, I think."

At this, Jacob understood that the Master Key had to be used all along the route to the Self Destruct Sequence.  The Nazis were nothing if not thorough, he thought.  He began trying to push Ling's hand towards the bronze plate that was along the circular rim of the Bronze Portal, but he was too weak to do more than move her arm a little bit.  He sputtered some blood.  She looked down at him, concerned that his wounds would do him in, despite his purple bubble suit's healing powers.

"I'll go in and bring the key to her," offered Vallnam. "After all, my purple bubble suit seems like it might protect me from flames.  I think I can make it.  And after all, it's my fault Hanna is stuck inside the inferno and we're out here."

At this suggestion Jacob reached up and grabbed hold of one of the hanging straps of the Flame Thrower.  

"You don't trust me with the Master Key, Jacob?" asked Vallnam.

"Leave the Flame Thrower here," rasped Jacob, "you don't want Hanna to see you carrying it, do you?"

"Oh, that's a good point, there," replied Vallnam as he shoved it back into his satchel.  While he did this, Ling was puzzling over how they should deal with the young, beautiful and extremely ambitious Nazi Major.  

"Whatever you do," she said, "don't let Hanna get her hands on the Master Key.  In fact, I'll go in myself.  I am, after all, the only one who knows the code. And I have the same purple bubble suit as you, so mine should protect me just as well.  I can do it."

"We'll go in together, then," said Vallnam, with his hand on her shoulder.  They agreed on this and she took out the Master Key and opened the portal door.

Black smoke and flames came billowing out of the inner sanctum, pouring along the ceiling like a malevolent river of seething chaos, casting shadows that danced and writhed eerily all around the entire Control Center. Vallnam was dimly aware that amid the writhing shadows there flitted a dark dog-like shape, like a whirlwind of black smoke streaming from corpse to corpse, each of which was staring into space with an expression of ultimate horror etched into their stark dead eyes.  He shuddered at the recollection of the entity from the outer dark.

Ling scrambled inside beneath the billowing flames, followed closely by Vallnam.  They ran to the far side of the room where Hanna was pointing to the panel, one fist squarely planted on her hip.  Seeing as the black and white buttons were already smoking, and starting to melt, and knowing that the fate of the Earth hung in the balance, Ling was actually extremely nervous.  Her hand trembled as she tried to fit the Master Key into the bronze slot above the panels and she wasted precious seconds unable to steady her hand and get the key into the slot.

Seeing this, and infuriated at the sheer incompetence of her lovely rival, Hanna reached out suddenly to grab at the Master Key.  It was, in fact, vital to her plans that she obtain the key, and this seemed the perfect excuse to do so.  However, before she could, Vallnam interposed his body between them, and turned to Ling saying, "Now, now, darling, just take a deep breath and relax.  You can do this."  Jacob, still leaning against the bronze frame of the portal, conjured a Mental Power that he had learned at Federation Academy, known as "Influence Emotions".  With this he contributed to helping to calm her frayed nerves.  Meanwhile Hanna had been reaching for the Master Key, but could not make it around Vallnam, who held a steady and formidable stance as he rooted himself in front of Ling. Hanna recognized that forcing the issue now was probably a poor choice, and so she relented. With both of her compatriots helping to calm her, Ling took a deep breath, and slid the metallic key into the bronze slot.  The buttons on the panel activated with glowing green patterns on their surfaces.  She recognized the symbols from the deep recesses of her mind, and with an unwavering focus, she deftly maneuvered her nimble fingers across the button array, each press a precise and definitive action. In the span of a few seconds, she reproduced the entire sequence etched into her memory by the long forgotten Modroni who had sent her there.  It was as if the buttons themselves were but extensions of her will.  

They all watched as flickering green indicators across the surface of the computer one by one turned yellow then red until the entire panel was illuminated by tiny flickering red lights.  Then the computer began ticking loudly as a metallic strip passed across a grooved track, while on the Observation Screen the fifty blips that signified The Phalanx on its way to Earth one by one turned gray.  After ten seconds there were fifty gray blips on the screen.  At the top of the screen the following words appeared.   



