Loose Cannons (Chapter 4)
A Whateley Universe story
by Bek D Corbin
“Wait for it…” I said, feeling around for that weird sense that has been so right (when it wasn’t totally wrong) before. “Get ready… start the engine… aaannndd… GO!” Mack started the shuttle bus down the steep hill from the very top, a good six blocks from PFAR, and gunned it. He hit the siren and set the lightbar on the bus cab’s roof going.
Suzy took off with her bandolier of smoke bombs. Her job was to throw the ‘potato masher’ smoke bombs that we’d cobbled together through windows of apartments in every building that had an entrance to that service corridor. If the PFAR and Snowfish goons were busy making sure that their homes weren’t burning down, then they wouldn’t be running to protect PFAR through that service corridor.
After three blocks, the shuttle was doing a good 50 MPH, and Mack barely managed to keep from plowing into cars that couldn’t get out of our way fast enough. When we got to the PFAR building, we were doing 60 easy, and we just smashed right through the trendy plate-glass sides of the building, through several interior walls (not load-bearing, thank God) and we got pretty much to where we wanted to go. The crash totaled the shuttle’s windshield, but Mack was driving, and he could just ignore that. Besides, we weren’t going to use the shuttle again.
We poured out of the shuttle wearing our dark navy-colored hooded sweats combos, and Mack roared, “Okay, everybody knows what to do! Rae, Chris, c’mon, she’s this way!”
Looking at my copy of the blueprints, I pointed Roxie towards the electrical junction box. I opened the box with my sword, and Roxie pretty much slagged the whole thing with a big nasty jolt of electricity, sending the building into darkness. Then we headed for the stairs that led down into the basements. Roxie and I would take the sub-basement where the backup generator and the more serious labs would be, while Eddie, Suzy and Billy would take the ground floor offices. The door to the sub-basement had a ‘go away you’re not cleared to go in here’ really sturdy security lock on it, the kind that you need a key card for. I sliced through the door like it was Velveeta.
* * * * *
[Tac-Ops: Kay-Cee, we have a break-in at a building two blocks from you]
“And why should we care about that?” Swive snarled.
[Tac-Ops: Because they broke in with a short bus doing seventy, with sirens and lights going.]
“Good Call! Driver, get us over there!” The large KoP deployment truck, which was disguised as a parked beer delivery truck, pulled out, moved the few blocks, barely dodging the SFFD trucks as they moved through the street to answer the rash of fire alarms on those blocks.
[Hey, Kay-Cee,] the pitcher asked as they moved, [why would the Tangos hit a building three blocks away from Snowfish? I thought they were targeting the runaways.]
“Good question, Pitcher. But a real entry trumps a bunch of fire alarms every time. Our Tangos use sophisticated tactics, so we have to assume that there’s some connection between someone in that building and Snowfish, and the alarms are distractions, meant to tie up emergency responders by cluttering up the streets with fire trucks. Tac-Ops, get me a download on that address.” As the Knights deployed from the truck, Swive had to wait as his unit’s handlers connected his ‘extension cord’ to a functioning power line on the street. When he was ready, he stood his Umpire suit up and said, “Okay, Knights, let’s get in there, by the numbers!”
The Pitcher was the smallest and lightest of the units, and it had the best sensor suite, so it took point, with the Runner and Short-Stop immediately behind it, the Catcher and Batter staggered behind them, and the Ump brought up the rear, cautiously unwinding the power cable out from the spool he carried.
The Knights cleared each area as they entered, making sure that there was no one in the wreckage created by the entering bus. They found the destroyed junction box, and then cleared the first floor. At the stairwell, the Pitcher asked, [Up or down, K-C?]
Then there were the sounds of blasts and crashes and metal rending, from below. “DOWN.” The Knights began a standard rappeling descent over the railing.
* * * * *
Following Marly’s silent pleas for help, Mack found the door, and it was, of course, very, very seriously locked. The door was aluminum-shod blast-resistant fiberglass, reinforced with titanium tubing. Mack just ripped it off its titanium hinges. It led down one flight. Chris wondered why the base-builders would over-complicate the design of their base, but decided that they were probably working with the original architect’s design or something like that. Mack tore through that door, and from there, they were guided by a light from around a bend.
Then, just as they were about to burst around the corner in a show of force, a gentle female voice called out, “Please? Please, we need help here?”
Taken off guard, Mack and Chris poked their noses around the corner, but Rachel held back, every instinct she had saying that something was seriously wrong. Mack and Chris saw a scene that should have been very disturbing, but somehow wasn’t. The room was circular, and would have been blindingly white if the lights had been on. There was a fluorescent lantern spreading light over a bank of electronic gear, and a small portable electric generator was plugged into a bank of PCs. There was a cluster of three couches in the center, with three people wearing headsets and sitting with their heads toward a column that was full of modular boxes. There was a bank of similar couches arranged in a circle around the center cluster, facing the center cluster, and the banks of electronics surrounded that in yet another circle. There were twelve couches in the outer ring, but only three of them were occupied. While the three people in the center were wearing comfortable casual clothing and lying calmly without restraint, the three persons on the outer ring of couches were all dressed in gray suits that resembled quilted wetsuits that were studded with sensors, especially the hood over their heads, and they were securely strapped down to the couches. And yet, the man in the lab coat and woman with the strange purse-like case, standing at the bank of equipment didn’t seem in the least threatening. As a matter of fact, when the woman looked at Mack and Chris and said, “Oh, thank GOD you’re here!” it seemed perfectly natural.
“You’re here to save your friend, right?” the woman continued, approaching them tentatively. “That’s good, because she’s in a lot of trouble.” Gently, the rather attractive woman in her mid-thirties with long dirty blonde hair, who was wearing a strange plastic case as though it was a purse, guided them over to the bank of electronics and patiently explained in detail why they had to help her get the display going again. And, while she never actually said WHY they should help her, Mack and Chris definitely got the impression that if they didn’t get those displays running again, Marly could be in for a world of hurt.
The woman was just getting Mack to attach the clips from the portable generator to the main power transformer when a metallic hand darted out from a good five feet away, and pulled the ‘purse’ from the woman’s shoulder. “HEY!” the woman snapped, all her polished charm suddenly gone. “Give that back!”
“THIS?” Rae held up the case with a grin. “Why should I? And,” she shifted her other arm into an energy gun and pointed it at the woman, “You wanna try explaining all that to my friends again?”
The woman put on her most patient smile and went at it again, her voice ever so smooth and ingratiating and- “That is the biggest crock of SHIT that I have ever heard,” Chris said.
“It’s all in this, isn’t it?” Rae said, a broad smile of vindication across her face as she held up the case. “I knew that you were messing with my head. I hate it when people mess with my head. I know when people are messing with my head. And I could tell right off, that you were messing with our heads, ‘cause I was gettin’ pissed off, for no good reason. But all I wanted to do, was smash this thing, not you. Why? ‘Cause this was what was really messing with my head.”
The woman took a deep breath and said, “I assure you, that what we’re doing is legal and ethical, and it’s absolutely vital to the well-being, the sanity, maybe even the LIFE of your friend. She’s-”
Rae clipped the woman upside the head with the barrel of her arm-gun. “We’ve already heard that line. Tell me, do they teach that line in mad science class these days? I guess, ‘Fools! I’ll destroy them all!’ is passé nowadays, ain’t it?”
Mack reached over, his face an iron mask of anger, grabbed the woman by the hair and grated through his teeth, “Okay, enough SHIT, where is Marly?” The woman gave a terrified squeak and pointed at the outer ring of couches. Mack towed her over to the couches and said, “Start unhooking them. NOW. You fuck with them, I break you.”
“Please, this is very complex equipment, they’re in a very delicate mind-state right now, any change in their-”
“Bullshit,” Chris bleated matter-of-factly.
“Not so easy, without this, is it?” Rae gloated, waving the casing at the woman.”
They stripped the headsets off the three unknowns, revealing Marly, a pale white girl with long black hair, and an equally pale white boy with close-trimmed brown hair. The second that the headsets came off, they each grimaced and started twitching, as though they were slowly waking up from a deep sleep.
“Okay, that’s Marly,” Mack said. “Now, where’s Yvonne?”
“Yvonne?” the woman said, like she didn’t know what Mack was talking about.
“Yeah, YVONNE, Marly’s best friend, the one you dragged her in here with. Yvonne’s the only reason that Marly would come IN here, so where IS she?”
“Hey Mack,” Rae said checking out the room, “While we’re at it, where’s the other guy?”
“Other guy? What other guy?”
“The other guy who was helping her hook up that power generator, before we GOT in here?” Rae looked around. “SHIT! I was so busy not letting my head get fucked with, I lost track of him!”
“Let’s get them up and get out of here!” Chris snapped, jolted into action by that development. “Rae, search the place, see if you can find anything that looks like it holds information, like files or a laptop or a PDA or anything. You!” Chris pointed at the three people in the center. “Who are they and what are they doing?”
The woman just smiled archly. “Why should I bother? You’re not going to believe me, at any rate.”
Chris just smiled back archly. “Fine! I’ll just zap them, and be done with it.” She raised her hand at the center cluster and it glowed for a second.
“That is a phenomenally BAD idea,” said a male voice from another direction. Turning, they spotted the man they’d just been talking about. He was standing right behind a lovely young African American girl with a shaved head and a blank expression on her face. He was holding her in the classic hostage position, holding a boxy pistol-like plastic object in his hand. On either side of them were men in Security guard uniforms, also holding strange plastic objects in very weapon-like ways. “Well? You were asking about Yvonne? Well, here she is. What are you going to do? SHOOT us?”
