There was a significant pall on the scene, with all parties, even Ulrike pausing at this new development. Even by supervillain standards, eating someone is pretty hardcore.
The pall lasted for a long moment. Then Doc and Wheels let out maenad screams of primal rage and charged the Raven Witch. Luxara gestured, manifesting a tall figure of a lion-headed woman in Egyptian dress, with an elaborate headdress. The Blue Comet lifted off, but didn’t seem to be sure exactly what he was supposed to do. Doc twentiplicated and lashed out with her telescoping arms. But the arms just dangled from all of her sides, wiggling rather pathetically. Despite her snarls of frustration, all of Doc was rather glad that Slim wasn’t around to see that and be all smug. As Wheels mixed it up furiously with the Mecha-Ushabtis (and Luxara was screaming about the damage to them that Wheels was doing), Doc reached into her ‘pockets’, and found-
-a lot of stuff. A LOT of stuff. All of which was either really kewl or had mad resale value, but not that much of it had immediate combat value.
As Wheels bashed at the Mecha-Ushabtis, the Raven Witch ducked behind their cover and said, “GUYS! What the FUCK? It’s ME, Slim!”
“You ATE Slim, you BITCH!” Wheels snarled.
“No, I took her over! Remember, at this level she’s just a possessor spirit, so when the Witch ‘swallowed’ me, she didn’t consume me, she just put me on an even footing with her. The other half of me had her True Name from the Mega-Book, so I went into spirit combat with her, while the other half of me cast the binding spell!”
“Which she BIFFED!” Doc screamed in 20-plex stereo.
“No, she- er, _I_ didn’t biff it, that’s how the spell works! It bound the Raven Witch by her true name, and now that I’m complete within this living body, I got her by the nards.”
“Do you honestly expect us to believe that?”
“I honestly expect you to know better than to attack me while we’re in the middle of a 4-way firefight!”
As though suddenly reminded of that, Al-Mutamaliq, who was seated in a floating ‘power throne’ and wearing a ‘helm of glory’ (it was amazing what they were finding littering the floor of this place) cast a bolt of retribution, which ‘popped’ four of the Doc projections.
The (possible) Raven Witch blasted Al-Mutamaliq with the (Improved) Staff of Horus, sending him crashing back, even with the power throne’s screens of protection. “Do you MIND?” she screeched, “We’re having a ‘The View’ moment here!”
Then Belphegor’s battered legions threw a few tear gas grenades into the mix. The Raven Witch casually flicked the canisters into the mass of Scorpions. “Hey Rădescu!” she called out. “What do you think you’re accomplishing? Belphegor’s left the building, three floors have pretty much been trashed, the inventory here has been ruined, Belpho’s meet is down the crapper, you’ve lost how many troops, and now you’re digging in to get MORE troops killed? And Rădescu, think about it! How long has this battle been going on? NYPD has sent units by now, SWAT is already probably taking up positions around the building, and the borough president is probably deciding whether to send in Sentinel, or hope that the Empire City Guard is at home. You’re fighting in a burning house, Rădescu!” The Blonde’s exquisite face fell and her big blue eyes crossed. “I just realized- there isn’t a whiff of woof in that…”
While Rădescu did a better job of hiding his feelings with his mask than Belphegor had, you could still tell by his body language that he was thinking heavily. Then he made up his mind and barked out a string of Military Phonetic Code words in triads, “ALFA JULIET HOTEL! GOLF X-RAY NOVEMBER! YANKEE FOXTROT SIERRA!” As battered as they were, the Belphegor minions snapped to and began a formation for withdrawal, with robotic units covering their withdrawal. Not that anyone was shooting at them at the moment; the fewer guns in that warehouse, the better.
Wheels broke off and watched the Goldfaces file out with a slack jaw. “GAW-DAMN! You TALKED them out of here. Even SLIM would have-” she stopped short and goggled at the Blonde.
“Damn Skippy…” the Blonde hissed gutturally through clenched teeth, eyes squinting.
“It IS Slim,” Wheels said with a flat disgusted voice.
“Yeah,” Doc agreed, pulling herself together and shedding many weapons into pocketspace, “A Raven Witch might be able to pull all that Bee-Ess out from Slim’s memories, but only SLIM would think that lame-ass Clint Eastwood impression was cool.”
What? But my Clint Eastwood impression is awesome! AWESOME! Even Clint Eastwood would have a hard time out-awesoming my Clint Eastwood impression!
Then I was caught in a fierce group hug with Doc and Wheels. Which would have been nice- IF we still didn’t have two active fronts to cope with! And of course, the second that thought formed in my mind, Ulrike showed that she had the true predator instinct. She and her wolf-wraiths stormed down from the top of the stack of crates they’d been hiding from the firestorm on. Half of her wolf-wraiths attacked the towering Sekhmet (I think; I’m not that hep on Egyptian imagery) figure that was still holding two mer-skanks in its clawed hands like fishy nunchucks, and half piled on top of Doc, Wheels and me. Wheels was up for it, but Doc screamed like a little girl and ran off as fast as her octo-arms could carry her. Ulrike charged and tackled me, and took the Staff of Horus away from me. With a vaulting backflip to give her some distance, she sued the staff to blast Blue Comet out of the air and send Al-Maltedmilk tumbling out of his power throne again.
Then copping a dramatic pose and holding up the Staff, she announced, “USHABTI, to ME!” And they just looked at her with those cylon visors and did nothing. “I SAID, “_TO_ME_!” she screamed.
“It helps, if you know how it works,” I gloated as I stepped toward her, forming an Eldritch Shield in my left hand around the Mega-Book, and weaving a chain of Battle-Stars in my right.”
Bit Ulrike proved that while she might not know how the Mecha-Ushabti work, she knows close combat very well. Two of her Wolf-Wraiths blindsided me, making me expend some battlestars, while she jumped me. She clawed at me, but all she came away with was the Dodger Bandolier that had managed to stay looped over my shoulder all this time. I never even had a chance to examine it, to see what was in it. Blue Comet blasted the wolf-wraiths away from me, and Wheels was making a fur rug out of the ones on her. Ulrike was trying to get the bandolier disentangled from her claws, when I let her have it with my remaining battlestars.
Ignoring the bandolier, Ulrike set against me, posing for a battle of sorceresses. You’ll excuse me if I gloat for a moment about how totally cool it all was. Ulrike erected a shield spell of her own and looked like she was prepping an attack spell of her own. So I thrust my left hand forward and let fly with the ‘pepper spray’ from the Belphegor-knockoff sprayer that I picked up a while ago. I fed it some of my primal sparkle PK, which got it through that wolf-sheath, and right in Ulrike’s eyes- and that oh-so sensitive nose.
Ulrike reeled, both hands coddling her aching snout. Then the bandolier on her claw let off an electric shock that you could hear, and went flash and bang. As Ulrike dealt with that, a thick (and damn noxious, even from this distance) smoke erupted, and a metallic band wrapped around her, but it tangled up her head and arms.
Then a familiar figure dropped from above and ran around grabbing bandoliers from the various Docs manifested around the room. The not-Doc threw the bandoliers at Ulrike, and they each did a zap-flash-bang-stink-band, to the point where Ulrike was, apropos of our guests, wrapped up like a mummy.
