Have Your Self an Evil Little Christmas (Part 2)
HAVE YOUR SELF AN EVIL
LITTLE CHRISTMAS PART 2!
A Bad Seeds story
By Bek D. Corbin
Somehow, Romeo managed to look good, even when he was running for his life with a bipedal mastodon like Iron Mike hot on his heels. But then, if it was good for anything, study at Whateley was good for teaching you to handle crises. “Come BACK here, you nancy-ass little faggot!” Iron Mike yelled. Of course, the fact that Romeo was broadcasting the notion that Romeo was a new pusher on the scene, and was flush with cash had a lot to do with Iron Mike’s passion.
Romeo cornered off the street into an alley and was climbing the chain-link gate cutting off the alley when Iron Mike caught up with him. Just as Mike got a hold on Romeo’s cashmere coat, Malachi popped out from behind a dumpster, telescoped out one of his ‘Techno-Devil’ tridents and zotzed Mike in the butt. Malachi’s trident was designed to send an escalating high-voltage, low-amperage shock through the target, with a feedback circuit that sensed when the target had been affected, preventing unnecessary electrical burn. As Mike gave out a *gleep!* of pain, Winter, who was up on a third-story fire escape, lifted Mike, Malachi, Romeo and then herself up on a vortex of icy cold wind. Nephandus watched this from the roof of one of the buildings, and readied his walking stick. The second that the reeling Iron Mike crested the edge of the roof, Jean-Armand hit him with a blast that sent him flying into Render’s waiting arms. Ray caught him on the fly and immediately got him into a Full Nelson hold, with his feet well off the ground. Jadis walked up and ripped Iron Mike’s mask off his face (with a fair number of skin cells as well), and slapped a card onto his forehead.
“Okay, MIKEY,” Jadis snarled, “LISTEN UP! The card that I just put on your face is enchanted with the Irresistible Force of Truth spell. If you’re too dense to figure out what THAT means, it means that you’re going to feel an irresistible urge to answer everything that I ask you, completely, truthfully and accurately, no matter how much you don’t wanna. There are SOME men with the willpower to hold off, but I figure that a wimp like you would tell me where his mother keeps the housekeeping money, if I asked him.”
“I… won’t… give… in… to… your… EVIL!” Iron Mike grunted out.
“ ‘Give in to your evil’?” Winter echoed him. “Is he kiddin’?”
Jadis let out a disgusted noise. <pssshht!> “Hey, we don’t want you. Remember, yesterday? You were chasing after this scrawny guy in white? Just before I chucked you in the river?”
“That was YOU? You ruined a perfectly good pair of BOOTS, you bitch!”
“Like I Care. Who. Was. The. Skinny. Guy. In. White. You. Moron!”
Iron Mike made a visible attempt to keep from speaking but finally he ground out, “He calls himself Mister Cool.” ‘Mister Cool?’ was the general, rather disgusted reaction. “He’s some pinhead science geek at Columbia, who had one of those accidents that give you powers. Ice powers. Total geek, thinks that he’s some sort of smooth operator, and everyone doesn’t know what a dork he is. Hangs out at some place called ‘Superbad’ with the other bottom rung super-losers.” He gave the address, the cross street, and the painted sign.
“And what’s his interest in me?”
“I dunno. Who are you?”
“Does the name ‘Jadis’ mean anything to you?”
“Jadis?” Iron Mike looked confused. “Wait! That Tiffany’s thing! He left that thing in ice!”
“Yeah, now what do you think that all means?”
Iron Mike started rambling about how he didn’t understand half of what brain-nerds said or did. It wasn’t anything like what REAL men did. Then he started talking about how good pounding little nerds like ‘Mister Cool’ made him feel.
“Ah, we don’t really need to hear this.” Iron Mike kept rambling on about how women made him feel stupid, and how they needed to be put in their place. “We REALLY don’t need to hear this.” How his mother used to spank him and- “TMI! TMI! Tee fucking Em EYE!”
Jadis ripped the card from his forehead. “This is NOT free therapy!” She replaced the card with a card with a suspension charm. Then she put up her beast skin and took Iron Mike by the lapels of his vest.
“You gonna throw him in the river again, Jadis?”
“Well, you got to do it LAST time!”
“Hey, be my guest, Ray.” Render took Iron Mike and hefted him. “A few more points of elevation, Ray. With that trajectory, he’ll land in Hoboken.”
“And what did Hoboken ever do to you?”
Ray adjusted the angle of his throw and let fly. From up on high, Winter said, “Nice shot, Ray! You just missed a garbage barge!”
From a roof a few buildings over, the Dragonslayers watched the Seeds’ capture of Iron Mike and listened in with a shotgun mike.
“Not bad!” God’s Messenger said. “Nice teamwork.”
“Too complicated,” Worm opined. “Too many hand-offs. If they hadn’t been bagging a complete shithead like Mike, he could’a turned it against them on at least three points.”
“Hey, they got him away from the general populace and made sure that the collateral damage was minimal. Puts them up a few slots from most super-doofs.”
“Y’know, they could’a let us chase him around for a while before they chucked him in the river.”
“Or at least aimed better.”
“The POINT here being,” Lt. Dom cut in, “is that we know those kids were on the up and up.”
“No,” Heckle disagreed, “the POINT here is that I’ve never heard of this ‘Superbad’ bar.”
“Which means that there is a bar in this town that we have not graced with our presence!” Jeckle finished for him.
“This is an outrage that MUST be corrected immediately!” Prison Bitch summed up. *****
On another rooftop, Sanjay lowered his binoculars and said, “Tiffany’s? Jadis Diabolik was involved in that hack job at Tiffany’s?”
“NO,” Pilar said, lowering the shotgun mike, “This ‘Mister Cool’ was apparently behind that. But Diabolik is looking for him for some reason, possibly connected to his leaving that ‘Jadis’ signature at the scene. I’m not clear exactly WHY he left it there. But then, I get the impression that she’s not very clear on it, either.”
“Interesting…” Sanjay purred.
“You think you have a way of using those Whateley maggots to get the prize?” Mulan asked.
“We’d probably get extra credit for using Whateley students to achieve our goal,” Kim pointed out.
“LOTS of extra credit,” Mirelle agreed.
“Not yet,” Sanjay admitted. “But definite potential scenarios do present themselves. As nothing better suggests itself, we’ll keep tabs on those twits until a sufficiently elegant solution develops.”
As the Seeds got into their limo, Jean-Armand quietly asked, “By the way, Jadis, from one practitioner to another… I was quite impressed with that Truth Spell that you used. Despite what the Profane think, I know how delicate and nuanced such things are. How did you manage such an effective result with a card spell?”
Jadis held off getting in to reply, “Well, since you did so well back there… I didn’t use a Truth or Coercion spell. I used a simple Impulse Reversal effect, and a little power of suggestion.”
“You think Impulse Reversal is simple?”
“Not flat-out, of course. But a focused version, directed by the suggestion can be. I just suckered him into focusing on resisting the irresistible spell, and the weak version I laid on him made him think that he couldn’t beat it. The more he tried, the harder it got for him. Of course, the down side is listening to all the OTHER crap that he’s suppressing.” Jadis made a ‘Yick!’ face.
"You keep a Reversal effect as part of your prepared deck?"
"Well, it's so VERSATILE!" Jean-Armand raised an eyebrow. “Okay, okay, I lucked out on a practice run, and I’ve kept it around, just in case I needed it in a hurry.” She got into the limo.
“Still, not a bad idea,” Nephandus admitted as he made notes into his PDA.
Mr. Cool stalked into Superbad, fuming over the Media’s abject failure to appreciate a truly classic heist. TIFFANY’S! He’d knocked over TIFFANY’S! And that circus over in Hell’s Kitchen was still getting all of HIS press! It was comparatively early, but a few of the regulars were there already. None of them called out ‘Great Job, Cool!’ Hell, probably none of them even knew that the hardest target in New York had been hit. He slumped down at the bar and asked Gracie, the barmaid, for a beer.
Sabbath slinked up wearing a black sleeveless leotard with purple opera gloves and a matching sash. “Great Job, Mister Cool!”
“I’m glad someone thinks so,” he said mulishly.
“Now, now,” she chided as she slipped onto the stool next to him. “So, the Media isn’t jumping all over it- YET.”
“Mr. Cool, does anyone notice when ONE hooker gets carved up with a chainsaw? No! But when three or four get turned into shredded pork, THEN the vultures start paying attention. You had a stroke of genius with the ‘Jadis’ in ice bit. Leave something like that at your next major jobs, and the Media will be all over it!”
“ ‘Next jobs’?” Cool asked, confused. “But I don’t have any big jobs planned! Especially nothing as romantic as the Tiffany’s job.”
“Not to worry,” Sabbath purred. “I just happen to know that Sneaky Pete has been researching a job at an art museum. That museum just happens to be exhibiting a particularly romantic painting by a major artist. He was moaning that he was interested, but the security for the museum was too tight for him. Of course, he’s just a sneak thief with a gimmick, and you’re a real supervillain, so you should be able to breeze in and get it.” She paused, as if thinking. “On the other hand, it might be best if you had some breathing room, as you were taking it down and putting it in the carrying case.”
“Of COURSE, you use a carrying case!” Sabbath said in a matter-of-fact way. “What? You’re going to run off with it in your hands, unprotected?”
Actually, that HAD been the image in Mr. Cool’s mind, conditioned by too many ‘Caper’ movies. But he immediately saw the logic in it. “Okay, what kind of breathing room were you thinking of?”
“Nothing major…” Sabbath hedged, “I can hit one of the other galleries first, and draw Security away.”
“You’d do that?”
“I wouldn’t expect them to be distracted very long,” Sabbath pushed the conversation along, ignoring the sticky parts. Besides, if she remembered correctly, the gallery that was exhibiting the Constable and the woodblock prints was also showing an exhibit of Chinese carved jade pieces. And while diamonds were a tricky market, with a truly cutthroat culture, the market in jade antiquities was something else, altogether. And she knew a Chinese buyer who would pay through the nose, just to keep her from selling to a European buyer. Not that Sneaky Pete needed to know that. “But right now, we have to move quickly! While the cops are still paying too much attention to Hell’s Kitchen!”
“Do you think that Sneaky Pete would give me his plans for that gallery?”
“GIVE?” Sabbath said in surprised voice. “Are you kidding? Sneaky Pete wouldn’t give his own mother oxygen on her deathbed. But he would sell it to her. Not to worry, Cool!” She draped a friendly hand over his shoulder. “I’ll talk him into it, and keep him down to a reasonable price. We’ll open with ten thousand, let him ask for thirty thousand, and beat him down to twenty thousand.” Of course, Sabbath was hand in glove with Sneaky Pete, so she told Mr. Cool that Pete wouldn’t budge from thirty, got thirty, told Pete that Mr. Cool wouldn’t budge from twenty, split the twenty with Pete, and kept the difference.
The limo pulled up a few blocks away and the Bad Seeds walked up to the side street. “How Martin Scorsese,” Winter sneered as they stood at the corner, looking at the ironwork balustrade going down to the basement bar.
“Just remember, we’re not here to start trouble, we’re just here to pass along a message,” Jadis said as she started down the stairs.
“What’s the message?” Thrasher asked, “ ‘Have the whole vig by Wednesday, or we’ll bend your knees backwards’?” He finished in a ‘Marlon Brando as the Godfather’ voice.
“NO,” Jadis said, obviously in ‘total lack of humor’ mode. “Just that we need to get in touch with this ‘Mr. Cool’ yo-yo. With any luck, the PR blitz on Hell’s Kitchen will pave over that ‘Jadis in Ice’ nonsense. At least until that stupid jet gets out of the shop, and we can get the hell out of this burg. After that, he can write ‘Jadis’ in frickin’ Icebergs in the harbor, for all I care!”
As the Bad Seeds stepped into the bar, the first thing that struck them was how… ordinary… it looked. It was a perfectly ordinary bar with the sort of customers that you could expect at 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. Okay, the TVs over the bars being set to different News channels was a little different, but then there must be News Junkie bars in Manhattan. There was even the expected outburst from the very large burly bartender of, “HEY! You kids! Get out of here!”
“Chill out!” Jadis said, walking up to the bar. “We’re here looking for somebody who calls himself ‘Mr Cool’. I hear that he hangs out here.”
The bartender looked at her warily. “And who told you that?”
“A guy who calls himself ‘Iron Mike’.”
