Chapter Three: The Gathering Of Five

7:27 pm, the same day...

"Otto, I've got to go out for a bit. I forgot something at the University earlier."

Octavius looked up from the article he was reading in a scientific journal. Rosie was standing in the doorway, coat in hand.

"Just make sure not to be gone too long." He said, a half-smile on his face. "This storm is supposed to get worse."

"I'll be back as soon as I can." Rosie said, walking over to him, giving him a peck on the cheek before walking out the door.

Octavius watched her walk out the door, then turned his eye back to the article he'd been reading a minute earlier; it was an article on radiation and its various applications. Nothing he didn't already know, however, and he put the journal down and got to his feet, to go get something to drink.

Then, he heard what sounded like an explosion in the distance. He listened for a second, before dismissing it as, at worst, some kind of accident; a car smashing a light pole, maybe.

It was a lot harder to ignore, however, when without any warning the windows along the South wall of the lab imploded from some kind of concussive force. Octavius found himself blown across the room by the sheer force of the implosion, and he landed headfirst against the wall, momentarily stunned.

My God, what was that? he thought, still lying against the wall, his hand to his head, dazed. He tried to catch a glimpse of the two men who were even now storming the lab, but unfortunately, his glasses had been blown off his face and were lying several feet away.

"There he is!" one of them shouted, pointing towards him. Through the blur that his vision had become, he could see that whomever broke into his lab was in possession of incredible power; one of them seemed charged with electricity, the other was the rhinoceros person.

"Was there truly any need to enter that way?" Octavius asked, getting to his feet. "The door is over there."

"We weren't sure what to expect." the rhino-like man said, taking a step forward. "We've come here for you. We're to take you with us."

Octavius thought on this; if these two men were really who he expected they were, he certainly did not want to go with them. He had to think of a plan.

"Are you, now?" he said, taking a few steps to his left; he needed to get within range of his actuators, in order to call them to him.

"Don't move!" the electrical man shouted, drawing his pistol.

Octavius stood still for a moment, before asking, "Now what would a man with electrical powers be doing with a gun?" He took another step, still trying to find the link.

"I said don't move!!" the electrical man shouted, his gun hand shaking.

"Surely you can't think I'm up to anything?" Octavius replied, trying to keep his voice level as he kept moving. "I'm simply trying to retrieve my glasses. You can see for yourself they're lying on the floor over there. I can't see without them."

The two men looked at each other, before the rhino man said, "Then retrieve them. After that, you're coming with us."

Octavius knelt down to pick up his glasses, slipping them on his face at the same time he had established a connection; even now, his actuators were making their way towards him. But would he be able to get them on before the two men realized what he was up to?

"Wait a minute..." the electrical man said. "Do... do you hear something?"

"Yeah, I hear what sounds like a trap!" the rhino man said, leveling his pistol at Octavius, as well. "What did you do?"

"How could I have done anything?" Octavius replied, annoyed, getting to his feet. "You saw it yourself; I have not moved from this spot."

But even as he said that, his actuators smashed through the upstairs door, startling the two men who were standing across the room.

Unfortunately, this caused the rhino man to accidentally pull the trigger. A small dart struck Octavius in the neck before he had time to move.

"W-What? How did you-" Octavius began, before the tranquilizer took effect, and he fell to the floor, unconscious before he hit the ground. Unfortunately, as they were linked to his mind, the actuators no longer could defend their master, and they crashed to the floor.

It was a moment before the two superpowered assailants looked at each other. The electrical man nodded, and the rhino man walked up to Octavius, picking him up and slinging him over one shoulder. The electrical man paused a moment to leave a note on the desk, before they disappeared from the lab without another word.

--

Rosie returned to the lab an hour later, unprepared for the sight that would greet her when she walked in.

"Oh, God, what happened here?" she wondered aloud, looking around, taking in the destruction around her.

"Otto? Are you home?" she called out, walking further into the room. She had a bad feeling about this.

It was then that she noticed the note that the electrical man left on the desk. With shaking hands, she picked it up, and with every word she read, she became even more afraid.

We have the man you seek. Rest assured, no harm will come over him while he remains with us; but if you come looking for him, this situation will change. Do not come looking for him. To do so will result in his death and your own.

She dropped the note, shaking where she stood. How could this happen!? Just when she thought that the troubles of the last few years could finally be put behind them!