At that moment one of the computers burst into flames, shattering their brief sense of giddy triumph with a renewed realization of the extraordinary danger they were all still in.  Ling stuffed the Master Key into her side pocket and they scrambled out of the Inner Sanctum as the remaining computers began to explode with showers of sparks and shards of searing metal.  Once outside, Ling sealed the door shut.  They looked at each other with expressions mixed with jubilation, and anxiety.  After all, they had stopped the Giant Doomsday Robots, and thus saved the Earth, and Eisenhelm from utter destruction, but they were still surrounded by innumerable dangers, not the least of which was Hanna, who now lusted for power greatly, and would stop at nothing to obtain it.

"Let's get to Hanger B," said Vallnam to Ling, "My technicians are working on repairing the UFOs to get us out of here!"  As he spoke he felt the power of the Empress of the Elthos Tarot began to fade, and after a moment of dizziness he no longer felt so highly tuned and optimized for physical combat, but at the same time it was a relief to notice that his mental capabilities were also returning.  It occurred to him that he could no longer understand German, and so he used his Mental Power of Knowing Languages to instantly learn perfect German again.  He looked over at Hanna, who had come stalking out of the fiery sanctum glaring slyly at the three heroes in their purple bubble suits. 

Hanna was then distracted momentarily by the voice of Karl Hoffman which broke in over her headphones.  Ah yes, she almost forgot in all the excitement the scientist whom she had left in the Pillbox to try to distract the Obliterator Robot with the Doom Spheres and watch over her prisoner.

"Frauline!  Frauline!" he shouted excitedly.

"What is it, Herr Karl?" 

"Zee Obliterator has stopped moving!"

"Be careful," she replied.  "It might activate again.  Keep your eyes on it.  Where are the Doom Spheres?"

"I sent them down the tunnel towards Cavern 8 as you ordered, Frauline," replied Karl.

Hanna now knew for a certainty that all of the Robots, both the Phalanx of fifty and the Ten Obliterators had been under Hertling's Command.  It looked like the Oriental girl had pulled it off after all.  She allowed herself a moment of glee as she thought about her next steps towards Supreme Command of Eisenhelm.  All she needed to do now would be to obtain the Master Key, avenge Lieutenant Wagner by killing the three traitors Melitta Reich, Admiral Ludendorf and General Hertling (all of whom, as we know, had already been killed by Jacob and Vallnam, but she did not know), and then defeat the monstrosities released from the Science Centers, whatever they were, then quell the Nazi Civil War, and take ownership of the UFO fleet and Shadow Hawk.  Piece of cake!  

She radioed her Commandos to ensure that Karl kept his eyes on the Obliterator, while her prisoner was secured and escorted inside, which he was.  Now she felt at the height of her powers as she issued orders and contemplated her bright future.  Out of the corner of her eye she watched Ling's movements carefully, a thin smile hovering over her lips.

And that is where we left things that night.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

WoAF - Game Session 53

Major Hrodwulf
Major Hrodwulf, the inimical Nazi commander, fixed his gaze upon his arch-rival Major Hanna Schiller, with such a seething revulsion that it teetered on the brink of full-blown insanity. She stared back at him with her steely-blue eyes riveted to his forehead... the target of her next bullet should these negotiations break down any further.

Hanna felt quite convinced that Admiral Ludendorff (whom she did not know had already been killed by Jacob) was in the process of escaping the doomed Nazi Moon Fortress, Eisenhelm, with that conniving witch, Melitta Reitsch, (whom she also did not know had already been killed by Jacob) in Shadow Hawk, the mysterious spaceship the Nazis had discovered hidden in a secret sublunar hanger months earlier.  "If the leadership is going to be so disgustingly craven," she thought to herself, "then why should the rest of us be fools enough to sacrifice our lives for... for what?  So they can escape and we all die?  Never!"  