“And why would Iron Mike tell you about this place?”
“ ‘Cause he knew that if he didn’t, I’d pound the crap out of him.”
“You beat the crap out of Iron Mike?” the bartender raised an eyebrow, not scoffing, but rather a sort of pleased surprise.
“No,” Jadis admitted. “We just chucked him into the West River.”
“Because the West River was closer than the East River.”
The bartender shrugged, and said, “Yeah, Mister Cool comes in here every so often. But he came in earlier and left a little while ago. You missed him by maybe ten minutes.”
“Crap!” Jadis massaged her forehead. “You got any idea when he’ll be back?”
“Hey, I just pour drinks. I don’t keep track of anybody.”
“Fuck. Look, when he comes back, just tell him that Jadis was here, looking for him, and needs to talk to him. He knows where to find me.”
“Jadis?” said one of the regulars, a tall, thin, yet wiry-looking man with a long face and a rugged chin. He looked over from the table where he was drinking a beer and playing cards, and looked at Jadis closely. “HEY! You’re Jadis Diabolik, Dr. Diabolik’s kid, right?”
“Oh CRAP,” Jadis muttered, reflexively assuming a posture, not putting up her beast skin until absolutely necessary.
But instead of the expected outraged rant, the lanky man smiled broadly and said, “WOW! I thought that the snowflake was woofin’! Never thot a scrawny little twerp like him would hook up with the daughter of a major player!” As Jadis’ eyes started to pop out, he got up and offered his hand. “My handle’s Brainstorm, by the way.”
“So, I guess you’re down from Whateley,” the bartender started. Then he slapped the counter with the flat of his meaty hand. “Whateley!” He pointed at Render. “I THOUGHT you looked familiar! You’re Ray, Sunder’s boy, right?”
“Ah, yeah…” Ray admitted, taken as much aback as Jadis.
“He showed me your picture, the last time that he was in here drinking,” George the bartender beamed through his close-trimmed ginger beard. “How IS the old slab of beef?”
“Oh, he’s managing to stay out of jail,” Ray said, smiling back in relief.
The general tone of the bar changed considerably, and the regulars gathered around. “I thought that Ice-cubes-for-brains was kidding,” a tall, thin black man with a goatee said. “He said that you threw Iron Mike in the river? Why?”
“What was I supposed to do?” Jadis asked, “This big guy in a mask is punching out a little guy without a mask, and yelling about handing over money! In broad daylight! Out on the street! What was I supposed to do?”
“Besides,” Winter said snippily, “Iron Mike dissed her. *Boom!* In the river!”
“You’re Jadis?” a hefty guy with fair hair, a definite beer gut and a well-developed second chin asked, looking her up and down. “From the way that Cool was talkin’, I was expecting somethin’ a little more… like HER.” He pointed at Winter, who preened.
Jadis lifted her lip and started to snarl. George cut off the potential nastiness by asking, “So, why do you wanna find Mister Cool?”
“Well, I think that he pulled off that robbery at Tiffany’s last night-”
‘Somebody knocked over Tiffany’s last night?’ was the general reaction.
“What, you didn’t see it on TV?”
“Just a second,” Gracie said from behind the bar. She was typing furiously at a computer. “Okay, I got CNN… searching… okay, here’s a pod cast…” she switched it over to one of the overhead TV sets, and an updated version of the cast they’d seen earlier played. This one showed a clip of a man in a form-fitting blue-and-white suit with an obvious pack on the back, escaping through the police cordon on an ice ramp. But the clip still ended with the shot of ‘Jadis’ spelled out in diamonds in ice.
“Okay,” Brainstorm admitted, “it’s gotta be Mister Cool.”
“He’s the only one dorky enough to think that leaving a girl’s name spelled out in diamonds at the scene of robbery was romantic.”
“I was thinking about his getaway.”
“Since when is Mister Cool that powerful?”
“It’s the suit,” Gravity Gun said authoritatively. “I hadda sit through Cool talking about it last week. It boosts his powers, separates nitrogen from the atmosphere for a better freezing spray, like that.”
“Then why doesn’t he use it more often?”
“Technical difficulties. I vapor-locked after the first twenty minutes of the explanation.” Brainstorm reeled; G-Gun was a notorious gadget freak. If HE thought that the explanation was grueling…
“Whatever,” Jadis waved aside that digression. “Look, you know this guy… Do any of you have any idea of WHY he left my name at Tiffany’s? I mean, it seems a bit much, just for getting Iron Mike off his back.”
The Superbad regulars shared slightly embarrassed looks. Brainstorm stretched his mouth wide in an abashed grin and scratched the back of his head. “Well… Yesterday, when he came in, he was talking about how he’d met the most beautiful girl in the world.”
“Yeah,” Winter said, “but then, why did he spell out Jadis’ name in diamonds, and not mine?”
Brainstorm’s grin grew wider. “aaahhh… he was talking about HER.”
Jadis’ and Marian’s faces went blank as one. “HANH?” they said in unison.
Brainstorm dropped the grin and was openly uncomfortable. “Ah, he was talkin’ about how he HAD to meet you.”
Jadis’ jaw hit the floor as Malachi broke out laughing. “You mean…” Jean-Armand drawled out, trying to wrap his head around the notion, “that this ‘Mister Cool’ cretin is putting us through all this because he’s hot for SHE-BEAST?”
Jadis’ hand reflexively shot out and grabbed Jean-Armand by the jabot.
“It’s my code name at Whateley,” Jadis grated out through clenched teeth. “Look,” she added with a muted snarl, “the next time this ‘Mister Cool’ shows up here, tell him to call me, I really need to talk to him.” She wrote out a phone number on a bar napkin.
“Hey, my handle’s Cyclone,” Larry said, stepping forward. “Let me take that. I got a little business with frostbite-for-brains later on, and I’ll make sure that he gets the message.” As he took the napkin, Cyclone smiled winningly and said, “So, your dad is Dr. Diabolik? I hear he runs a tight ship. You wouldn’t happen to know if-”
“My father makes a point of not involving me in his business affairs,” Jadis cut him off.
“Okay crew, let’s haul. We don’t wanna get their license revoked or anything. Thanks for the help, guys.”
As they walked up the stairs, Thrasher asked Ray, “So, howcum you never heard about this place from your dad?”
Ray shrugged. “Hey, your dad ever talk to you about the places that HE drinks?”
Thrasher agreed not, but Winter said, “Well, sure, but when they’re in New York, MY folks drink at Moriarty’s or the Black Mask. Y’know, places with class, where the real supervillains hang out.”
About an hour after the Bad Seeds left, another group visited Superbad. The six raffishly-dressed men entered flying in a casual but effective formation. The bar quieted down considerably, and the regulars kept an eye on them as they ambled over to a table, without making a big deal about it. Gracie gave George a nod, and George calmly came from behind the counter. He walked up to the table, using his impressive bulk to make the statement that this was his place, without being obnoxious about it. He asked what they’d have, in a way that got across that this was a respectable joint, and if they’d come there to cause trouble, then they’d come to the wrong place. Worm asked about the selection in beers in a way that communicated that they weren’t particularly impressed. He gave George the ‘thousand yard stare’ that unnerved most people. George mentioned the bills of fare in a way that stated that he wasn’t impressed with their not being impressed, or the thousand-yard stare. The regulars positioned themselves in ways that indicated that if it got ugly, that they were perfectly willing to back up George. Gracie's casual stand behind the bar implied that she was near a very nasty weapon that she was ready, willing, and able to use on them to back up her boss. Worm and the other Dragonslayers each ordered their beers in ways that denoted that they understood and accepted the situation, and if no one started with them, they wouldn’t start with anyone. George brought the beers in a way that stated that they were welcome under those conditions.
Worm knocked back his beer, checked out the bar, and liked what he saw. Superbad was a good, no-frills, nobody’s trying to impress anyone BAR. Okay, it was a bar full of supervillains in mufti, but that just meant that they’d mind their manners. Some of them were there to do business, some of them where there to socialize and gossip, and some of them were there just to get a decent drink. Which suited Worm right down to the ground. The beer list wasn’t the usual menu of watery American brewed swill, but then it wasn’t a pretentious roster of beer snobbery either. The jukebox was heavy on Jazz and R&B, with a sprinkling of Classic Rock, Old School C&W, some old Swing stuff, and some European stuff. The TVs were just loud enough to be heard, without drowning out conversation. The pool table and dartboard actually looked like they were used on a regular basis. The women were athletic, confident, and didn’t mind showing off that they were women, while keeping from looking like hookers. There was a general sense of, if not community, then at least professional courtesy. And best of all, they didn’t seem spooked by the presence of tough guys.
Most places in New York were too trendy, too cutesy or too cliquish. Even the down-home local watering holes tended to act like small towns. And even then, people reacted to the team’s general vibe by either feeling threatened or taking it as a challenge. But here? Here, they seemed to regard a hard attitude as a given. These people understood that violence had its uses. And consequences. And Costs.
Hunh. Supervillains. Who’d a’ thunk it?
Worm looked around. “Not bad.”
“You can say that again,” Prison Bitch said as he leered at one trim looking Italian girl at one of the other tables.
“I could hang here,” God’s Messenger said.
“It’s a place,” Heckle said.
“A definite place,” Jeckle agreed.
“Hey, if nuthin’ else, we’d be in a primo place to have some fun chasing Mikey around,” Lt. Dom grinned.
The Dragonslayers smiled and touched their beer glasses in a toast to fresh prospects.
“Why are we wiring this place?” Pilar asked as Sanjay worked the telephone junction box.
“Because the key to all this is that idiot ‘Mister Cool’. If we can manipulate him, then we can manipulate the Whateley kids, and anyone else involved in his little crime spree.”
Mulan popped over the ledge of the roof. “There are four concealed exits, two into the building to the north, one to the building to the south and another one into the storm drains. Strictly one-way. The alley entrance is monitored.”
Then Mirelle showed up. “They’ve set up the phone system in the stores above the bar so that they form an interference cage. Cellular signals going in or out would be hopelessly scrambled. There are landlines going out for the computers and a pay phone, but those are monitored. It’s a basement bar, so there’s no way to sneak in a laser tap.”
Kim let out a whistle. “That’s very tight security.”
“Actually, I was thinking that it was incredibly unprofessional.” Sanjay said.
“Why?” the angel-faced Korean boy asked.
Sanjay didn’t spare a glance from the junction box. “The greatest asset for security is anonymity. One look at this place, and you can tell that it isn’t a simple bar. It’s a wonder that the Police haven’t raided this place long ago.”
“Not if they’re paying off the police,” Kim pointed out. “Most crooks are more worried about other crooks than they are about the police.”
Sanjay paused, considered, and nodded, acknowledging the point.
Romeo rocked back and forth on the couch, clutching a pillow to his middle. “It’s my fault…” he whimpered.
“Annndd… cue Stage Two,” Winter said, picking up her laptop and going upstairs.
Wincing at the sight of the bishonen boy in tears, Mrs. Pierson asked, “So, Jadis, did you have any luck finding whoever left that little, ah, present for you this morning?”
“Some,” Jadis said, putting a finger in one ear to block out some of the sniveling. “We got a few leads, but it’s mostly a matter of waiting for someone named ‘Mister Cool’ to call. I gave him this number, so if he calls while we’re out, relay him to my cell, would you?”
“Hey ROMEO!” Jobe said from where he was sitting, still talking on the telephone. "Tone down the mortal anguish a little, wouldja? Some of us are trying to WORK here! Really, Carver, you would not believe the insensitivity of some people. Anyway, HSV was recovered from only 1 of 64 neural tissue specimens obtained from R837 recipients, compared with 43 of 56 specimens obtained from case-controlled placebo recipients (p less than 0.0001). R837 initiated 36 h after HSV inoculation and given once a day also significantly reduced the total mean lesion score of the acute disease from 14.1 +/- 6.3 to 2.6 +/- 2.3 (p less than 0.0001), and shortened the period of vaginal HSV shedding from 6.9 +/- 1.7 to 3.2 +/- 1.2 days (p less than 0.0001). R837-treated animals also developed fewer HSV recurrences than did matching controls (2.0 +/- 1.4 versus 5.1 +/- 1.8 (p equal to 0.0023). Latent HSV was detected in 23 of 24 dorsal root ganglia explant cultures from placebo recipients but in only 2 of 30 cultures from R837-treated animals, and HSV in these 2 cultures was detectable only with the addition of a demethylating agent. Isn’t that just… beautiful?”
