by Martin Maenza
The signal led Gizmo toward the hills twenty miles outside of San Paolo. He was rather pleased that the signal grew stronger as he got closer. “A good sign,” he said to himself. “Means Leon’s still alive.”
For the last half-hour as the cycle flew, he kept going back and forth in his mind as to why he was doing this. His mind kept going back to something that Dr. Harleen Quinzel had said to him during their sessions together. “You turned to machines because people in your life failed to live up to your expectations,” Harleen had said. “Maybe if you gave people a chance, you’d find that maybe they were worth the investment of your time.”
Gizmo had to admit that the doctor’s point had some merit. When he worked with the Fearsome Five, he viewed it all as strictly business. He didn’t really care one way or the other what happened to any of those folks. But with the Secret Society of Super-Villains, it was different. He felt like he was making some friends. And maybe that’s why he was going out of his way now to find Trident. Even though he’d only known the man for a few months, he was starting to think of Leon Ramsey as a friend.
The signal led Gizmo to a hidden base in the hills. He did a very high-level pass with the sky-cycle, enough to get a brief look at the layout. Then he landed the vehicle in some deep brush about a half-mile or so away. If his plan was to work, he’d need to keep his arrival a secret.
Using his jetpack, Gizmo made his way back up toward the base. I have to get myself inside for this plan to work, he thought to himself as he approached the fenced perimeter. His telescopic lenses had spotted security cameras about the area; he’d need to fake his way past those. And I’ve got just the thing.
Touching a device on his wrist under his glove, the dwarf’s appearance suddenly changed. Now he appeared to be taller, clean-shaven, and dressed in a gray-blue uniform like those of the men he’d killed back at Hawkes Industries. The image-makers were handy things to have around, especially at times like this. He had no idea how many armed men were in this base, nor who their boss might be. Given the level of security and the weaponry, this was a high-tech operation. If he were going to pull off a rescue, he needed every advantage he could get.
The disguised Gizmo worked his way around the fenced area, acting as if he knew exactly where he was going. In truth, he wasn’t completely sure, but tried to avoid having his actions betray him.
Suddenly, a voice called to him. “Hey, where you think you’re going?”
Gizmo turned to where it came from. It was another man in uniform. “Me?” he asked sheepishly.
“I ain’t talking to the night owls!” the man replied. “Are you supposed to be out here?”
“Uh, no, sir,” Gizmo said.
“Well, then,” the man said, “if you can’t find something to keep you busy, we’ll find you something!” The man gestured for him to follow.
Gizmo did as instructed in his best soldierly behavior. The disguised dwarf tried his best not to smile, even though this was exactly what he wanted: an escort right into the complex, past security and all. Once inside, he’d then go about his way trying to locate Trident.
The entrance to the hidden base was through a small building near the hills. The small building served as a checkpoint in security, allowing those with clearance access to a special elevator. The gleaming metal platform dropped down into a large underground facility. Gizmo had to hold his surprise in check as the doors opened, revealing a gleaming, spotless room busy with technicians and other uniformed men.
The men worked diligently on equipment and devices. Others would come and go, scurrying about the side hallways like ants in tunnels. The whole place reminded him of a well-crafted, well-moderated communal force, all working for the betterment of the whole. Whoever the person behind these operations, he was fairly organized and meticulous, based on this first impression.
“Get to the docking bays!” the man ordered him.
Gizmo had been tuning the guy out, but realized now he’d better obey to keep up the charade. The disguised dwarf gestured toward one of the nearby hallways, trying to act confused. Not a big stretch for him, given the circumstances.
“Yes! That way!” the man said, starting to show frustration.
Gizmo nodded and trotted off.
“God, I hate rookies!” The man went about his duties.
Eventually, Gizmo slipped into a supply closet off the main aisle. While he was pulling off the bluff so far, he didn’t want to risk getting caught dressed like one of the men. He jammed the lock in such a way that the door could not be opened easily from the outside. He then touched the image-maker, dropping the illusion. “That’s better,” he said softly. He eyed the ceiling and a vent to the room. “Bingo!”
