Ultima Ratio

The Heart of Winter

The ice world of Kelvin Zero was not as cold as the name would suggest, but it was certainly miserable. The moon was a Europa-like moon drifting around a gas giant, Thomson. The surface was covered in miles of ice, and the interior was liquid water, heated by radioactive elements near the world's core. It was almost completely deserted, save a few automated survey outposts and a very unique structure. Appearing as a dome with an airlock from orbit, it contained far more than met the eye inside. A spaceship with the name Fightin' Feynman took orbit over Kelvin Zero, with four people and their pet inside. There was a woman in a military uniform, a man in a blue sweater and pants, a gray humanoid in a lab coat with glasses, and a gorilla in a gi. Next to them, a translucent blob connected itself to the craft's autopilot.

"This is unacceptable!" Sophia Starr of the Science Corps complained. "You can't keep treating battles like some kind of giant adrenaline high!"

"Yeah, but I had other concerns," Rico Ratio leaned back in his seat. "Like the fact that cyberpunk throwback is still on the loose, and he's got super-weapons that can teleport across the galaxy for all we know."

"I understand your concerns, Rico, and they are valid," Grok bowed his head. "But your style desires much in the way of improvement. Without proper training, an uncultivated mind can bear fruit no better than an unworked field."

"I am properly trained," Rico shot back. "I'm the best field operative that Singulartech has!"

"That assessment is incorrect," Dr. Zeno mused. "You are the second most effective, after CEO Wilson himself. Unlike yourself, Wilson possesses one attribute you would do well to learn."

"That's why we have voted to replace you as leader," Grok nodded. "I loathe to bring you the bad news, but this is a team."

Rico stepped back. "Who's stepping up to command, then?" his eyes went wide.

"I am, maggot," Sophie Starr stepped up. "Now, you will address me as Captain! I am your commissioned officer, and your ass is mine!"

"So you all voted against me," Rico complained. "What are your reasons, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Your lack of discipline and individual bravado was responsible for heavy casualties during the recent operation," Grok added. "As a clade, we are a group of people bound together by common goals and ideas. We must work together. While we have our individual strengths and roles, your ability to improvise is best if commanded in unison with the others. A wise general knows himself as well as his enemy, which you seem to barely know either."

"You have any evidence to back that up?" Rico became defensive. His augmented muscles became tense.

"Yes, I do," Dr. Zeno added. "I have run simulations of the recent operations, from the capture of Doktor Bizarro, to the recent battle on New Alba, if Sophie Starr had been in command. I have factored in estimated threats, hypothetical operations, and unknowns to create ten to the fiftieth power scenarios. Each was repeated a million times, and the statistical result was clear. In the vast majority of those cases, Sophie was the best suited for command, especially given her years of experience in small unit tactics."

"Even you voted against me, huh, Shoggy?" Rico asked the blob.

"Tekeli-li," a pseudopod with googly eyes formed and nodded. More accurately, it jiggled up and down in the closest way an amoeboid nanotech creature could could approximate bobbing a head.

"Hey, I did help them out a lot, and took a lot of hits for them," Rico became defense, throwing up his hands. "And it's not like the soldiers didn't have backups and cortical stacks to back up their minds!"

Sophie walked towards Rico with an angered look on her face. She was reaching for his chest, but decided not to grab him at the last moment. Rico seemed unsure of what exactly was going on. The angry soldier was in his face, preparing to shout something. At the last instant, Sophie pulled herself back and closed her mouth, keeping her aborted rant to herself.

"Just because we can fix death doesn't mean it's easy as just downloading a backup file," Sophie muttered. "Re-synching the stacks of someone who died horribly with a backup can cause plenty of psychological issues. Ever tried remembering your own death? It's pretty damn traumatic!"

"Hasn't happened to me so far," Rico mused.

"Well, you've got a good reason to act cautious, then," Sophie continued. "Besides, you think our bodies are just standard ones? These require a lot of custom modifications the bosses have to personally tweak! So, Ratio, that is why I'm your new commanding officer. We've to a lot of reasons to take this job seriously, and not just some adrenaline high!"

"Yeah, yeah," Rico tried tuning her out. "That all?"