You tend to think of superhero headquarters as large, imposing buildings, architectural testaments to the hero’s glory. Carla Balducci, a.k.a. ‘Gryphon’ kept that measure in mind, when she considered the Cadet Crusaders’ ‘headquarters’, which was a raggedy ‘re-purposed’ National Guard armory next to a shipping module yard on the lower West Side. There’d been a time, like when she first took over leadership of the Cadets from Wonderboy, when the Cadet Crusaders had really meant something to her. It had meant that she wasn’t just Gargoyle’s tagalong sidekick, operating in quiet defiance of the Kid Sidekick laws. It had meant that she was up to leading real paranormal teenage heroes and heroines like Power Lass, Firebrand and IronJack. It had meant that at age 15, she was already making a real difference in people’s lives.
Now, three years later, Gargoyle and Firebrand were dead, Power Lass had hung up her cape, and IronJack had ‘traded up’ to the Sentinels over in Brooklyn. And all that it seemed that she was really good for was doing the paperwork that their case officer over at the NY DA’s office couldn’t be bothered with. Tiger Girl and Tower were still there- thank god- and Aurora and Rubberboy would be okay, once they caught their stride. But Nightchylde and Ultramax?
They used to fight REAL villains, like Dr. Photon, the Hellfire Messiah, and the Serpent King! Now? Now, they were getting schooled on proper police procedure by Dr. Diabolik’s daughter on the street!
The scrawny little bitch had even had the gall to leave her name at the scene of the crime, but there weren’t any warrants out for her! Gryphon broke the pen in her hand as she remembered the humiliation of being told to back off. More and more, she was starting to think that she’d gone as far as she could doing the superhero thing. Maybe it was time to concentrate on college, and getting a degree in Law Enforcement. Maybe she’d get some respect with a badge; God knows, she wasn’t getting any with a power suit.
Of course, she was still using the same power suit that she’d used as a kid, which may have had something to it. The ‘Gryphon’ armor had purposefully been designed to be less intimidating than the ‘Gargoyle’ armor. Then again, maybe the fact that she’d designed the armor’s look when she was 13 might have had something to do with it. She’d upgrade to Gargoyle’s old armor eventually- that was sort of the whole idea, that Gargoyle was training his successor, the whole ‘Robin will inherit Batman’s mantle’ thing. She even had the armor brought to the Cadet’s HQ (there were problems with Gargoyle’s family letting her use their old HQ- it seems that Gargoyle never told them about his ‘hobby’). But she just couldn’t. It was Gargoyle’s armor. It just seemed… wrong somehow…
The fact that her Gryphon armor’s controls were several quantum shifts simpler than the Gargoyle armor, and she didn’t really know how either of them really worked, may have had something to do with it.
Special Agent Douglas Burke looked with dyspeptic bathos at the former National Guard armory that was the Cadet Crusader’s headquarters. He knew that the CC was run by the New York DA’s office, but it struck him that a superhero headquarters just shouldn’t be covered in graffiti. On the other hand, it might just be a form of ‘urban camouflage’. If you didn’t know that it was the Cadet Crusaders’ place, you’d probably just pass off on it being just another piece of urban decay. On the inside, it was probably all sleek, cutting-edge technology that was impeccably maintained. He straightened himself up, and he was very glad that he’d managed to get in touch with that old college buddy. That had given him the chance to shave, shower, get some sleep, and most importantly, it had given his mother a place to send his backup FBI ID and some replacement credit cards. Now, if only the New York office would get back to him!
He pushed past through the doors, assuming that he was being invisibly scanned and identified as he passed through. He wasn’t. The inside of the building was as shabby and badly in need of repairs as the outsides. If anything, judging from the blast-burns, cracks, and vaguely human-shaped indentations in the concrete walls, it needed more work. Instead of the maze of gleaming futuristic machinery that he associated with superheroes, Burke saw that the Cadets’ headquarters was a large, mostly open space, with outdated equipment that had obviously been donated by the Empire City Guard and the Sentinels pushed along the walls to make room. Well, this could still work in his favor, Burke thought to himself. By this time, he’d given up on his dream of the big splashy bust that would make a stellar career, and he was looking more for a justification for leaving his assigned post in New Hampshire. He needed the bust, just to keep his job. If the Cadet Crusaders were this hard up, then they’d be a lot more likely to listen to him than, say, the Empire City Guard or the Flying Squad would be.
Some of the Cadets were making the best of what they had, not having a danger room. The boy in white-and-red was working on an overbuilt Nautilus-type exercise machine. A girl in a dark orange leotard with black stripes and white gloves and boots was helping the girl in the dress in varying grades of red and pink by throwing oddly-shaped things at her to catch with telekinesis. The giant boy was carefully walking along a balance beam at his full height. On the other hand, at a table at the far side of the vaulting room, the brunette girl in purple-and-red was negligently chatting with someone on a cell phone as the blonde girl in black was reading a glossy fashion magazine.
He was about to clear his throat to get someone’s attention when he heard, “HEY! You! What are you doing here?” The girl in the orange leotard did a vaulting leap right in front of where he stood, landed in a crouch with hands poised like claws and growled at him. Given her height and slender frame, it should have been totally unthreatening and even slightly precious. It wasn’t.
Fortunately, Burke had aced his retake of his Field Presence class at Quantico. Keeping the bland face that he’d been taught to maintain when dealing with civilians, Burke flashed his FBI ID and said, “I need to speak with your team leader. Where is he?”
“Oh, you wanna talk to Griff?” the girl, ‘Tiger Girl’, if he remembered the very brief essay that he’d read online at a cyber-café correctly, asked. In the blink of an eye, she switched from feline menace to curious teenager. “She’s this way.” Tiger Girl led Burke off the mat, past a pair of suits of power armor standing inside maintenance frames. One of them, Gryphon’s suit was cracked open for maintenance, with panels open and cables attached and several laptops running, doing diagnostics. The other one was covered in tarps. She walked up to a door that showed signs of once having a name plate of some sort on it, with nothing replacing it. Tiger Girl knocked on the door and shouted through it, “Hey Griff! We got visitors! You decent?”
There was a pause, a young feminine voice called, “Just a second!” and there was another pause before the young woman inside told them to come in. Burke stepped into a cramped office decorated (if that’s the word) in shabby civil service third-hand discards, with cardboard crates of paperwork everywhere. Behind the desk, an athletic young woman of maybe 18 or so, in a brick red jumpsuit with gold trim and a stylish G on the breast, was still adjusting a domino mask on her face. “Yes!” she said as the mask settled properly, and she tried to look as stern and professional as you can when you’re wearing a Mardi Gras mask. “Well, what can we do for you, Mister…?”
Burke flashed his ID and identified himself. He told her that he was undercover, following a group of suspected super-powered offenders to a possible rendezvous with known wanted fugitives. He ran down who the rest of the teens with Jadis Diabolik had been, and who their parents were. “Now, with a lineup like that, you’d think that the NYPD would jump on the chance to shake them down for some information. Standard Operating Procedure would be to bring in Jadis Diabolik to ask questions about the Tiffany’s job. Yet, when you had them dead to rights, you’re told to back off. Why?”
Gryphon nodded, as if Burke were confirming something that she’d been suspecting. “You think that someone’s protecting them?”
“I’d be amazed if not.”
“You think that the fix is in? Where? Who? What does the Bureau want us to do?”
Burke shook his head. “The Bureau doesn’t know that I’m here. I’m pretty sure that a fix of some kind has been made, but I’m not sure where it comes from. A good fix LOOKS like it’s from the very top, when the Brass hasn’t got a clue of what’s going on. Could be local, could be Federal, could be Police, or City Hall, or UN for all I know. BUT, fortunately, I happen to have a good idea as to what they’re up to- or the players that we know about, at least- and I know just how to get around that fix.”
“Hey, Jads!” Mal shouted from the door, “The limo’s here!”
“I heard you!” Jadis said as she came down the stairs. “Where are you guys headed?”
“The MASS at Saint Gregory’s?” Jean-Armand said with asperity. “Remember, you said that you’d help, because we helped you with that idiocy with your secret admirer?”
“I don’t remember agreeing to anything like that,” Jadis said calmly.
“WHAT?” Jean-Armand yelped.
“Not a biggie,” Render said, trying to settle the waters. “She never said she’d help, but there’s nothing stopping the rest of us. All it means is that she won’t get nothing when we come back with an angel in the bag. So, Jads, what you gonna do while we’re busy?”
“Hello? It’s five days to Christmas, and we’re in New York? I’m going SHOPPING!” Jadis stalked into the living room, where Romeo was slumped in a chair. “Romeo, I’m going shopping, so naturally I’m going to need an utterly gorgeous man along to help me make decisions. And carry packages. Since you’re not doing anything useful, you’re drafted. Come along!”
“Shopping?” Winter stopped at the door.
“Nah-ah,” Ray said, gently pushing her through the door. “We NEED you, remember?”
“Hey Jobe!” Jadis called to the seat where he was installed-again- talking on the phone- again. “I’m going shopping! You need me to pick up anything for you?”
“I already had an online service make all the purchases for me.”
“You sentimental fool you,” Jadis drawled dryly.
Render looked around the street in front of St. Gregory’s with satisfaction. Their establishing work had paid off. They’d been able to set up near the real TV news crews without any trouble. Malachi and Thrasher were trading off hauling the phony camera around as Winter honed her Newsbunny chops on the poor unsuspecting vigil-holders. Nephandus was setting up their gear and using the regular channels’ power connections for juice. Ray brought coffee and (vastly overpriced) pastry for his crew. Jean-Armand was cursing venomously as he was re-arranging power linkages. “What’s the matter?” Ray asked as he handed Nephandus some coffee. “They spot the trap?”
“Hardly,” Jean-Armand jerked his head in the direction of the metal box hidden in the tangle of wires and cables. “Some fucking grip-monkey spotted the overloader that I’d rigged in the lighting array for our distraction and went whining to his Union steward!” Nephandus hissed. “Fucking fascist Electrical Union regulations! Who fucking CARES who created the modern American weekend? They made me take down the entire fucking rig! Now how will we cover bagging that fucking angel?”
Ray nodded and mulled it over. “So, send one of your mini-drones over to one of their lighting arrays, and patch it into their system by remote. Tap into their power, and when the time comes, blow one of their arrays. If anything, this is better since when the dust settles, they’ll be looking at Channel 11, not us.”
Jean-Armand stopped, blinked, and wrapped his head around the idea. He nodded, gave Ray a look of sudden respect and said, “Good idea. VERY good idea.” He dug into his toolbox and brought out a peach pit-sized beetle-like drone that he’d built. Well, he’d stolen the design from Cyber-Scarab, but that pustule on the world’s buttocks had graduated last year, so he wasn’t in a position to complain. He downloaded a basic program into the drone and sent it off. It spread its insectile wings and buzzed over to one of the lightning arrays for one of the TV news crews. It settled in and immediately blended into the techno-crack.
Ray checked out the scene again. After the last time that those Grand Hall yutzes had tried to grab the goose that laid the golden eggs, both the cops and the Church had stepped up security. There were three cars on duty, and one of them looked like it wasn’t just there for crowd control. The Church was fielding teams of ‘Ushers’ from some very tough-looking local parishioners. And, somehow looking both very out of place yet very much at home, was this one big guy in a raggedy homeless-guy outfit. He was well over six feet tall, built like a professional wrestler, and as red as a radish, with a classic Latin devil’s face and two rows of horns running down his head. Ray nudged Nephandus. “Yo, Jay-Arm, any idea what that guy’s deal is?”
Jean-Armand looked over and said, “Oh, that’s that ‘El Penitente’ chap that that vendor was nattering on about when they came here the first day. One of the local New York super-weirdos.”
“Yeah, I remember that- but what’s his deal?”
“As I understand it, he’s cursed. Or possessed. Or some combination of the above, I’m not sure. He gains power from some sort of devil.”
Ray raised a curious eyebrow. “If he’s cursed, then why is he hanging around here?”
“Not sure,” Jean-Armand admitted. “He doesn’t seem to WANT the power for some strange reason. But from what I hear in the mystic chat rooms, he’s sort of set himself up as the Angel’s personal guardian and protector. Seems that the Mother Church isn’t quite sure what to make of him.”
“Well, why should we be the only ones?”