As it happened Hanna's assessment was perfectly valid.  Not only had Ludendorff and his little trollop Melitta conspired to flee the moon in Shadow Hawk, but General Hertling had also been in on the plot. The three of them had been on the verge of fleeing Eisenhelm.  After all, once Captain Helmund had triggered Plan Delta-Z, the moon fortress was certain to be destroyed by Hertling's Doomsday Robots, the Obliterators, just as earth was doomed to be annihilated soon afterwards by The Phalanx.  Hitler's ultimate revenge against all of humanity could not be stopped.  And therefore the three villains had decided the only logical thing to do would be to escape using the alien spacecraft.  Of course Hanna did not not know that General Hertling had also already been killed by Vallnam, either. And so her plan had been to take her squadron of Commando Elites to battle their way by any  means to Shadow Hawk before the Petty Triumverate could take off, leaving Eisenhelm to disintegrate behind them.  She so desperately wished to kill Melitta with a bullet to the heart she could taste it, thus avenging her one friend in Eisenhelm, Lieutenant Wagner. who happened to have been one of the very few actual gentlemen among the Nazi command elite, and who had been gratuitously shot dead by Melitta on her way to meet the two Great Commanders.  After she avenged herself on Melitta, the Admiral and General would be forced to accept her as their pilot. If not she planned to kill one or both of them without hesitation.  She cared nothing for anyone who might stand in the way of her escape at this point.  She was going to live, and escape with her prisoner, and that was absolutely final!

And yet, since meeting Jacob, her plans had suddenly changed. She now believed it was somehow possible to terminate the Robot Force and stop the evisceration of Eisenhelm. If that could be done, then she planned to find and kill the three villainous traitors in Hanger B where Shadow Hawk was secretly stationed.  Once that was completed she would take the Master Keys from their dead bodies and assume control of Eisenhelm by any additional means necessary.  That was her new plan.  And all it would take would be to gain entrance to the Command Center C3-DZ-A1 and enter the Robot Force Self-Destruct Sequence into the computer within.  And for this she needed the cooperation of a few unexpected purple-suited strangers, doubtless from an ultra-secret parallel command hierarchy hitherto unknown to her.  They had a Master Key, and they claimed they knew the Self-Destruct code.  How hard could it be?  After all she had eight crack Commandos and one of the more brilliant scientists from Science Center 7 with her.  She anticipated victory with relish.  Finally Eisenhelm would be hers to control and command!  Now she just had to make sure that nothing got in her way.

She stared at Major Hrodwulf, his sneer exuding a fantastic level of revulsion and hatred.  She returned his glare with a gaze equally full of utterly ferocious contempt.  What a outrageously stupid fool he was!  Did this arrogant little lapdog of Hertling dare impugn that she, the young, courageous, and utterly gorgeous Hanna Schiller was was his superior?!  How dare he?!  It was intolerable! She felt an overwhelming urge to shoot him between the eyes.  And she had just the weapon to do it with, despite his Class-2 Armored Suit.  Her Lugar was not an ordinary model, but in fact was a specially crafted pistol given to her by the scientists of Science Center 7, now deceased, when they gave her the experimental Duridium Armored Suit.  It came with several magazines of experimental Duridium-capped bullets.  She had been looking forward to an opportunity to try it out.

There was, of course, another matter tickling the back of Hanna's thoughts as well.  Not far down the tunnel outside Pillbox C3-PB-A1 thundered Obliterator Robot #5.   Having just destroyed the Military Headquarters in Cavern 7 it was now lumbering its way down the tunnel towards their position.  It could at any moment let loose with a massive scarlet Plasma-Ray from its cyclopean eye. Such a beam was capable of boring through solid steel in a matter of seconds, and she had no doubt that it could disintegrate the Pillbox with a single blast.  If it wished it could bore a hole straight through the Pillbox doors directly into the Command Center, which of course would mean the instantaneous incineration of them all.  To do this, however, it would need to bore a straight line down Pillbox entrance tunnel, and so it would take extra time for it to get into position in order to do so.  But one thing was certain -- at any moment a blinding red beam could put an end to all of her glorious plans.  Consequently, time was precious, and the sneering Major Hrodwulf had just presented himself as someone in whom she could place little confidence as a negotiating partner.  Her lips curved upwards at the corners, forming a vicious little smile that hinted at the dark thoughts lurking beneath the surface.