Then the not-Doc clamped something with a serious amulet attached around Ulrike’s neck, wrapped Ulrike’s snout shut with duct tape, put a Mage Hood over that (with some difficulty, given her snout) and Mage Mittens on her hands. Then she clipped a carabiner to the cables holding Ulrike at the back, and fixed that to a cable going up. Grabbing the Staff of Horus, she jumped onto Ulrike’s back and rode her as the cable hoisted her up. The smoke made it hard to follow and they were well out of sight before anyone could so much as blink.
“Oh, the bandoliers were booby-trapped,” Doc said. “Well that explains why she had such a Liefeld accessory in the first place, if she has those ‘pockets’.”
Some of Ulrike’s wolf-wraiths just stood there, no sure what to do without ‘Mommy’ to give them orders. Others just ran off after Ulrike, for want of anything better to do. Luxara sicced her giant catwoman and a man-headed eagle (vulture? buzzard?) on the remaining wolf-wraiths, while Blue Comet erected an energy wall to shield us from the Scorpions. I silently wondered whether the things that Luxara was throwing at the Wolf-Wraits were controlled hobgoblins, manifestations, conjurations, or what. I was about to ask the book, when Luxara turned to Doc and snapped, “What did you do with the Staff of Horus?”
“Ah, Luxara?” I interjected, “That wasn’t one of Doc. I think that was the Dodger, taking care of business.”
“Then why did she take the Staff of Horus?” Luxara demanded.
“I’m not sure, she didn’t run that play past us,” I waffled. “More likely than not, she mixed up Ulrike’s wolf-staff for yours in all the commotion.”
“That WAS pretty hairy and off-the-cuff, y’gotta admit,” Wheels backed me up.
“I NEED the staff to control the Ushabti, and to take control of the Sect!”
“By the way,” I said, largely to give the three of us time to think of a dodge around the Dodger’s dodge, “Did you find a magical way to stabilize us in the book? I mean, I’m okay now, but Doc and Wheels are still a little fuzzy.”
“Yes,” Luxara said with a note that implied that she knew what I was trying. “For someone whose dissolution was as advanced as your own, that talisman around your neck would have acted as a matrix-creator and pattern focus.”
“This talisman?” I fingered the strange circular clockwork thing around my neck. Not trusting Luxara to give me a straight answer, I asked the book, and it informed me that it was an all-purpose talisman and amulet that shifted the runes and minor stones in its clockwork computer around to form the proper patterns for a desired working. Okay, that would explain why my fight with Ulrike went as well as it did. Getting off that, I said, “Look, while I can’t speak definitely for the Dodger, I’m sure that she doesn’t want to mess with you. I’m also sure that she really wants that wolf-staff as well, if only to make sure that Ulrike never gets her paws on it again. It’s just a matter of getting in contact with her and arranging the swap.”
“But I need to control the Ushabti NOW,” Luxara pointed out, indicating the statues, which were standing as still as… well, statues.
“Okay, while it won’t have any bearing on that investiture ritual you mentioned, I can offer you a stopgap measure,” I told her. “I arranged for a bypass of the Ushabti control mechanism, and it’s here inside this body, along with me and the Raven. I can transfer that mechanism into an object, which you can use to control the Ushabti.”
“Why not pass along the mechanism directly?” she asked suspiciously.
“Why did the Pharaoh keep the mechanism separate from himself?” I countered, not wanting to say ‘I don’t trust you that much’.
She eyed me suspiciously. “Are you sure you have the skill to do this? The last thing we need is for you to bungle yet another working, and set the Ushabit on us all- or worse.”
“Oh, that’s just cold,” I winced. “To the point and on the mark, but still… cold. No, I have the Raven Witch bound to me inside here, remember? And she’s a lot of things, but one thing she’s not is inept. Another is free; I control her. I can instruct her to transfer control of the ushabti to some sort of device. With this talisman, it gets even easier. Do you have some relic or talisman of the Pharaoh’s that you think your cul-er, Sect would accept as an alternative to the Staff of Horus?”
“Yes,” she drawled, musing on the prospects. “The Khephr-ta, er, the blue crystal scarab that my husband wore.” Her doe eyes went hard and she scowled in the direction of the Scorpions. “The problem being, that Al-Mutamaliq is wearing it, along with other bits of regalia.”
“LADIES?” Blue Comet shouted as he kept the energy wall that protected us from the Scorpions’ assaults up, “I know that you girls love to chat and all, but we ARE in the middle of a battle here?”
Humphf. Men. “Still he has a point,” I allowed, “How are we going to get the Khephr-ta away from him? And keep it away from him? Because, once I install the Ushabti control mechanism in that gewgaw, it’ll be like a TV remote control: they will obey whoever holds it.”
Luxara gave the Acolyte a lioness glare. “That won’t be that great a problem.” And I noticed that the Al-Munchkin wore the Khephr-ta, along with other bits of the Pharaoh’s regalia. And I remembered that neither of them had any intention of playing nicely.
The problem was that the Ushabti were the deciding factor. The Scorpions outnumbered us 2:1, but we had more personal power. Okay, Doc could go either way in the power equation. She can form 20 of herself, but her being twenty-fold just means 20 times more chances of her getting shot. I mean, she isn’t that much better a shot than I am.
“Jeezus Krist!” Blue Comet yelped as the Brute shouldered a very big BFG and fired at him. BD fell stunned, and so did the wall he’d been holding up. But Al-Mitzvah didn’t have his men fire at us. Instead he barked a cryptic order in whatever they were speaking, and the Armsman shouldered another- this time strangely familiar- piece of Bel-Tech and fired it at us. Wheels got between us and the incoming owchie, and spread the shield of that Proto-spirit powered wrist bracer she was so amped about, so that it covered all of us. The beam hit the wall, and there was a really weird prism effect that covered most of the warehouse. It would have been really cool, if not for the very weird ‘being scrunched together’ feeling.
When I managed to shake the woofles out of my head I looked around and got a very, very bad feeling. I was standing next to a 3-story building. I’d been standing next to a 3 foot high packing crate. And they both had the same markings and lading labels. I looked up, and the roof of the warehouse was still there- it just looked a loooonnngg way further up.
That idiot Al-Motza somehow got his hands on that Shrink Ray that Belphegor had in his crocked projects warehouse! Wheel’s buckler thing somehow spread it all over the place, instead of blocking it or reflecting it back at the Scorpions.
Y’know, this is exactly the kind of thing I specifically wanted to avoid when we went in here.
Everyone, given cues as to their respective sizes by context with various bits of this and that, erupted in a babble of panic, disbelief and blame-mongering. I rummaged around in my pockets, trying to remember where I stashed-
-YES! I still had the bulky cylinder that was the ‘Unshrink’ counter-measure. Mind you, we didn’t really need it in the long term; if Belphegor had a reliable method of shrinking people and materials, he’d be a billionaire. The uses in transportation alone would make him rich beyond even his dreams of avarice. Come to think of it, why did it shrink some things here, and not others? Anyway, the odds are that the shrinking will resolve itself, all in its own good time. The problem is, how long? That could be anything from an instant ‘pop!’ to hours- or days-or months. There was a reason why Belpho made the counter-agent. Never trust weird technology.
I cut through the bickering with a proper New York taxi-hailing whistle. Holding up the counter-measure, I said, “Wheels, tell the people what this is.”