Then Ray and Jean-Armand noticed a hush settle over the vigil and the camera jockeys for the real TV news teams ran for their rigs. A light shone from one of St. Gregory’s basement windows. A shining sphere rose, and the entire crowd paused and dared to hope for their own sip from the cup of Grace.
Malachi was torn between the beauty that he was seeing in his viewer, and keeping the sensor squarely fixed on the center mass of the ‘angel’. Then a small red dot glowed in one corner of his view plate and he knew that Jay-Arm was on the job at his laptop, furiously crunching the data that Mal was sending his way, and calibrating the angel trap to this particular manifestation’s patterns. “C’mon, c’mon, Jay-Arm,” he muttered. “Get on the STICK!”
Then, just as the orb unfurled into its full angelic glory, the red light switched to green. It was GO. Malachi reset the targeting box on the angel’s center mass, and prepped the distraction flare and-
-suddenly, his viewfinder was full of wall of a brick-red ceramet compound. “HEY!” He yelped. “You wrecked the SHOT!” He looked around the obstruction, barely noticing that it was a suit of power armor, and moaned as the ‘angel’ dispersed into dust. “Awww… Maaannn…! Why’d you ruin it?”
“Shaddap,” Gryphon said, reaching down with one armored arm and lifting Malachi off the ground, “You’re under arrest.”
“HEY!” Thrasher said, advancing from where he had been keeping an eye on the gear. “You put him DOWN!”
“Shut up!” Ultramax yelled as he zipped out of nowhere on the Seeds’ blind side. “We got you dead to rights this time!” The other Cadet Crusaders appeared in surrounding formation around them.
“YOU assholes again?” Winter yelped, stalking away from her aborted ‘interview’, “What do we NEED, a Restraining Order?”
“No,” Splendor sneered from where she was hovering above, with Nightchylde by her side, “You need a personal shopper, so you won’t go out dressed like THAT again. You’re going to need to look good for the judge. Hey, where’s that other little skank, Jadis Diabolik?”
“Skank?” Winter said, assuming a posture and putting her bitch gloves on, “You can sit there, looking like a float for the Hooker’s Parade, and talk about how I dress?”
“Oh PLEASE!” Splendor floated down and went face to face with Winter. “THIS is a designer original! THAT is a cheap Yves St. Laurent knockoff worn with a cheap Donna Karan knockoff that doesn’t match!”
“Yeah? Who’s your designer? Heidi Fleiss? You look like a BRUISE trolling for johns!”
“WHAT? Why the only BRUISE-”
Suddenly two large red hands appeared, palmed the two girls’ faces and shoved them apart. “Ho-KAY, what’s the problem here?” El Penitente said in a tone that brooked no guff. Behind him were several of the St. Gregory’s Ushers, also looking like they weren’t in any mood for disturbances on their turf.
“Back off, Hellboy,” Ultramax said. “This is a Citizens’ Arrest.”
“THIS again?” Ray said in a pained voice. “LOOK, like we told you YESTERDAY, Citizen’s Arrest doesn’t work that way! You gotta-”
“We have to witness the crime in commission,” Gryphon finished for him. And we caught you red handed, right in the commission of the crime. Now, where’s Diabolik?”
“How would I know where Doctor Diabolik is?”
“Not HIM, the other Diabolik, Jadis?”
“She’s shopping,” Mal said in an ‘are you NUTS?’ tone. “And WHAT CRIME are we supposed to have committed?”
“You’re all here to try to steal one of those angels, the one that just disappeared.”
“Yeah?” Ray said, crossing his arms and taking a stance. “PROVE it.”
“We can prove it downtown,” Ultramax said, unlimbering his hammer.
“HOLD IT!” El Penitente roared, stepping in. “Don’t you have any RESPECT? You gonna start a street fight in the middle of a Sacred Vigil?”
“They tried to steal one of those angel things, right out from under your nose!”
“LOOK,” Render said in the voice of tried reason, “we have done NOTHING. That angel faded, just like all the others, and we didn’t do a single thing to it.”
“Because we stopped you,” Tiger Girl snarled.
“Well,” the girl in the red-and-pink dress with white accessories piped up timorously, “that camera isn’t a normal TV camera.”
“HAH!” Gryphon grunted triumphantly.
“Let’s see, you’re Aurora, right?” Ray said in the tones of a teacher trying to lead a student to the right answer. “Genetically engineered Telepath, Esper and Telekinetic, right? Now, did you read our minds and uncover our intent?”
“eerrr… NO,” Aurora admitted, realizing that the large black kid probably knew that saying that she had would cause all sorts of Personal Privacy and Due Process problems in court. “But I used my ESP to look inside, and there’s no way that’s a normal camera.”
“That’s because it’s NOT,” Malachi said, prizing his coat from Gryphon’s grasp. “It’s a Multi-Frequential Kirlian Projective Laser Differential Perspective-”
“WHAT?” Tiger Girl bleated, techno-babbled into bewilderment.
“It’s a sensor,” Nephandus said, speaking more to Nightchylde than the other CCs. “It’s a device for detecting and analyzing the energies of various non-material beings and phenomena. There is a lot of interest in those angels, and we were hoping to garner some extra credit in school by bringing in first hand data regarding them. It’s a very good design, even if I must say so myself,” he cooed at Nightchylde. But then, the first thing that he’d done was jerk the cable from the junction box to the trap, so he knew that there was no way to prove anything. “Care to examine it?”
“Then why did you disguise it as a camera, if it’s not some sort of angel-trap?” Tiger Girl asked, trying to keep the encounter on the right foot.
“Out of Respect,” Ray said with calm dignity. “After all, these people are coming here out of their love of GOD. How would they feel if strangers came, pointing scary-looking techno-gimmicks at their angels?”
“LOOK,” Gryphon said, trying to get control of the situation back, “you’re coming with us and-”
“ONE,” Ray started ticking off the issues on his hand, “you have no warrant and no Police Powers. TWO, you can’t say with any certainty that a crime was committed at all, let alone that we did it. And THREE, even if everything that you just said WAS so, to the best of my knowledge, there are no laws on the books that say that we CAN’T try to catch an angel. So, you got nuthin’, so get the fuck out of our faces.” Then a speculative look crossed his face. “Hey Mal- what sort of chassis would you say Gryphon’s rig is based on?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Gryphon asked.
Mal gave the power armor a shrewd once-over and said, “Well, right off the bat, I’d say that it was a Kiva-Vecna HAS-235 Light Infantry/ Scout model, heavily modified for vaulting leaps- oh, yeah, and those really ugly ‘theme’ modifications.”
“Isn’t that a Military model that requires a special license to pilot?”
“Yo, Griff,” Ray said, gaining confidence, “I’ll give you the benefit of a doubt, and assume that your Big Buddy Gargoyle had a valid license for his rig, and you were flying on his ticket. But, I hate to be the one to remind you, he’s DEAD. So… you got a license to fly that thing?
“LICENSE?” Gryphon yelped.
“Yo, Babe- you’re flying a military rig in civilian areas without a license? And you’re giving US shit?”
“Watch yer language, punk,” El Penitente grated. He didn’t like this situation. He got a bad feeling about it, especially from the punk with the fancy-schmancy clothes and the long braid. But then, he’d had some nasty run-ins with the Cadet Crusaders, and with Gryphon’s mentor, Gargoyle, too. And the TV kids had been minding their manners, and it looked like they knew better’n than start up with all the devotees around, which was more than he could say about the CCs, who sounded like they were spoiling for a rumble. “Okay, Kid,” he said to Ray, “you got what you came for, so pack up your stuff and split.”
“Wait a minute…” Malachi said looking at a piece of gear. “What kind of batteries are you using?”
“So far, the greatest running time for powered exoskeletons running on conventional batteries is 55 minutes. But from what I hear, the rigs you and Gargoyle use operate for hours at a stretch. I don’t see power cables or any kind of remote recharge system, so you must be using some sort of exotic battery system or power plant. But most of the exotic battery schemes being used these days have a nasty tendency to be either toxic or highly explosive. So- what kind of batteries are you using? Because I’m picking up massive amounts of non-metallic nitrogen in your immediate area!”
“Aaahhh…” Gryphon hedged.
“What?” Ray screamed into Gryphon’s hawk faceplate, “You brought a MilSpec power frame into a civilian residential area without a license, and you don’t even know how it WORKS?”
Gryphon spent the rest of the afternoon standing stock still with a cordon of red ‘Caution- Hazardous Material’ tape around her.
From where they were watching, Sanjay lowered his binoculars. “Interesting…”
“You think that that St. Michel-DuChantraine kid can really catch one of those angels?” Kim asked with interest.
“Not the real issue,” Sanjay corrected him. “Rather, I’m seeing two groups of super-powered teenagers who seem to dislike each other intensely. Things can be done with that. Indeed, things are coming together nicely…”
“So, how did it go?” Jadis asked as the chauffeur helped her get her packages into the passenger compartment. The trunk was still full of Mal and Jean-Armand’s gear. The others tried to answer, but they kept breaking up into uncontrollable laughter. And for some reason, they kept saying ‘non-metallic nitrogen’ like it was funny.
Jadis had a rough idea as to what went down by the time that the limo pulled up in front of the townhouse on West 71st Street. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous,” Jadis said as they piled out of the limo and got their stuff up the stairs of the townhouse. “Mal, those Cadet Creeps are NOT gonna leave us alone, especially after they figure out how you zoomed them. I don’t want you messing around in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“But we’re not doing anything-”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know- you’re not doing anything technically illegal. Like that’s gonna mean shit when you’re in the hospital with a thousand broken bones. The people at Saint Greg’s are ON to you guys!” Jadis was getting ready to face the objections of the other Seeds when Mrs. Pierson opened the door.
They were just inside the door when Jadis heard a plummy Down Islands voice call out, “MALACHI!”
Mal dropped the bag that he was carrying, looked to the stairs where a certain dark-skinned heartbreaker was beaming at him. “ERZILI!” Mal rushed up to her, swept her up in a big hug and entered into an immediate lip-lock.
“Sapper?” Jadis bleated, her jaw dragging on the parquet. “What? Are you? Doing? Here?”
“Hey, I thought we had a ‘No Lackeys Along’ policy,” Render said as he stepped in.
“WE DO!” Jadis said more strongly. She advanced menacingly, manifesting a dark claw over her right hand. “Let me ask you again, Sapper- what are you doing here?”
Then someone called out, “Hey, Boss!”, and Jadis stopped in her tracks when she recognized the voice of Kayla ‘Cutlass’ Glupiek.
“CUTLASS?” She bleated again, “What are YOU doing here?”
The strapping redhead walked out of the kitchen, munching on one of Mrs. Barnes’ flaky pastries. “Oh, while we was up at Whateley, Erzi came up with a GREAT dodge, and we took all our term finals at once! And once we had that outta the way, there was nothin’ keepin’ us from comin’ down here.”
“You took. All. Your finals. At once,” Jadis groaned, imagining the effects on Kayla’s GPA with horror.
“Oh Yeah… talk about a grizzly!”
“Annnddd… what are you doing HERE?”
“Hey, we’re gonna go down to Karedonia with you! I can finally meet your dad!”
“It’s a Christmas Miracle,” Winter said wryly.
“Kayla, you still don’t have a passport.”
“Erzi’s gonna let me travel on hers! She knows this great dodge where you can do this, with a special visa.”
“And where are you going to get this special visa?”
“WHAT?” Jobe called back irritably from his nest in the living room.
“Did you give these two special permission to come to Karedonia on a single passport?”
“Never mind…” Jadis whimpered. She turned to Mrs. Pierson. “I’m sorry about this, but I seem to have been outmaneuvered. Can you find rooms for those two?”
“I think that I could manage,” Pierson murmured. “Maybe one of the old servants’ quarters, up on the third floor…”
As Pierson led Sapper and Cutlass up the stairs, with Malachi eagerly in tow, Ray watched them go up the stairs. When they were well out of earshot, he asked Jadis, “So, what’s your problem with Erzili?”
“Her teeth are a little too sharp for my liking.”
“Ah, Big Sister doesn’t like Widdle Bruther’s playmates?” Jean-Armand teased.
Jadis gave Nephandus an acid smile. “Jay-Arm, Mal doesn’t have your experience with girls. Someone like Erzili could chew him up and spit him out. At the school I went to before I got outed as Dr. Diabolik’s daughter, I learned to spot the leeches, the kids who hung out with rich kids, ‘cause they wanted to ride on that kid’s credit card. And every instinct that I’ve got tells me that Erzili’s playing Mal for everything that she can get.”