Meanwhile, Vallnam stood up inside the elevator.  He adjusted his machinegun, lowered his visor, and prepared to pressed the "up" button on Ling's command.  The shadowy dog-sphinx next to him sat motionless, staring with its infinite black eyes at the elevator door.  In his left hand Vallnam held his Elthos Tarot Card, the Empress, ready to "play" it just before the elevator door opened.  The Power of the Empress should, he believed, give him enhanced reflexes, although it was also likely to cause a notable decline in his mental acuity as that was purportedly the negative aspect of the card.  He gazed at the the Empress's beautiful image.  She looked uncannily like Moon Princess Ling, he thought with a little extra pitter-patter of his heart.  

"Frauline Hanna!" crackled over Hanna's headphone.  It was the scientist-medic, Karl Hoffman, whom she had left behind in the Pillbox to look after the prisoner as her Commandos made their way through the airlock and into the Control Center.

"I'm busy!" she barked as she turned to face Major Hrodwulf head-on.  Her armor was fantastically capable of warding off all manner of attacks, but it was not nimble.  It would take her a second or two to position herself properly. 

"Zee Obliterator has shot three of zee Commandos off zee ladder!" shouted the scientist excitedly.  "It is almost at zee Pillbox now!  I vill try to use zee Doom Spheres to distract it!"

"Draw it avay from zee Pillbox!" she commanded him in a low voice as she stared into Hrodwulf's glaring eyes.

"So, Major," she said, "you think I'm disloyal, do you?  So be it!" 

She pulled the trigger of her Luger SC-7 Special.

Fortunately for Major Hrodwulf, however, he was a crafty old salt, and he was very well aware that he had just provoked his young beautiful rival to the point of rash action.  At the last moment he shifted his bodyweight, causing her shot to miss his head by a fraction of an inch.  He pulled the trigger of his own Luger and took a shot at a spot between her beautiful blue eyes.  However, and quite unfortunately for him, the bullet simply ricocheted harmlessly off the armor's diamond-glass faceplate.  He had certainly not expected that, Hanna gloated to herself as she observed his surprise.

As soon as the first shots were fired, Ling radioed Vallnam, whispering, "Firefight! Come up!"  

With that, the stalwart pressed the indigo-colored "up" button, and the smooth gleaming white elevator began its ascent.  It would take five seconds.  He felt the shadow-sphinx stand up, readying itself to leap into the room, but he did not look.  He shuddered as a cold chill went down his spine.  The horror of the outer darkness devouring the souls of the recent dead was something he felt it was probably better not to see.  It was a fate no living creature ought ever wish on another, that's for sure.

As the elevator rose, he "played" the Empress card. Its subtle glow suffused into him.  He suddenly felt extremely light and agile, but his mind seemed to fog over, and his thoughts became single-minded, focusing on the coming battle.  He slipped the card back into his pocket as he took note that his "Mighty Eyes" power was diminishing, and his vision of the shadow-sphinx was rapidly fading away.  Its Anubis-like head, shrouded in a dark smokey mist, was the last he saw of the nightmare-horror as it faded completely from his sight.  He knew, however, that the monster would leap into the room along side of him as soon as the elevator door opened, and it would devour the souls of those who died there, including his own, should it come to that.  He shuddered at the thought and a cold sweat dripped down the back of his neck.  This would not be a good day to die, he thought.