"I'm in charge now, Ratio," Sophie narrowed her eyes, and then yanked Ratio towards her, slightly lifting him off the ground. "Your ass is mine. Now, I like to think I'm a reasonable woman. Everyone here is welcome to do what they want when off mission, but once there's some job, we will all work together to ensure transhumanity can sleep well at night. Am I clear, soldier?"

"Loud and clear, boss," Rico tried to wriggle free from Sophie's grasp, only to have her grip drop him down on the floor.

"Good," Sophie nodded. "Now, everyone, thank you for voting me as your captain. Ultima Ratio's purpose and guiding vision as a clade, the preservation of transhumanity, is a hard one. Our enemies never rest, and nor should we."

Dr. Zeno and Grok began to clap, and Shoggy began to chirp happily. A disheartened Rico Ratio sulked away to his quarters, and sealed his door behind him. His room itself was decorated with bright, tropical flowers, a large and full bookshelf, a personal console, and other amenities. He programmed the room to appear as a beachside resort, with holographic windows showing a tropical coastline beyond.

"Get me CEO Wilson on the communicator," he told his computer. "Display hologram."

A channel to the CEO of Singulartech opened up, and a translucent hologram of a man with a shaved head and suit appeared in his room.

"My condolences on your recent demotion, Rico," he said, bowing his head. "But you need some time to reconsider your tactics and view of the rest of the team."

"The team can't out-vote the current leader without the Big Four's approval," Rico recalled from the group's organizational structure. "Why not just put Sophie in charge from the beginning?"

"I had hoped you would show a bit more restraint and control than you did," Wilson's hologram continued, pacing around the room. "You did well against Bizarro, don't get me wrong, and you helped the Butlerians hold the line. But the Butlerian operation could have been handled better, casualties could have been reduced, and more information about what Sterling had could have at least been found. You're only one man, Rico. One augmented, proficient man, but still only one. There's a reason you're a team, you know."

"Please!" Rico pleaded. "Give me a chance to prove myself!"

"If you prove to be a capable team player over a long enough term," Wilson explained. "You can request another vote for Captain. At the risk of sounding as a hackneyed piece of media, there is far more to rank than just control. When I started Singulartech, as you know, my purpose was to make transhuman technologies as widespread as possible."

Wilson paused for a moment. "To maintain the cover of a corporation, profit was a secondary, but sadly necessary, aspect of that. At least until the economy moved to nanotech post-scarcity, but still. I could have easily turned the world into a cyberpunk nightmare like Timeless Tech is trying to, but I held true to my principles."

"How long, though?" Rico asked, going onto his knees. "How long do I need to prove myself? I'll do anything!"

"Rico, do you honestly think groveling before me will inspire me to trust you with leadership?" Wilson continued. "You're making yourself seem desperate, and desperation for power generally doesn't lead to good things. Remember all those maniacs you fought? A lot of them were desperate, pathetic souls who thought some deranged scheme would bring them instant power."

The holographic Wilson reached down his hand. "Rico, I know everyone can use a hand up now and then," the hologram went right through Rico's hand as he reached down. "Power has countless forms. Technological power, economic power, martial power, political power. Ultima Ratio, like every group, needs power handed responsibly. I know you can stay true to yourself, Rico. You just need more experience."

"I don't have enough already?" Rico replied, pulling himself up.

"You don't have a lot of experience operating with a team," Wilson continued. "When you worked only for Singulartech, you acted solo. We put you in charge due to our initial thoughts, which have now changed. We don't need you to be a rugged individual now. We need you to be a team player now. Taking orders is just a step towards experience."

Rico nodded. "Thanks, boss," Rico nodded. "I'll try to do my best."

"That's all I ever asked," Tom Wilson replied. "Now, I'll be here in case you need to discuss anything else. Joe Wilson out."

Rico pulled himself up and brushed himself off. He began thinking. Even he was wrong, he could still learn how to make it right. Maybe this was a good idea. Maybe it wasn't. Either way, he'd find out soon enough. They had a mission, and Sophie would be in command for the first time. Rico left his room behind him, and faced the others. On the floor, Shoggy was slipping off smaller chunks of itself, multiplying itself through mitosis. The newly promoted Captain Sophie Starr glared at him. A bright look appeared on Rico's face, and he saluted. "Rico Ratio, Singulartech field engineer, reporting for duty, ma'am," he grinned.