“Why?” Ray asked. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe she just LIKES Mal? He’s an okay guy.”
Jadis shot Ray an ‘oh, gimme a break’ glare. “Ray, she’s not just an Exemplar, she’s a really cool Black exemplar, with a hot bod and an exotic Jamaican accent. And he’s not just a skinny white boy, but he’s a freaking DEVISOR, a tech-geek’s idea of a tech-geek. Now let me ask YOU: what are the odds that Erzili’s got the discernment and maturity to appreciate what Mal’s got to offer- other than his money?”
“Maybe,” Jean-Armand opined, “but I doubt that Mal will appreciate sticking your nose into his love affair. Besides, who’s to say that it will really be all that bad? So, this Erzili plays him for a fool; so what? He’ll learn a harsh lesson, and in the mean time, it looks like he’s having a lot of fun!” Jean-Armand finished with a very Gallic flourish.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Jadis said in a low tone. “I did some checking up on her when I first heard about her coming on to Mal. She left Kingston under rather… complex circumstances. And Hazard tells me that she’s been poking away at the Masterminds, looking for an in there.”
“So, if she’s a Catwoman wannabe…” Winter opened, seeing where Jadis was going.
“… she might drag Mal into something that he’d know better than to get involved with, normally,” Ray finished.
“You watch yourself, Beast,” Winter warned. “The Tigers are just looking for an excuse to kick up a fuss at anyone, especially after the way that Chaka blew them off this term. You give Erzili any grief, and she’ll go to N’Dizi whining about how you’re all on her case because she’s a black girl hanging with a white boy.”
“The Tigers?” Jadis’ eyes suddenly sparkled mischievously at the mention of Whateley’s resident group of Afro-centric martial artists.
“Now that’s the She-Beast we’ve all come to know and be absolutely terrified of,” Ray said approvingly. He patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t hurt her TOO much, Beast.”
Mal and Erzili silently flirted over dinner, as Kayla enthused over the Diaboliks’ standard of living. “Woof! This house is great, Boss! It looks just like the house in The Nanny!”
“Don’t call me ‘Boss’,” Jadis said mulishly. “‘The Nanny’?”
‘The Nanny’ turned out to be a particularly inane sitcom that Kayla apparently adored, and proceeded to fill them all in on, in detail. Much to Jadis’ relief, there was the sound of the doorbell.
“I’ll get that!” she blurted out, before anyone could beat her to it. Jadis strolled to the door, taking her time, as she hoped that someone would have bulldozed the conversation onto something a trifle less brain-dead by the time that she got back.
There was no one at the door. Jadis poked her head out of the front door alcove and looked down the stoop, but didn’t spot anyone. Then her foot hit something. Looking down, she spotted a largish box- with a rose made of ice on top of it. “Oh, no. No… It can’t be… Surely that idiot got the message…!” She picked up the package and took it inside, loudly making noises of distress and emotional anguish. She put the ice rose in a vase, and set the package on the living room table.
“What is it, Jadis dear?” By this time, Mrs. Pierson and most of the others had come into the living room, to find out what had Jadis so upset.
Jadis didn’t answer, beyond saying, “Please, PLEASE, God, don’t let this be what I think it is…” The package was a sealed shipping container for pieces of art, but there were no seals or labels on it. She opened one end and pulled a 51 x 62 cm canvass out of it. Represented in oils was a couple in the fashionable but informal mode of the late 18th Century in a small bedroom, somewhat, but not completely dishable, locked in a tender yet passionate embrace. “NOOO!!!” Jadis yelped, as though she had been burned.
“What’s the matter?” Kayla asked, looking over Jadis’ shoulder at the picture. “Didn’t they send the picture you wanted?”
“It’s Constable’s The Embrace,” Jadis choked out.
Render, Malachi and Jean-Armand reacted, but Winter and Thrasher sort of blanked. “That sounds familiar…” Winter mused.
“It was one of the paintings that we went to see, after the Cookie Cutter Crusaders jumped us two days ago, remember?” Thrasher reminded them. “In the Getty Gallery?”
“You got jumped?” Kayla asked.
“John Constable was a major figure in the English Romantic period,” Ray said. “He was a big noise in landscapes and watercolors, real big on realism and all that. As far as anyone knows, he only painted one romantic picture, early in his career, and that’s IT.”
“Yeah, and I can see WHY,” Cutlass offered. “It’s not exactly burning the canvass there.”
“It’s a unique by a major artist,” Jadis said through clenched teeth. “It was on loan from the Tate Gallery in England. It’s worth a small fortune- and the idiot didn’t even bother to package it properly! It’s humid as hell out there, and the canvass is two hundred years old, and the patina’s starting to darken and crack, and oh my gawd…” Jadis ended with a choke. “I gotta get this out of the house… Ray-”
“On it.” Render already had a laptop out, and he was rattling away at it as Jadis went to the back door.
“What?” Erzili started.
“Mal, fill them in.” When Jadis got back, Ray was showing everyone a podcast of a news bulletin, with the image frozen on a blank spot on a marble wall, with the word ‘Jadis’ spray-painted in ‘antique gold’ on the marble.
Sabbath approached Superbad feeling very good. The raid on the Getty hadn’t gone off exactly without a hitch, but she’d gotten most of the jades that she’d gone there for, and Sneaky Pete had gotten 25 of the 30 prints that he was after, so she’d probably split the hundred K with him after all. Oh, and ‘Mr. Cool’ had gotten his pretty picture for his ladylove, who probably didn’t even know what was going on. She stifled a laugh at the thought of Dr. Diabolik’s daughter being used as a pigeon.
Then, just as she was at the stairs down to the basement, there was a rushing of wind, a pair of hands grabbed her from behind, and she was lifted up into the air. She was carried to the rooftops, where she was let down. She did a tumbling reverse, her hands already bursting with dark magic, and faced her attacker. She immediately recognized the man in blue-and-gray, even through the armored cowl and mirrored visor. “Cyclone!”
“CHILL, Sab!” Cyclone said waving her down. “I’m not bushwhacking you; I’m here to keep you from walking into a bad situation!”
“Look, you and Sneaky Pete are working Mister Cool, so that he’ll do the dirty work for you on tough sites. He’s hot to impress Dr. Diabolik’s daughter- don’t ask me why- so you point him at targets with a high romantic chump factor, and scamper off with whatever you can shove in your pockets.”
“I don’t know what-”
“Jadis Diabolik was here yesterday.”
“Like I said, yesterday, Jadis Diabolik dropped by with a few of her friends. She was looking for Mr. Cool, and left her phone number. She wants to talk to him. I think that she’s being pretty friendly right at the moment, but I don’t think that she’ll stay that way, if she gets the idea that you’re dragging her name through the mud with your little scam.”
“You have no-”
“Everybody saw you chatting up Cool after we told him who she was. That evening, Cool hits Tiffany’s. The next day, I see Sneaky Pete slipping something into that shopping bag that you brought in. And my bookie tells me that Pete paid off his past debts with a half-pound of hot diamonds.”
“HALF pound? He told me-” Sabbath cut off in mid-sentence and glared at Cyclone as he gloated. “So, what do you want?” she snarled.
“Hey, CHILL, Sab!” Cyclone said with a grin. “I’m not shaking you down. So, you’re playing *snicker* ‘Mister Cool’ for a fool. So what? And that little Diabolik bitch will get over it. Or, at least, she’ll be out of town in a few days, which is better. I just… want in on the action.” Sabbath gave him a nasty scowl. “Hey, it’s not like I’m pushing my way into this with empty hands. Look, you only got so long before somebody wises Mister Cool up, or Jadis Diabolik leaves town. So, you gotta play this for all it’s worth while it’s worth something, right?”
“And… what are you bringing into this?” Sabbath asked with a raised eyebrow. She was relaxing a bit, but she was still well on her guard.
“Look, I got a standing offer from my agent to pick up this piece of Victorian bric-a-brac that’s in the Whittier museum. The problem is that the Whittier’s got some serious security, and the terrain is against me. But it just so happens that the Whittier’s showing some rare books, including a first edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets with an inscription by Ben Jonson. Now, Shakespeare’s sonnets- I ask you, what’s got more hearts-and-flowers points than Shakespeare’s sonnets?”
“And you figure that if Cool goes in and grabs the sonnets, you’ll have a better chance at getting out with your whatever?”
“That IS more or less the game you’ve got set up, right?”
“And what’s in it for ME?”
Cyclone pulled a thick magazine from his harness and tossed it to to Sabbath. It was the catalogue for the Whittier. “Look, the beauty of this is that there’s enough for everyone. Just pick something that blows your skirt up, and get dibs on it. Just stay out of the Victorian Room, and make sure that you don’t cross wires with Sneaky Pete.”
“Sneaky Pete?” Sabbath asked, baffled. “Where does HE come into it?”
“Yo, Sab! THINK about it! Pete knows what you’re pulling. If he hears that we pulled something without him, he’s just the sort of shit who’d get his nose all out of joint and do something to shit in our soup. Besides, he’s a stealth expert and an electrician- if we can’t find a legit use for him, then we’re slipping. And, like I said, there’s enough for everyone, as long as we don’t get greedy.”
Sabbath nodded grudgingly. Then, looking at the Whittier catalogue, she remembered something. “Wait a minute, Cyclone. I already know what I want. But… there’s a teeny-tiny little problem…”
Sabbath flipped through the catalogue until she found the page that she was looking for. “Here. The Ocotzingo Mirror. An obsidian Pre-Aztec artifact found near the Yucatan back in the 1930s. I want that.”
“There are two leeetle problems. First, it weighs over 200 pounds.”
“So? I know that you can teleport. Jump it out.”
“I can barely jaunt more than 20 pounds over my own weight.”
“Okay, and the second problem is?”
“The Aztec Pavilion in the Whittier is warded. The Ocotzingo Mirror has powers, and there are people who want to keep it at the Whittier. BUT… if a big strong man, who wasn’t magically active were to carry it out of the Whittier, well the wards wouldn’t affect HIM, not in the slightest…” She finished in the voice of a little girl, and looked up coyly at him.
Cyclone let out an aggravated grunt. “Okay! Fine! I’ll lug the damn thing out for you! But you OWE me one! And, you have to snag my target out of the Victorian Room.”
Sabbath smirked the smile of a woman who’s suckered a man into doing what she wants. “Sure! What is it?”
“It’s called ‘Prof. Heidegger’s Compass’, a Victorian bit of clockwork gimcrack. It weighs 15 pounds, give or take; I have a carrying case for it. It’s item number 14 on the west wall of the room. Now, get on the phone, and tell Mr. Cool that you’ve got THE big romantic score all set up for him, but there’s a time limit on it.”
“Yes, we only have so much time before he goes into Superbad, and George tells him that Jadis Diabolik wants to get in touch with him!”
Sabbath saw Cyclone’s point, and immediately pulled out her cell phone. Unfortunately, neither one of them thought to check their surroundings. That would cost them in the long run.
“So, anything on the Net about that Constable being stolen?” Jadis asked at breakfast.
“One or two things,” Malachi said. “A couple of people have picked up on the bit about ‘Jadis’ being written at the scene, but so far, no one’s mentioned you by name. Well, beyond the obvious, anyway.”
“Very well!” Jean-Armand said briskly, “Now that’s out of the way, let’s get down to how we’re going to deal with the matter in- OW!” he yelped as Jadis kicked him in the shin. As he winced, she shot him an icy ‘not in my house’ glare.
“Hey Boss, what’s he-”
“Nothing, Kayla, Jay-Arm’s just being Jay-Arm. It’s one of the things we have to deal with in this group,” Jadis quickly cut her off.
“Hey Jads!” Thrasher yelled from the sideboard, where he was helping himself to some breakfast and taking a call on his cell phone. “It’s Worm! He wants to talk to you!”
“Worm?” Erzili asked, puzzled.
“Long story,” Mal murmured.