With considerable glee, Wheels informed them exactly what it was, letting them know that the balance of power had shifted. I was about to demonstrate it by unshrinking the Blue Comet (yes, my first reflex was to unshrink myself, but… it’s Belfo-Tech…), but Luxara snatched it from my hand. But she didn’t unshrink herself; rather she shook the cylinder at the Scorpions and nattered at them. Again, I don’t speak Arabic (or Egyptian or Aramaic or Coptic or whatever she’s going on in. Even so, I got the distinct impression that she was telling them to throw down their arms and proclaim her their goddess (or at least cult leader), or they could look forward to shopping for clothes at Toys R Us for the rest of their lives.
Which was a tactic, I’ll admit, but the freaking COPS are coming, and I’m amazed that SWAT or someone in tights hasn’t already broken down the door. We have to get going, and I know she wants to take control of her cult, and I can’t really blame her (she’s in an either in charge or on trial situation), but we could pull that off a lot better if we were BIG!
She was really getting into her spiel, when Al-Muzak tore the cylinder from her hands with his magic. She retaliated with one of her Egyptian critters, who looked like Peter Potamus in Egyptian drag. The Hippo-demigod wrestled the raw red power of Al-Muhzik’s magic as I screamed at them to stop! Yes, I know, they’re fellow mystics. But they’re only proving the tech-heads beef that mystics have no appreciation for the delicacy of high tech components.
And, sure enough, after them waltzing around with it for a few moments, the magic blue smoke came out. With a scream, Doc and I rushed over, tore the Deshrinker away from them and gave it a brief eyeball onceover. “You IDIOTS!” I yelled, “You wrecked it! This is why we can’t have nice things!”
“It’s cool, it’s cool, I can fix it!” Doc said, skittering up on those arms.
“This is bleeding edge superscience technology!” I argued.
“I can FIX it!” she insisted, producing a set of micro-omnitools.
One of the Scorpions stepped forward, chambering a round into his gun.
“Don’t even THINK about it, asshole!” I snapped at him. Hey, everyone understands English, if you’re angry enough. “Give us any shit, just one fucking MOLECULE of shit, and you can all spend the rest of your lives as rats in the woodwork!” And sure enough, they understood me perfectly.
Twenty awkward minutes of fiddling around later, and Doc was ready. She fired the countermeasure at the nearest Scorpion. He vibrated and fuzzed for a moment, and then began to grow. Unfortunately, his soft tissue outgrew his skeleton by a rate of 5:1, and his brains came squirting out of his eye sockets, after his eyeballs popped out.
“It’s okay, it’s okay!” Doc insisted loudly. “I know exactly what happened!”
She fiddled with it for another few tense minutes and prepped it for firing. “I’ll be the next test subject,” Blue Comet said, stepping forward. Which was very noble- and damn stupid- of him. Doc fired again, and Bee Cee grew at a consistent speed- unfortunately, he didn’t stop growing until he was bumping his head on the ceiling, which was a good 20 feet high.
As Doc fussed and fiddled with the countermeasure again, and the Scorpions looked like they were losing patience- not that Luxara wasn’t having a silent duel of glaring daggers with Al- Keseltzer (hey, I ran out of ‘M’ jibes), I opened the Mega-Book and started cramming. Just as Doc was finishing up, I took the countermeasure from her, fiddled with it, and turned it on myself.
And just like that, I was right-sized again. I used it on Bee-Cee, and he shrank down to his usual size. Doc glared daggers at me as I restored her and Wheels back to normal. Then I restored Luxara. “So, how do you want to handle this?” I said jerking my head at the GI Joe™ sized Scorpions.
Luxara didn’t say anything. She just reached down and snatched Al-Khapone out of his power throne like he was a doll. She held him in her left and stabbed him in the stomach with the God-Killing Dagger. How she got her hands on it, I have no idea. It wasn’t obvious to naked sight, but I got the gut impression that the dagger was channeling proto-spirit energy right out of the Al- er, the Acolyte (this is really NOT the situation for snide jibes!), and into Luxara. When she drained him, she dropped him like a forgotten toy. Summoning up that Lion-headed giantess again to back her up, she snarled in Coptic (or whatever) at the Scorpions that if they didn’t want to incur the wrath of a Goddess-Queen, they would get down on their knees before her and swear eternal loyalty NOW! Okay, I didn’t understand a word of what she was saying, but her meaning was crystal clear.
The Scorpions all got down and started mumbling something. I could barely hear it, and odds were I wouldn’t understand it. But again, the meaning was clear: ‘You’re the Queen, Boss. Don’t roast us.’
Blue Comet was totally aghast at what Luxara had done to the Acolyte. “It ain’t nothin’ he wasn’t gonna do to US,” I pointed out. I picked up his squirming body and found a healing spell in the Mega-Book. The wound closed up, but he was still pretty weak from loss of blood- and wilted with loss of power. Bee-Cee felt a little better, but he was still giving Luxara off looks that could develop into problems later.
Luxara pointedly held out her hand and said something sharp. The Acolyte took the Kephr-ta from his neck and paused mulishly at handing it over. Luxara said something else snappish, which struck me as some sort of demand. The Acolyte muttered something and handed it over. My well-developed henchman senses were tingling; I think Al-Muskrat just wrote himself a loophole of some kind. I don’t know what it is, and to be honest, I’m losing interest in Black Pharaoh Sect politics by the second.
Luxara handed off the Kephr-ta to me, and started plucking all the regalia from the Acolyte. I handed off the countermeasure to Doc, who started restoring the Scorpions to normal size. I set the Raven Witch to patching the Ushabti control dingus into the Kephr-ta. It was a clumsy fit, but I managed to get the buzzard to make it work.
With that done, I handed the Kephr-ta to Luxara and said, “Well, that’s that. Let’s get you to the Boom Tube.”
“Boom Tube?” she echoed, puzzled.
“The teleportation device Belphegor used to get you, your husband and the Scorpions here,” I explained. “We have got to get you lot out of here NOW. That spiel I gave Rădescu about the Police? That wasn’t a con! Okay, it was a con, but I accidentally tripped over the truth. If they Cops haven’t surrounded and started entering this building by now, it’s because they’re having problems getting a warrant. That boom tube is the only way you’ll all get out of here before the Cops’ forward scouts find us. The tube will get you to wherever you all started at.”
“And what about you?” she asked suspiciously.
“It’s a teleporter!” I waffled. “We’ll just set it for somewhere else!” And that reminds me.” I touched my power ring to her lantern. Nothing. “Hal Jordan, you lying two-faced sunnuvabitch…”
“Yeah, let’s get GOING,” Doc said putting away her phone. “We have real problems!”
“Like?” Bee-Cee prodded her.
“I just tried to call CASPAR. NADA. It’s not that he put me on voice mail or hold or just ignoring me- there’s no return signal. He’s _not_there_.”
“Oh, CRAP,” I groaned.
“And this is so terrible WHY?” Bee-Cee prodded me.
“There’s a reason why they field AIs in troikas,” I said. “Because nobody really trusts them. So they set them in competitive troikas, to keep them honest. But now, CASPAR’s either done something he’s not telling us about, or Belphegor somehow triggered the auto-lobotomy and he’s brain-dead. Either way, BALTHAZAR is the only AI in charge of this base, we don’t have a relationship with him, he may still be loyal to Belphegor, and pretty damn soon it’s gonna occur to him that he doesn’t have two snitches hovering over his shoulder anymore. What he does? Who knows?”
“So this would be a very good time to leave this place,” Luxara said, checking out the immediate tactical situation.
“aaahhh… YEAH,” Doc, Wheels and I said in unison.