“Hey,” Rae said, aiming her arm-gun at them all, “she ain’t no friend of MINE, I never seen the bitch before.” She let off a shot, which may or may not have hit; they’d never know, as about a foot in front of Yvonne, the energy bolt veered off, as though it had hit an invisible wall.
In retaliation, the man in the lab coat released Yvonne and placed his hand on her bald head. And Yvonne screamed. She didn’t open her mouth and scream, but still a silent scream came out of her that ripped right through the three teenagers and rattled them, blood and bone. They reeled but stood, and the man in the lab coat seemed to be surprised by that, so he pushed Yvonne even harder, and the intensity of her scream grew worse.
But the scream filled the room, and Marly bolted up and screamed to Yvonne to stop. The white boy also sat bolt up, but he held his head and shrieked, “Get the FUCK OUT of my HEAD! Just shutup shutup shutup shutup SHUT UP!” As he shrieked, things started flying around the room, including the people. For a minute or so, it settled into the classic ‘Poltergeist’ vortex, with things flying around in a circle. Mack managed to stay in one place and latched onto Marly to keep her from flying around, but Chris was swept up in the maelstrom, though she put up her force field and wasn’t hurt by the flying debris. The rest couldn’t be said about the woman with the too-soothing voice, or the man in the lab coat, or Yvonne or the rest of them. Rachel was sent flying, and she plowed through people and things, doing a lot more damage with her metallic body than she took. Finally, the boy slumped down, exhausted, and things fell to the floor.
Rachel struggled to her feet. “WOW! And I thought that *I* had a bad attitude!”
* * * * *
Now, I am not one of those oh-so-sensitive types who get all strung out by the very notion of animal cruelty. As far as I’m concerned, if some chimps have to die to find a cure for a disease, then it comes down to a couple of hundred monkeys or a couple of thousand humans; you do the math. Okay, I’ll admit that some testing labs really do waste animal lives in meaningless pro forma tests where they fudge the data anyway for their clients. But, all in all, I think that it boils down to what the best test subject is.
That having been said, I was fucking appalled. It was like something out of a mass PETA nightmare. It wasn’t the wall of cages full of dogs and cats and rabbits and pigs or the stacks of rats, hamsters and guinea pigs. It was the rows of frames of dogs and cats and rabbits and rats and pigs in a grotesque Geiger-esque assembly line, with various stages of implantation as things were plugged into their heads, and bits their bodies amputated until there were just heads and spinal columns. Roxie looked at me, horror in her eyes. “What. The Fuck. Are They. DOING? To Them?”
I took refuge in sarcasm. “I dunno, but this is the last straw. No more Mister Nice Guy! We’re siccing BETTY WHITE on them!” I took cell phone pictures of the set-up, and then went looking for any sign of Yvonne, or evidence, or anything that might help us. I found a lot of loose-leaf binders full of notes, and some printed bound procedural notes. Then I found an assembly bench, with a bunch of objects that vaguely resembled cheap sci-fi prop weapons, made out of blocky drab beige plastic on racks. They were open, with the inner workings showing, and a couple of empty niches, like they were going to complete the assembly by filling those niches with something. There were two stacks of boxes next to the bench, one empty, the other full. The boxes were blank white, except for a simple label, saying ‘Charm’ or ‘Blast’ or ‘Invisibility’ or ‘Forget’. I filled a handy shopping bag with one or two each of the boxes and the tech notes I’d found.
Then I heard a barking and the sound of claws on the floor. One of the creepiest things about the room was the fact that despite the fact that the critters were awake and obviously aware of us, they were totally silent. When I heard the first woof, I turned. Roxie was opening the cages and letting the animals out, even the rats. “ROXIE!” I hissed, “What are you DOING?”
“Making sure that I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror tomorrow,” she said as she opened one cage of rats, dumping the rats on the floor. Then she went for another stand of cages. But these ones had animals that had these odd caps on their heads, and the animals just stayed in their cages, instead of heading for freedom like any sane life-form would. Except for this one dog, who jumped out of the cage, knocked Roxie off her feet, and started licking her face like she was his long-lost owner. Roxie predictably started giggling and tried to stop him, but Rover wasn’t having any of that. He was between the size of a beagle and a shepherd, with a rough brindle coat, a shaggy muzzle, semi-erect ears, a tail that looked like it had been on the wrong side of a closing door, and one of those weird sets of mismatched eyes. He looked like he had a lot of poodle and schnauzer in him, but mostly a whole lot of ‘hey, the bitch was in heat, whaddya want, I’m a DOG!’
As Roxie tried to get him off of her without shocking him, I looked at the cage they’d kept him in. It looked like it was reinforced strong enough to cage a rhino, and while there were clipboards by each of the other cages, this one had a bound journal by it. The journal had ‘Sparky’ written on the cover. “Sparky?” I said. The dog broke off licking Roxie, turned and yipped at me. “Gee, I guess he’s named Sparky,” I said dryly. He barked more firmly, as if in confirmation. “Hey, Sparky,” I joked, “you wouldn’t know where Yvonne is, wouldja?”
Sparky gave a woof and shook his head. I felt my eyes pop. “Roxie… is it just me…? Or did he understand me?”
“Let’s see,” she said, finally able to get up. “Hey, Sparky! Help me get the rest of these poor critters out of those cages!” He woofed again, and he proceeded to shred the remaining cages, sending the various beasties scattering with barks once they were free. “Well, I’ll be damned…” Roxie said in tones of wonder.
And, while that was impressive, it did have its downside. Apparently, those cages were wired, and on a circuit that was still working. These four heaps of gear sort of got up and started moving. One rose up and attached itself to some sort of overhead railing that looked like it was used to move heavy equipment around. Two of them got up on strut-work legs and started clambering around like industrial artwork spiders. And one stayed down low on the ground, and went scuttling around, chasing after the escaped animals. One of the robots up on its legs tried to put the cages upright again, while the other one was herding the larger animals into the clutches of the robots up on high or way down low. Then the herder got a look at me, and hit me with a spotlight. A thin light played over me, and then the spider-bots stopped hunting the animals. They played their lights over the entire lab, until they spotted Roxie. They did the same with her, as Sparky cowered down low with a whimper. They paired up against us and then I felt something radiate out from them, a sort of… like a feeling, only I knew that it came from outside of me… it felt like it was pushing into my awareness, and where it did push in, my thoughts went kind of mushy.
I was trying to get my thoughts together enough to create my blade, but it was hard concentrating on making the blade, while keeping on my guard against the robots. Roxie was in the same position. Then, with a big woof, Sparky jumped out from where he was, and pushed one of the robots off its legs, springing back and barking at the other one. The remaining robot turned to try and cope with Sparky, and I had enough concentration to get the old light saber (or cutlass or epee or whatever) going, and I cut into the spider-bot. Not that that was it. For the record, laser-blading robots is a lot tougher than cutting into living targets, who hurt and all that. I cut into it all right, but I had to keep hitting it over and over, and I basically had to chop the damned thing apart before it stopped moving. Roxie was having similar problems, but between the two of us and Sparky, we managed to rip the fuckers apart. “Okay, enough of that,” Roxie said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Sparky yipped his agreement to that, and he went into the wreckage covering the lab, and dragged out the shopping bag that I’d filled with evidence - and, I admit it, had lost track of. Then he went back and came back with a bag of doggie biscuits and one of those balls with the bell inside it. He stashed those in the shopping bag and barked, as if to say, ‘Okay, I’m packed, let’s GO!’
Just for the record, that is one damn SMART dog.
* * * * *
“You got everything?” Chris asked as Rachel finished digging through the clutter that the boy’s mind-storm had created.
Rachel jogged up with an armful of notebooks, pads, laptops and PDAs (and a few wallets). “This all is everything that looks like it’ll be useful to me.” She looked ruefully around the room. “Whaddaya know? I actually DO regret not paying attention in science class! Who knew?”
“Then let’s go!” Mack urged. He carried the boy who’d created the mess over his shoulder. Marly had come to enough to take care of Yvonne, who was just standing there, numbly, and the unnamed girl was still a little logy, but she was sharp enough to take care of herself.
A few moments after the teenagers left, the three ‘sleepers’ on the central couches, who hadn’t been thrown from those couches for some reason, silently rose from their seeming torpor. Wordlessly, but with uncanny cooperation, one adjusted equipment on the central column, as another put Miss McKinney and the unnamed man in the lab coat and then one of the security guards on the couches, and the third found the portable generator and hooked it up to the central column. When they were done with that, they took spare headset and put them on themselves. For a moment, they stood there, unmoving. Then lids from modules on the central column popped open and large pale white spiders the size of medium-sized dogs popped out. The spiders stood there for a while, gathered their numbers, and then scuttled off in a mass.
* * * * *
“Y’know, I could just rip that thing out, and we could just TAKE it with us,” Eddie said as Billy squeezed his tentacles into the seams of the large safe door.
“Yeah, and then if we gotta run, you’ll drop it, and we lose anything that might be valuable inside,” Billy said, not letting his attention stray. He was living one of his personal favorite fantasies, and he wasn’t about to let a big slab of meat spoil his fun. Feeling around inside, Billy found the catches, pulled them back and then pulled back the deadbolt. The safe opened. “HAH! Combinations! Who needs ‘em?” Inside were several dossiers, a number of external hard drives, a few cash boxes - and a good-sized block of bills, in stacks of 10-, 20-, and 50-dollar denominations. “Jackpot!” Billy gloated, “There’s got to be at least ten grand here!”