Puzzled, Jadis accepted the phone from Thrasher. “ah, Hello? Yes, Thrasher told me about that, and your information was very helpful. And what can I do for you, Mister ‘Worm’? Oh? Really? And what’s this information going to cost me? aaahhh… oh-kay… Yeah, we already picked up on that. nnnrrr…” Jadis growled, “That makes way too much sense. Sabbath? Sneaky Pete? I never heard of them. Cyclone? HIM, I’ve heard of. What’s he want? I supposed this is where I’m supposed to make pithy comments about ‘honor among thieves’. Any idea as to what he’s up to? Okay,” Jadis ran down the details as she understood them. “Whittier Gallery, First Edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, the Ocotzingo Mirror in the Aztec room, Prof. Heidegger’s Compass in the Victorian room, and what’s Sneaky Pete after? Thanks Worm, I owe you one. Sorry, but I take these things very seriously. I regard myself as owing you a favor. With the caveat that this favor doesn’t involve my father in any way.”
“Sanjay? There’s a development?”
“Jadis Diabolik just got a phone call from someone called ‘Worm’- I have no reference for that cognomen- who just spelled out Cyclone’s plan for the Whittier to her. It’s very complete.”
“How complete, Mulan?”
“He doesn’t seem to know Sneaky Pete’s objective, or their time and plan for entry, but he knows most of the rest.”
“Yes, Diabolik is calling the NYPD Major Crimes unit, but they don’t seem to be taking her very seriously. They’ve got her on ‘Crank Hold’.”
“We’ll have to assume that Miss Diabolik will feel forced to take matters into her own hands. Let’s lay contingency plans.”
“But what about… our other project?” Nephandus whined.
“It can WAIT!” Jadis said as she called the limo service.
“But why do _I_ have to go?”
“Because, you were at the Whittier, right along with the rest of us!” Jadis snarled. “And, if anything, given who your parents are, you’re an even bigger suspect if any of those things go missing that the rest of us are!”
“So, Miss Diabolical-” Edgar Fanshaw, the Security Chief for the Whittier Gallery started indulgently.
“Diabolik. Jadis Diabolik.”
“Ah,” he said, obviously humoring her. “Any relation to the infamous Doctor Diabolik?”
Arching one unamused eyebrow, Jadis showed him her MCO MID. Fanshaw dropped his amused act, took a very practical looking scanner from his opulent desk and scanned the ID. It immediately came back. “You. Are. The Daughter. Of Dr. Diabolik…”
Jadis leaned back, smiling. The first hurdle cleared. “Yes. And this is my brother Malachi here, and, just so that it’s understood, the rest of my friends- well, most of them- are also the children of various supervillains. And NO, we’re not threatening you. We’re just giving you a heads up.”
“And what’s your interest in this alleged plot to rob the Whittier?”
“To be perfectly honest, my primary objective is to get to my Christmas vacation without getting dragged through the courts.” Jadis ran through the situation with ‘Mr. Cool’, and Worm’s information about Cyclone, Sabbath, and Sneaky Pete’s plot.
Fanshaw leaned back in his chair, and looked at Jadis over steepled fingers. “And what do you suggest we do?”
“I’m not suggesting anything, beyond the fact that you take this seriously. I have NO recommendations, whatsoever. You are the professional here, you take care of it.”
Fanshaw arched an eyebrow and considered it. “Very well, you said that your information included the specific items that these alleged thieves are after. What are they?”
“Well, my sources said that Mr. Cool- hey, don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with that name- Mr. Cool is after the copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cyclone is after something called ‘Prof. Heidegger’s Compass’ and Sabbath is after the Ocotzingo Mirror, but they’ve agreed to switch targets for some reason. There’s a fourth thief, ‘Sneaky Pete’, but I don’t know what he’s after.”
Fanshaw’s cool slipped ever so slightly when he heard about the Ocotzingo Mirror. He pulled out his phone and called someone. “Krebbs? Is there anyone in the Aztec room? Do we have any tours or private showings scheduled for today? Good. I’m having the Aztec room triple-sealed. It’s a precaution. We have warning from a-” he spared Jadis a glance, “-reasonably credible source that someone will make a move on it. I’m going to call our friends at the Atlantic Heritage Society and-” Fanshaw was cut off when the lights suddenly went out.
Render said in a clear, calm, but authoritative voice, “Nobody Move. If we’re here with witnesses, then we can’t be accused of being out there, pulling something.”
Mal produced a light, and Fanshaw was working furiously on a laptop as he spoke on a cell phone cradled between his head and shoulder. “Damn! The shutters were jammed before the power was turned off!”
“In a town like New York, the museums have to be as well guarded as freakin’ banks,” Mal explained to Erzili and Kayla. “More so, because the exhibits are usually delicate and often need special measures to keep them safe. For instance, Egyptian mummies are usually kept in cases filled with absolutely dry nitrogen gas to keep them from rotting and other stuff. So, they often have exhibits with a high snatch risk set in reinforced rooms with armored shutters that drop in case of an emergency. Not so much to keep thieves out, as to keep stray energy blasts from setting the stuff inside on fire.”
Fanshaw gave Jadis a sharp look. “Miss Diabolik, how much do you know about this ‘Mister Cool’?”
“Barely met him in passing once. Why?”
“The Curator wants to know if it would be wiser to simply let him have the Sonnets, than to try and keep it from him. And we have a report of two men entering through the central courtyard.”
Mal told Erzili, “Museums often decide that it’s cheaper and safer to simply ransom stolen exhibits back from the thieves, than to risk damaging the other exhibits by fighting the thief, especially if the thief is a supervillain.”
Jadis screwed up her face. “Iittt’sss iffy. If what I what I think is going on is so, then getting the Sonnets back won’t be a problem. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Mister Cool really understands conservation processes. He just shoved the Constable that he stole yesterday in a box. What sort of preservation methods are you using for the Sonnets?”
“It’s a copy of the 1609 Quarto, with an inscription by Ben Jonson. It was last re-bound in 1913, and the bookbinder left notes that the pages were badly acidic. We’ve had it preserved in nitrogen for the last fifty years. Immediate exposure wouldn’t do anything, but it would leave the pages so delicate that any rough handling could destroy it.”
Fanshaw scowled and grated his teeth. “And it’s a choice between that or the Ocotzingo Mirror.”
Thrash looked at Jean-Armand and said, “I saw that! You recognized that name! What’s this ‘Octozingo Mirror to you?”
“Ocotzingo,” Fanshaw corrected.
“Whatever! ‘Fess up, Jay-Arm!”
Jean-Armand shifted in his seat uncomfortably and said, “Well, it’s nothing… it’s just that my father briefly considered… handling… the mirror for a while, and in the course of his researches, decided that it wasn’t the sort of thing that he cared to broker.” Most of the Bad Seeds reacted to this with a loud ‘Eeewww…’ in unison.
Jadis gave Fanshaw a sharp look. “What’s something like that doing on public exhibit?”
Fanshaw responded with a pained grimace. “I’m afraid that the Ocotzingo Mirror’s presence here is the result of an ownership dispute between the Atlantic Heritage Society and the Republic of Mexico. The mirror was brought to New York in the 1930s under, let’s say… questionable circumstances, and the Atlantic Heritage Society is quite reluctant to allow the mirror to return to Mexico, for reasons they decline to state.” This was followed by another ‘eeewww…’ “Having the mirror on display here lends a certain credibility to the Society’s custodianship.” Fanshaw snarled into his cell phone, “Concentrate on guarding the Aztec room. Try to manually shut off as many of the rooms in the immediate vicinity as you can, and get as many civilians out of the building as possible and- WHAT?” Fanshaw’s face went blank and pale as a sheet. “The Cadet Crusaders have entered the building. The guard at the front doors said that they asked where the Aztec and Victorian rooms were.”
“Well, you had a really nice museum here, while it lasted,” Winter said in poor consolation.
“Museums really hate superhero fights,” Mal explained to Erzili.
Fanshaw looked like he was chewing glass, but he looked to the Bad Seeds and said in a pained voice, “Could we prevail on you to intervene and keep those idiots from razing this building and all its priceless treasures down to the ground?”
“Excuse me?” Thrasher asked incredulously. “You’re asking US? To save this building from the Cadet Crusaders?”
“Just… keep them from destroying the place?”
“Mister Fanshaw,” Jadis stated with lawyerly caution, “you’re asking us to expose ourselves to criminal charges by obstructing duly deputized police auxiliaries in the course of their duties.”
“Those idiots are NOT in the course of their duties!” Fanshaw retorted. “They haven’t been asked to intervene, and they are MOST unwelcome! Please! I assure you of the Whittier’s complete support, if you stop them from wrecking the place!”
Jadis started to object, but Thrasher cut her off, saying, “Get real Jads! I mean, how often are we gonna get a thumbs up from the proper authorities to kick the asses of superheroes?” He ended with a note of glee and a look on his face like a puppy wanting to romp.
Jadis gave a snarl of frustration. She looked at Fanshaw. “We have your express permission?”
“Okay! Our best bet is to take out the supervillains first, and then get the Cadets to follow us out into the central courtyard. Then, we surrender.”
“SURRENDER?” Mal, Thrash, and Kayla yelped like they’d been burned.
“It’s the only thing those yutzes would understand. They can’t arrest us for anything, so all it does is stop the fight. And stopping the fight is our second priority, after keeping the exhibits from getting wrecked, IS THAT CLEAR?” There was a lot of nodding of heads. “Okay! Thrash, Mal, you head for the Scriptorium. Keep Mister Cool away from the case containing the Sonnets. If he’s already breached the case, wait until he puts it in a container, and get it away from him. Mal, he’s a freezer, use that. Got it? Good! Go! Marian, from his handle, I’d say that Cyclone is a wind wizard. Don’t get fancy, just counter his moves. Ray, you move in and take him down FAST! Then get everyone out of the Aztec room, and lower the shutters. Romeo, Jay-Arm, this ‘Sneaky Pete’ is the wild card in all of this. From what we’ve heard, he’s a stealth specialist, and he’s probably the one who took out the power. You two find him, or at least keep him from getting too cute.”
“Excuse me?” Jean-Armand interrupted. “But precisely WHY should I get involved in this?”
“Because, of all of us, YOU are the one who needs to prove that he had nothing to do with setting any of this up! Go!”
“Okay, and what about us?” Kayla asked eagerly.
Jadis looked at who was left, and discovered to her dismay that by the process of elimination, she’d left herself with Cutlass and Sapper. “Okay, we head for the Victorian room. As I recall, it’s filled with lots of old wood, finely worked brass and LOTS of glass. Now, this is very important girls- DON’T BREAK ANYTHING.”
Tiger Girl was leading a sub-team with Aurora, Nightchylde and Ultramax. Their informant said that Diabolik’s crew was raiding the Whittier, specifically for items in the Aztec and Victorian rooms. The doors were stuck open, and the lights were out. Not that that stopped Ultramax from racing in ahead of the rest of them. Like he usually did. He went in, and there was a loud roaring sound. “Aurora, use your ESP to see what’s going on,” Tiger Girl ordered.
The psychic girl peered into the gloom of the Aztec room, but she didn’t have precognition enough to avoid getting body-checked by Ultramax as he came flying out of the room. Max rolled out of it, but Aurora had the wind knocked out of her. “Okay, looks like we’re gonna have to do this the hard way! Nights, Max, let’s get in there and show that blowhard how we do things in New York!” She went in, crouching low against the wind. Ultramax went in after her. Nightchylde tried to follow, but for some reason, she couldn’t get in the door.
“FUCK!” Gryphon snarled as she got to the door of the Victorian room. The door was too small for her armor or Tower to get in, unless Tower shrank down to a size where he wouldn’t be any real use. “Splendor, Arby, get in there, and see if you can’t flush those Diabolik dorks out here where Tower and I can handle them!”
“Do we have to?” Splendor asked as she lit up her hands. “I mean, I can probably take care of that snotty little Jadis Diabolik all by myself!”
“Yeah, but she’s got friends, remember?”
“Hey, first time for everything,” Splendor sniffed. “Let’s go, Arby!” Splendor flew in, illuminating the entire chamber with the light from her power gems.
Rubberboy slithered along the floor like a snake, moving in quick darts from one exhibit to another. He would have been more effective, but the exhibit cases were flush against the floor. Rubberboy wished that Aurora was with him. This room was major league creepy, and Spendor wasn’t making things any better with her gosh-wow power gems, casting all those creepy shadows. Luminaire would have known better. But Luminaire was dead. So were the rest of the Designer Heros, except for Aurora and him. The Cadets were supposed to be a substitute family for him and Aurora, but they didn’t feel like family. And Hardcharge wouldn’t have sent only two of them in there, like Gryphon did. Hardcharge. Luminaire. Torque. Magwave. All dead. Did genetic constructs have souls? And if not, then why was this creepy room creeping him out so much?