We traveled down the hall to the Ultimate-Security High-Risk Project chamber where the Black Pharaoh had met his death. We could tell by the blown-off doors and general wreckage. As the Scorpions filed in, I noticed something weird: the Big Guy, their muscle man, was still six(ish) inches tall, and he was riding on the shoulder of the Armsman, looking like he felt like a monkey. I tapped Doc on the shoulder, jerked a thumb at the jerk and asked, “What’s with that?”
“The, ah, Unshrinkerator ran out of juice, just before we got to him,” Doc explained with an embarrassed grin.
Oh well, it’ll take a while, but he’ll get back to normal size- eventually. And guys like him are usually the biggest kid on any playground growing up; being the little guy for a while might be good for him.
We secured the chamber with no resistance. Which was a nice change from the way that things had been going that night. Doc and I immediately sprinted over to the Boom Tube booth and fired it up. When we had the Transit Circle activated, the Acolyte informed the guys on the other end that everything was okay, and they were coming through. I think. He may have a card up his sleeve, but he’ll play it on the other side of the tube, when it’s none of our business.
As Al-Gebra was yammering with whoever on the other side, I noticed my reflection in a surface. Woo! It’s one thing to look at an absolutely gorgeous girl and appreciate that she’s beautiful; it’s another to realize that she’s YOU! Oh Yeah…
Doc noticed this and purred, “Yeah, pity about you and Wheels… stuck with Bodies by Belphegor…”
You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Doc can be a real bitch at times.
“You have the tunnel ready?” Luxara asked.
“Yeah, the portal’s stable, and your acolyte here has informed the party on the other side of… something,” I said.
“Excellent. Now, I need to consult your marvelous book regarding something.”
Okay, if it gets them the hell out of here quicker, I’m willing to be helpful. I walked over and handed Luxara the Mega-Book. She leafed through it for a moment with pursed lips, and then found what she wanted. She read the passage carefully, sketched out a design in glowing lines in the air, and said something dramatic in a clear voice. When she waved her hands at Blue Comet, Doc, Wheels and me, and sent those golden vortices at us. They lifted us up off the ground, and hieroglyphs formed in the vortices, and whirled around us. Then four of the Mecha-Ushabtis came up behind us, grabbed our hands and hoisted us high by them. Bee-Cee and Wheels were super-strong, but superstrength doesn’t mean a lot if you don’t have any leverage. I tried to use my ‘raw magic’ or telekinesis or whatever to lift myself and the Ushabti off the ground, but the vortex was restraining my proto-spirit energy. I had some nasty suspicions about those hieroglyphs as well.
“HEY!” I yelled, “What the fuck IS this ripoff shit? We had a DEAL! And we kept our side of the deal and then some!”
“Then, I was dealing from a position of weakness,” Luxara smugged as she settled herself into her power throne and placed the crown the Acolyte had been wearing (that I realized had my silver mask and other bits worked into it). “Now, I have the advantage, and I must consider the sacred mission and future prosperity of the Black Pharaoh Sect, over petty matters of personal honor.”
“Yeah, well that is still MY book!” I yelled back. “It’s mine, I worked for it, I earned it, and I brought it here; it’s MINE!”
“And there is a Spirit of Wisdom infused into it, which was forged by Twelve Years of MY suffering!” Luxara snapped back.
“I have to wonder, Luxara” I said calmly. “Did the Pharaoh go through all this to restore you because he thought that suffering had tempered you somehow, made you wiser or more compassionate? Or was it simply that after 12 Years, he’d forgotten what a cast-iron bitch you are?”
She snarled, floated her throne over to where I was dangling, and slapped me with the flat of that overdone spear. “YOU! Your precious employer, the Artful Dodger, made off with the Staff of Horus, requiring that I contrive this stopgap measure!” she indicated the Kehpre-ta. Oh, she’s a historical revisionist; this is going to get massively ugly. “She killed my husband and made off with his greatest talisman. For that, you and these other three murderers and thieves will pay recompense to the-” she garbled something in that language of hers, probably the Mystically Correct version of the Black Pharaoh cult. Oh, yeah, she’s playing the ‘I didn’t kill my husband, they did; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it’ card.
She stuck the ‘magic lamp’ to my chest and hit me with the salt tablet. And sure enough, the Raven Witch was forced out of my body and into the lantern. Okay, this is not good, but Suxara just let greed make her do something stupid. I may be able to weasel us out from under this after all.
Then she floated over to Doc, who was trying furiously to duplicate her way out of the Ushabti’s grip, but not having any luck. Luxara touched Doc on the stomach with the Godkilling Dagger (didn’t stab her, though; probably didn’t need to and didn’t want to get bloody). A gush of invisible to the unaided eye energy rushed from Doc through the dagger into the lamp. Doc gasped and sagged, but she just looked… lessened, not hurt, Thank God.
Lyxassa did the same to Wheels. Then she came back to me, before going on to Blue Comet. I guess she likes hurting me. I look forward to returning the favor. As she pointed the Godkilling Dagger at me, I did everything I could to erect a protective ward around myself.
“Man, you never have a digital camera when you really need one,” Pixie muttered just loud enough for the Shadowmage to hear. It was a scene out of ‘Indiana Jones and the Dungeon of Kinky Thrills’. The center of the scene was this slinky Latin or Mediterranean (maybe) chick who was working a serious Techno-Egyptian look in an off-white bodystocking with a TON of faux-Egyptian bling including a starburst crown and a spear that even Jack Kirby would have thought was excessive. She was riding a techno-mystical (maybe) power throne that didn’t match her motif. Maybe she ripped it off from the guy who was running this Target© for Supervillains Box Store. Backing her up was a squad of guys in pretty off-the-rack minion/strike team body armor. Except for the little guy on one guy’s shoulder; Pixie had no clue what that was about. But the mooks were backed up by a team of very major looking Tac/Assault Robots; or were they cybernetically augmented animated statues? Can you bionically wire animated statues? She’d ask Shady later.
Four of the maybe-robots/ maybe-golems were holding four prisoners up off their feet by their hands with sparkly whirlwinds of golden energy whipping around the, with Egyptian symbols of power floating in the mix, which struck Pixie as either gilding the lily or just scraping by for something really nasty. One was a guy in a nicely accessorized, but otherwise pretty vanilla super-suit in shades of blue. Pixie didn’t recognize him, but there’s always someone who just got a brand-spanking new super power and comes to the Big Apple to be the next Superman. The other three were women, two blondes and a brunette. The brunette, a petite thing in a black longcoat, rang a bell for Pixie, but she couldn’t peg the kid. One of the blondes, a real overblown ‘oh, lookit me, I’m such a megababe’ type, was wearing a similar outfit, but really tricked out with a lot of mystic doodads. The second blonde was also decked out in black, but it was a uniform (less the golden mask) of a Crooked Inventor called ‘Belphegor’, and she was one of Belphegor’s ‘tall and stacked’ She-Minions. Maybe this was one of Belphegor’s depots, and she could be pressured to give up the big guy?
Cleo-skank-ra had done something to the petite one and the Amazon with this funky dagger, which really seemed to be rubbing Shady’s rhubarb the wrong way. She didn’t stab them and they weren’t hurt, but whatever she did to them really seemed to take the wind out of their sails.
Pixie could sense Shady taking things from his utility vest and cobbling something together. He was getting a sense of the situation and making sure that he had just the right tools for it. But then, Shady reconnoitered the bathroom and made he had just the right tools for having a shower.