She ran over to the phone, frantically dialing the number of the nearby police precinct.

--

Behind her desk, Capt. Jean DeWolff was startled when the phone rang. It had been unusually quiet today, particularly considering the supercriminal situation gripping the city as of late.

She picked up the phone and said, "Precinct 92, Capt. DeWolff speaking."

"Hello? This is Rosie Octavius, and I have a serious problem..."

Somehow this did not surprise her. God knows that Otto had already been in so many situations since his arrival in the country several years ago.

"What happened?"

"I think he's been abducted!" Rosie said, pacing the floor. "I returned to the lab several minutes ago to find a note on his desk that someone left there, saying that someone has him. They didn't identify themselves in the note, but they said if I tried to find him, he would..." here, she broke off, unable to finish her sentence.

"Can you come down to the station? We'll talk further about this here. I don't know if your line is secure."

"Yes, of course." Rosie replied. "I'll be right over."

She hung up and ran for the door.

--

Octavius awoke several hours later, still somewhat delirious. He tried to sit up, only to find that he couldn't move.

What did they use to knock me out? he thought, fighting to keep his eyes open.

When finally the fog cleared from his mind and he got to his feet, he was startled at what he saw.

In one corner of the room laid an old associate of his, Mendel Stromm, looking as though he'd gotten into a fight before winding up here. He appeared to be only half-conscious, his hands tied in front of him. In the other corner was none other than Carolyn Trainer, who was still unconscious. It appeared as though they had taken her out from a distance; there were no signs of a struggle. In the third corner was a man he did not recognize, with brown hair. His hands were tied in front of him as he sat in the corner, wide-awake and apparently angry.

What the hell are we all doing here? he thought, horrified by what he was seeing. It was strange enough when they were all after just me, but this is obviously not an isolated incident.

Without warning, the door opened, and a man walked in. The man in question was rather old, with thin white hair, and he walked with a cane.

But this was not any old man, as Octavius realized.

"Tinkerer!? What are you doing here?" he asked, confused.

Tinkerer was silent for a moment, before he said, "I did what I had to."

This response made no sense whatsoever. Octavius asked, "Can you clarify this?"

Once again, the old man was silent.

"Explain yourself!" Octavius shouted, frustrated at the man's refusal to answer his question.

"Oh, can't it wait until everyone else is awake?" Tinkerer asked, taking a step back.

"It shouldn't have to." Octavius replied. "You've done enough without holding back the truth from me."

When the Tinkerer once more refused to answer, he shook his head and said, "I do expect an explanation."

He walked over to Carolyn, hoping to get her to wake up. Maybe once everyone was awake, Tinkerer would explain himself.

He knelt down beside her, shaking her gently. It took him a second to notice what appeared to be a small puncture wound in the side of her neck; she'd been shot with a tranquilizer, like he was. That's why she didn't appear to have struggled; she didn't have time.

"You've got a lot of explaining to do, old man." Octavius growled, looking back at the Tinkerer. "Neither of us even had a chance."

"As I intended it to be." Tinkerer said. Was he hearing things, or did Octavius hear a genuine note of regret in the elderly man's voice? "I was desperate, is all. She escaped us once. And you are notoriously difficult to capture. I couldn't take any chances."

Octavius did not answer as he continued to try and wake her up. Finally, Carolyn opened her eyes and said, "What happened to me? Where are we?"

"I don't know where we're at." was his reply as he helped her up. "But as to what happened, I think the old man had better start explaining himself."

Still only half-awake, Carolyn looked around the room, her eyes falling on the mysterious man who sat in the corner across from them. A look of fury overtook her face and her fists clenched in anger.

"YOU!!" she snarled, glaring at the man with a homicidal intensity.

The man stood up and said, "This is not the time or place for this, Carolyn."

She appeared not to have even heard as she ran towards him, knocking him to the ground. It was a moment before Octavius ran forward, pulling her off of the man, trying to hold her back, even as she fought to escape his grip.

At the commotion, Mendel finally awoke fully, catching sight of what was happening.

"I take it these two know each other?" he said, getting to his feet and walking across the room.

"I would assume they do." Tinkerer said. "I'd say they've known each other for a very long time."

"I do not know this man anymore!" Carolyn shouted. "I used to think I did!"