Then he noticed that the shadows that Splendor was casting had a texture. And they were wrapping around him. And sinking hooks into his skin through his suit. He could feel them. “Hey, SPLENDOR!” He yelped, “HELP!”
Thrasher towed Malachi through the dark corridors to the Scriptorium. Fortunately, they’d been there a few days earlier, and Mal’s implant still had a rough map of the place on file. WHY he’d made such a map, Mal didn’t go into. The Scriptorium was a large square with an island of glass cases with rare books and scrolls and so on, and the walls were lined with cases full of more of the same. All the glass was frosted over, and there was a guy bending over one of the cases on the far side of the room. “Gee, blue and white armor with an icicle theme,” Mal whispered over Thrash’s shoulder. “Some people are so original…”
“You got that line caster that Mahren reamed you about?”
“And why don’t you ask me if I left home without my pants?”
“You didn’t, did you?”
Techno-Devil pulled the linecaster seemingly out of nowhere and Thrasher kneeled, offering Mal his shoulder as a bipod. Mal waited until the freezer had put the small book into the protective box that he’d brought, and was just about to slip it into the sachel on his belt. Then he shot the linecaster at the book, snagging it with the grappler and pulled it out of ‘Mister Cool’s’ grip. “HEY! Bring that back!”
Mal handed the book off to Thrasher who was off like a shot. Mister Cool came after him, keeping his eye on the book, which was a mistake, as Techno-Devil pulled a fire extinguisher, again as if from nowhere, and squirted him with fire retardant foam. Which didn’t hurt Mister Cool in the slightest, but it played absolute hob with his nitrogen extractor filters.
Unable to get into the Aztec room for some reason, Nightchylde tried to be helpful by helping Aurora get her wind back. It was taking Rora longer than it would have for a normal person, since she didn’t have a lot of personal experience in things like this, and she tended to freak out over unpleasant new experiences. Nightchylde was trying to talk Rora out of her hysteria, which was really overcomplicating the simple physical function of getting control of her breathing back. Then she heard footsteps running up. Looking up, she saw the big black guy who had been the one doing all the talking yesterday at the thing in Hell’s Kitchen, and the dark-haired chick who’d been dissing Splendor. Nightchylde tensed for combat, but then it struck her- “Hey! If you’re HERE, then who’s in THERE?”
The two supervillain kids stopped, and the black guy was about to say something, when the roaring peaked and Tiger Girl and Ultramax came flying out again, knocking Nightchylde out and sending Aurora into more hysterics.
Jadis, Kayla and Erzili charged to the Victorian room, where they found Gryphon and Tower trying to pull a screaming Rubberboy out of the pitch black inside the exhibit room. “Diabolik!” Gryphon bleated. “What are you doing out here?”
“What are you doing here at ALL?” Jadis snarled. “Ray told me that the cops dragged you in for operating a special vehicle without a license.”
“The DA’s office expedited the paperwork for my license, and I aced the pilot’s test,” Gryphon gloated. “Which means that I can-”
“We don’t have time for this. Deal with them!” Jadis snapped, pointing with at the two large heroes.
“YEAH!” Cutlass exulted, manifesting her pseudo-metallic carapace and forming her trademark molecule-fine blades over her hands.
“NO KILLING!” Jadis ordered, “Just keep them off my back.” Then she leapt over the freaked out boy into the totally dark room.
Inside the inky black chamber, Jadis could just make out the sound of someone being beaten up and thrown against cases that sounded glass. Occasionally, there was a blurry lightening, as if seeing a streetlight through a pea soup fog. She paused to ‘taste’ the magic that filled the chamber. “Humph. Erebeal magic. They must be having a special on it somewhere.” She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her prepared deck of spell cards. She felt for the five cards on the bottom of the deck and drew out the one she wanted. She filled the card with some of her essence, and the complex characters that she’d sketched on it glowed, dispelling the darkness.
The gloom dispersed, revealing a room the same size as the Scriptorium, only most of the exhibits weren’t in glass cases. Indeed, there was a large mid-19th Century cannon on display, and the girl in red-and-purple was bent over the barrel of it by a lithe woman in a black bodysuit with dark purple trim, one hand cocked back to strike the reeling Splendor. “What the hell?” the woman in black said in a reasonably educated voice with New York undertones.
“Well, I’ve met Cyclone, you don’t look like a Sneaky Pete, and you’re obviously not Mister Cool, so I’ll assume that you’re Sabbath,” Jadis said in polite tones. “Allow me to introduce myself- I’m Jadis Diabolik.”
“What happened to my darkness?”
Jadis held up the card. “I had this prepped in case I ran into the Cadets’ Nightchylde. A quick check on the Mages chat rooms suggests that she manipulates a kind of magic that’s remarkably similar to the kind of magic that a friend of mine uses. I was familiar with the basic dynamics of this kind of magic, so whipping up a few countermeasures wasn’t particularly hard. But enough of that. Look, Sabbath, I know that you’re just trying to make a living and all that, but that doesn’t give you call to go dragging my name into your scams.”
“Piss off, Kid. I’m busy.”
“LOOK, Sabbath,” Jadis said, her voice going low, “I’m trying to be nice about this, and show you some professional courtesy. But here’s the thing- I’ve sort of been charged with keeping the Cadets from wrecking this place, and keeping the Ocotzingo Mirror where it is. Now, I don’t really have anything against you, so I’ll let you leave now. Empty handed.”
“LOOK, Sweetie,” Sabbath said in acid tones as she released Splendor’s throat, “just because your daddy is a big shit operator doesn’t mean that you-”
Jadis lunged into Sabbath’s immediate space before the woman could finish what she was saying (or let off the blast that she’d no doubt been warming up), and slapped one of her cards on Sabbath’s forehead with enough force to send her crashing back. Sabbath staggered back, tripped over a velvet rope and flipped backwards. As Sabbath got up, trying to activate blocked powers, Jadis advanced with a left-hand palm strike to her nose, a knee-kick to her midsection, and a powerful righthanded downward strike that smashed her down into the floor. Jadis followed up with a few short punches to Sabbath’s floating ribs. Then, as Sabbath reeled, Jadis pulled the darkling mage’s opera gloves off and bound her hands behind her with them. “Don’t worry about my father,” Jadis said into Sabbath’s ear. “I’m more of a threat than a third-rater like you will ever able to handle, all by myself.”
There was a sound of coughing and harsh clearing of a throat from where Splendor was still bent backwards over the cannon. Jadis pulled her to her feet. “Look, Splendor, right? Check it out- the bad guy has been captured, the exhibits are safe, the crisis is OVER. Now get out of here before you break something.”
Splendor snarled through her mask, coughed a last time and choked out, “Oh, like it’s going to be THAT easy for you!”
“Oh, by the way? Here’s a little tip for your Crimestopper’s Textbook: the pervasive gloom, the clammy atmosphere, the sense that someone’s watching you, the sensation of little hooks digging into your flesh, those are all telltale signs of Erebeal Magic. You should be familiar with it; your teamie Nightchylde uses it, or a variant of it. You really should learn more about your teammates’ powers and how they work. And one last little thing: throwing light-based attacks into Erebeal magic is like trying to fight a fire by throwing gasoline on it. You were only making it worse.”
“Oh, GIMMIE A BREAK!” Splendor choked out as she struggled up from the cannon. “You beat the crap out of your goon, and you think that you can smartass your way out of this?”
“Her? She has nothing to do with me or mine.”
“You always think that you can talk your way out of everything, don’t you?”
“Do… we… know… each other?”
“YEAH! I’m the girl who’s gonna send your ass to JAIL, where it belongs!”
“Sabbath here was just handing you your ass, and I slapped her down without breaking a sweat. What makes you think that you can take me on?”
“BRING IT ON, SKANK!” Splendor yelled. Muting a snarl of frustrated temper, Jadis erected her ‘beast skin’, becoming in an instant a towering demonic figure with powerful limbs, sweeping horns, a fanged muzzle and red eyes that glowed like embers against the darkling frame that was pitch black in the dim glow of the emergency lights in the room. Splendor’s jaw dropped, she turned pale as a sheet and let out a rattling scream. After a second, she gathered enough wits to fly out of the room like a scalded cat.
“Oh, are you fucking kidding me?” Jadis muttered. “It’s like Harvard- they’ll let fucking ANYONE be a superhero these days!”
“So, how do we find this ‘Sneaky Pete’?” Romeo asked Jean-Armand as they hurried down the dark corridors by the light provided from the tip of Nephandus’ walking stick.
“You’re asking me?” Jean-Armand replied. “I thought that YOU knew how to find him!”
“Well, you’re the big shot techno-mage!”
“And you’re the Package Deal Psychic! Use your telepathy!”
“I’ve never MET this Sneaky Pete. How do I know which one of the dozens of minds in this place is him?”
“What about your ESP?”
“Well, I could find him- IF I had anything that had an emotional link to him. Which I don’t. What about your magic?”
Jean-Armand paused. “I have the same problem that you do- I’d need some sort of definition or auric trace for him. Neither of which I have.”
Romeo snapped his fingers. “Yes you do! You know that he’s a THIEF! That’s a pretty strong definition, right there.”
“A definition that includes his three compatriots, and more than a few of US, including ME, as well.” Nephandus said with a growl.
“Yes, but he’s a sneak thief, as opposed to a raider,” Romeo pointed out. “AND, he’s not from Whateley. AND, you know his name- ‘Sneaky Pete’.”
“’Sneaky Pete’ is an alias, not a name,” Jean-Armand pointed out. “BUT, the other two things are valid enough. Though, it would be easier if I knew whether his ‘stealth’ is mystic, a superpower, technological or pure skill…” He took a PDA from his coat and began entering as much pertinent data as they had into the forms for a Search spell.
There were the sounds of a serious smackdown going on in the Aztec room as Tiger Girl came to. Then she realized that Ultramax was lying on top of her. “Get! Off! Me!” she snapped, shoving the still woozy Ultramax off of her. Aurora was hiccupping furiously, but at least she was breathing again. “What’s going on in there?” She asked. Then she remembered, “What a minute… those two Diabolik guys were going IN… but there was someone already THERE…”
“So? There are TWO bad guys!” Max shook his head clear. “So we go in there and-”
Max’s comment was cut off when a spray came from out of the gloom and encased him in ice. Then a tousle-headed boy in jeans and a hoodie sort of skated past them with a book-shaped package under his arm. “Missed me, LOSER!” he jeered at whoever was behind him, and moved on at high speeds. Then a cursing figure in blue and white sped past them on an ice ramp, encasing Ultramax even more thickly in the ice.
Recognizing the guy in the hoodie as one of Diabolik’s crew- and not knowing what to make of the guy with the ice- Tiger Girl sped off after them. Then a sort of runty-looking guy in a long red coat of some sort came along using some sort of jetpack. “Oh Man, I just gotta catch THIS!” he said, watching Tiger Girl sprint after the first two. He pulled a large video camera with an over-built lens and zipped after them.
Aurora hicked a little less furiously, her hysteria defused by her confusion. Then there was a screaming sound and a light came down the corridors. Aurora recognized Splendor, and was able to stop her with her PK. “SPLENDOR! *hick!* Ultramax! *hick!* He’s trapped in this *hick!* ice! You gotta *hick!* SAVE him!”
It took a second for Splendor to calm down enough to understand what Aurora was talking about, but she got down to it and melted the ice enough for Ultramax to break free on his own. “Hey! Where’s Tiggs?” he half-asked, half-shouted. “And I thought that you were with the other team?”
“I was fighting Jadis Diabolik,” Splendor said, fishing around for something that didn’t make her sound like a total weenie, “and she- ah- did something and got away! Yeah! I had just tied up the broad that she was working with and-”
Splendor’s story was cut off when the sound of the wind died, and was replaced by calm discussion. “Well, I gotta give him this, he was a TOUGH cuss.”
“Nah, he wasn’t so tough,” a familiar feminine voice sneered. “My dad could’a tied him in knots!”
“Maybe, but he did have some good moves in him,” the male voice said as two figures walked out of the Aztec room, the larger male one had a third figure draped over his shoulder. “If the exhibits in there hadn’t been almost solid stone, we could’a done some serious damage.”
“HEY! YOU!” Ultramax shouted. “Don’t MOVE, dirtbags!”