Then Shady had his whateveritwas ready, and he was closely watching what Cleo-bitch-ra was doing to the spooky blonde, when something really off went down. The Queen of Mean was just touching Blondie’s midsection, when it hit something she hadn’t expected, and something erupted out from that spot. Heavens to August Derleth! It’s Lovecraft time!
The freak was one of those ‘Things that should not be’, a central mass with way too many eyes and mouths, slime dripping everywhere, and a tangle of long chitinous tendrils with fanged mouths at the ends; it was maybe the 15th or 16th ickiest thing she’d ever seen. The Thing that Should Not Be tore Spooky Blonde out of the Golem’s grip and pulled Queenie out of her throne as well. The Golems dropped Superguy and the petite one, but TTTSNB grappled them, dropping Spooky Blonde and Queen Nasty to do it.
Cleo-tart-ra’s mooks were readying their weapons, including one guy who had a hella nasty sword. But one of them, the guy wearing the black robes and gold mask (was that a thing with these people?) held up a hand. Apparently he was playing cult politics with brass knuckles.
Spooky Blonde got up and staggered away from TTTSNB. As she was getting her marbles counted, Queenie got up with that grisly-as-all-hell dagger glowing, cocked it and dove for Blondie’s back. But just as about to take a second shot at Blondie, she stiffened and was thrown back dazed, dropping the dagger as she fell. Shady made a muttered comment about a back-mounted shocker, like he was considering the benefits of making one for himself. But then, without a word (again!), he sprinted out of concealment, and beat one of the mooks to the dagger. He gave the mook a face/palmslam- knee/ solar plexus- elbow/ back of head combo. Then he deployed the gizmo he’d prepped, a slender chain of an array of amulets on it, at TTTSNB. As it screamed from ALL of its mouths, Shady readied the icky-blade and jumped into TTTSNB’s center mass. Realizing that Shady needed cover from the mooks, no matter what the Weasel in Black said, Pixie flew out of cover, yelling, “Okay, who ordered the Ass-Whooping with extra anchovies?” She let off one of her trademark dazzle-burst at the guy with the glowing sword, which seemed to do more to him that it did most Normals.
As Shady was doing this, the perky brunette in (mostly) black pulled a BFG from… somewhere, took cover and started firing at the mooks. Superguy in blue lifted off and started blasting TTTSNB, though Shady seemed to be doing it more real damage. Then Perky Chick was on top of one of the Golems, blasting it with a different BFG. But the BFG over there was still firing at the mooks. Spooky Blonde got her head together and ran over to kick Queen Nasty in the teeth before she could get her head together. Then she pulled this big blue crystal scarab from Queenie’s neck. Then she dropped it and kicked it over to the Weasel in Black.
Then Spooky Blonde waved her hands, and sparkles shot out. The sparkles settled over various bits and pieces that had been scattered. She pulled those bits and pieces to her, but she lost control of her power, and she suddenly had her hands full, not getting wiped out by her own power. Probably a rookie.
The Weasel in Black, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was doing. He held up the blue crystal scarab dingus and yelled something in an idiosyncratic dialect of Arabic. The mooks seemed to know exactly what he was talking about. He turned and ran for the Boom Tube portal, with two of the golems and four of the mooks hot on his heels. There was a brief moment, and the boom tube shut down, leaving Queenie with only two golems, the Sword-guy and the midget backing her up.
From where she was, Pixie heard Spooky Blonde snark in a very New York voice, “GOD, I hate Religious Politics!” Well, Pixie couldn’t argue with that…
Then Pixie saw Spooky Blonde yank a fancy silvery cup and a glass bottle in the form of a nautilus shell from the swarm of junk whirling around her. She pulled the stopper from the nautilus bottle and poured a jot in the chalice, which bubbled and fizzed. Okay, magic potion in mystic grail in the middle of a firefight- whatever it was, that boded NO GOOD for the White Hats. As Spooky Blonde put the grail to her lips, Pixie let off one of her magic-disrupting sparkle-bolts. She hit Spooky Blonde right in the kisser, and-
-she exploded. BOOM.
The Spooky Blonde erupted into a cloud of bright red mist that billowed out over the entire area, even where Shady was putting down TTTSNB. TTTTSNB dissolved into a tide of glittering energy that dissipated into the red fog, creating twinkling lights that would have been quite pretty- if not for the fact that the fog was all that was left of what had been a living human being.
Pixie floated down to the ground, her eyes wide and glistening with tears, as the crippling mix of grief, horror and soul-killing guilt congealed in her heart. “omigawd, omigawd, omigawd!” she croaked out. “I killed her!”
And the Perky Chick seemed to agree with her, “YOU KILLED SLIM!” she screamed as opened fire at Pixie with her BFG. But that stopped as chains of solid darkness formed around her, binding her to the ground.
And suddenly, Shady was there, holding her in his arms, making everything okay. Well, maybe not everything okay, but he was trying. “It’s all right,” he told her in low, soothing tones. “You didn’t kill her. Well, she’s not exactly alive as she was, and I doubt that she’s very happy with you, but the young lady is still very much with us.” He looked at the mist, which instead of dissipating, was growing thicker in places, and was pulling itself together in one place.
And then, for some strange reason, a boxy robotic drone with a low chassis, a big central until, five large batteries, a reasonable mobility platform, a 3-ply set of manipulators (heavy hauling, median handling and fine manipulation), and an array of sensors including a spinning 360o visual, popped out from cover and tore Perky Chick out of Shady’s chains of darkness. Together, they tore the Blonde Amazon out of the golem’s grip, while Queen Nefermeanie climbed into her power throne and called the empty-handed golem to her. Perky Chick, the Blonde Amazon and the robot gathered around the pillar of red smoke, which was taking the form of a very shapely woman. Finally, it resolved into the woman Perky Chick called ‘Slim’- or not. The figure and ensemble were the same, but the hair was long, curling and black, and the features were different more… (okay, need an actress for comparison… Megan Fox? A young Joan Collins? Leslie Ann Brown? Okay, maybe Catherine Zeta-Jones, one of those ‘gee ain’t I so gawjuss you could just plotz?’ dark-haired types). ‘Slim’ was holding a talisman at her breast, and she shook her head like she was just snapping out of something. “MAN, that stings!” she said in the New York voice that Pixie associated with the Spooky Blonde.
Then ‘Slim’ drew two energy pistols and looked around. Snapping out of her grief, Pixie did as well. There were three distinct groups: Slim’s cohorts including the robot, Shady and Pixie, and Cleo-Slut-ra and her minions. Blue Superguy was floating overhead, looking like he wasn’t sure what to do.
There was a tense 3-sided Old Western-style standoff, with neither side trusting the other two, or wanting to set anything off before they had a plan. Then the Blonde Amazon drew a lightsaber and-
-dashed into the center of Queen Mean’s formation, scattering them but making a hash of it. There was considerable surprise on Slim & Co.’s part, and they totally bricked the surprise value. Shady, on the other hand, was, as always, totally on his game, and had Slim, Perky Chick and the bot wrapped up in his special dark-nets.