Hanna strode directly towards her target as she took three more shots at Major Hrodwulf in rapid succession.  His armor was designed to absorb a good deal of damage, but her Luger SC7's Duridium-capped Bullets easily punctured holes through the woven steel-fiber mesh.  He was driven backwards, his suit punctured with three crimson spots.  He was badly wounded, but not yet dead.  As he stumbled backwards three of his soldiers turned the corner of the computer banks and began shooting their machineguns at the invaders.  Hanna turned towards them and stepped into the line of fire to cover her men.  Bullets bounced off her armor with a profusion of glinting sparks and flashes. Nevertheless, one of her Commandos was hit, and he went down to the ground, his hands grasping in the air at nothing.  And so the gallant Commando, Fritz von Eisenhelm, perished in the heat of battle.  

Hanna strode steadily forward, signaling her Commandos to open fire at the armored soldiers as they ran to positions where they could gain line-of-sight.  No one had been expected a firefight to break out so suddenly and so the soldiers had been caught completely by surprise.  The Command Center was suddenly ablaze with machinegun fire.  The Commandos concentrated aim on Hertling's soldiers as they came into view.  Bullets ricocheted off armor plating with a cacophony of sparks, but the concentrated stream took two of the soldiers to the floor, one dead, the other badly wounded.  

Hanna stood front and center, taking the incoming barrage at point blank range.  Her Duridium armor was practically impenetrable, however, and every bullet that hit it merely sparked as it ricocheted off at random angles around the room. The Observation Screen tracking the Phallanx Force on its way to Earth was hit several times, and a spiderweb of cracks appeared across its surface.  Hanna, bullets sparking harmlessly across the surface of her armor, admired herself greatly, and grinned fiercely as the firefight erupted around her.  Yet, Hrodwulf had not been disposed of and still presented a considerable threat.  Hanna was quite familiar with the kinds of diabolical tricks he might have up his sleeve.  

Ling was hidden in the shadow of the Pillbox doorway waiting for her chance to sneak in and start searching for the checkered panel into which she must enter the Self-Destruct code.  There were numerous large mauve-colored computer banks throughout the Control Center, but she had no idea where the Self-Destruct panel was located.  She only knew in her mind's eye what it looked like.  Twelve black and white checkered buttons and a small bronze trapezoidal plate above them.  She scanned the computer banks that she could see from her position but none of them had any panels that looked remotely like it.  

Meanwhile, Jacob, still seriously wounded, but healing rapidly with the help of his purple bubble suit, crawled out of the Pillbox and came to where she was.  He glanced back over his shoulder at Karl, the scientist-medic who was using a small remote control to guide the Doom Spheres around the feet of Obliterator Robot #5.  Occasionally the Obliterator would release a barrage of machinegun fire from its shoulder-mount, but the Doom Sphere had skin that was infused with the same Duridium infused in its own armor plating, and so such weapons had no effect whatsoever.  Bullets simply sparked harmlessly off of their surfaces.  Karl knew, however, that soon the Obliterator would observe this fact and its choice of weapons would drastically change, and at that point all hell would break loose in the tunnel.  But how long would that take?  He couldn't guess.  

Jacob then looked over to the prisoner in the yellow spacesuit, whom Hanna had taken pains to bring with her from the military complex in Cavern 8.  Jacob figured there must be something special about him, but he couldn't imagine what that might be. He waved the man over, and seeing this the prisoner pulled himself along the grated floor and made his way to where Jacob and Ling were secreted.  Through his yellow helmet visor Jacob could see a gaunt face with tawny eyes and a beard peppered with gray.  He wondered who the man could possibly be.  There was something almost familiar about him, but there was no time to find out anything.

Hanna strode to a position directly in front of Hrodwulf as he tried to pull himself up from the computer console he had fallen backwards onto.  He intended to take another shot at her with his Luger, but she shot him straight through the faceplate, penetrating his forehead with a Duridium-capped bullet.  He fell backwards with a look of supreme shock and hatred in his eyes.  And that was the end of the arrogant Major Hrodwulf and all of his grandiose plans.

