As Ben threaded his way deeper into the labyrinth he began focusing his mind on the dread task that lay ahead. He had to get answers to the questions that were plaguing him, and fast. Just who was Kripovsky, and where did he come from? Ben was willing to bet his bottom dollar that the ugly baldie was a russian, judging by the name. Maybe even a dirty commie, sent by Krusce-what's-his-name to infiltrate the US of A and raise havoc. And who or what were the Scions of the Glacier, and what was their role? Lucilla had given him to understand that they were acting under her orders, but was the truth as simple as that? How did a bunch of ninjas get in on the act? And what was the FBI - a bunch of Washington D.C. jumped up little fascists if ever there was one - up to? With Mustafa no doubt about to raise cain in the machine room, and Amy out of this mess, there was only one man who could come up with the answers. "Lucky I haven't got anything better to do," Ben muttered to himself.
Ahead the corridor came to a T-junction. Ben raised his wrecking bar and stealthily moved up to the corner. Peering around, he saw another length of corridor vanishing into the darkness, but this time there were a number of recesses in its walls. Doors! Ben almost started forward, but then a horrible thought came to him - he hadn't checked in the other direction. What was behind him?
He spun around, and was relieved to see nothing more untoward than a short length of corridor leading to a flight of stairs. The stairs went up only a short distance before turning and vanishing from sight.
Ben was sure that these stairs would take him to the Melheart mansion. Kripovsky and co. were surely up there at this moment, plotting more evil. He almost started forward, but his natural curiosity halted him, and he looked back towards the darkness gathering behind him. What more was there that he didn't know about?
He walked down the corridor, away from the stairs. To his amazement, lights kindled and brightened in the ceiling, illuminating his way. This solved the problem of how he would see - but he was also uncomfortably aware that he was advertising his presence to anyone who might be awaiting him.
Can't be helped, he thought philosophically. He stopped at the first door, a piece of dull metal, featureless apart from its handle. No keyhole, which suggested that Victor, or whoever had built this complex, felt quite secure in his possession of it.
Ben threw the door open and leapt in, screaming like a maniac, wrecking bar ready to deal justice. He came in so fast that he could not stop, and crashed into the pool table that stood only an arm's length beyond the doorway. Collecting the table's edge in his guts, he fell forward winded over the table, banging his jaw hard on a ball, which when he sat up and inspected it, proved to be the number eight.
He got up and looked around. The lamp that hung over the table was swinging wildly from when his bar had hit it, and he had also managed to scratch the otherwise unmarked green. He made a mental note not to mention this to Amy.
The room was deserted, although he was uncomfortably aware that he had probably alerted every enemy or potential enemy - in Ben's experience they were one and the same thing - within a hundred yards. He waited for shouts and the thunder of many feet, but heard nothing. With his concerns momentarily alleviated, he inspected the room, finding three things of interest.
The first was a writing desk, covered in papers. The second was a set of very fine pool cues hanging on the wall. The third was a drinks cabinet.
Ben stared longingly at the latter. Decanters of fine scotch beckoned to him through the partly open doors. He knew that if he gave in he was lost.
'Must - help - Amy', he panted.
Just when he was on the point of giving in, a thought arrived that helped him; Amy was a luscious babe. And he had thought he detected a note of scorching sensuality in the look she gave him before leaving. Was there the hope of a liason with her at the end of all this if he played his cards right?
It did the trick. He was a free man, although he knew that if he stayed too long there was the risk he might have a relapse. He strode to the desk and rifled through the papers. Invoices, receipts, tax statements - this hardly looked like the desk of a man who cared only for his inventions. This was surely the desk of Uncle Albert - which posed something of a puzzle, for Ben had presumed a dark warren such as this to be the preserve of only mad scientists and loonies. Would Uncle Albert not have a palatial office in the mansion proper, with a view of the palm trees of Beverley Hills?