“We need EVIDENCE, remember?” Suzy said as she reached in and took the folders and hard drives. “What do we need the money for, anyway?”
“Hey, money is always useful,” Billy said grumpily as he tucked stacks of bills into his carryall. “I mean, think about it - even IF we get that Iron Butterfly freak to listen to us, and even IF she has the chops to get the cops to listen to us, and even IF the Cops believe us, we’re still mutants! All that they’ll ever really let us BE is supervillains! I mean, Ed- you can grow up to thirty feet high and lift cars over your head. WHO is gonna HIRE you for anything, except to help knock over banks? So, I got these tentacle things, what GOOD are they to me, except to break into places? No matter what we do, all people are gonna care about is that we got that we got these weird powers. The way I see it-” Billy’s wheedling rant was cut off when his paranoia-sharpened ears heard a rustling in the office around them. “Did you hear that?”
“That?” Suzy asked in a squeak at the sound of scurrying in the darkness around them. She shone her flashlight around, and she almost dropped with fright when her flashlight suddenly spotlighted five uniformed police officers with guns in their hands.
“Assume the position!” one of them barked.
“What?” Eddie bleated, “Where did they come from?” He started to raise his hands, when suddenly he paused and peered at the officers. “Hah?” Eddie honked, “That’s Michael Chiklis from ‘The Shield’! And he’s Jerry Orbach from ‘Law and Order’! And that’s Mariska Hargitay, from ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit!’ And that’s Lawrence Fishburne from ‘CSI’! And that’s… JACK WEBB?”
“Who’s Jack Webb?” Billy asked, confused.
Ignoring the blues’ guns, Eddie lashed out with his fist at ‘Michael Chiklis’. The alleged police officer exploded in a flurry of disgusting little white spiders, which gathered together in one equally disgusting large white spider. Suzy let out a scream like a banshee and ran out of the room faster than even the spiders could follow. Billy reached out with his tentacles and grabbed two of the cops, throwing them against a wall. They also exploded in clouds of ghastly little spiders. Eddie jumped on the two remaining cops, flattening them. But all the spiders gathered together in a huge biting, stinging mass and lifted Eddie up. “HEY!” Eddie screamed.
“Oh Fuck,” Billy said, and he reached out with his tentacles-
-and scooped up all the money and boxes and notebooks that they’d gathered up. Clutching it all to himself, he staggered towards the doors. The spiders scuttled after him, but they were cut off by a gush of water. Suzy had gotten her wits back, had gone for a fire hose, and was hosing down the place, washing the spiders away. “FUCK!” Billy gabbled, “SUZY! STOP! You’re getting the MONEY wet!”
“Gee, THANKS for the assist!” Eddie snarled at Billy as he struggled to his feet and shook himself dry. “What was all that with the TV cops?”
“Well…” Billy said, wracking his brain, all too glad for a distraction from his dereliction of duty, “They looked like cops we’d seen on TV right? And then they looked like spiders, right? They, ah, both scared the shit out of us, right? So, this place is run by people who are all into psychic powers and mindfuck and all like that, right? It’s like a burglar alarm they got, it hangs around somehow and beams images of things that people are afraid of into the minds of people who break in. I heard something going down a little while ago, so Mack or Evan or someone probably ran into whatever created those. So, the alarm’s gone off, and it’s time to get while the gettin’s good.”
Eddie helped Suzy get the fire hose under control. “Okay, when he’s right, he’s right. Suzy, go find Mack or Evan or someone, and tell ‘em we found the Snowfish tunnel.” Suzy gave a thumbs-up and headed out the door. Barely a second passed before Eddie and Billy heard her give out a screech. They hurried out to the corridor, where they ran face-first into the guns of a group of armored Knights of Purity. “Oh, Puh-LEEZE!” Eddie grunted, “What, we’re s’pozed to fall for this gag AGAIN?”
[FIRE!] Knight Commander Swive barked from the rear.
Eddie took five .30 caliber rounds to his midsection, which managed to penetrate his stony hide and inflict damage to him. “I’m hit, I’m HIT!” Eddie screamed as he went down. The Batter hit Billy with his huge club, but Billy managed to get all the stuff he was carrying between them. This cushioned the blow, but still sent him flying. The Shortstop let off a snare that caught Suzy as she slipped on the water on the floor.
[Okay Knights, hook up to me, but keep an eye peeled for hostiles. I think that these are the Country Club terrs, but we have to be ready for anythiiiIIIIAAGGH!] The Knights of Purity opened fire and put it on auto as a nightmarish swarm of ghastly pale spiders poured out of the office.
* * * * *
“Dammit, where IS she?” Dynamik growled, looking down at the office building, especially the opening that the Knights of Purity had gone in.
“Chill out, Frank,” Maxima said, though she was watching as carefully as Dynamic and the other three G3 heroes were. “Leslie knows how to handle herself, and if the Kay-oh-Pee is involved, we’re gonna need to be on the right foot when we go in, or they’ll just play their ‘the so-called heroes got in our way’ card to cover their rusty butts.”
“What I want to know is, what happened to the Lady in White?” Ghost Tiger asked in his trademark muted growl. “The second that shuttle hit that wall, she disappeared, like someone popped her soap bubble.”
“Here comes some answers,” Captain Valor said as he spotted the Iron Butterfly phase through the wall of the building, set herself, and then leap towards them.
Even through her trademark ‘bug-eye’ night-vision goggles, you could see that the Iron Butterfly was seriously upset. “JESUS CHRIST!” she snapped, “Frank! Call SWAT and local DPA and tell them to get teams down here NOW, double-time!”
“The local Department of Paranormal Affairs? It’s that bad?” Preterman asked, concerned. “As bad as those kids were making out?”
“That bad? If anything, they UNDERSOLD IT!” IB said. “They have people - KIDS!- in operating theaters, with probes in their heads, and they’re cutting out some of their brains and putting them in VATS! These scumbags make that sick fuck Dr. Pygmalion look like SANTA CLAUS! They’re doing… THINGS to dogs and cats and rats… and… people! They have people standing around like puppets in some bizarre life support system.”
“Well, it IS an Autism research foundation,” Dynamik hedged. “Just because it looks bad to US…”
“FRANK!” the Butterfly shrieked, “They have a wood chipper in there! In a soundproofed booth! And it dumps its…” she choked, “its… waste… in the SEWER!” she paused, horror wreathed on her face. “It’s fucking Dachau in there!”
The heroes looked around at one another. The Iron Butterfly didn’t have a reputation for being hysterical. If anything, she often came off as rather hard-nosed and cold-blooded. If she was this upset, then it was serious. “We go in,” Maxima said, face hard, eyes steely. “Dynamik, tell SFPD that we have confirmation of extraordinary conditions. Our priorities are to liberate any prisoners, secure evidence for use against PFAR or whoever they really are, prevent the escape of any PFAR personnel on site…” she paused, as if trying to remember something. “Oh yeah, and drag any of the Knights of Purity that are still alive out of there. If these guys are doing psychic research as we were told, those Tin Can Monkeys are in for a world of hurt,” she finished as an afterthought.
Then a pale mist sort of twisted into existence near them on the roof. The mist gathered into the form of a ghostly white woman of eerie beauty, with long moonlight-white hair and a gown of purest gossamer. The normally serene figure seemed to be in as much distress as the Iron Butterfly. Looking at the building, she said in the odd silent ‘voice’ that was heard in their minds, not their ears, *What are those maniacs DOING in there?*
“My Lady!” Ghost Tiger gasped, “What happened to you?”
The Lady in White shuddered. *When the… wall… around that place fell, it was like an explosion! Pain, fear, confusion, hatred, rage, sorrow… MADNESS! All at once! I was unready for it, and it almost overwhelmed me! I had to return to my body and literally throw up!*
“And you came back?”
*You don’t run away from things like this.*
Maxima nodded. “Okay, Frank, call HQ, have them get in touch with the Mandarin and the Witch, and anyone else who thinks that they can be useful. We’re going in NOW, but we’ll need backup, so tell them to burn rubber. Okay, Ell-Dubya, do you think that you-”
Dynamic interrupted her. “Hey, Max, get this - HQ just called US. The Kay-oh-Pee’s Tac-Ops people just called, and they’re asking for tactical assistance from SFPD and just about anyone. It seems they’re getting their asses kicked.” He finished with a vindictive snicker.
Preterman gave a similar snicker. “They’re asking us to rescue the Knights of Purity? Oh, this is either our darkest hour or bragging rights forever!” He turned to Captain Valor and smirked, “Of course, if you’re not feeling up to it…”
“Just try and keep up.”
Ghost Tiger managed to stay out of Preterman and Captain Valor’s near-habitual bickering. “The obvious thing is to follow the KoP in through that hole. The obvious is dangerous. Any idea as to who the idiots who drove that shuttle through the wall were?”
The Iron Butterfly gave a martyred sigh. “I’ll lay odds that it was my informant and her friends. Driving a bus into a secret lab? Yeah, that’s something that a bunch of kids would think was smart. Add getting those chuckleheads out alive to the priority list. *sigh* So much for credibility…”
“Okay, Eye-Bee, it’s your party, you got a way in?” The Iron Butterfly led the band of heroes to the loading bay, where she passed through the freight door and opened it from the other side. They pointedly ignored the sounds of combat, as the Butterfly said that their first priority was getting to one particular chamber in the basement. Her reasoning became clear when they entered the room. It looked like a cheap knock-off version of the ‘intensive care’ room in Robin Cook’s ‘Coma’: there were people in gray support suits, lying on rows of metal shelves five high, heavily intubed for support, with breathing masks and various grades of electronic gear protruding into their heads.