But then, as Shady was turning his attentions to Queen Meaneriti, there were several flashes and bangs all around the area, which were enough to rattle even Shady’s cool. The air filled with acrid tear gas. And- Perky Chick? Another Perky Chick? Jumped out of cover with this weird, over-elaborate Egyptian style staff in her hand. She used it to zap Queen Mean, and then she used it to strip the dark nets from Slim and Perky Chick- the first Perky Chick. Then Slim grabbed that staff from Perky Chick- the second Perky Chick- and waved it at Queen Mean’s formation. The golem that was holding Blonde Amazon Speedster let her go and just stood there. BAS took advantage of that to zip back to Slim and the Perky Chicks, running straight on into several crates along the way. oooggg… being a rookie speedster suuucckks…
Queen Mean gestured, and four figures, a lion-headed giantess, a crocodile-headed beast, a harpy with glorious multicolored wings and a giant snarling jackal appeared at her back. The Swordsman and the midget also geared themselves for a fight. But then a bird, a darkling raven erupted out of the lamp Queen Mean was holding, and dived right into her mouth.
Then Slim exploded into red mist again, covering the entire scene again. But this time, when the red mist cleared, no one was there.
GOD, I hate doing that… But in this mist-form, I was able to carry CASPAR, who was taking MELCHIOR’s ticket out from under Belpho’s thumb, and cover Wheels towing Doc and the Dodger to Bay J. Then, focusing very intently on the Omni-Talisman, I reformed myself. I may get used to that- eventually- but there’s no way that I’m going to enjoy it.
Doc wrapped me up with a huge hug. Then she broke off and slugged me. “STOP DYING ON ME!”
When I had myself pulled together, I told the Dodger, “You have the Staff of Horus? Release the Ushabti to Luxara’s control.”
“Why?” Dodger bleated.
“Because I just released the Raven Witch from its binding,” I answered. “The bitch forgot that I bound the Witch to ME, not the lamp. So, now Luxara’s dealing with that AND the Shadowmage. If she controls the Ushabti, they’ll be at the very least so confusing that, Win Lose or Draw, the Shadowmage will have better things to do than come after US.”
The Artful Dodger looked at me with a stony glare and said in a frosty voice, “Slim, that was ruthless, vicious and opportunistic-
-you make me proud.”
“Yeah, very funny,” Doc groused. “But what was that with you making off with Ulrike, and leaving us twisting in the wind?”
Dodger shrugged and said, “Handling Ulrike AND helping you three was too clumsy, so I ‘put Ulrike on ice’ and got back to you as soon as I could.”
‘Put her on ice’. I dunno exactly what that means, but I’ll bet it’s just what the wolf-bitch deserves. “Okay, from here, we’ll teleport to the Yonkers warehouse, stabilize ourselves in the process, grab the cache that MELCHIOR snagged, load it into the U-Haul, and get back on plan.”
“That’s NICE, Slim,” the Dodger sneered. “But there’s one problem: that stupid LID doesn’t have the stabilizer in it!”
“I thought that was you, that left that here,” I gloated.
“Like you wouldn’t,” she grumped back. “So? How are we supposed to stabilize ourselves? If we go back and turn ourselves in, we might get Dr. Amazing or some other superbrain to get interested. We’ll probably all do TIME, but better time than Goo. That is, unless CASPAR here knows how to undo it?”
[Sorry!] CASPAR gleeped, as shamefaced as a pile of dissimilar electronics can be.
“Not to worry,” I assured her. “I knew where the real stabilizer was, when Belpho started gaming us. I realized that while Belphegor would jump at the chance to get someone over a barrel that way, he’s too chickenshit to have something as vital as the stabilizer bopping all over the place, where he couldn’t get at it if it was absolutely necessary. I also realized that, Geek Cred or No Geek Cred, there was no way that he’d incorporate something as Bass-Ackwards as this slide into a working design-” I pulled the slide out of its socket and turned it, revealing the true stabilizer slot- and the true spare in a separate socket “-unless it was there as a cache for something.”
The Dodger gave a sour grin. “Sneaky, twisty and underhanded- ol’ Belpho hasn’t changed a bit since school.”
“Okay, Dodge, Wheels, since you’ve taken the least amount of destabilization, you two go first and secure the other side.” I gave Wheels a look that said that I was counting on her to hold the other side of the gate, in case the Dodger flaked out on us again. She nodded back. “Doc, you work with me to make sure their templates are secure. CASPAR, I want you observing every nano-second of both of their transits, so you have a better understanding of the process.
“Then, Doc, you’re next: you’re in a lot worse condition than they are, but not as bad as me. And you wouldn’t BE in that bad condition, if you hadn’t insisted on duplicating all over the place!”
“But… it’s so cool!” Doc whined. Then she gave me a smoking pout. “At least I didn’t explode.”
“Whatever. CASPAR, you really study Doc’s transit; it’s going to be a lot more involved, and you’ll learn more.”
[And what’s in it for ME?]
“We promise to bring you over safely, and let you go on the other side,” I said. “And as you’ve seen, we keep our word- both the promises and the threats.”
“Then, when Doc’s on the other side, you two cooperate to stabilize me as I transit. With everything that’s happened to me tonight, stabilizing me is gonna be a bear. When I’m on the other side and stable, we’ll bring you across.”
[How do I know you don’t have a nasty trick up your sleeve?]
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I scoffed. “OF COURSE I have a nasty trick up my sleeve! But you know that I won’t use it, unless you give me a reason to.”
And that was it for negotiations; even CASPAR realized that every second we wasted was one where the Shadowmage- or Luxara- or the Raven Witch could catch up with us. Wheels and the Dodger stepped onto the launch spots and Doc and CASPAR closely studied the patterns as I worked the controls. It was a pretty standard stabilization and reintegration, but CASPAR said that he picked up on the basics of how the stabilizer process worked, and where Belphegor had cheaped out on the process, and how it could be improved by using an AI. Of course he did. Reason #5 why I don’t trust AIs: they think they can do EVERYTHING better. They always assume that their solution is the only viable solution, and they get all pissy when anyone else comes up with a better answer.
Sending Doc through was more complicated, for a wide variety of reasons, those freaky ‘pockets’ of hers and the stuff in them being majors. But CASPAR said that he’d learned a lot from it. Doc signaled that she was alive and in one piece on the other side. With a sigh and a silent prayer to Saint Jude, I stepped on the launch spot and let myself be disintegrated- AGAIN.
How the crews of the various starships Enterprise put up with this crap, I have no idea.
I of course have no idea how long it took, or what difficulties had to be overcome in reintegrating me. For which blessings, Lord, I’m duly grateful. It makes for such a refreshing change from the rest of the night. And when my mind went back online, I had the wonderful sensation of not having that worrying sensation that had been bugging me for hours. Somehow, I knew that I was whole and stable. Oh, and female, in a body that was my own. And I had powers that I wasn’t entirely sure of yet.
When I opened my eyes, Doc and Wheels were looking at me intently. “You okay, Slim?” Wheels asked.
“Never better!” I said chipperly, stepping off the launch spot. Then I looked around. “Where’s the Dodger?”
Wheels gave me a sheepish grin. “She said that she wasn’t really any use from here on, so she split. I think she’s heading back to Brownsville, to pick up Ulrike and cash in that reward.”
I gave Doc a chilly glare. “What?” she demanded.
“Well, she’s your twin.”
“What am I supposed to do? Tattle to Mom, and get her grounded?”
Waving that aside, I hit the transporter intercom. “CASPAR, you ready?”
I started the remote disintegration process, and put the reintegration process on auto-pilot “Okay, let’s go!”
“What about CASPAR?” Doc asked.
“I promised him that we’d bring him across and let him go,” I said. “I never said shit about taking him by the hand or letting him tag along with us.”
That didn’t set well with Doc, but Wheels agreed that taking an uncontrolled AI under our collective wings was a little more than our agenda allowed for.