Scampering up the shelving unit, the dwarf positioned himself under the vent. He pulled from one of the many compartments in his costume a miniature blowtorch. Striking it up, he began to cut away at the air vent’s grate. In a few moments he’d be safely inside the vents, allowing him unencumbered movement about the facility.
Gizmo crawled on his hands and knees, slowly and carefully, through the vents. Each time he neared a grate, he stopped to listen and look. If he were to find Trident, he’d need to take in as much as possible. The tracking system was too large to bring with him, so he needed to rely on this less-technical method. Good thing I’m not claustrophobic, he thought.
After about twenty minutes, the dwarf’s mood started to dip. This is getting me nowhere, he thought. The longer I take, the more time Trident’s in danger. Gizmo could only imagine what this group might be doing to him, given the way he had attacked the men trying to retrieve the stolen goods. The dwarf admired Leon’s attitude and determination. He couldn’t let down a young kid like that.
He approached an intersection in the vents. “Well, might as well just get this over with,” Gizmo said to himself. Pulling out some tools, he loosened the bolts in the next grate, then laid down on his back. Using both feet, he kicked the grate hard.
The metal piece clanged to the floor, followed by the tumbling form of the dwarf. Gizmo rolled with it to avoid hurting himself too badly. “Ooof,” he said. When he rolled over, he heard the click of the safeties from a number of weapons. He had a worm’s-eye view of the barrels of four laser rifles. “Is this Pismo Beach?”
The guards escorted the intruder down to a lower level. The dwarf held his hands on the top of his head as he walked, to appear as cooperative as possible. “You made a mistake breakin’ in here, shrimp!” one of the men said.
“Just wait until the boss deals with you!” another added.
I’m counting on that, Gizmo thought to himself.
They entered another large room. There, bound with his hands and feet to a device behind his back, was Trident. His mask was torn away, and his exposed face looked a bit bruised. Obviously, he had already been roughed up a bit in the short time he’d been held captive. Gizmo tried his best not to get upset. That wouldn’t help either of them now. His lone weapon, his namesake trident, lay on a nearby counter and well out of reach.
A tall figure stood before Trident. The man wore what appeared to be a specialized suit of armor of purple and black with white accents. Gizmo guessed that it probably amplified the man’s strength as well as provided protection from attacks. He could only imagine what else the armor was armed with. Given the appearance of this base, the dwarf assumed it would be fairly impressive. It definitely wasn’t for show. On the table nearby was a featureless white face mask that appeared to go with the armor. The man had long black hair that flowed down his back.
“Boss, look what we found in Section 12,” one of the guards said. “Fell out of an air vent, if you can believe that.”
The boss, one Manuel Cabral, turned to face the intruder. He had to avert his eyes down slightly, not expecting such a smaller man. “Well, well,” he said in a slight Spanish accent, “what do we have here?” He took a step forward, then walked around the dwarf, sizing him up and down. “You may be small, but even the smallest of things can hold great abilities, no? You would have to be very capable in order to get past my security.”
He reached down, grabbing the dwarf by the tunic and hoisted him into the air. “Tell me, muchacho, how did you get past my security?” The man’s dark eyes took on a serious edge to them.
“In my upper pocket,” Gizmo said, knowing that if he reached for it himself, he’d be attacked instantly. “One of your own teleport devices.”
Cabral grabbed the item in question while letting the dwarf drop to the floor. He barely had to examine it a moment before realizing it was indeed one of his own. “I see,” he said. “So, you are a thief, then. And a daring one at that to use my own technology for your purposes. Why did you come here?”
“I came for my friend,” Gizmo said. “When he teleported away with your boys, my only option was to use the same device to follow. I could care less about the device we were stealing. Your boys took it from us. You can have it.”
“Do you even know what the device does?” Cabral asked.