He pulled out the first drawer and found the answer why. Pictures of women - no, young girls - in various stages of undress and flagrantly immoral poses. The man was a voyeur, who found it necessary to hide his shameful obsessions from the probing gaze of society. Ben made a mental note to deliver Uncle Albert into the hands of the LAPD at the earliest possible opportunity, to answer for his crimes. It was for this reason and this reason only that Ben grabbed a big handful of the photos and stuffed them into his pants pocket.
In the second drawer were papers, papers that proved to be import and export licences mostly - but at the bottom Ben found what he was looking for. It was an official-looking document, with the words 'Statement of appointment off Albert Melheart to the Board of Directors of A.D.A.M' at the top of it. He flicked through it and at the end found the signatures of both Albert and Kripovsky. He stuffed this into his by now uncomfortably-full pants pocket.
In the bottom drawer were ledger books, chewed-looking pencils, and other uninteresting things - but also a sheaf of what looked like more photos. Expecting to have his jaded appetite titillated, Ben brought it back to the pool table to view its contents in better light, but when he emptied it onto the felt he found items of considerably greater interest to his job.
The first photo showed a much younger-looking Amy, Lucilla and Uncle Albert, along with a man who was presumably Victor - he looked much like the portrait Ben had seen only a day ago, when he had first received this assignment. The only person he hadn't seen before, either in person or in print, was an attractive-looking woman in her late forties, hand in hand with Victor. This was clearly the girls' mother. Ben had neither asked nor been told anything about her; he could only assume that she was dead. He made a mental note to ask a sympathetic question of Amy, in the hope that it would show off his caring side, given that a successful end to this job would demonstrate to her that he could be a hard-bitten, can-do, no-holds-barred private-eye-type-guy when the occasion demanded it.
The second photo would have made him drop his cigar on the pool table, if he had had a cigar in his mouth. It showed the three Scions of the Glacier. Tiny, Fatty, and, well, the one whom Ben hadn't gotten around to naming yet. And for the first time he began to appreciate the significance of their name. They stood on a barren field of rocks and gravel and moss. Behind them was a dull white mass, streaked with dirt, which rose up to the top of the photo. A crack in the glacier appeared to lead to a cave of deeper blue, and from this crack, a small amount of water could be seen issuing.
Confused, Ben attempted to recall what he knew of Japan. Did it have glaciers in it? Surely not, otherwise they wouldn't be able to grow bamboo and keep pandas. Or was he thinking of China? He gave up on this vein of thought and inspected the three ninjas, who seemed to be clasping their hands together around a lump of something green - a lump of mystorite!
"The plot thickens", Ben murmured. Were the Scions then the source of the mystorite?
The third photo showed an uglier-than-average man: Kripovsky. He stood, wrapped up in what looked like a coat made from wolverine pelts, in front of a bleak, snowswept square. Tiny dark figures could be seen frozen in midstep, and beyond them, high walls leading to a sweep of domes like onion bulbs - what was this? He had seen it before, not in person but in the newspaper - the Kremlin? Ben shouted in joy. Here was what he needed to get ugly-chops locked up for life, for spying on the American people and attempting to reduce their material well-being. As if in preparation for his fate, Kripovsky's face seemed set into lines of grim, festering hatred.
In front of the man were two smaller figures, also bundled into thick winter gear - but they presented a vast improvement to the eye, being slim, young-looking women, with darkly alluring eyes and skin that seemed unaffected by the harsh winter. If that's what Russian women look like, then send me to the USSR! Ben thought jokingly.
The other photos in the pack showed people and places that meant nothing to him, until the final photo, which made him goggle in astonishment. It showed Piers Brosnan-Pierce, looking very much the suave English gentleman in his evening best, arm in arm with a woman who looked familiar - Amy and Lucilla's mother! Ben flipped back to the front of the pack. It was her alright - although in the last photo she looked older, more like she would if she was alive today.