"That's what I like to see!" Sophie pumped her fist. "Enthusiasm is always good, soldier."

"Thanks," Rico nodded. "Did I miss anything?"

"Just the mission briefing, solder," Sophie replied. "Dr. Zeno and Grok, you tell him what's going on. I'm going to go get the shuttle ready."

The gray scientist and the martial artist gorilla began to describe the mission to Rico. There was an illegal arms transaction going on, between the notorious White Stars Triad and another group, suspected to be the Esoteric Order of Kelvin. What the crime ring was selling to the warped cult obviously had to be retrieved, or at least identified. They were using a storage base on the moon as their transaction point. They were instructed to take spare ammo with supercooled antimatter particles suspended inside, for fear of a certain entity being involved.

They began to explain it further while in the shuttle heading to the station. "As I am sure you are well aware, Rico Ratio, the Esoteric Order of Kelvin is a hostile religious sect with the strange goal of accelerating the thermodynamic heat death of the universe," Dr. Zeno continued. "They were first recorded in the aftermath of the First Entropian Incident."

Rico recalled the stories. It happened before he was born, and it was reported that CEO Wilson himself had to personally intervene. Some botched wormhole experiment (rumored to have been conducted by the sloppy Doktor Bizarro himself), brought an alien entity into the universe. It appeared as a large blue humanoid, and spoke in a booming voice with a slight Welsh accent. It absorbed on heat and matter, so antimatter particles with the temperature dropped to near absolute zero were its only known weakness.

"They are attempting to acquire an item to summon the Entropian from some Triad dealers," Grok mused, bowing his furry head. "If they are successful, it would be most...unpleasant to deal with."

"Which is why we need to go in there," Sophie mused, pulling a helmet over her hair. "We go in with thermoptic camo and cloaking devices on, find out what they're dealing, and get it. If the Entropian shows up, use those special super-cold antimatter rounds."

"What if that doesn't work?" Rico asked.

"We'll ask you for help, Ratio," Sophie continued. "Now, I need you to give us tech support. Think you can do that?"

"Aye aye, ma'am," Rico nodded. "Ready to give 'em the bleeding edge of science."

"Now that's the spirit!" Sophie nodded, holding her FAMAS.

Electricity danced across Grok's palms as the uplifted gorilla closed his eyes and mentally prepared himself for battle. A gray fog came out of Dr. Karellen Zeno's lab coat, engulfing him in silver armor. The utility fog, a swarm of nanobots, encased the scientist. Out of his lab coat came a scoped, angular pistol. The weapon was a coil-gun, which fired bullets using magnetic force. Rico ensured he had his collapsible longsword and machine pistol. Looking around, Rico realized their pet was missing.

"Hey, where's Shoggy?" Rico asked, looking down with concern. "Last I saw he was undergoing more mitosis than a cancer cell on the bridge."

"He split himself up to help us, Ratio," Sophie tapped the grenade launcher under the barrel. "Part of him is running our ship in stealth mode. Another part's controlling this shuttle so we can slip under their sensors. And there's plenty of parts here."

Sophie lifted up the armor she was wearing to reveal several spare grenades underneath.

"Ah, clever," Rico recalled the benefits of having a sapient blob of nanomachines as a pet.

The shuttle stealthy landed inside the airlock, using the same identification frequency as an automated supply ship. The bulkhead slammed shut behind them, and the air pressure in the hanger began to equalize. Soon, the door to the shuttle opened, and four translucent figures moved in a crouching formation down a gunmetal gray hallway. The cold air in the station bit into their exposed skin, and the thrum of distant machinery echoed down the corridors. The muffled sounds of footsteps in low-noise footwear easily blended into the industrial rhythms.

Eventually, the echoes of voices came from around a bend. Sophie, who had been leading the team, raised her translucent hand, signaling them to stop. The group stopped dead in their tracks as they took cover behind a nearby row of crates and enhanced the echoes bouncing down the hall. The group remained silent as the distant sounds became greatly enhanced by their senses.

"We shall enhance the offer with a new prototype of a Timeless Technologies mind-control chip," came one voice.

"Sorry, pal, but that ain't gonna cut it," came a nasally male voice. "But I like where this is going."