“Anyone worth his reputation in the field of technology knows what Hawkes Industries was up to,” the dwarf replied confidently. “But only the truly gifted know that the device could be further used to exploit the tactical systems which the governments use for their Star Wars defensive systems. With a little work and the right knowhow, one could turn those satellites into his own personal arsenal.”
Cabral’s expression changed slightly to one of admiration. “Ah, I see you are no ordinary thief, are you? You know your business well.”
“A guy can’t call himself Gizmo without knowing his technology!”
The man smiled. “I am impressed. And I will admit, Hazard does not impress easily.”
The dwarf kept a straight expression. In his mind, though, he let the name of Hazard register. He seemed to recall hearing some snippets about someone with that name. The guy was supposed to be a criminal mastermind with a tendency toward high-tech crimes and information acquisition. Given this guy’s base of operations and the small army at his disposal, Gizmo concluded that this indeed had to be the same guy. That just upped the stakes in this game of bluff tenfold.
Gizmo didn’t have any other options, though. He had to go with what he planned, and prayed like anything it would work.
“So,” the dwarf said, “about my friend there. Any chance you might let him and me go?”
Hazard smiled. “I had planned to kill him, after a good bit of torture. I had planned the same for you, but you’ve proven to be both resourceful and intelligent. That will spare your life.”
Gizmo didn’t like where this was leading. “Well, I’d be happy to offer my services to you at any time,” he said. “All you’d have to do is call.”
Hazard laughed. “You are funny, little one! If I wished to do that, I could merely keep you a prisoner here. You’ve seen my operations; you know where my base of operations is. I cannot let that kind of information walk around unchecked, can I?”
“But I don’t know where the base is!” Gizmo lied in his defense. “I teleported in, remember? Using your own stuff. Same with my friend. You could teleport us back out, and we’d never know where we had been. Simple. Right?” The dwarf sank his hands into his deep pockets.
Hazard paused a moment to consider the man’s plea. He rather enjoyed watching others squirm and beg for his good graces. It was one of the perks of having such power.
“Simple, yes,” Hazard finally said, “but not likely.” He tossed the teleport device onto the counter next to Trident’s weapon. “You see, little man, I am in charge here. I make the decisions. I give the orders. I don’t need to take suggestions from others. That is my right.”
Hazard turned to one of the squad leaders present. “This little one will be useful to us as a prisoner,” he said. “Set him up in some quarters, but nothing comfortable. He is, after all, a prisoner.”
Gizmo had been expecting this. That’s why it’s always good to have a back-up plan, he thought.
With a swift motion, he pulled his hands from his pockets and tossed two objects. The first hit the ground near him, creating a huge cloud of smoky darkness. It engulfed those men around him and blocked the sight of Hazard and Trident. Then there was an explosion as the second object hit one of the walls. The blast tore through the wall as the smoke cloud expanded farther out.
“Get him!” shouted Hazard. “Don’t let him escape!” The guards scurried in the darkness to try to find the opening. Hazard turned to Trident, who remained defiantly silent. “We will hunt down your foolish friend! And when we do, I will kill both him and you myself!” The criminal mastermind marched off toward the room exit to assist in the capture of the dwarf.
Trident shook his head. “Nice going, Giz,” he mumbled. “Way to get us both killed. You had to go and play the hero.”
“Shhh,” a voice out of thin air said from behind him. “I’m working here.”
In a moment, the shackling device switched off and released Trident from his confinement. “Giz?” he said, rising from the floor.
“Shhh,” the unseen dwarf said. “Let’s do this first.” Trident felt something on his wrist, and then suddenly his appearance changed. Then, out of thin air, another uniformed guard appeared. “Now, let’s get out of here!”
Trident grabbed his weapon from the table. As he did so, it faded from view. The image-maker’s illusion-casting abilities extended to whatever they held. “Right behind you, pal!” The two hurried out into the hallway and did their best to blend into the troops who were scouring the base for the missing Gizmo.