What a puzzle to toss into the mix! Ben grabbed a pool cue off the wall and started to pot a few balls, thinking furiously as he did so. Piers, there was something about him, what was it? He had sunk the white five times before it came to him. When Amy gave her explanation after Mustafa had rescued them from Piers, she said he was in the employ of ADAM - but previous to that he had acted like he was some kind of secret agent, with all his talk of escaping from the place and dealing to Uncle Albert and Kripovsky. And he had behaved like one too, blowing open the cell with plastic explosives concealed in his shoe. What kind of employee went around blowing up his master's dungeons and, for that matter, killing his co-workers? What kind of man walked around with plastic explosives underfoot, liable to go off at any step? Amy had known he was one of Kripovsky's minions, but he hadn't talked or behaved like one. In itself that meant little, but Ben's hyperactive mind began to invent scenarios: Kripovsky had commanded Piers to befriend and seduce Amy, and had thus planted him in the dungeons in order to build up a convincing background for him, but seduce her for what purpose? To uncover some secret she held, or gain access to something she had in her possession? Not knowing that she knew Piers' true identity, his plan had been doomed to fail, but then how had Amy known Piers was an agent of ADAM, when she had only recently been drawn into their games of deceit and corruption?
Ben shook his head. This was getting all too tiring. First thing he saw, he would bash over the head with his wrecking bar. Let physical violence be the answer to all these questions.
With that thought he stalked to the door, and continued down the corridor. He had barely gone three paces when a boom swept past and through him, the corridor shook and trembled and the lights flickered and went out. He was thrown to the floor, landing with a painful jar. He groped around desperately for his wrecking bar. Finding it, he crawled to the wall and lay still. What had happened? His thoughts returned to the recent memory of Mustafa making his promise to raise hell in the machine. This was surely the answer.
There was nothing for it but to retrace his steps in the dark, find the stairs and make the ascent to the mansion, which would now be in a state of uproar. Ben almost wished he had climbed the stairs directly - but then he wouldn't have found these tantalising clues. Anyway, the stairwell wasn't too far behind him; he could do it easily.
He got to his feet in the darkness and found the wall, then turned one hundred and eighty degrees and crept along the corridor, keeping in touch with the wall. He counted out his steps as he took them. He passed the door of the pool room and kept on going. Next should be the corridor from whence he had come, and then the stairwell.
After twenty more paces, the wall fell away from him. Now he must be at the intersecting corridor. He walked forward a few more feet, expecting to meet the continuation of the corridor on the far side.
There was nothing. He blundered forward, hoping that any moment he would feel wall again. Instead he banged into something, hard. He staggered back, his shins stinging from the impact. It felt like a low table, or maybe a crate. Where was he? The most likely explanation was that he had gotten confused in the darkness, and gone the wrong way.
"Son of a bitch" Ben raged. He tightened his grip on his wrecking bar for comfort. Then he heard it. The sound of hinges squealing as a door swung open, and a slight wind as air blew towards him - followed by a festering, rotting stench, the smell that a corpse made after it had been fished out of a creek where it had lain in the hot sun for a week under the hot Californian sun.
Accompanied by that smell, there was the squelching sound of something shambling towards him.
"Who's there?" Ben called out desperately. "Show yourselves!"
There was a pause, then the squelching noises resumed. Ben had the terrifying feeling that whatever was in the room with him was not hampered by the darkness. He began swinging his wrecking bar in wide, aimless sweeps.
The bar was torn out of his hand. He experienced utter terror. "Help!" he yelled. "For the love of God, help me!"
He seemed to sense his adversary approach by smell rather than any other sense. It brushed against the object that Ben had earlier banged into, dragging it enough that it scraped on the floor. That gave Ben the information he needed to retreat, still facing the source of the ghastly odour. His only hope was to find the corridor again and make a run for it. He turned and dashed forward, hands outstretched in readiness for the inevitable collision with some object.
Again, he was betrayed by something much lower than he had expected. He ran into something, toppled forward into what might have been an armchair, and smashed his face into a wall. Winded, he slumped down into the seat. Blood began to flow freely from his nose, down into his mouth.
Something dragged itself towards him.
He had a terrifying vision of it catching him while he lay in this armchair. Turning around, he got to his feet and made to run to the left. A massive blow clipped him on the shoulder, almost throwing him into the wall again. If it had caught him full - well, it would simply have brought the inevitable closer.