“Jesus Christ…” Preterman gasped. “Is it safe to move them?”
“I chose this room just because it IS safe to move them!” the Butterfly said grimly. “The next three rooms will need proper medevac, with special equipment. We need these people out of here and alive, so that DPH will have due cause to come in and start evacuating these people, STAT.”
“What’s the Poison Tree factor on this one, Eye-Bee?”
“We were asked in by SFPD - oh, by the way, Gee-Tee, Ell-Dubya, would you two go see how the Kay-oh-Pee is doing? Everyone else, find a gurney and start moving these people very carefully. Remember, they aren’t just victims, they’re evi-duh… OH CRAP!” the Butterfly started looking around the room frantically. “Dynamik! Analyze the blueprints of this place! They can’t afford to let evidence fall into the hands of the Police! If anyone saw this, they’d be lucky if they only got LYNCHED, let alone got off from the charges! They’ve got to have self-destruct charges planted around here! Frank, assume that they’d try to collapse the entire building in on itself to completely crush all the evidence! Where would they plant the charges?”
Dynamik’s analysis suggested that a classic inward implosion, as preferred by demolitions experts, would start at the lowest part of the building and climb higher, cutting the foundations and further damaging the upper supports as the charges went off. The Iron Butterfly phased through walls to search for the demolition packets. Preterman decided that delicate care would have to give precedence to simple brute speed. Putting his petty feud with Captain Valor aside for the moment, they lifted an entire row of shelves between them and flew it out. Dynamik arranged for a more secure transport and hefted out another row of ‘bunks’ with Maxima.
Ghost Tiger followed the Lady in White toward the sounds of combat. But then, Ghost Tiger would follow the Lady in White into the pits of hell. And while the scene they came to wasn’t exactly hellish, it WAS very strange. The Knights of Purity were back to back, furiously fighting a three-way battle with a bunch of kids in black sweats and a swarm of milky white spiders. The Lady in White let out a shattering shout that cleared away the spiders. *Listen carefully! You must stop and evacuate this building IMMEDIATELY! The Guardians are evacuating the prisoners as we speak, and we believe that the people running this operation have planted explosives to destroy the evidence against them! We must leave NOW!* She thundered in a voice that spoke to the mind, not the ears.
The kids broke off, but the KoP Knight Commander just made a rude noise and said, “Oh PLEASE! That one’s older than ‘they went that away’! Drassock, deploy the gas canister!”
[Shortstop: Problem, Kay-Cee! That sneaky little fucker with the tentacles is hiding up in the ceiling somewhere, and he’s nabbed most of my appliances! Kay-Cee, we’re outnumbered, surrounded and the conditions are against us! I need your okay to use the siren!]
“I waited too long last time,” Swive admitted. “Knock yourself out - or someone, anyway. Cover your ears, Knights, it’s earache time!” Panels popped open on the Shortstop unit and an earsplitting wail with a ‘yodel’ affect as it ran up and down the scales several thousand times per second filled the room.
The kids in black mostly clutched at their ears, but neither the Knights, the Lady in White, nor the spiders were affected. *Are you insane?* The Lady shrieked, *Those spiders will tear them APART!*
“What’s yer point, freak?” Swive growled.
* * * * *
Roxie was flying on one of those ‘bronze’ disks that we got from those armor jocks in Sacto, riding it like a skateboard about a foot off the ground. Which sort of sucked, as I was stuck I carrying all the stuff we found, so she wouldn’t damage it. We were heading toward the sound of gunfire and crashing and what sounded like a general all-around bad time, when Sparky stopped in his tracks and started yowling.
“What’s the matter with him?” Rox asked as she (sorry, HE at the moment) said as he dropped and picked the piebald pup up. His question was answered as a noise that would have made nails on a blackboard sound like Mozart came from somewhere above. Rox covered his ears and said, “It’s the Knights of Purity!”
“HOW DO YOU KNOW?” I asked loudly both to be heard over the noise and my hands.
“I HAD SUZY LOOK THEM UP ONLINE AND RESEARCH THEM! THAT’S THEIR ACE-IN-THE-HOLE, A SONIC WEAPON! SUZY PLAYED A SOUNDCLIP OF IT FOR ME, AND IT ALMOST BURST MY EARDRUMS!”
“OKAY, IT’S ANNOYING BUT-”
“THAT’S THROUGH A FLOOR! I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT IT’S LIKE UP THERE!”
“WHY DIDN’T THEY USE THAT THING ON US AT THE MALL?”
“THERE ARE LAWS AGAINST USING SONIC WEAPONS, UNLESS UNDER VERY CAREFUL CONDITIONS! THEY’RE UNSAFE, THEY CAUSE SEIZURES AND ALL SORTS OF NASTY THINGS IN BYSTANDERS!”
Oh, this is not good for Mack or Chris or anyone else not wearing armor up there. “HOW MANY OF THE UNITS ARE EQUIPPED WITH THOSE THINGS?”
“JUST THE SHORTSTOP UNITS. THAT’S ALL THE GOVERNMENT WILL ALLOW THEM TO RUN.”
Hands over my ears, I plowed through the wrack, following the nerve-grating shriek until I had a sense that the source of the noise was right above me. I exposed my poor abused ears directly to it, and just barely managed to form my blade. ‘WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?” Rox yelled.
“WHAT DO YOU THINK I’M GONNA DO? I’M GONNA KNOCK ON THE CEILING AND TELL THEM TO TURN DOWN THE STEREO!” I leapt up and slashed an X into the reinforced concrete. Then I did an eyeblast at the X and knocked a hole into the concrete. An armored Knight of Purity fell through the hole, bringing the noise with him, setting Sparky off for a moment. The noise faltered when the Knight hit hard, and I jumped on him with my sword, yelling, “Shutup, shutup, shutup! People are trying to SLEEP down here!” Rox reached into the panels and fried them, and there was blessed silence for a moment.
As I paused, panting for breath - those stupid eyeblasts still take a lot out of me, y’know - Rox handled the guy inside the armor, doing something that popped open the hatch and swung it forward, and giving him a zotz that looked really painful.
There was some crashing and smashing and firing of guns up top. Rox zipped up through the hole, and giving myself a second to get some wind back, I used that gravity gem to fly up through the hole after him. It was a fucking mess. The remaining Knights of Purity were back to back, fighting Mack and Rae hand-to-hand while Chris was blasting away at them. Every so often, there would be a blur as something came past them, throwing something large and heavy at them, or a tentacle would reach down from the ceiling and pull something off one of the Knights, tripping them up somehow. And crawling all over everything, screwing over everyone (well, mostly the Knights and Eddie, who was ten feet tall, and real busy just keeping the fuckers off of him) were these really disgusting looking albino cave spider things. The spiders were also fucking over that Ghost Tiger (or was it Shinobi? I never did find out) guy and this sort of ghostly transparent woman all in white. The ghost-woman looked pretty wispy, but somehow the spiders were climbing all over her, and biting the hell out of her.
Some spiders came at me, and while I was dog-tired, I still had enough juice to unsheathe my sword. But get this! When I hit them with my sword, the spiders didn’t just bounce back and go ‘Nice try, luuuhhhzeeerrzz!’ the way they were with what everyone else was doing to them. No, they just went ‘piff!’ and sort of popped like a bubble. Still, they gave me some owies like you wouldn’t believe before I got them all off of me. I figured that Ghost Tiger, or Shinobi, or whoever the fuck he was was there, and the ghost-lady must have been some of the local superheroes. Ghost-Shinobi was doing so-so, swatting the spiders, and he was putting them down pretty well and keeping them down. He just wasn’t doing it as well as I was. Figuring that it couldn’t hurt to have a local superheroine saying that we’d come to her rescue, I did just that. I pared off as many as I could safely do without hurting her. Hey, if my sword is doing that to the spiders, I don’t wanna think about what it would do to her.
I got enough of them off of her that she went to work on the ones that were left. Once she had the last of them off her, and I’d piffed the ones she’d shed, she sort of gathered herself and let out this weird ear-piercing scream that somehow rattled my head without bothering to go through my ears first. The spiders were blown back like leaves in a wind, and everyone stopped fighting for a second. *Listen up, you idiots!* She shouted in a really creepy voice that I heard inside my head, instead of my ears, *This place has been rigged with self-destruct explosives, to remove all the evidence! The Iron Butterfly is trying to locate and disarm them, but there’s no guarantee that she’ll succeed! Go through there, and help the Guardians evacuate the prisoners!*
[Yeah, right, freak,] Swive sneered through a PA system, [like we’re really gonna fall for THAT old chestnut. Pitcher, Runner-] Before Swive could give any orders, Eddie, freed from the spiders that were driving him nuts, shot up to his full height, crowding the area with his bulk. He set his shoulders against the ceiling and his feet against the floor, straining the slab of concrete that the Knights were standing on. Seeing what Eddie was trying for, Mack did a double-fisted smash on the floor. Already weakened by the hole that I’d blasted, that section of the floor collapsed under the Knights, dumping them down ten feet, with only that cable left of them. And one of Billy’s tentacles reached down and disconnected that.
*Come! We have to help the Guardians evacuate the prisoners!*
We all stopped and looked at Mack. He stood there, in a classic ‘being the leader SUCKS’ moment. He paused, looked and us, and turned to ghost-lady. “Ma’am, normally, I’d be right behind you. But these kids are my responsibility. And even if we helped you, if we DID help you, the first thing that the cops would do would be to throw us in JAIL, and the way things stand right now, they’d just weld the cell doors shut. I can’t let that happen to them.”