At that moment the elevator door slid silently open, and out sprang Vallnam with his machinegun blazing.  He saw soldiers scrambling into the Control Center from a set of open double doors on the west wall beneath the cracked and fritzing Observation Screen.  Bullets were flying everywhere.  The computer bank on his left had been hit several times and caught on fire.  A cloud of gray smoke was rapidly filling the room.   

Vallnam quickly glanced around for Ling.  He spotted her tucked away next to Jacob at the entrance of the Pillbox.  Directly in front of him, however, were a number of soldiers. Two were falling to the ground from the barrage of machinegun fire blazing out from the squad of Commandos to his right.  Others were on the floor, now streaked with blood, and several were running up through the double doors on the west wall.  Hanna stood in a commanding position covering her team, her dark gray armor randomly flashing from bullets as they ricocheted off.  One stray bullet whizzed past Vallnam's head, but he took no notice of it.  He couldn't be absolutely sure who was who in the room, but based on the radio messages he had been overhearing throughout, he figured that the central figure must be Jacob's new ally, the star pilot, Hanna Schiller, and the squad in front of the Pillbox were her Commandos.  

He hefted his machinegun and leapt into the room firing as he ran, every shot hitting its target.  He had the vague impression that a shadow flitted across the room from the elevator to where Major Hrodwulf lay on the ground, but he was not sure at that point whether it was the flickering of lights, or the cosmic horror on its way to its next meal.  He chose to leave the thought behind and focus on the fight.  

"Ratta-tatta-tatta-tatta," blazed Vallnam's machinegun, muzzle-flashes brightly illuminating the area directly in front of him. Bullets bounced off armor the plating of Hertling's soldiers, but his aim was perfect, and as a result several bullets landed on the same exact spot, and so more Nazi soldiers fell to their doom.  The defenders were now being attacked from two sides.  

Nevertheless, through the double doors along the south wall more soldiers charged into the room, machineguns blazing.  They focused fire on Hanna, but their bullets merely sparked harmlessly as they bounced off her armor.  Behind her several more Commandos hustled in from the Pillbox to join the squad, and opened fire.  Hanna ordered her men to take cover behind the computer banks while she moved toward the center of the room.   As she strode forward she aimed her Luger at one of the incoming soldiers and took him out with a single shot to the head as he cleared the door.  The armored suits they wore were no match for her SC-7 Special's Duridium-capped bullets.

Vallnam kept a steady stream of fire as he moved, taking out two more of the soldiers, as others came charging through the double doors.  His movement was fast, and his reflexes super-accelerated, and so none of the defenders managed to get a bead on him.  Hanna ran to position where she could see through the double doors to get an idea of how many more soldiers were coming forward from the interior.  Five more were entering in from a side room.  She felt no fear of the machineguns at all.  She smiled grimly as they rushed towards her.

"Fredrich!" yelled Hanna to one of her Commandos, "Vee need a grenade into zee room!"  Fredrich grabbed a grenade from his satchel and ran forward, covered by fire from the other Commandos.

Vallnam decided that Hanna had things under control.  Between the burning computer banks he darted to get to where Ling was still hiding.  Foremost on his mind was protecting her as she made her way among the computers to try to find the panel into which the Self-Destruct sequence had to be entered.  She had been trying to spot it, but none of the panels she saw looked anything like it.  However, she wasn't about to go running into the fire fight, so she had stayed where she was, waiting for the coast to clear.  Vallnam took up a position next to her and Jacob and waited.

Meanwhile, several of the Commandos had been wounded.  One took a bullet to the throat, and went down gurgling.  Fredrich, her top man, had zig-zagged between the burning computer banks and made it to Hanna.  She covered him as he threw his grenade through the door.  It bounced along the floor and stopped just inside one of the side doors along the south wall. There was a terrific explosion and down went the soldiers within, with two of them hurled forward into the Command Center already dead.