"Perhaps an introduction is necessary." Tinkerer said, sighing. "This..." he gestured to the man who was still on the floor, his hand to his jaw where Carolyn had struck him, "...is Dr. Seward Trainer."

At this revelation, Octavius realized he'd heard of the man before; Carolyn had once brought him up in a conversation. Apparently they had a falling-out years ago. He was her father.

"I told you, this is not the time or place." Seward said as he got to his feet, not looking over at her just yet. "I don't know why I'm here any more than you do, but don't you think we should find out why we're here before you go flying off the handle?"

"DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO!" Carolyn screamed, still in Octavius grip, once more trying to fight her way free. "Do not even presume to think I will let you! I do not know you anymore!"

Seward merely put his hand to his head as he leaned against the wall.

"O.K, now that we're all awake..." Octavius began, trying to stay calm, but not entirely succeeding, "...do you mind telling us WHY WE'RE HERE, OLD MAN!?"

"I suppose." was Tinkerer's reply as he took a seat at the desk in the room. "I must start by apologizing for the way you all had to be assembled. But you must understand that we had no choice."

"We?" Mendel asked, eyebrow cocked.

"Yes. Me and my employer." Tinkerer continued. "You see, about a week and a half ago, we got word of a credible threat to this city. We believe someone is going to try and destroy it."

"Do you know who?" Carolyn asked, still angry. She looked up at Octavius and asked, "And can you please let go of me?"

"Oh, right." Octavius said, releasing her, taking a step back. He looked over at the Tinkerer and asked, "And if what you say is true, why should we help you?"

"I was afraid you were going to ask that, Doctor." Tinkerer sighed, looking up at him, his expression grave. "If you don't agree to help, the entire city will be destroyed, along with everyone in it." A moment of silence. "I believe you are married?"

"Yes. How did you-"

"Imagine for a minute if this city is destroyed." Tinkerer went on. "And not just the city; but most of the surrounding states, as well. None of you would be able to get out in time."

"You can't be serious." Octavius said.

"I wish I wasn't."

"Do you know when this is going to happen?"

"We haven't a clue." Tinkerer replied, his gaze downcast. "It could be tomorrow, it could be two weeks from now. All we definitely know is that it will be within one month."

"One month? And you know this for certain?"

"If I wasn't certain, Doctor, I never would have done this."

"And this is the only way you can find out who's going to do this?" Octavius asked, disbelieving.

"We informed the police already. They mistook it for a hoax." Tinkerer said. "Same with the FBI."

"You honestly expect this to work out?" Carolyn said, glaring over at the Tinkerer. "I mean, you abducted us all and are holding us against our will! If you wanted our help, why didn't you just ask!?"

Tinkerer fell silent at this. He had no response.

"Did you have to go through all of this? Sending out your superpowered mercenaries to capture us all? It seems to be more trouble than it's worth." she continued.

"W-We weren't sure you would help if we asked." Tinkerer finally said in reply.

"Yeah, you're right, maybe I wouldn't." Carolyn said, turning her back on him. "And with him on the team-" here, she pointed towards Seward, who still stood silent in the corner of the room, "-I am most certainly not going to help you now!"

"What if I was to say you two would not even be working together?" Tinkerer said.

"Explain."

"The plan is a simple one: you four will be split into teams of two." he went on. "Two of you would be out in the city, trying to uncover who is behind this; two of you would stay here to analyze the information that the first team has gathered. You two would not be working together."

Carolyn turned back towards him, but that scowl was still there.

"With the four of you, we are sure to bring this plan to a halt. You four are quite literally our last hope." Tinkerer said, desperation in his voice. "Please. We need your help."

For a moment, there was only silence.

Finally, Octavius spoke up.

"I can't say I like this idea." he began. "Or what you did to us. But I'm not one to sit by and watch something like this happen. I'm in."

"Thank you." Tinkerer said, nodding. "Anyone else?"

"I'll do it." Seward replied next. "Not like I have much of a choice."

"I'm in." Mendel spoke up. "I'm not going to watch this city get destroyed."

Carolyn did not reply.

"Dr. Trainer?" Tinkerer asked. "Are you in or not?"

Carolyn was silent for a moment before she said, "Fine. But the minute I don't like what I'm hearing, I'm gone."