“NO,” Marly said with conviction. “You don’t really mean that. If we run, we let those people DIE. If we let them die, then we deserve to be thrown into a jail cell.”
“When did she become our conscience?” Billy asked in a pained voice.
“She ain’t,” Eddie said with a heavy voice. “Still, that don’t mean that she ain’t right. Show us the way, lady. But you’d better be ready to get the cops to slow down and LISTEN for a change.”
Hey, when Eddie ‘Go for the Gusto’ Ramos starts making ‘do the right thing’ noises, you listen. We all nodded and followed the white lady and the ninja guy, to a section of the basement that I hadn’t been to before.
* * * * *
The Iron Butterfly slipped through the floor into the chamber that Mack, Rachel and Chris had liberated Marly and the others from. According to Dynamik, who had just informed her that they’d just cleared the third room of invalids, given the placement of the three demolitions packs that she’d located so far, there must be a major charge set in the center of that chamber. The center of the room was filled with a column that was crammed with technology of various sorts, and it was dripping with those damn spiders that were everywhere, screwing everything up. But what really grabbed your attention was the group of people, three women and five men, one of the men wearing a lab coat, two of them wearing security guard uniforms, but all of them wearing headsets of the same sort, who were all standing around the column in some sort of trance. Not knowing exactly what they were doing, the Iron Butterfly had been in enough dodgy situations to realize that something really off was going down. She noticed the portable generator going, and followed its power cable. Well, whatever they were up to, it needed power. While her first reflex was to simply smash the generator, the Butterfly had learned through bitter experience that that wasn’t always the answer. Still, she went as heavy as she could and plowed through the spiders to the generator. She pulled the power cord that was linked to the column, and several of the lights went out.
One of the people surrounding the column paused and turned his head to look at her, but he didn’t do anything. He just bowed his head again. Then, a moment later, the entire scene sort of bulged out like a bubble, and then collapsed in on itself, with the eight people gone. ‘Oh Shit! An escape teleport rig! Which means that I’ve only got a few seconds!’ the Butterfly said to herself as she scrambled over to the column, where a One-Minute timer was running. She frantically reached into the column and pulled out pieces of electronics at random, hoping to disrupt the circuit one way or another. Then the timer went blank. “HAH!” the Butterfly exulted, “Not THIS time!”
Then the timer went on again and ran even faster, as if to say, ‘YES, this time.’
“SHIT!” the Butterfly screamed into her communicator, “Start MOVING, People! I can’t stop it! It’s going to-”
* * * * *
Except for Marly and the other two kids who were only just getting their heads together, we each had our arms full with at least one ‘invalid’. That is, if you can call a kid who looks like an extra from a Borg set on a Star Trek show an invalid. One of the other local superheroes, a woman who looked like Wonder Woman in long pants and a red leatherette outfit with a golden ‘M’ as the lining of her bustier, gave us a weird look, but accepted that we were lending a helping hand - as she moved an entire rack of people dangling from that rack like puppets. Then she stiffened and said, “MOVE! She says that it’s going to-”
Whatever it was she was saying was lost in the explosion and ruckus as the building started to collapse in on us. It was complete and total confusion time, and we only managed to pull ourselves together when Eddie grew as large as he could and braced with everything he had, giving us some breathing room.
“This way!” Mack said, holding a pallet with ten people stacked on top of it like a tray of loaves of bread. “There’s an exit this way!”
“But the lady-”
“We don’t know if that way’s still open! And it’s still clear! B’sides, it’ll prove that there’s a link between this place and Snowfish!” AND, our getaway van was parked near Snowfish. Our plan had been to go in hard, and come out through this tunnel, when they’d been expecting us to come sneaking in through the tunnel. Once we broke in the hard way, they would’ve dropped all their watches on this tunnel, making it the safest way out.
Well, that was the theory, anyway. We were slogging along as best we could while we were lugging around three or four people each, and the best that I could say about it was that at least they weren’t fighting us. It was like lugging around wet laundry. We were about a block down the tunnel when the lights snap on, and someone yells, “Hold it, RIGHT THERE!” And then the Young Dragons jump out from doorways, immediately forming up into those stupid fighting kata ranks that they do. “Surrender your hostages!” Kenshi shouted (again).
“WHAT?” Mack yelled back, peering around his pallet for a better look at abject idiocy, “Are you MENTAL or something? That place back there is caving in on itself!”
“Don’t expect to hide behind hostages this time!”
“Don’t bother, Mack, he’s an idiot.”
“No, Evan, it’s worse than that,” Marly said as she fought to keep Yvonne from getting away from her. “Look.” Coming out from the doorways, behind the Dragons, were four people, who each had another, younger person with a shaven head in front of them, and each of them had a hand on their hostages’ (?) head, as if aiming them. Each of the ‘hostages’ had the same vacant stare as Yvonne.
Kenshi gave a martial arts yell, unsheathed his sword and jumped right at me, despite the fact that I was carrying three people. Scumbag carved a big slice out of one of the guys I was carrying, forcing me to drop all three of them, just to get them out of harm’s way. Mack tossed his pallet-full of invalids at Kenshi, burying him in comatose kids. But Kenshi immediately shrugged them off and went at me like I was Darth Vader, and I’d just blown up Tatooine.
Okay, I admit it: this guy’s kung fu is better than mine.
Heck, all of the Dragons’ kung fu was better than ours. Despite the numbers being our favor, the Dragons were using way better tactics and, if anything, we were tripping each other up something fierce. Then the other girl who had been liberated with Marly, a white chick with a mop of black hair, pulled out something that looked like a prop weapon from a cheesy sci-fi flick and pointed it at Kenshi. Kenshi went ‘huh?’ and she started doing the same to the other Dragons, one at a time. It took a second for Kenshi to clear his head, but in a light saber duel, that’s all it takes. I put that asshole down HARD. And as for the other Dragons, well, their teamwork, which was their edge, was shot.
Somebody yelled, “GAS!” and a canister flew over our heads in the general area of the guys with the weird ventriloquist act going on. It was one of those KoP CS gas canisters, and the ‘ventriloquists’ started coughing and hacking something fierce. Two-Ton turned and used his gravity powers to force the gas down to the ground, but that just left him wide open. Chris and Rox zapped him in the back, and left him sucking CS. The black chick charged Mack and tried to kung fu him. This worked for a bit, but it bit her in the ass big time, when she tried to throw Mack. Mack just hovered, reversed her grip on him and threw HER into the wall hard enough to leave a curvaceous dent in the cinderblocks. Mind you, I think that hurt Mack almost as much as it did the chick. He really doesn’t like hurting girls.
The other chick threw something that wrapped itself around Eddie and kept him off balance, but Rachel just took her out with a single blast of her arm-gun. The stretching guy was the hardest of the bunch to deal with. He was a slippery cuss. But we managed to get him down. Besides dealing with him, we were all busy getting the kit-bashed gas-masks that we’d made from bits of this and that (and some stuff bought from a head shop). Unfortunately, that gave the old folks an opening to get the hell out of Dodge, and they used it, leaving the stupefied baldies behind.
Making himself understood as best he could through the breather of his homemade gas mask, Mack told us to pile the four baldies and the Young Dragons on his pallet.
“Are you KIDDING?” Billy shrieked, “And what do we do when those assholes WAKE UP?”
“We take them to that school of theirs. We gotta drop off the rest of these somewhere, and that’ll do. Their sensei or master or whatever will at least listen to us.”
“Hey, it’s more’n we got now!” I shouted, backing Mack up. “Load ‘em up and move ‘em out, people!”
* * * * *
Barry McDaniels gazed longingly several blocks at the scene of the near chaos surrounding the PFAR building. “MAN,” he groaned, “will you LOOK at that? They must be gettin’ KILLER footage over there. Howcome we ain’t down there, Hanson?”
Danica Hanson, Brett Cummings’ ‘correspondent’ on the HeroWatch series, fiddled with her hair as pure busywork. “Because that putz Cummings’ down there, no doubt making an idiot of himself as usual. And so is every other news vulture in town by now. Nah, if anything happens, they’ll break out of there and be moving so fast that the competition will be tripping over each other - and the cops and the fire department and the EMTs and the gawkers - that they won’t be able to keep up. Nope, we hang out here; if anything happens, Snowfish will be part of it, and we’ll be the ones with the exclusive footage, while Cummings is still breathing hard.”
Barry gave Danica a ‘Yeah, right’ glower and checked out the surrounding area with his camera. And then, as if to prove that Danica Hanson’s journalistic instincts were worth something, a side door literally blew open, ripped off its hinges.
“Jackpot!” Danica breathed, jumping on the bleeding opportunity like a starving puma. She grabbed her mike and hissed at Barry, “GET THIS!” There was a barely perceived blur as something zipped out of the wrecked doorway, and then a large figure hove into view, that turned out to be a large tray of some sort, with human bodies piled on top of it, including the bodies of the Young Dragons, carried by a single guy in rather tattered looking black sweats. More people in black followed him, carrying more bodies in smaller numbers. Those that could, looked around with flashlights, and then motioned for the others to start moving. Then the blur was back, and the mob started off in the direction that the girl (the blur turned out to be an Asian girl, also in black) pointed out.
They weren’t moving as professionally as the MCO had been making noises like they were, but they were doing pretty well. At least, they were until the four flash-bang grenades went off all around them.
* * * * *
I felt it coming somehow and yelled for the guys to watch it. But I was about a second late and a dollar short. Also, that stupid gas mask that I had my hands too full to get shuck of muffled it. Still, I was able to jump up to the third story roof of the building we were passing by. Not bad for a guy - er, no, lemme check… right, girl - with two semi-grown guys draped over her shoulders, and carrying two large shopping bags full of dinguses.