"Then we may share with you some nano-schematics for a new sort of firearm, a submachine gun powered by a micro-reactor," the first voice replied. "Nicknamed the atommy gun. Fires depleted uranium slugs."

"Now that's more like it!" the second speaker said. "For the Timeless Tech chip and the atommy gun, you can have this worthless trinket."

There was the sound of something clattering to the ground. "Enjoy it, you palookas," the second speaker mocked. "Let's jet before these weirdos try sacrificing us to their god."

"The Entropian shall devour this universe, and you have sold us the tool of your own demise, petty thugs!" the first speaker boasted. "Quickly, my acolytes, we must assemble in the wormhole generation room! These thugs must not be allowed to leave here alive!"

It was then the sounds of gunfire ricocheted down the corridor.

"Shit," Sophie muttered. "Guys, here's the plan. Go for the Order first. The Triad goons are secondary concern. Doc, find out what's up ahead!"

"Affirmative," the gray scientist formed a small orb shaped robot from his nanomachines, and cloaked it. The sphere zipped around the bend, and surveyed what was presumably a battlefield behind them.

"The Triad outnumbers the cultists slightly, but the cultists have slighty superior firepower," Dr. Zeno reported. "Entering now would put us directly behind Triad lines."

"You recognize any of the Triad gangsters as a notable figure?" Rico asked. "'Cuz I've got an idea to make some friends."

"These thugs seem low in the hierarchy, and have no notable figures leading them," Zeno reported.

Rico began to slightly modify his thermal and voice projection abilities. He suggested his friends follow certain parameters as well.

"Thanks to a database of stored Triad personalities, we can pretend to be their superiors and pull rank," Rico's translucent face grinned. "And bingo, an even better distraction."

"Not bad, Ratio," Sophie nodded. "Let's do it."

The four ran down the hallway, keeping their thermoptic camo on. They moved fast, jumping over the boxes and consoles between them and their target. They moved over, under, and around everything between them and the giant room in front of them, moving like panthers through a playground full of delicious children. They emerged in a large central warehouse room, with a motley group of thugs holding a random collection of weapons and taking cover behind crates.

On the other side of the warehouse were the Order's cultists, all dressed in dark blue robes with their faces concealed behind cloth masks. In their hands were a variety of powerful weapons. They held wavy daggers, magnetically enhanced crossbows, and atommy guns. A volley of depleted uranium slugs and Gauss bow bolts kept the thugs mostly pinned. The Triads were now cowering in terror as the cultists began to advance, slowly and ominously.

From his cloaked form, a voice that was not his came out of Rico's mouth. "You goddamn bunch of mooks!" he shouted. "Big Lou sent us in here to clean up after you palookas!"

"Or clean all of you up if you don't fall in line!" Sophie's voice and speak pattern was now that of Machine-Gun Molly, a notorious enforcer from New Chicago. "Honestly, you dumb bunch of bastards. Making deals with the Order. You'll do what we say, or we'll ventilate your ourselves!"

"Who the fuck do you think you are?" one of the thugs shouted back.

Rico followed his gangster persona perfectly and shot the offending many in the shoulder. Painful enough to hurt, but not enough to get him to incapacitate him from the fight.

"Your new bosses," the stolen voice of Machine-Gun Molly came out. "Now, on my mark, rush 'em! Or your families will sleepin' with the fishes!"

"Yes, ma'am!" a fearful thug replied.

Ah, an interesting mannerism you are displaying, Dr. Zeno noted over his encrypted radio implant. You show some strong leadership and threats, and they fall in line immediately!

These guys are crooks and thugs, Doc, Sophie replied over the channel. The only way to get 'em to move forward to is put something worse behind 'em.

Sophie fired a grenade from the launcher underneath her rifle. The shell exploded behind the cultists, causing them to take cover from the anticipated blast. Some even ducked and covered like the old time instructional videos told them, but it was not an explosion the grenade carried. Instead, another battle cry resounded from the site of impact.

"Tekeli-li!" the nanotech blob cried out. A Shoggy duplicate, having been compressed into a grenade, was now unleashed on the cultists. Before many of them could realize what was happening, translucent pseudopods grabbed two from behind and yanked them into the creature's transparent innards. They began to dissolve, ripped apart by the shoggoth's nanomachines. Two former cultists vanished into a pinkish fluid inside the creature.