Once CASPAR’s reintegration was securely underway, I said, “And now, we finally do the smart thing, get the stuff that MELCHIOR swiped, load it on the U-Haul and get the hell OUT of here!”
But the second that we were out of Bay J (Yonkers site) we were hit by a blinding light and a harsh voice yelled, “POLICE! FREEZE, BITCH!”
And peering through the glare, I could make out, yes indeed, several NYPD Blues pointing pistols, three SWAT guys in body armor pointing assault rifles, three NYDP Power Suits, and just beyond them… oh crap, that’s Night Ranger… and Citizen X… and Ms. Magnificent… and Ironjack.
Bliss wasn’t there. Pity, right about now, I could really use a perk-me-up.
It struck me that right at the moment, Doc looks like the Artful Dodger, Wheels looks like a Belphette and I look like a super-sorceress. Hell, _I’d_ be holding major firepower on us, if I was a cop.
As we slowly raised our hands, and Wheels and I traded signals as to who’d handle this, and whether to bluff, banter or lawyer our way out of this, or try crying (it’s a valid tactic now!). Just as we got to the understanding that I’d start off lawyering and hand it over to Doc, there was a commotion right behind us.
[Hey guys, why didn’t you wait for me? Man, being completely off the Net sucks! How do you guys manage? I tho- ACK!] CASPAR showed that he is indeed sapient- he came in without thinking, saw the cops and panicked. Doc and I dived for cover as CASPAR had a total Jerry Lewis spaz attack and made an escape that even the Keystone Kops would have thought was a mess.
But Wheels suddenly put on a spurt of superspeed, zipped through the cops, caromed off various objects- and persons- and pinballed out of sight.
“DON’T MOVE!” Citizen X shouted, shoving one hand into that insane ‘Batman wishes he had it so good’ trenchcoat of his.
“We’re not moving, we’re just getting up,” I said in the tones of being extremely reasonable and cooperative. “We’re going to surrender ourselves to you, as we’ve committed NO CRIME.” Hey, I figure they’d put a Mage Hood and Mittens on me, cuffs on Doc, and shove us in the paddy wagon. We’ll be gone, over the hills and far away before they even got to the 2nd Precinct station.
“What do you mean, ‘no crime’?”
“Long story,” Doc said, picking up on my cue. “We came here assisting a bonded bounty hunter known as the Artful Dodger, in hot pursuit of a wanted felon known as ‘Ulrike’- no idea what her last name or aliases are, you’ll have to ask the boss. In pursuit of this bounty, we ran into a known supervillain called ‘Belphegor’, and we witnessed the murder of another known supervilain known as the Black Pharaoh by his wife, who is right now being arrested by the Shadowmage in Brownsville. The Trenton area superhero known as the Blue Comet, who is probably with the Shadowmage even now, can verify that and vouch for us.” And it occurred to me only at that moment that we had no idea whether the Dodger was a bonded bounty hunter, or if her bounty is a legal one.
“Then why did your buddy run off like that?” Night Ranger demanded.
“Most likely because she only got that superspeed thing a few minutes ago, and she can’t completely control it,” Doc said smoothly. “Past that, I’m not really sure. I’m certain she’ll turn herself into the Police as soon as she contacts our employer. It’s a very long, very complex matter, one where we don’t know all the players or acts or issues ourselves. We don’t want to muddle the waters by discussing these things any further without proper legal representation present. Past that, we have nothing to say.”
One cop scowled at us and said sourly, “You couldn’t just say, ‘we’re Lawyering Up’?”
One of the classic mistakes that rookie lawbreakers make is when they’re busted, they either piss off the cops, or worse they try to make nice-nice with them. That latter one clues up Cops, right away. When Respectable Citizens are arrested, they are outraged! OUTRAGED, I SAY! How DARE these bluesuited ruffians infringe on their sacred Civil Rights!
Knowing this, Doc and I quibbled about who’d relieve us of our stuff, demanded receipts and acknowledgements that these things are OUR property. “Look, I understand WHY you want to get this stuff off me, but there’s the problem that I don’t completely understand what this stuff IS or what it DOES or what TRIGGERS it, and…. Now that I think about it, get this stuff OFF me before it goes critical mass!”
Just as Ms. Magnificent (and from one whose seen them up close, those bewbs are more padding than magnificence) was gingerly figuring how to get those gewgaws off me, there was an ear-shattering screech that filled the warehouse. Then there was a blinding light and my inner ear went wonky, along with everyone else’s. And then I-
-exploded and turned back into red mist. MAN, is this gonna sting like that EVERY TIME?
But this time, I was in control. And I was aware. The light and the sound came from that escape car that Belphegor had stashed away in that insane getaway garage. Wheels had gone and gotten it, and come back for us!
And people say there’s no honor among thieves.
Doc suddenly split into eight bodies- hey, she can still do that!- seven of them skittered out among the crates in the warehouse. The last one climbed into the back of the car as Wheels expertly performed her until now theoretical bootlegger reverse pickup. Knowing an exit when I see it, I flowed in the side window, across Wheels, who was at the wheel with that maniac grin spread across her face, and willed myself back together in the shotgun seat.
With the gleeful realization that I was both stable and in control of my mist form, I looked in the back seat as Wheels smoothly finished her 180 and put the pedal to the medal. Then suddenly, there was a small mountain of boxes and crap in the back seat with Doc. “Wheels!” I yelled, “Why did you get this CAR? You’re a super speedster!”
“Because I KNOW how to drive!” she shot back. “Did you see the way I was banging into stuff? If it wasn’t for this shield thingie, I’d look like I have a nasty boyfriend!” Never losing that maniac grin, Wheels snapped, “Slim! Activate the Getaway Sequence!”
A tablet dropped on a rack from the dashboard, and sure enough, there was a control panel. In true Tech-Geek fashion, Belpho had loaded this puppy down with a ton of extras. Fortunately, the icon for the Getaway Sequence was a nice big car with smoke and flames coming out the back. I hit that, and it was on autopilot from there. The ramp that Wheels had driven the car off dropped again, and she drove the car onto a cradle at the very end of it. Clamps latched onto the wheels, and the cradle pulled the car up onto the ramp. To my horror, instead of pulling the car back up to the ‘garage’ as the exit ramp lowered, the garage and exit ramp tilted to conform to the angle of the ramp were on. Then we were slammed back into our seats as the cradle zipped up the combined ramp at a 55 degree angle. Belphegor had rigged this as a mass driver, a linear accelerator catapult!
As Doc and I screamed, the mass driver pitched us not only out of the parking lot and the chain link fence, but over two city blocks! The electromagnetic cushion of the cradle/sled softened our initial impact, and our second and third, and at first our slide to a stop was as smooth as butter. But then the realities of Yonkers street conditions wore away the cradle and it grated to a stop. The second that the clamps on the cradle released the tires, Wheels hit the pedal and sped off it, leaving the wreckage of the cradle for someone else to deal with.
“We’re on North Broadway!” Doc said, looking around. “Why would Belpho target his mass driver to deliver us to such a wide open landing spot?”
“He didn’t!” Wheels sneered. “We probably would have gone another block, if SOMEONE hadn’t weighed us down with 200 pounds of extra weight!” She gave Doc, who was almost buried in boxes, a dirty look.
But of course, it being THAT kind of night, the second we were in controlled motion, there was the whoop of a siren and the flashing lights of a Yonkers PD patrol car. Wheels let out a maniacal laugh and set out to discover what this car could really do. Insert a 20-minute loop of ‘Yakety Sax’ or ‘the Benny Hill theme’ here.