He made to flee again. This time his flight was brought to a halt by some sort of bench. He was trapped.
"Oh Jesus!" he shrieked. "Just get me away from this thing!"
To his left, from the direction of the further reaches of the room, an incandescent light flared. By the light he saw the shambling horror which now stood barely four feet away. It was a corpse, alive only with writhing worms. Ignoring the light, it threw itself upon him. He raised his arms to try to meet it, but the thing grabbed hold of his wrists, yanking his arms to their furthest extent and bringing him screaming towards its maw, from which a glow of putrescent green now emanated.
Voices cried out from the direction of the light. A moment later three metal objects cascaded into the corpse's head, shattering it and sending chunks of jaw, cranium and brain in all directions. Ben copped a good one in his eye. Hoping that it would be stopped in its tracks by such an almighty attack, he was disappointed, for it dragged him into its embrace and lowered its neck stump as if to poke it into his face. On its uppermost vertebra sat a lump of mystorite.
He knew instinctively that it the thing poked the stone into his mouth, or nose, or for that matter any orifice, he was doomed. But with his wrists pinned within the zombie's crushing grip, he was powerless. Unless - as the stone dove at his face, he brought one foot up and kicked the thing in its groin, sending it backwards and himself swinging up and away. If only it would let go!
Unlike any ordinary man, the zombie seemed unfazed by an attack upon its genitalia, which by now were probably just sacs of ooze anyway. Gravity brought him back towards it, and he knew that this time there would be no escape.
With an asiatic howl, two figures drove their swords deep into the creature's midriff. The rotting flesh offered little resistance, and the torso separated from the hips. The arms, however, seemed made of sterner stuff, and although their owner was now rapidly dying for a second time, this death being the death of a thousand dismemberments, they resumed their task of propelling the neck region, with its dagger point of malignant mystorite, into Ben's face.
Another metal star shot past, this time so close that he felt the merest nick be taken off his nose, and the vertebra holding the chunk of mystorite separated from the torso region and flew into the wall.
The dismembered body released its hold upon Ben's wrists and fell to the ground.
Sobbing, he spat several times onto the ground, and then bent over and heaved up the remains of the day's meal. When he straightened again, the Scions of the Glacier were staring at him solemnly.
Amy felt like she had been climbing for hours. She had always prided herself on her sporting ability, being a keen swimmer and a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court, but she had to admit that she was physically unprepared for a 60 foot rope climb out of a vertical shaft. With several rest stops along the way, it was quarter of an hour after parting with Ben before she dragged herself, panting and grimy, into the reddening light of the Californian sunset. Pausing for a minute to catch her breath, she carefully examined the hole from which she had just emerged with puzzlement. She had spent many summers of her childhood playing on the hill and had known every inch of it. The patch of brambles that concealed the shaft had been a favorite hiding place for the younger Amy, and she was sure that the shaft had not existed then. Who then, Amy wondered, had dug the shaft, and why? Two more questions to add to the list of unanswered puzzles that today had thrown in her direction.
Once fully rested after her long perpendicular journey, Amy turned her attention to her surroundings while wondering what to do next. Ben had been right, she could not expect to go back to the house now, not while her sister and uncle still roamed the corridors. It was very peaceful up on the hillside, the city stretched out for miles below her, somewhere out there her father was alive being help captive by the evil Kripovsky. Thought of her father's plight jolted Amy back into the present. She must get help, and quickly. She stood and turned towards the closest source of assistance, the distant red-hued lights of the Pink Pelican Club for Urbane Gentlemen.
Although Amy knew Mustafa well, having been looked after by him on many occasions after her mother's disappearance, she had never been to his workplace and so it was with a slight sense of trepidation that she opened the gate into the back garden of the establishment. Whatever it was that she was expecting to see, it was not a middle aged woman gently watering a large rose bush. The woman looked up from her task:
"Well I never," she exclaimed in a strong southern accent, "You must be little Amy."
"How do you know my name?" Amy asked, unquietened by both the unexpected greeting and the strange woman's appraising stare.
"I'm Miss Dee", the woman replied as if that was all the answer required.