The shocked cultists turned around, spraying their atommy guns and Gauss bows at the hapless blob monster. Their radioactive rounds impacted the outermost layer of Shoggy's skin, killing off nanomachines as they penetrated. Their magnetically launched bolts passed in and out of Shoggy doing little damage. A few cultists tried to rush the monster with their blades, only to end up enveloped within and digested.

"Get 'em now!" Machine Gun Molly's voice came from Sophie's cloaked form. "Fill 'em with holes!"

The mobsters, now having the advantage of a distraction, opened fire on the cultists as they rushed forwards. Ultima Ratio joined in the fight behind the thugs. Grok leapt over a bank of machinery and came down on a cultist reloading his Gauss bow, crushing her like a cardboard box. He extended both of his hands outwards, blasting electrolasers at two targets. Artificial lightning reached out and smashed two cultists in the chest, knocking them down and electrocuting them. He vaulted back over some crates, looking for more cultists to take down.

Dr. Zeno moved forward cautiously and slowly, occasionally taking potshots with his Gauss pistol. A cultist noticed the short, translucent shape and rushed at him with his kris blade. Zeno formed more orbs from the nano-shield around him, smashing them into the cultist's head with the force of a mace. A blast of atommy gun fire struck him, killing off thousands of his nano-bots, and causing the scientist to take cover behind a crate while his utility fog regenerated. The atomic projectiles had most of their energy absorbed by the nano-fog, but what did make it through caused the scientist's frail body to become wracked with pain. While he wracked by agony, Zeno knew it would take some time for his microscopic allies to heal him. So, he began to hack into the station's security sensor feeds, scanning for anything interesting.

Sophie herself charged into combat, firing more conventional grenades and bullets from her rifle as she advanced. Her martial instincts and reflexes, forged in uncounted real and virtual battles, were helping her move forward fast and aggressive. Their "hired help" gave her a wide birth, fearing the reputation of Machine Gun Molly. Thankfully, the thugs were in no position to question the identity of the cloaked team coming to their assistance. They served in their task as bullet-sponges and distractions. Sophie kept moving forwards, becoming a one woman wrecking crew to everyone in her way. She took cover to reload, only to have a lucky shot from a Gauss bow penetrate her cover and her chest. Pulling the projectile out, she began to run self-healing functions from her own implants. The arrow missed her vitals, but she didn't want to walk around with a hole through her chest.

Rico Ratio went around large room in circuitous way. He vaulted up above crates and climbed up on the supports. He climbed up on top of the ceiling using his programmable matter gloves, clinging to the walls like a spider. His experiences doing parkour and adhesive hand and footwear were very useful in the room. He eventually made it too the vaulted roof, handing from one hand and using his machine pistol in the other. Using his bird's eye view of the battle, he began to fire bursts of machine pistol fire at the cultists, selecting his targets on the ground and catching them off balance. The cultists were panicking, wasting their remaining ammo at anything that looked like it was going to move. He was about to pick off a cultist lining up a shot at Grok when he felt himself in free fall. His other hand had been riddled by a stray burst of atommy gun fire, and his left hand burned painfully. Quickly, Rico noticed the man shooting at Grok was almost directly below him, and made a decision. He pulled out his jian, extending the blade, and held it directly downwards. He fell face first on the floor, having his fall only broken by the cultist beneath him. Rico felt several of his enhanced bones and joints sprained and broken, but he would at least be walking away. The cultist below him with the blade through the head wouldn't.

Rico looked around him. He was now immobilized not only by pain, but by most of his body being damaged from the catastrophic fall. He looked around to see that the Shoggy duplicate was now significantly reduced in size, wounded by the atommy gun's radioactive rounds. The nanotech blob was forced to shed contaminated parts of itself to avoid poisoning the whole thing, as well as the actual tissue damage, but of all the beings in the warehouse, Shoggy was the best suited for being a literal bullet sponge. Rico tried to pull himself forwards on his hand, but too much physical damage caused him to stop trying to move. He could see, however, a remaining cultist vanish behind a steel bulkhead with a box in his hands. By the time he had drawn his machine pistol, the door had sealed shut.