"Alright, so that's settled." Tinkerer said, sounding relieved. "Now, there is something I must tell you. This operation is top-secret. Not even the police know we're doing this, and they are not supposed to know. I ask that you remain on the premises while this operation is being carried out. We have set up four rooms down the hall. You will find your names on the doors to your rooms. We just don't want to take any chances with this."

"I have one question." Octavius said. "If I want to make a quick phone call, there's going to be no problem, right?"

"To your wife, I take it?" Tinkerer asked.

"Yes. I don't want her to have to sit around, worrying about me." Octavius replied. "She's been through that enough since we've met. She needs to at least know that I'm alright."

Tinkerer thought on this a moment.

"I can't see why not." he finally answered. "Just don't tell her what's going on. As I said, this is a secret operation."

"I understand that. I'm not going to tell her about this." Octavius said, rolling his eyes as he walked over to the phone, dialing the number and putting the receiver to his ear.

"Please be home..." he whispered under his breath, but after six rings, he knew she must have been out of the house.

"No luck?" Tinkerer asked.

"Nothing. She's probably not home." Octavius replied, shaking his head. "I'll try again later."

But there was another thought that was running through his head.

What if she simply can't answer? What if something happened?

--

What Octavius did not know, however, was that Rosie was home when he called. Had she bothered to look a little harder at the room when she entered, she would have seen that the phone line had been cut.

But she did not know this as she sat on the couch upstairs, worrying about the situation. She had only been home a short while, having talked to Capt. DeWolff about the situation. At the moment, there was nothing they could do but search the city.

--

"Alright, so before we go any further with this, we need to split you up into two teams." Tinkerer said, back at the lair. The motley crew of people that the Tinkerer and his mysterious benefactor had gathered were sitting around a table in another room.

"Don't worry, I've already picked who will be working with whom." Tinkerer replied, upon seeing the look on Carolyn's face as she glared over at Seward. "The first team will be the ones who are out in the field, so to speak. That will be Dr. Octavius and Carolyn."

Octavius looked over at Carolyn, who nodded and said, "I can live with that."

"The second team will stay here and analyze whatever evidence the first team uncovers. That will be Mendel and Seward."

Neither of them replied as they looked over at each other dubiously.

"Wait a second." Carolyn asked, realizing something. "You said me and Otto would be the ones out in the field. That means we're putting ourselves in the line of fire. What am I supposed to use for protection?"

"Heh, I was wondering how to bring this up." Tinkerer said, a crooked smile on his face. "We've come up with something you could use." He walked over to a locked box sitting on the far side of the room. "We actually kind of got the idea from Dr. Octavius over here."

"Tell me you didn't do what I think you did." Octavius said in a dangerous tone.

Tinkerer did not reply as he pulled out a key and unlocked the box.

"Carolyn, I believe you are technopathic?"

"Yes, I am..." she said uncertainly. "How did you know-"

"Your name is in the federal records." Tinkerer said, quick to explain. "All the people in the nation born with superpowers are registered when their powers are discovered."

"You looked through my records!?" she shouted, standing up abruptly.

"I personally did not. Someone else who will stay in the shadows for now; they have access to that sort of thing." Tinkerer replied, slipping the key back in his pocket. "How do you think we assembled you all together? We searched the records for people suitable for this kind of mission. You four came up."

"And what does my being technopathic have to do with anything?" she asked, angered by what she had been told.

"Weeeeeeell... actually, if you could come over here a minute, I could show you."

Carolyn hesitated a minute before walking over to where Tinkerer stood.

"I am going to open the box. I want you to try and control what is in this box." he said, putting his hand to the box.

"Just open the damn box already!"

"If you insist." Tinkerer said as he flipped open the box. Almost immediately, four metallic tentacle-like arms shot from the box, imbedding the claws in the ceiling.

Over at the table, Octavius stood up as well, infuriated.

"You copied my technology!?" he screamed, pointing at the Tinkerer. "You stole my design!?"

"Hey, it wasn't my idea!" Tinkerer replied. "I assure you that your arms are still intact and are in this very facility as we speak!" He turned back toward Carolyn and said, "Can you establish a connection?"

"Of course I can, you imbecile." she snapped back, looking up at the arms, which were now standing over her, on all four claws. Slowly, she lowered the device, so that she could slip into the harness that the arms were attached to.

"My God..." she whispered after the arms were securely attached. "This is... different..." She took one of the claws in her hand, looking it over.