I shed the excess baggage and checked out the sitch before jumping back in. Most of my crew was covered in a very sticky looking whitish paste. Eddie’s reaction to the flash-bangs had been to drop his load and get big. Their reaction to him getting big was to open up with a HMG.
No, really. A HMG. Eddie took at least five rounds in the stomach and went down screaming, “I’m him, I’m HIT!”
At least, it was only one HMG; but then, one HMG is all you really need for a massacre. Suzy staggered out of the muck just long enough for someone to hit her with something that wrapped around her and tied her up like a cocoon. There was a dull sound of a round going off, and what looked suspiciously like a gas grenade went flying at the crew. Rox gestured, and magnetically repelled the smoker (or whatever) back where it came from. Then Rox burned off the paste that was gumming him up, and rose up into the air, only to get hit with another cocoon thing.
Then I saw a guy in black with gold trim flex armor and heavy plates, not quite power armor, but serious butt-whupping armor, stepped forward, and two grappler cables grabbed Rox. The cables pulled him towards the armor-guy. I was about to do something about that, when I was hit by a powerful spotlight. I jumped and unsheathed my sword, clearing my way as I jumped. By pure idiot luck, I sliced one of those cocoon things in half as it was unspooling in flight.
I landed on the far side of the spotlight, and managed to make out three more guys in armor, two more amped-up flex suits and a suit of flat-out power armor. The power armor had the HMG and the spotlight (not to mention, the heavier armor), so I hit it in the only weak spot that I could be reasonably sure the damned thing had: its knees. It’s damned hard to armor-plate a hinge.
One swipe took the big mook down screaming. As his buddies were coping with that, I ran at the guy with the cables, and sliced them. Rox dropped and breathed hard, for some reason. He was still trying to get his breath back, when Billy reached all the way over with one of his tentacles and dragged him back into the paste. “Burn the rest of it off, schmuck!” I heard Billy yell.
“Oh, YOU again,” I heard from one of the flex-suit guys, the one all in black, with the funky red diamond crystal set on the chest. I recognized Blackheart’s cheesy Sopranos-reject, refugee-from-New-Jersey accent. “This ought’a be fun,” he sneered, black energy crackling around his gauntlets. Oh lovely, just where I don’t wanna be: in the middle of the guys who almost beat me into the hospital last time, when they didn’t have power armor on. He took a few, broad, sweeping swipes at me, obviously trying to herd me into the arms of the big goon with the longhorn skull on his chest or the guy with the cut cables. It was hairy, I’ll admit, but this time, I wasn’t walking right into their punches. Still, they had me hopping, and I was reacting to them, not the other way around. Then a plasma shot caromed off the back of the helmet of the big longhorn goon. He reacted by turning instead of swinging as his partners were expecting him to. This threw off the cable guy, which threw off Blackheart, and they were totally off balance. Then Billy grabbed the cable guy and yanked him off his feet, and the big goon had to crouch to fend off a barrage of plasma shots, and Blackheart was on his own and flatfooted. I sank my sword straight into that crystal thing on his chest. Which, looking back, wasn’t the smartest thing to do. If it had been me, I’d have booby-trapped the damned thing; it was a natural target.
Mind you, he hadn’t booby-trapped it, but you couldn’t have proved it by me. I felt like I’d stuck my tongue in an electric socket. I didn’t burn or anything, but MAN, you don’t feel shit like that every day! There was this weird sensation like I was stuck in Blackheart, and I really had to pull to yank my sword out of him. There was a snap of energy, and I was thrown well out away from Blackheart and his crew, and Blackheart himself wasn’t looking too good. He started screaming, and his crew turned on me with murder in their eyes (what I could see of them).
BUT, just to prove that maybe, just maybe, God doesn’t hate me, right about then, my crew finally got free of that goop, and rushed to cover me. Mack literally flew into the big longhorn goon, and from there, it sort of devolved into a big three-minute Marvel-Comics-style double- page/single-panel spread free-for-all. I managed to catch some footage of it on HeroWatch later. I wish that I’d had ringside seats for it, instead of being in the middle of it all.
Then we all heard sirens, and both sides agreed by silent consent that sticking around to let the Cops or the local capes in on this fight would be stupid. We headed off in different directions. We got to the van and motorcycles that Billy and Mack and Rachel had *ahem!* ‘acquired’ (from a Mission district chop shop). I saw that one of the bikes they’d liberated was a Yamaha YZ250F 4-stroke. The YZ2350F is a motocross model that has the power of a four-stroke engine, but the light chassis and handling of a two-stroke. And, yes, that’s important. It was tricked out for the street, but it was still a better ride than the ‘bad boy’ other bikes that they’d taken. Oh, and those sirens? They were all around us. Mack looked around as he helped Rachel stash the Dragons and the other rescues in the van. “Evan? You up to playing decoy again?”
I just grinned as I revved the motor on the YZ250F.
“That’s a motocross bike,” Eddie said. “You know anything about motocross?”
“I did three years at Peterson Air Force Base, outside Colorado Springs,” I answered. “All there is to DO at Peterson is dirt-biking. Asphalt? Interesting… So, which way is that dojo these Young Dragons hang out at?” Chris checked her Blackberry and pointed in a direction. I gunned the throttle and tore out in the opposite direction. Then I remembered what I was supposed to be doing, and headed in the direction that the sirens were coming from. Heading towards sirens, looking for cops. MAN, my life is seriously screwed up…
I spotted an entire line of black & whites flashing their light bars coming in our direction. I headed right for them, passed them on one side, and used my blade to gouge out the sides of their units and rip up their tires. Then I kipped up my bike to jump up to the hood of the next fuzzmobile, and used its windshield as a ramp. I did a great jump over the next bunch of cop cars, and they obligingly screeched to a stop, and scrambled to follow me.
Hey, when you’re in a screaming hurry, it’s hard to stop and think about things.
From there, I think you can pretty much paste in chase scene footage from any of the chase movies that were made in San Francisco back in the 1970s. I led them a merry chase up Leavenworth Street, and I actually managed to get one of those great ‘flying jumps’ down a steep San Francisco hill. And a couple of those yutzes actually tried to FOLLOW me over that crest! Y’know how, in all those old movies, the car just keeps going after one of those jumps? Bullshit! Mashed the HELL out of their front suspensions!
If anything, my big problem was keeping these clowns on my tail, and not simply losing them. I kept them at it, and I even got them over to Pacific Heights, where I suckered another bunch of cars into following me over the killer slope on Fillmore Street. Then, when I figured that the guys were clear, I gave the SFPD the slip. When I’d gotten the bacon off my tail, I gave my faithful steed the gas and scooted footloose and fancy free…
… right into the street command post of the Knights of Purity. There they were, at least three lances of these yutzes, three temp/perm command posts set in a ‘U’, their frames all powered up and ready, and every man-jack of ‘em looking right at ME, with this, ‘what’re YOU looking at, bitch?’ look. Then, right at the same moment, I recognized that backstabbing, shit-talking SOB Swive getting patched up, and the penny dropped for him as well.
And well, what could I do? I yelled “HEY! SWIVE!” and gave him the one-fingered salute.
* * * * *
Lloyd Kung took the kettle off the range and shifted the hot water into the ceramic teapot. This was the hardest part of his job. Waiting for the Young Dragons to come back from their patrols. All the rest of it: the teaching, the training, the sparring, the mentoring, the hectoring; all of that, he could deal with. But waiting in the night, not knowing if the youngsters who looked up to him would come back in victory or disgrace or despair, of if they’d be dragged back bruised and battered, or worse? Oh, it was the worse, the memories of Louise and Gene, which made it hard.
Then he heard the side door open. “Kenshi? How did it go with that McKinney woman?” There was no answer, but Lloyd heard the sounds of people entering clumsily. “Kiana? Is something wrong?” He hurried down the stairs from the kitchen, and walked into a scene out of his worst nightmares. His Young Dragons were laid out on the practice mats, unmoving, their features bruised and bloody. Near them were the bodies of more young people wearing gray quilted bodysuits studded with sensor attachments. Many of them had strange attachments jutting out of their heads at odd angles. But worst of all were the seven young people in black sweats that were in various stages of blood and tatters. The three larger young men’s sweats were almost completely in rags on their bodies, and one of them had traces of bloody bullet holes across his torso. Lloyd froze on the stair, taking this all in.
“No!” one of the girls said firmly. “Don’t run! We’re not here to hurt anyone. There’s been enough hurting.”
“I’m very glad to hear that,” Lloyd said, slipping into his ‘Master Kung’ persona.
“You’re Master Kung, the sensei of this dojo?” she asked, stepping forward. Lloyd noticed that her black sweats were only torn a bit, here and there.
“I’m the sifu of this kwoon,” Master Kung reproved her gently. “They’re Chinese terms for the same thing, but such distinctions do matter.” He looked over the still forms on the practice mats. “And exactly what happened?”
“That… is very involved.”
“Well then! It’s good that I was just making some tea. When things are involved, it’s best to pause and collect oneself. And there’s nothing like taking tea to help you pause and reflect.” He carried the teapot over to a tea set, and carried the set over to a table. He cleaned the teacups and set them before the young people. “Come! It’s a Japanese tea set, but then, even the Japanese have good ideas now and again. Come. Sit. Drink.” The seven youngsters in black knelt by the table and partook of the tea, while the three young ones in the gray suits who were moving watched, not sure what to make of it. Master Kung encouraged them to each drink a cup of the tea. When they’d finished, he said, “Well then, what exactly is all this about?”