Looks like we mopped up the remaining cultists in here, Sophie said over their implanted radios. Any stragglers?

I spy none currently in the entrance or large chamber of this facility, Dr. Zeno reported.

Those who have chosen poorly in which devote their life to have been duly rewarded, Grok said. I refer to the Order cultists. For now.

Hey, everyone, he communicated with the rest of the team. A cultist just headed out that side door with a box. Looks important.

Ratio, can you pursue him? Sophie asked.

That's a negative,ma'am, Rico reported, grunting in pain. He shut off his pain receptors, but his body was hardly responding to him. I took a pretty nasty fall.

Sit tight, Ratio, Sophie reported. Grok and I'll chase the bastard down. Dr. Zeno will come by to assist you.

Rico laid prone, moaning, while seeing Sophie and Grok rush towards the door. Grok slashed the control panel, opening the door right up. Sophie and Grok vanished around a bend, and Rico Ratio moved himself behind cover in case any of the thugs turned on them. Looking up, he saw the familiar transparent form of the gray scientist over him.

Ah, Ratio, see now why bringing companions is a prudent suggestion and statistically improved plan? the nanotech engineer asked. Allow me to facilitate your recovery.

Rico felt Zeno's warm nanomachines fill his body, and the non-responsive limbs start to repair themselves. He wiggled a finger a bit, but stopped. Not wanting to tempt fate, he instead relaxed totally, allowing the doctor to work his microscopic magic on him. He tuned his sensory channels towards hacking, and turned his attention towards the thugs. Easily hacking their online countermeasures, he had them all throw down their guns and lay face down on the ground. Once they were finished there, they'd leave them all for the Sci-Corps to take into custody. Content in how his friends had acted, he decided to catch some sleep on the cold station floor. It would be a while before he could do anything, anyway. The wounded Shoggy duplicate went around and began restraining all the prone Triad thugs.

At that same moment, Sophie and Grok were confronting the last obstacle in their way, a restrained door. Grok blasted the control panel with his hand-implanted electrolasers, but the door remained shut. Both of them had dropped their cloaks by now, to save their remaining energy for any unexpected surprises that may lie on the other side.

"Damn door," Sophie cursed, kicking it in vain. "Here, step back, Grok, I've got another Shoggy grenade here."

The gorilla stepped back, and Sophie unleashed a grenade containing another duplicate of their sidekick. The nanotech creature splattered all over the wall, and began to pull itself together. The quivering mass of gel began to push itself against the wall. It chirped a determined "Tekeli-li!" as it thrust itself against the wall. The creature began to try to rip apart the wall on a molecular level with all its might. Sophie and Grok tried cheering it on. However, it was not enough, until Grok had an idea.

"Shoggy, you are gifted with the ability to create organic gases, yes?" Grok mused.

"Tekeli-li!" the shoggoth chirped as it released its flatulence, and then ignited the gas, creating a brief lick of flame. Several googly eyes formed out of pustules, and looked upwards in slight embarrassment.

"What are ya thinking, Grok?" Sophie asked. "A way to weaken the door?"

"Yes," Grok replied as he reached into his gi. He withdrew a cryo-grenade. "I have little need to carry a conventional gun due to my implants, but I do believe in carrying a small number of these."

He directed Shoggy to back away from the door and away from the blast radius. With a powerful arm, he lobbed the grenade at the door. The liquid nitrogen inside flash-froze the door in a few seconds. Sophie felt a quick chill from the grenade's blast. Grok then directed Shoggy at the door, and instructed him to apply heat to the door. The shoggoth began to excrete to sticky hydrocarbon fluids all over the frozen door. Then, with a spark from within, the nano-blob applied a blistering heat the door. Shoggy moved back to a safer distance.

"Now, Sophie, would you be as kind as to blast the door with a conventional explosive?" Grok mused. "I believe my rudimentary knowledge of thermal material properties shall allow us access within."

"Sure thing," Sophie fired a conventional grenade, and the resulting explosion blasted the door outwards. "Not bad, Grok. Not bad."

"Shall we?" he gestured through the door.

"Let's end this," Sophie loaded a fresh grenade, and charged into the room the cultist had barricaded himself in.