"The design is a little different, I'll admit." Tinkerer said. "The arms are lighter than the ones Octavius built. We thought they would be easier to handle."

"I see." Carolyn said, before falling silent. She looked at the Tinkerer and, almost as soon as she did, an arm shot out, striking him in the face.

"That's for sending your henchmen to knock me out." she growled, looking down at him.

Tinkerer got to his feet, holding his jaw.

"So I guess this makes us even." he said.

"I still can't believe you hijacked my technology to suit your own purposes, Tinkerer." Octavius said, anger still evident in his voice. "When this whole situation is over, you will answer to me for this."

"Sure." Tinkerer said as Carolyn looked back at him and walked over to the table. He followed her back over and took a seat. "By the way, Doctor, you will find your own arms on your bed when you enter your room. We had them brought here."

Octavius did not reply as he sat back down, but the anger was still there.

"Oh, and one last thing..." Tinkerer said as he flipped to a page in the notebook in front of him. "Obviously we can't have you all using your real names in a situation that calls for secrecy. My boss has come up with names for the four of you."

"Aliases? Do we really need to go this far?" Mendel asked.

"Yes." Tinkerer asked. "O.K, so I've got the list here. Carolyn, you've got the alias of Lady Octopus-"

"What kind of alias is that?" she asked, cutting him off. "Kind of obvious, isn't it?"

"Don't look at me; I didn't come up with it." Tinkerer asked. "Mendel, yours is Gaunt."

"Is that supposed to mean anything?" Mendel asked.

"Not really; the boss thought it sounded interesting."

"What a stupid reason." he muttered under his breath.

"Seward, yours is-"

"I am not using an alias." Seward cut him off. "I am fine with my own name. I'll be here, anyways, and no one will know who I am."

"Whatever." Tinkerer replied. "And Dr. Octavius... heh, I think you're going to like this."

"It had better not be anything meant to sound like something out of a bad B-movie." Octavius said, an eyebrow raised.

"No, it's not." Tinkerer said. "Apparently you've been given the alias 'The Master Planner'."

Octavius thought on this, and a wolfish smirk crossed his face.

"The Master Planner, eh? I like it."

"Told you that you would." Tinkerer said. "Any other comments?"

Nothing else was said.

"Excellent." Tinkerer said, closing the notebook and getting to his feet. "That's all I need for now. We'll meet back here at midnight."

Nothing else was said as they all left the room, Mendel and Seward heading one way, Octavius and Carolyn the other.

But when they got further down the hallway, Octavius abruptly turned around and shouted, "HOW could he do something like this? Copying my technology!? What was he thinking!?"

"I haven't the slightest idea." was Carolyn's reply. She continued down the hallway, but she couldn't help but ask.

"I must admit though, the arms could be quite useful to me." She turned around and said, "Why did you never tell me how... how this feels? For the first time in my life, I feel like I could take on an army!"

"Heh, they do have that kind of effect." Octavius couldn't help but reply. "Let's just hope we won't need to take on an army."

They reached their rooms, and Octavius said, "I suppose I'll see you at the meeting tonight?"

Carolyn nodded as she walked into her own room.

Octavius stood at the door for a minute.

I can't believe I'm even agreeing to this. he thought, shaking his head. He entered the room, noticing that, as the Tinkerer said, his tentacles were sitting on top of the bedspread.

At least he was as good as his word. But he better not have modified them.

He walked over to the bed and, almost as soon as he did, the tentacles stood up, the harness slipping over his head. Nothing seemed amiss with his arms, and he sat on the edge of the bed, looking over at a large painting that dominated the far wall.

I can't help but wonder though; why did he have to get us involved?

And who's this man working for?

--

"Well, Tinkerer? Do you think this will go as planned?"

Tinkerer nodded as Silver Sable appeared from the shadows, having been in the room the entire conversation, unnoticed.

"I think it will." he replied, gathering up the few papers that were scattered about the table, placing them back in a folder. "After all, none of them particularly want to see this city destroyed."

"What do you think I was counting on?" was Silver's reply. "Even if they don't want to help, they know they have to; the alternative is worse."

The room was silent a moment before Tinkerer asked, "Do you really think this will work, though?"

"On the contrary, Tinkerer, I know it will work." Silver replied, walking over to the window, opening the curtain partway with a finger. "It has to. I hate to think of what will happen if it does not..."

-To be continued...