Chris took a deep breath, and tried to figure out where to begin. “Well, it started over a week ago, up in Sacramento…”
* * * * *
Y’know, playing this game with guys in power armor, who are just as fast and nimble as you, isn’t anywhere near as much fun as doing it with cop cars?
* * * * *
“…And well, we had to take these people SOMEWHERE,” Mack said, wrapping it up.
Master Kung absorbed the information soberly. “And these people who are running these labs, do you have any idea who they are?”
“We don’t think that it’s the same people running both labs,” Rox said. “The people up in Sacramento were experimenting with dynamorphs, but the people down here seem to be all about psychic powers. We think that they trade information and equipment and like that, but they’re separate outfits.”
“They’re called UNITY,” the black girl in the gray suit said, clutching her arms against her middle defensively. Her bald friend, who had been sitting there dispassionately so far, turned to look at her, as though only now aware that she was there at all. “They’re all psychics of some kind. They’re like… a psychic internet, everybody all connected up with everyone else, all thinking the same way.”
“How do you know this?”
“It’s all that I’ve fucking heard for the past week,” the white girl in gray snarled through her teeth. “UNITY, UNITY, UNITY, UNITY… They were trying to… y’know, like a cult? They were trying to brainwash us into joining them… into letting them into our heads and… They just kept AT us, all day, all night, 24/7…”
“They were trying to break your wills?”
“No, they weren’t trying to FORCE us, they were just… wearing us down… They kept telling us, over and over and OVER, that they were trying to save the fucking world. That we had to join them, or the aliens would take over.”
“It’s BULLSHIT,” the white boy in gray said, a tic in his left eye. “They said that they’ve been around for years, since the Cold War, and they were the only thing that stopped the Americans and the Russians from nuking the whole planet into space dust. But then they found out that Aliens had infiltrated the governments of the world, and they were manipulating everything so that mankind would wipe itself out. They want to create a secret psychic government that runs the nations of the world from behind the scenes.” He looked up, near-hysterical rage in his eyes. “And it’s BULLSHIT! They’re just a bunch of paranoid assholes who need to run everything and everybody, and they want to make us more pissy little brown-nosing assholes, JUST LIKE THEM!”
“Yeah, like that,” said the white girl in gray. “Without the attitude, but yeah. Just like that.”
“But you are free now,” Master Kung pointed out. “From what you’ve told me, the Guardians have found UNITY’s base, and the district attorney will definitely offer you sanctuary-”
“NO!” Marly snapped. “UNITY in San Francisco isn’t just Snowfish and PFAR. That’s just their research stuff. They got… they got their hands into the local politicians. They HAVE to be in control, don’t you get that? They’ve got a few on a payroll, same as always, and they got blackmail - GOD, do they have blackmail! - and they got the drop on a bunch of players… And even if they don’t have the people under their thumb, they’re PSYCHICS! They can MAKE the people making the decisions ignore everything that we say, everything that the Cops see!” Yvonne reacted to Marly’s panic, becoming vaguely upset herself.
“Young lady,” Master Kung said calmly, “young people often under-estimate their elders. San Francisco has seen much strangeness in its history. UNITY has been here before, and people and organizations much more formidable have been here before, and the city still stands on its own. The UNITY people who were trying to brainwash you said that they controlled this city. But if they had, would the Guardians have been ALLOWED to look into PFAR at all? Would the Knights of Purity have been allowed to come to the city at all? Would the Lady in White be allowed to operate freely? No. San Francisco is too big, too busy, and too watched for the sort of wholesale manipulation that you’re talking about. It’s more likely that those are UNITY’s long range intentions. For the moment, they have to lay low and operate in as much secrecy as they can. And, in the wake of what you describe, they’ll have far more important things to worry about than you.”
“Maybe,” Mack said sturdily. “But then, that’s just what UNITY would want us to think, now isn’t it?”
Master Kung sighed and bowed before an insolvable paradox. “And what now?”
“WELL, honestly, we don’t want to keep running. IF we hear that the authorities are taking UNITY seriously, we’ll get in touch with that Iron Butterfly chick, and take it from there. As for these guys…” Mack gestured at the still bodies on the mat. “We’ll leave them here with you. You can contact the medics, and see what the hospitals can do for them.” He turned to Marly and said, “Marly, we gotta leave Yvonne here. We can’t-”
“NO!” Marly shouted, wrapping her arms around Yvonne, as though someone was going to drag them apart. “I… I can’t leave her! I told her that I’d make sure that she was all right! And I let her go with those Snowfish scumbags, and look what they did to her! They did something to her brain! I can’t leave her again! She needs me.” Yvonne numbly wrapped her arms around Marly as well.
Mack looked to Rachel, but Rae didn’t have any answers. Chris took a deep breath and said, “Look, we don’t have a lot of options here. We were gonna ask the Iron Butterfly, but you’re in an even better position to know: is there some place that we can go to, some kind of sanctuary, where we can go to? I mean, we got paranormals of all kinds in California, there’s gotta be some advocacy group or something, someone who’ll just stop and LISTEN to us, without handing us over to the cops or the MCO or something? PLEASE! There’s GOT to be something! Just give us a name, an address, a web site, a DIRECTION or something! PLEASE!”
Master Kung gave a long sigh and said, “No. There is nothing like that here in the west. And, even if there was, and I knew where it was, I couldn’t tell you. I’m very close to harboring fugitives as it is. My position here is not a secure one. My neighbors have been complaining about the fights that break out outside the school for years. The Police don’t like that my Young Dragons operate in the open. The District Attorney has had pressure put on him to crack down on ‘disruptive vigilantism’. There are gangs that my Young Dragons have… embarrassed… in the past, who have political connections, and would love to see my school closed. If I were to tell you anything, it could be used as a charge of aiding and abetting fugitives, which would be used to have my license to operate a school revoked. I simply don’t have the reputation or connections to withstand such charges. Some great champion of righteousness and decency would, but not an old man who teaches discipline to strange teenagers.”
Chris looked him straight in the eye and said, “I understand. We’ve asked too much of you, as it is. Still,” she reached into the pouch of her hoodie, and pulled out a thick envelope. She gestured at Rox, who gave her a thicker manila envelope. Chris walked over to one of the shopping bags and took out a box. “We were going to give these to the Iron Butterfly, after we’d gained some credit. This envelope has handwritten statements from each of us, telling what happened, in our own words. This envelope has printouts from the laptops we got: technical notes, stuff like that. To give people an idea of what we’re offering. And this,” she hefted the box, “is a sample of UNITY’s weirdo technology.” She looked at the boy and girl in gray. “Y’know, all that he said applies to us, but it doesn’t apply to you. We got cops, and MCO and worse after our hides. Nobody knows you two from Adam. You can stay here and talk to the cops when they show up.”
“NO WAY,” the girl said with a strained voice. “No way I’m trusting anyone in this fucking town. At least with you guys, I know that you won’t just shrug your shoulders and say ‘hey, the bitch ain’t nothin’ to me’.”
“Same here and more of it,” the boy said.
“Great,” Rachel grumped, “two more mouths to feed.”
Mack stood, and waved the group into motion. “Sorry to dump our problems on your doorstep,” he said, fumbling his way through a bow.
“You’re not the first, you won’t be the last,” Master Kung said philosophically.
Master Kung watched from the door as the teenagers broke up into smaller groups and disappeared into the night. When they were safely away, he walked over to where Redwood, the tall African-American Young Dragon was starting to come around. Then he checked on the others, before saying to the empty building, “You can come out now.”
Ghost Tiger and a rather rumpled-looking, stocky guy with a receding hairline, in a black suit with a red tie, walked out into the open. “Are you all right, Sifu?” Ghost Tiger asked.
“I’ve been better. I’ve also been worse. Excuse me, but I need to get an ambulance for these people.”
“Not your students?” the rumpled man in the black suit asked.
“They’ve been through worse. And learning to learn from losing is part of the training. And maybe Kenshi will calm down a little, and maybe pick a name with more humility. Who are you?”
The man produced an ID. “Haines. MCO.”
“You were listening?”
“You know I was.”
“Good. Then you can make a statement that I gave them nothing in the way of aid or assistance.”
“Are you really being harassed, Sifu?” Ghost Tiger asked.
“Nothing that I haven’t been dealing with, for over fifteen years. What do you think of these children’s claims?” Master Kung asked Haines.
Haines shrugged. “It’s possible. There was an outfit called UNITY, back in the Seventies and Eighties, and they operated pretty much like that. But the word is that they shut down, back in ’85. On the other hand, they could’a heard about UNITY from a conspiracy web site, and used that as an excuse.” Haines fixed Master Kung with a no-nonsense look. “I’m going to need those envelopes,” he said with a formal tone.
“You can get copies of them from the DA’s office.”
“Mister Kung, the Office is official on this case, by the order of the Governor.”
Master Kung handed over the envelopes and the box as well. “And, as long as you’re official on this case,” he took a digital tape recorder from his pocket and popped out the recording chip. “Take this as well. And these.” He wrapped some plastic kitchen wrap around the tea set. “I made sure to wipe these before I got those kids to drink from them, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting decent prints. I’ll want receipts for those.”
Haines took the tea set. “I’ll get this back to you-”
“Don’t bother. I never liked that tea set. Cheap Japantown crap. But what can you do? It was a gift.”
* * * * *
Yep, playing ‘Catch me if you can’ is a LOT more fun when you’re only dealing with SFPD in regular cars and on Yamahas without air tac-ops. But the KoP doesn’t have those problems. They had two lances of armor on my ass, and I had a distinct impression that they were trying to herd me into the third.