Fortunately, while Wheels was cackling like a hen on crack, I was frantically studying the contents of that control panel. “Wheels!” I said once she’d had her fun, “head north on Pallisade!”
Wheels did so, and by this time, we had picked up a train of some 20-suck black & whites. But I had plans to exploit that. When we got to the right stretch of Broadway, I deployed a fullerene graphite ‘smoke screen’. That compound is paradoxically very sticky and god’s own slippery. It sticks to windshields and wheels, making steering just this side of impossible. As the cop cars started to swerve and slip, I told Wheels, “Back into the cloud!” Wheels did so with a minimum of bumping and crashing. As soon as we were completely hidden from any helicopter surveillance, I hit the disguise function and allowed the fullerene cloud to drop. The cop swarm stood there for a moment and then tore off in the general direction we’d been heading in. I told Wheels to follow the pack, and we were accepted as one of the boys. Wheels looked around us baffled. So I told her, “Belpho loaded this down with ALL the dirty tricks. Right now, we’ve got a hard light shell over us, showing a NYPD cruiser with two cops inside.”
“Cool!” Doc peeped. “Does it have a rocket launcher?”
“Not against cops,” Wheels and I said in unison. Doc beetled her brow, stuck out her lip and pouted. As we ran with the pack, I broadcast confusing Police Dispatch commentary in the proper slightly nasal voice preferred by Yonkers PD. After a while, I told Wheels to pull away from the pack. As soon as we were out of eyesight, I changed the disguise to a late 90s model flying Yellow Cab insignia, with the ‘fare inside’ sign on.
Wheels pulled over and waited for the last of the cop swarm to pass. Then we let out gusty sighs of relief and then broke out into the kind of giggle fit you get when your blood pressure drops and the endorphins really hit you.
When we laughed ourselves out, Wheels asked “Okay, we’re finally out. So, what now?”
“Now, we head for Chicago. We go and pick up the stuff we jacked the first day of this, and Doc’s and my gear, and my trunk full of books. AND we go get that teak BOX that you held back.”
‘What? Why do you want that thing?”
“Because it was a part of our DEAL, Wheels,” I said dangerously. “YOU got everything you bargained for and a lot more. But Doc and I got screwed. Of the stuff I agreed on, I have the athame, and that’s IT. Everything else got chewed up by that Meta-Spirit, and now either Luxara or the Shadowmage or Al-Mouseketeer have them.”
‘Hey, what about ME?” Doc demanded. “The only reason that I went in there and got mauled was for those three power stones! The ones that are stuck to the cover of that stupid BOOK you were drooling over! Why didn’t you get that back while you were misty, hah?”
“Because I was still wrapping my head around the fact that that little bitch Pixie BLEW ME APART! Besides that skank Luxara is worse than a loan shark. Getting anything away from her once she sinks her claws into it is almost impossible. Besides, she did something to me! She stole my magic! I had Magic! I could work the Craft! And now it’s gone!”
“Yeah, she did the same thing to me and Wheels,” Doc reminded me. “I used to be able to create 20 copies and energize electronic devices. Now, I can only make eight, and… well, I can still do the ‘pockets’ things, and maybe I can learn more of the Dodger’s tricks… but you got a GREAT replacement power, Slim!”
“I got the power to turn myself into red smoke,” I droned, “Whoop-de-fuckin’- DO. And do you have any idea how much doing that stings? And I have no idea how it works.”
We were gearing to get into our first really nasty girl fight, when Wheels cut us off. ‘Guys! Listen to yourselves! Screwed? PLEASE! We made out like bandits tonight!
“First of all, we’re ALIVE. Tonight we went up against Belphegor, his entire organization, Ulrike and her dogs, that freaky Raven Witch, the Black Pharaoh and his cult, that backstabbing bitch Luxara, that Meta-Spirit thing, the Shadowmage and Pixie, NYPD, and four of Sentinel! Normally, any one of those would’a plowed us under, no problem. But at the end of it all, not only aren’t we dead- though it was a little close there a couple of times, guys- but we’re still at large.
“Second, while you may not have what you bargained for, we all made out like BANDITS tonight. Okay you both lost a lot of the really cool stuff you picked up, but c’mon, we still have the U-haul you dragged away the first night, and the haul from the Brownsville lair. And we each have $125 K of Belpha-cheap’s money. That’s enough to lay low for five years in comfort, if not luxury. IF we wanna lay low. AND, you both walked off with small fortunes in cool gear. And don’t tell me that you didn’t, Doc- the only reason you’d be cluttering up the back with all those boxes is if all your ‘pockets’ were full.
“Third, Slim, you don’t really wanna get bogged down in all that Magic stuff. That big magic you were toting? You kept screwing up and calling down those icky things, remember? And you can’t not know that Mages, Black, White or pastel hues of mauve, get very weird about rookie mages who have too much power. At the very best, you could expect someone a lot more skilled than you are taking that power away ‘for your own good’. And it goes downhill from there into the very nasty, very quickly.
“And we got super powers! Okay, not the super powers we wanted, but... so what? We still got kicking super powers that we can learn to use better. Hey, it’s not the hand you’re dealt, it’s how you play it. If nothing else, Doc can finally walk around in high heels without crabbing about her feet!
“And lastly- Girls… we’re Girls! And BABES at that! Better, different kinds of babes, so we don’t have to compete for guys! Best, we’re babes with no debts, no Wants or Warrants and no criminal records.”
I sat there, floored. When you look at this that way… yeah, we made out like bandits. Okay, I lost a bunch of really cool stuff, including a passel of magical power, but it’s not like I really earned any of it. It just fell in my lap and I said ‘Mine!’ And I probably still have a little smidge of magical power in me. And it’s probably wiser to start off small and learn as you go. So… what am I bitching about?
Doc piped up, “Before we load up to head out to Chi, there is something we gotta do. As soon as the stores open in the morning, we gotta get some walking around clothes. I mean, Dodger’s sneak suit can pass for klub klothes in a poor light, but they’d look weird walking around doing stuff. And your Belphette suit has the same problem, Wheels.”
“Okay, but how do we get clothes to go shopping without looking suspicious?” Wheels asked.
“Not a problem,” I said with confidence. “While I was looking around this control panel I found something. This is a getaway car for Belpho, right? Well, even Belphegor isn’t creep enough to leave his three primary lieutenants and bodyguards in the lurch. So he has Go Bags for all three of them in the trunk. And since we just happen to fit Belpho’s criteria for his Belphettes, their clothes should fit us. Nothing haute couture or custom fitted, and the shoes might be a little tight, but they’ll do for shopping.
“AND in true geek fashion, Belpho fitted out each of those Go Bags with the essentials for going on the lam, including $2K per henchwench in cash, $20 K in travelers’ checks , three ID packets per and Gold Cards in Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, and AMEX for ALL of them.” Oh, and $10K in cash and $50k in traveler’s checks for the man hisself. To distract them from that possibility, I bugled, “Yah-da-da-da-TA!”
Echoing a recurring gag for Wilma and Betty, Doc and Wheels joined me in a chorus of “CHAAAAARRRRGGGE IT!”
With a big grin, Wheels asked, “So, you’re gonna help us with the clothes and hair and makeup , right, Slim? Cause I don’t know nuthin’ about clothes and hair and makeup.”
“ah, I thought that YOU TWO knew about clothes and hair and makeup…”