The Commandos had little trouble taking out the remaining soldiers and the battle ended as quickly as it had begun.  Hanna flashed a glance over towards the Pillbox entrance.  She had not forgotten about the Obliterator in the tunnel outside, or her prisoner.  But still, she needed to make sure the Command Center was secure.  Looking around she realized that the scientists who had been operating the computers had scurried away as soon as the battle began.  As they were non-combatant scientists they had been completely ignored, but Hanna thought they had fled out through one of the doors on the east wall.  Meanwhile the room was filling with smoke and it was getting hard to see.

"Jacob, let's shield Ling while she searches for the control panel," said Vallnam as he shot the last of the wounded Hertling soldiers in the head to put him out of his temporal misery (and consigning his soul to the eternal torment of the cosmic horror that had entered the chamber by his side, but Vallnam's mind had been dulled by the Empress, and he had forgotten that salient fact in his zeal for victory).  They began to hustle Ling from computer bank to computer bank, but none of the ones near the Pillbox had the panel she was looking for.

One Commando was dead, and one was wounded, and three had been killed by Obliterator #5.  That left Hanna with three healthy Commandos.  She was not pleased at her losses.  Meanwhile, several computers were on fire and the Observation screen was badly damaged, and slid from its mount on the wall, falling halfway to the ground before being stopped by its cables.  Although there was a lot of static on the screen she could nevertheless still make out the red blips and dashed lines that represented the Phallanx, the fifty Giant Nuclear Missile Robots, on their way to decimate the Earth with their arsenal of 500 megaton cobalt-encased weapons of absolute extinction.    

"Karl," said Hanna into her mic, "how are things going back there?"

"Zee Doom Sphere's are distracting zee Obliterator, but it vill not last much longer I'm afraid, frauline."

"I need you to get back here with my prisoner! Can zee Doom Spheres climb up zee ladder from zee tunnel?"

"Nein, Frauline, but they can hover briefly over zee ground" reported the last remaining SC-7 scientist.

"Order them back to Cavern 8 and get in here.  Close the Pillbox door behind you."

"Vat about zee Robot?" questioned Karl at risk of infuriating his young commander. 

"It vill follow zee Doom Spheres?" she wanted to know.

"Vat if it does not do so, Frauline?" asked Karl.  "Perhaps, it would be better for me to continue distracting zee robot with the Doom Spheres.  It is possible I may be able to lead it down zee tunnel by taunting its sensors!"

"Ja, but if it seems like it is not working, then come to zee Control Center and seal zee doors behind you," ordered Hanna.  He went back to working the Doom Spheres.

Hanna marched through the double doors on the west wall, Lugar in hand, and found a wide corridor, about sixty feet long.  There were another set of double doors at the far end, and another opening covered with a plastic sheet on the north wall.  Two wide openings on the south wall lead into a large empty room scattered with debris from the grenade explosion.  There were a number of dead soldiers scattered across the floor. She was reasonably sure that no more soldiers were there.

As Hanna examined the corridor, Ling, Vallnam and Jacob were inspecting each computer bank, looking for the panel.  Ling described the panel to them, but they didn't see any that had anything like the configuration she described: A series of black and white checkered buttons with a small trapezoidal plate above them.  

Hanna came back into the Control Center and issued orders for her men to hunt down and kill any remaining Hertlingians in the complex.  Two Commandos checked a doorway on the north west wall.  Inside they found the kitchen, pantry and dining area.  There was a cook, now deceased.  Other doors lead into a power station room, and storage room.  On the south wall was a large circular door made of solid bronze.  Hanna eyed the door suspiciously.  Suddenly a crackling sound was heard, and as she turned Hanna saw another computer bank explode.  The upper half of the machine was engulfed in flames, and sparks showered the room.  She ordered her men to ignore the fire and continue the searching the premises.  