Well, at least they weren’t gonna open fire with those heavy machine guns, not in these crowded conditions. Heck, open fire, and you had a one-in-six chance of hitting a civilian. Worse, you had a one-in-twenty shot of hitting a lawyer. And not killing him.
I spotted a very brief chink in their formation, and slipped out of their control long enough to head in a whole new direction. I tooled through an alley, and then saw one of those local attraction signs that gave me an idea. I risked pulling down Van Ness Avenue for a few blocks and then turned east on Broadway, and headed into this tunnel that goes through Russian Hill. It was closed for cleaning, but that only made it harder for the suits that were trying to close on me. There were SFPD units at the other end of the tunnel, but I used some of the cleaning scaffolding to pop a jump over them, and I was past them and had a clear path into Chinatown.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
But, unfortunately, it seems that I’m not the first wiseass to try the ‘lose them in the labyrinthine back streets and alleys of Chinatown’ dodge. SFPD has seen that act before, and they have a much better idea of how Chinatown is laid out than I do. Worse, SFPD started cooperating with the KoP, and they started blocking the streets, while the Knights were looking for me in the air.
Don’t you just HATE it when the opposition suddenly gets all competent like that?
I felt that cage forming around me, and I steered into the worst possible place - a blind alley with a sheer 5-story brick façade and no convenient door to slice through. I could just feel the Knights securing the alley entrance, and mustering their forces to come in and get me. I braced for it, and then-
-then I moved. Again. Like I had back at the Country Club Mall. It was like falling, and then suddenly, I was in another alley, a couple of blocks away, as best I could figure. I ditched the bike, got shuck of the black sweats, revealing the clothes I had under them, pulled on the pink windbreaker I had in the pouch and tucked my mop of hair under a Giants baseball cap, and suddenly, I was just another slightly goth-ish Indie chick in a town full of ‘em.
We’d agreed to meet over in Berkeley, at the Ashby Bay Area Rapid Transit station, or BART as the locals all call it. As I rode the city bus to where I could catch BART, I pulled that ‘moving’ thing out of the ‘think about it when you have the chance’ drawer that I’d shoved it in, back in Sacto. I teleported. Okay, so I can teleport. BUT, I don’t know HOW I teleport, I don’t know how to make it work. Besides, it struck me that the classic ‘Nightcrawler Bamf in plain sight’ is a stupid bit. Letting people know that you can just pop out of a situation is just pissing away a HUGE advantage, and we need every advantage that we’ve got, just at the moment. No, I think that I’ll keep this under my hat, at least until I can figure out how I do this. Don’t want the guys relying on me doing something that I can’t be sure will work.
* * * * *
Rawhide carried Blackheart into their latest hang. “You okay, Blacky?”
“NO!” Blackheart snarled as he shucked out of his hardplate. “That BITCH stole some of my power! And I think she did something to my power gem!” He closely examined the gem on his breastplate. “SHIT! She screwed it all to HELL! It’s worthless now!” He threw the plate away in a fit of rage.
“Aw, Fuck!” Rawhide spat, “And after all we went through to GET it!”
Prettyboy helped Evil Eye out of his power frame. “Man, we took it on the chops on this one! The servos on Eye’s frame look shot. It’s gonna really eat into our nest egg, if we’re gonna get it fixed.”
“Oh, we’re gonna get that frame fixed all right,” Blackheart snarled as he pulled the flex suit off.
“You think that our clients will pony up to have it fixed?”
Blackheart fixed Prettyboy with a blazing look. “After this FUCK UP, do you honestly think that we’re even gonna get PAID? No, we pay for it outta pocket.” There was a general groan from the troops over that. “But don’t you worry - we’re gonna get that money right back! That, and my power, and a whole lot more. ‘Cause we’re gonna track those smartass punks down, put ‘em in a bag, and make them PAY! Or, at least someone will pay. But that snotty little bitch with the sword? She. Is. MINE!”
* * * * *
The next morning, we tried our best to blend in with the crowd on the UC Berkeley campus, getting their pre-class coffee and donuts fix. We were front page news, as expected, but the details weren’t encouraging. There was a lot of blither about the damage and the Sacramento connection, and a mention that Snowfish was closing down as a result. Swive was quoted a lot, and there was a ton of Bee-Ess about who we were and what we were doing last night. But there was no mention of PFAR, or the secret lab. There was lots of details about the KoP chasing us out of the PFAR building, but there wasn’t much in the way of anything that implicated the people behind PFAR. And, worst of all, they said that the Iron Butterfly was in the hospital.
So much for our contact with the local authorities.
“So, do you think that UNITY’s put the fix in?” Roxie asked Marly. Marly just shrugged fatalistically, and urged Yvonne to eat. Yvonne obeyed, but she did it sort of on automatic.
“Unity?” I asked. Marly explained that UNITY was the group behind Snowfish and PFAR and that lab. I’ll spare you the details. It explained a lot. Just not how we all knew that UNITY was all capitalized, though no one had ever explicitly said so. “So? You think that maybe UNITY used their Psi to make up City Hall’s mind for them about what went down?”
“Possible,” the girl, who called herself Megan, said. “Can’t be sure, but it’s possible.”
“FUCK,” I swore, “We’re back at Square One, and now Swive knows we’re here, and UNITY’s on our ass, too! FUCK!”
“It’s not as bad as it might be,” Chris said as she sipped her coffee. “We DO have somewhere to go.”
“Oh?” was the general reaction. “Where?”
“What’s in Chicago, besides really good deep-dish pizza?”
Chris smiled. “Last night, I think that Master Kung thought that someone was listening in. That’s why he was covering his ass so much. Mack, remember what he said? ‘There is nothing like that here in the west. And, even if there was, and I knew where it was, I couldn’t tell you.’ Get it? ‘nothing like that here in the west’. Which means that there IS some place like that, IN THE EAST!”
“And it’s in Chicago?”
“No, again, remember what he said? ‘Some great champion of righteousness and decency would, but not an old man who teaches discipline to strange teenagers’. ‘Champion of righteousness and decency’?”
“That’s one of Champions old tag-lines!” Billy said, getting Chris’ drift. “Champion is, like, THE superhero! He’s like SUPERMAN! Heck, I’ve even heard that they based Superman on Champion! Champion could tell us, and they wouldn’t be able to say BOO to him about it!”
“And Champion hangs out in Chicago,” Rachel said, getting the gist of it all. Chris just nodded her head sagely. “Yeah, that’s nice,” Rae said snidely, “Champion, big hero, whoop, whoop, comin’ to save the day. Get REAL! WHY would Champion put his ass on the line for us, especially after that cluster fuck last night?”
Roxie looked at Mack and said, “She’s right. Just ‘cause Champion’s a superhero, doesn’t mean that he’ll believe us.”
“Yeah, but it’s all we GOT,” Mack said, summing it up nicely. “We can’t hang around here, waitin’ for the Iron Butterfly to wake up. And even if she does come to, there’s no guarantee that the G3 won’t hold what went down against us. We gotta go somewhere, and Chicago’s as good as anywhere, and at least we got a shot with Champion.”
“Yeah, but we can’t just catch a plane for Illinois,” Billy pointed out. “We’re gonna have to get there the hard way, on land. And we gotta play it smart, and change how we move every so often, so the cops don’t figure out where we’re going. And we’re gonna need money to do that. I found about ten, twelve grand in a safe back there, but that ain’t gonna last long. Especially now that we got five more mouths to feed.”
“Make that six,” Roxie said, passing Sparky some bacon. Sparky gave a chipper bark, as though agreeing. Like I said, damn smart dog.
“So, I say that we get some addresses from the laptops of other labs, like that PFAR place, and raid them. Even if we don’t have a lot of cash lying around loose, we might find some nifty shit like these dinguses we pried loose from UNITY, that we can sell for operating capital.”
There was a solid round of groans at this, but I said, “Actually, he’s right. Right now, what we got is a serious lack of cards to play. And the only place that we can GET more cards to play, are in those stupid labs. Okay, we know who UNITY is; big deal. We need to know who are the people that Mr. Bland worked for. We need to know their names, who they are, all that. And these people are clearly operating WAY outside the Law; when we kick over their garbage can, the cops find out all sorts of nasty things, and WE look that much better for having the real scoop on them. And, like Billy said, we can find stuff in those labs that might help us somehow. If nothin’ else, we might find more people that they’re using as guinea pigs, and set them loose.”
“So… we hit the labs in Berkeley or down in Silicon Valley?” Suzy asked.
“Nah,” Roxie said. “We split the difference. We hit those labs that are en route to Chicago. We gotta get to Champion, one way or another. Hitting the labs will pay the bills, and give us more cards to play, like Evan said. BUT, we don’t fart around in one place too long. First things first, we get to Chicago.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” Eddie said. “But what about them?” he jerked a thumb at Marly, Yvonne, Megan and the guy.
“They come with us,” Mack said, all leader-like. “They got one thing goin’ for them that we need like air to breathe: they ain’t wanted by the cops. When we find Champion, we’re gonna need them to vouch for us, that we are who we say we are, and that the whole thing at Snowfish and PFAR really happened.” We looked around the table at each other. That seemed to be it; we had a plan. “Okay, Suzy, what’s the nearest place that’s got three or more labs on the list, that’s on the road to Chicago?”
She checked her laptop. “Las Vegas.”
“Waaa-HOOO!” Eddie trumpeted, “VIVA LAS VEGAS!”
* * * * *
This is the end of ‘A Perfect Storm Over California’.
Next: Vegas, Baby, Vegas!