" Something terrible has happened…" Amy blurted.
Miss Dee cut her off with a quick wave of her hand. "I know, dear, " she said, smiling, "Come into the house and tell me all about it."
Ten minutes and a cup of tea was all it took for Amy to recount the day's events. She was beginning to recover from her subterranean experiences and she could not help but notice that Miss Dee did not seem surprised by any of her story.
"It's time you learnt a few things" said Miss Dee, after Amy finally queried her about her involvement. "The Pink Pelican is not my only means of support. Actually I have another line of work and the person I work for felt that owning a legitimate business like a brothel would draw attention away from certain unsavory aspects of my other job. If you suspected that Mustafa is also not exactly what he seems you would be correct."
Amy stared at the older woman, not quite comprehending what she was saying. Miss Dee continued, talking slowly in a low voice, appearing to chose her words carefully.
"You see, we have been interested in your family for quite some time. Your father in particular is a brilliant and ingenious man, and it is always prudent to keep an eye on brilliant, ingenious men. His recent work has my boss particularly fascinated . Do you know what this is?", Miss Dee pointed towards a small broach fastened to the front of her blouse. Amy leaned closer to the strange woman for a better view. The broach looked very old and was cut in an odd Celtic design that Amy was unfamiliar with. There was no mistaking was it was made out however.
" Its mystorite!", exclaimed Amy, not sure what to make of this revelation.
"That's one name for it," confirmed Miss Dee, " but it has others, much older. It so happens that the organisation I work for also has an interest in its more unusual…properties."
" What is going on here? I do not understand…" Amy was sinking further into confusion.
"Of course you don't, dear, but you soon will. However first we need to rescue your father from his idiot siblings."
"I think he is being held at Applied Defensive Arms Machinery headquarters. " Amy said, "I was going to ring the police."
"NO!", Miss Dee's voice was raised for the first time, "The police make an excellent blunt instrument, but circumstances like this require the finesse of a rapier. I employ people for just such situations. Wait here, I will organise everything - this should only take a minute." and with a elegant swirl of fabric, Miss Dee hurried from the room leaving Amy alone with her thoughts twisting madly through her head.
Akaira was not having a good day either. After following the American detective into the mine shaft, the ninja's had quickly found themselves out of their element. Trained on the barren ice flows of their adopted country, they had quickly lost both their quarry and their bearings in the featureless corridors beneath the Melheart mansion. Shiro, the ninja's diminutive leader, had been on the verge of losing his temper as well (admittedly this happened fairly often) when the trio had stumbled on the badly decomposed body of a man wearing a guard's uniform lying face down in a corner. Shiro had insisted that Akaira examine the body, but as the antiquities expert moved closer the body jerked to life, confirming all their suspicions - it was happening here in America as well!
Of course all three ninjas were experienced in fighting zombies, having had plenty of experience in their homeland. It had all started just after the carved piece of stone that Akaira wore on a string around neck had been found lying in a small crater out on the ice. Other pieces, of the same material but unshaped, had turned up over the following weeks, and then the dead started to walk. The colony's small graveyard had erupted one night, moldering corpses clawing their way through the frozen tundra with unnatural vigor, and even the town full of ninja warriors found itself hard pushed to repel the inevitable attack. The cold light of day had revealed that each of the re-deceased corpses had a piece of the same green material embedded somewhere in their bodies.
The badly shocked emperor had sent two of the towns best warriors with Akaira to Reykjavik with the carved artifact to investigate its origin. It was there that they had run into an idiotic Englishman who told them he had been looking for just such curios and was willing to buy it on behalf of his employers. Akaira would have gladly sold the piece then and there, but their mission was to find out the origins of the stone, not get rid of it, so he and his companions had boarded a cargo ship bound for America to meet the Englishman's boss.
Now, months later, and still no closer to discovering the source of the strange stone, the ninja's found themselves fighting yet more zombies in a bunker under a southern California hilltop. In fact, the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable afternoon was the fact that they now stood before the bruised and exhausted form of the detective who had lead them down here in the first place. He would not escape them a second time.