Seeing that the fires were spreading across the computer banks Vallnam glanced around looking for fire extinguishers.  The Power Station room seemed like a good bet. Suspecting more fires would break out there, he politely asked his purple-bubble suit to afford him some extra protection against heat, and dashed through the doorway.  Within he found one of the scientists cowering in a corner.  He had been separated from is peers by machinegun fire, and had taken refuge behind one of the heavy steel converters.  Seeing him, Vallnam pointed his machinegun at the gaunt little man in the white lab coat, and ushered him out into the Control Center where Hanna took charge of him.  

One of the Commandos investigating the storage room shouted that he found another door.  However, before he could complete his sentence there was an explosion and the Commando was hurled through the doorway, his armor shattered.  He died as he skidded to a stop below the main Observation Screen.  Hanna was down to two healthy Commandos, and one wounded.  She grimaced at the thought.

Inside the power station room Vallnam found a small rack of fire extinguishers and grabbed one.  He ran outside and began extinguishing the largest of the electrical fires.  It was spewing out a great deal of smoke and so visibility in the Control Center was rapidly diminishing.  At that moment a control box on the ceiling exploded with a shower of sparks and the overhead lights flickered out.

Hanna interrogated the scientist who had emerged from the supply room with single-minded ferocity. 

"What happened in there?" she asked coolly, pointing to the storage room where her Commando had just sacrificed his life.

"Things are exploding!" said the scientist, fearfully.  "Look around you!  Zee whole complex is going to be destroyed!  Vee are all going to die!"  he bellowed loudly.  

"Where did the other scientists go?" she demanded with a hiss.

"They vent to their deaths, like good scientists!" he shouted at the top of his lungs.

She grabbed his left hand and with a violent twist broke one of his fingers.  This caught the scientist's attention, and now he was suitably convinced by her brutal gaze and the searing pain shooting up his arm that the young and beautiful Major would torture him without hesitation or mercy for answers, and so his morale instantly collapsed.  He spilled out anything she wanted to know after that, and divulged that the other scientists had escaped through a secret tunnel that was accessible through a secret door in the conference room which could be accessed through the Power Station room.  

As he was struggling to put out the Control Center fires, Vallnam discovered a large red button under a small transparent dome on the computer bank he was spraying.  He wondered what it was for.  He had the notion that it was probably an Emergency button of some kind but declined to break the glass and press it on the grounds that he had no idea what the Nazis might consider a suitable response to an emergency.  He thought it safer to leave not-nearly-well-enough alone.  

"Weren't you people supposed to stop the Robots?!" demanded Hanna with a stomp of her boot. "Why the hell haven't you stopped the Robots, yet?!" she thundered at Jacob, who at the moment was hobbling forward with Ling at his side helping him along.  Hanna had just lost five of her eight Commandos in less than a minute and she was quite a bit beyond "extremely angry".

Hearing this, and realizing that Jacob was not in any condition to argue with the overwhelming young Major, Vallnam shouted back over his shoulder.

"That's what we're doing now, so why don't you shut your trap and help us find the button panel we're looking for?" he yelled over the commotion.  The room was loud with groaning, electrical explosions, and popping, sizzling, crackling computer fires.

"What damn buttons?!" she yelled back.

"We're looking for a panel array of black and white checkered buttons!" said Ling.  

"You!" Hanna shouted at the captive scientist, "Where the is the damn button panel?!"

The scientist wet his pants as he pointed to the large circular door on the south wall of the room.

"Alright, we need to open to this door!" she shouted.  "What happened to the Master Key?"

"I have it," said Ling.

"Over there!" Hanna yelled, pointing to the bronze door, and with this Ling ran forward, followed closely by Jacob who hobbled as quickly as he could behind her.  She took the Ludendorf's Master Key and slid it into the thin slot of the bronze trapezoidal plate next to the door.  As Jacob came up, there was a hiss, and the heavy bronze center-opening doors slid apart, revealing an inner chamber through the circular portal.  It was dark but they could make out an octagonal shaped chamber, filled with whirring, blinking computers.  Before they could take any further action, however, there was a burst of machinegun fire from within!  

Obliterator #5

And that is where we left things that evening.