The two entered the room to find something more alarming than a cannibalistic serial killer in a kindergarten. The cultist had opened the box, and attached the contents to a makeshift device that dominated the center of the gun-metal gray room. Icicles hung from the ceiling, as if the room itself was part of Hell frozen over. The strange device had electrical wires and strange hoses connected from all angles. It resembled a pile of scrap metal welded together by drunken art students given access to spare parts. The item from the box, a small blue sphere, was placed in the center of a Faraday cage. Strange blue energy and cold vapors came from the device. All manner of enigmatic energy readings came from it.

The cultist stood in front of the mechanical abomination, cackling evilly. "Behold! The Esoteric Order of Kelvin shall bring our Master into this universe!" he shouted. "Master, I offer my body and heat for you, so that you may bring heat death to the universe!"

A strange, blue glow enveloped the cultist from the machine. The cultist's figure vanished for an instant, and then, a blast of cold gas blew from where the body was. The body of the cultist had been reduced to a completely rigid statue. The body fell to the side, shattering into a million pieces. A deep, slick, oily voice issued forward from the device.

"This was only the first bite of my feast upon this universe!" issued the deep voice in a slight Welsh accent. "Your pathetic civilization will fall like countless others!"

There was a hissing sound, and a quick flash of blue turned Shoggy into a frozen mess.

"Ah, shit!" Sophie muttered. "Good thing I brought cryo-rounds!"

A blast of strange blue energy blasted forwards out of the device. Grok narrowly missed it as he somersaulted backwards, but he felt the cold narrow beam touch the tips of his fur. Only a few millimeters, and it would have hit his skin. He recovered, landing in a crouch, and pulled out a special cryo-grenade.

"I should have been more prepared," he muttered to himself as he lobbed the grenade at the device.

Sophie opened fire with her assault rifle, taking cover behind a console. The kinetic energy it was given was hopefully not enough to cancel out the effects of the supercooled antimatter. A beam of cold struck the console, flash freezing it. The lights in the room flickered, and the blue glow around the device grew more intense. The temperature in the room dropped significantly, chilling Sophie even in her armor. Grok clutched himself as he continued to vault backwards. The air pressure began to drop, sucking everything in the room towards the device. She held on to the now-empty door frame.

"It is no use, friend!" Grok shouted, hanging on for his life from a nearby pipe. "The Entropian has some additional source of power!"

"Wait, power," Sophie mused. "It must be drawing electricity from this room to power the device! Quick, hit the junction boxes!"

With that, Sophie shifted her targets. She began targeting circuit breakers and exposed electric lines around the room. Grok began to fire at the targets with his hand, overloading and blowing out the circuits. Eventually, the suction began to subside. Sophie exhaled, and began shooting her supercooled rounds at the device again.

It was then, however, that Grok's grip loosened. He flew towards the device, stretching out his hands, looking for something to grab onto. As he fell, he tossed his last cryo-grenade at the device. It detonated just below where he was getting pulled towards: the device itself. He looked at Sophie and futilely extended his hands towards her. A look of panic appeared on the uplifted simian's normally stoic face as he was sucked forward. He closed his eyes as he was sucked closer to the machine.

Instead of flash freezing, the device flew apart when Grok smashed into it. The simian's hand shot out of the pile of wreckage, and he pulled himself out with a surprised look on his face.

"Perhaps I should come more prepared for such things next time," Grok said calmly as he brushed himself off.

"Eh, some things, you just gotta play by ear," Sophie shrugged. "Rico was right about that."

"I assume that is the object the Triad had sold to the Order," Grok poked the wire mesh cage with a broken pipe.

"Whatever it is, it's bad news," she mused. "Anyway, that's for the clean up crew to handle. We've also got a bunch of thugs to hand over. They lucked out that it was us who caught 'em instead of their Triad bosses."

Sophie ordered a withdraw of the group from the storage base. Rico Ratio had fully recovered, and internally, he was somewhat satisfied with the new arrangement. As good as he was, even he would make mistakes. As they boarded the shuttle, their scanners picked up a nearby ship, a space yacht registered to a man from Earth. The ship vanished as soon as they made visual contact, and quickly vanished from their sensors. The crew returned to the Fightin' Feynman, informed their bosses about the situation, and awaited orders.