“‘Don’t move, dirtbags’?” echoed Winter in a pained voice. “What? We’re in a ‘Police Academy’ movie? Are they still making those things?”
“Chill out, Barber Pole,” Render said with studied calm, “the situation is under control. We got the bad guy, so everything’s cool.”
“Oh, it’s YOU!” Splendor gloated, charging up her light bursts, “the OTHER skank!”
“LOOK, Betty Bruise,” Winter growled, “why don’t you go over to the Bus Terminal and see if any sailors are getting off the busses? Maybe you can pull enough tricks to buy an outfit that isn’t a fashion felony!”
“Cut it out, Winter!” Render barked, “We aren’t supposed to fight inside the museum, remember?
“Aaawww… that is SUCH a SHAME!” Ultramax sneered.
“um, GUYS?” Aurora hated to get in the way of the other Cadets when they were on a roll. She just couldn’t read them the way that she used to be able to just know what the other Designer Heroes were thinking. “I think they aren’t here to rob the museum.”
Sneaky Pete damned that idiot Mister Cool, that bitch Sabbath, that smug jerk Cyclone, and most especially those two little faggots who were hot on his trail. ‘Oh, it’ll be just like a buffet!’ Sabbath had said. ‘Just go in and take whatever you think you can sell! Take out the power, and Mister Cool will handle the rest!’ Stupid Bitch! How the hell were those two little refugees from Christopher Street tracking him? He’d tried to zotz them with the hand shocker that he carried, but for some reason, they knew that he was coming! They even knew his street name! Nobody knew the name Sneaky Pete, outside supervillain circles! He wasn’t one of the big glory hogs, like Mister Cool! He knew that being anonymous was his big card. So how did they know so much about him?
There was a light up ahead. He could make out five kids standing there, yapping at each other. He recognized Ultramax from the Cadet Crusaders- Hey, how could anyone not recognize that train wreck of an outfit?- and two bimbos who were sort of new with the Kiddie Kops. As he approached, he could tell that they were yelling at each other, but they weren’t quite punching each other out. Yet.
Advantage: Sneaky Pete.
Running as fast as he could and still stay silent, Pete ran past them and zotzed the chick in frilly pink as she was in the middle of saying something. She gave out a ‘gleep!’ and folded. The two cadets started screaming for real, and Pete was OUT of there! Even if the two punks hot on his ass didn’t get tangled up in the fight, it would at least slow them down enough that he could lose them.
Suddenly, the Diabolik asshole carrying the (whatever it was that he was carrying) went right, and the guy with the ice powers- whoever he was- went left. Tiger Girl paused and thought. She only had a reasonable chance of catching up with one of them, obviously the reason they split up. She had no idea who the ice guy was, but she was sure that the Diabolik kid was one of the bad guys, AND he was carrying something. It was a no-brainer.
She chased him, and then she had him cornered. She jumped at him, but he ducked and stepped on one end of the flat bench that he was in front of. The bench rose up and hit Tiger Girl in the face. She crashed, knocking the bench down, turning it into a catapult that threw the guy up to the top of the stairs. Snarling in frustration, Tiger Girl charged up the stairs, leaping up the last half. The second that she jumped, Thrasher hopped onto the banister of the stairs and slid down. Tiger Girl roared in frustration and jumped down again. But the guy somehow did a 180 on the bottom handle of the banister and slid back UP the stairs. Tiger Girl ran back up the stairs, and the arrogant smirking little snot was WAITING for her! As she went for him, he suddenly handed her a rope. Tiger Girl took the rope out of sheer reflex, and Thrasher slashed the chandelier rope where it was fixed to the wall. The chandelier started to drop and pulled Tiger Girl off her feet. Thrasher jumped to the chandelier and rode it gently down to the ground as Tiger Girl was hauled completely into the air.
Nephandus and Rosethorn ran up as the girl in pink collapsed. Or, at least, Jean-Armand ran up; Romeo slipped on the ice that Mr. Cool had left behind, and slid into Splendor, surprising her and knocking her off her feet. Ultramax swung at Render, but Ray ducked under it. “We can’t risk fighting in here while the rooms are still open! The courtyard!”
“I am SO out of here!” Winter said as she lifted off.
“Like HELL you are, bitch!” Splendor screamed as she scrambled to her feet and flew after Winter.
Ray said, “Jay-Arm, help those two; the one in pink seems to be reasonable!” Then he ran for the courtyard with Cyclone still over his shoulder.
Jean-Armand helped Romeo to his feet. “Do you still have any sense of that Sneaky Pete sleaze?”
Romeo nodded. “I’m on it.” Then he ran off into the darkness.
Jean-Armand smirked to himself as he watched his friend leave. He kneeled down besides the girl in black and patted her cheek. “Nightchylde? Cheri? It’s all right… You can wake up now…”
Nightchylde fluttered her eyelids and struggled to waking. “What hit me?”
“I’ll be blessed if I know,” Jean-Armand said as he helped her to her feet. “You and your friend were quite unconscious when I ran up.”
“Wait! It’s you! Jean-Luc!”
“No, that’s the bald captain on Star Trek. I’m Jean-Armand.”
“You’re here to rob this museum!”
Nightchylde seemed to be very defensive. Jean-Armand pressed his advantage. “Well then…” He stepped up into her personal space, looking down into her eyes with his, impressing her with his presence. “Take me.”
Tiger Girl had the sneaky little bastard, but somehow he slid the entire length of one room under a series of glass cabinets that were raised from the floor. She tried to keep up with him, and just managed to catch up with him. But then he lifted up a heavy chest and dumped it into her arms. She held onto it, afraid of letting it drop. Then Thrasher hopped up onto the chest, using it (and her head) as steps up to the top of a cabinet. From there, he used an incline to gather speed, and sped out of the room. Tiger Girl watched him zip off, realized what she was doing, and dropped the chest to follow him. She was so intent on the chase that she barely even noticed it when she crashed into Techno-Devil with his camera.
Thrasher slid down the corridor until a sign in the hallway caught his eye:
He looked in the general direction of where he knew that he was supposed to go, but knew that if he passed up on this, he’d never forgive himself.
Jadis walked out of the Victorian room with Sabbath slung over her shoulder. Sapper was on top of Gryphon’s power armor, and had her hands stuck into an open panel. Cutlass was still mixing it up with Tower. The giant Cadet was standing as tall as the ceilings would allow, but Cutlass had him on the ropes. He had several gashes in his armor, and he was bleeding from a few of them. Cutlass had the advantage and was about to strike again, when Jadis grabbed her striking arm by the wrist. “I SAID, ‘NO KILLING’!”
“Aw, Maannn…” Cutlass whined.
Jadis looked at the oversized Cadet as he clutched his injured hand. “You okay, guy?”
“What?” Tower bleated.
“Look, if you’re like most growers, your injuries will shrink as you do, and there’s a kind of binding action that goes on,” Jadis said clinically. “It’ll still hurt like fuck, but there will be less flesh exposed to the open air, so there’ll be a lower chance of infection.” Tower gave Cutlass a chary look. “Armor down, Cutlass.”
Cutlass grunted with annoyance, but said, “Okay, Boss,” and shed her carapace.
“Don’t call me ‘Boss’. Especially in front of superheroes. Here.” Jadis handed the still unconscious Sabbath over to Tower, who accepted the burden, not knowing what to make of it all. “Oh, and don’t remove that card on her forehead. It’s the only thing keeping her from teleporting out of here.” Then Jadis walked over to where Sapper was still draining the batteries from Gryphon’s inert armor. “Quit it, Sapper, fight’s over.” Then Jadis rapped her knuckles on Gryphon’s faceplate. “YO! Gryphon! Open up!”
“LIKE HELL!” Gryphon yelled from within. “I am SO gonna kick your ASS, Diabolik!”
“FINE!” Jadis snapped. “BE that way!” She put on her ‘beast skin’, and picked up Gargoyle like an oversized doll. “Okay, let’s head for the courtyard.” Jadis started walking, and Cutlass and Sapper followed, trading compliments on how they’d handled themselves. Tower followed as well, carrying Sabbath, lacking anything more useful to do.
There were simply too many people around, Mister Cool realized. He’d lost track of the guy with the sonnets when he’d had to shake the cat-girl, he’d barely managed to escape when he ran into those other guys, whoever they were, and now he was lost. How could things get any WORSE? Then he heard an alarm. Reflexively looking to the sound, he saw light from outside, and there was a guy, a kid of maybe 17 or so in a school uniform holding a door open. Seeing his chance, Mister Cool sprinted for the door. The guy, who turned out to be Indian, gawped at him and said, “Please! Don’t hurt me!” and shielded his face with his hands. Cool didn’t bother to reassure the guy and lit out the door like a bat out of hell.
Watching Mister Cool dashing out the alley, Sanjay pulled his cell phone and said, “Pilar? He’s out safe, and headed your way. Keep an eye on him until Mirelle can get to you. Then spin him the story. Remember to keep him moving.” Sanjay closed the door behind him, making sure that it was well shut, and calmly walked away. The first part of his scheme was done, and now he had to make sure that the rest went according to plan.
Winter flew to the courtyard and paused. “Yo, Nutra-Sweet! Your pimp just called! He wants that outfit back! He found a new girl that it will fit, and she swallows!” Splendor screamed and fired off a light burst at her. The courtyard was open to the sky, and Winter flew straight up, with Splendor hot on her tail.
Winter was enjoying winning her little bitch-fest (Splendor couldn’t shoot worth shit), but Jadis would probably get on her case if the Geek Lantern over there actually damaged anything. And that would cut into her shopping time. So she looked for a way to cut it short, and spotted it. She did a spiral-drop down to a service alley between two buildings near the Whittier, and set the air spinning just fast enough that the loose garbage had momentum without actually lifting.
Splendor swooped down, keeping high to dominate the alley. “So! You think that you can hide among your own kind?”
“No, I thought that I’d show a pathetic little poser what a REAL superheroine is capable of!” Winter goosed up the velocity, creating a tornado that was focused by the alley, sending the reeking trash up into the air, pelting Splendor. Splendor shrieked as her costume was besmirched by the filth, and tried to fly up. But Winter created a vortex that forced Splendor down even as it picked up garbage, climbed the walls and threw more trash at Splendor.
Splendor fired bursts of light up at Winter, but the rubbish blocked her shots. Winter upped the chill factor, freezing much of the restaurant waste into hard chunks as well and chilling Splendor. Splendor tried to fight the cold with her power gems, but in her panic, she missed Winter’s real ploy. She grew woozy and light-headed from the low air pressure in the inversion pocket she was trapped in. After a few minutes, Splendor passed out, and was buried under a pile of frozen refuse. Splendor dropped and checked her enemy’s breathing. “Poser,” she muttered. Then, as the smell in the alley reached her, Winter rose up into the sky and headed back to the Whittier. ‘Stupid Jadis,’ she thought, ‘wasting good shopping time on this idiocy.’
“WAAA- HOOO!” Thrasher shouted as he saw the exhibit. The scant light from the emergency lights only made the scene more surreal. But the time that he’d taken had given Tiger Girl a chance to catch up. He scrambled up to the giant typewriter and hopped onto the keys. The key dropped under his weight, but one of the typebars rose up in reaction. “Wow! It really works!” Thrasher exulted.
Tiger Girl wasn’t anywhere near as happy with trying to keep up with this annoying putz as he danced on the keys, just out of reach. The distracting way that her footing dropped didn’t help. She decided to take charge of the situation and jumped up on the typewriter’s roller. Thrasher responded by jumping over to the carriage release lever, which rocked the roller to the right, throwing Tiger Girl into the ‘cage’ of the giant mixer’s blades.
Render ducked and weaved around Ultramax as the alleged hero awkwardly swung the clumsy hammer at him. Ultramax didn’t really slow Ray down very much, and he made it to the courtyard. Settling Cyclone’s unconscious form next to the large granite globe that decorated the courtyard, Ray held up a hand. “Let’s see, you’re Ultramax, right?”
“As I recall your write-up on the Cadets’ website, you do the ‘Ultraboy’ from the Legion of Superheroes bit, where you can be super-strong or super-fast or invulnerable or fly or do something with an energy blast, right?”
“Yeah?” Ultramax sneered. “And who the fuck are YOU supposed to be, dirtbag?”
“They call me-” Ray slashed his hand in an arc in front of him, shearing off the top of Ultramax’s shield, “-Render.” He slashed a few more times, reducing Ultramax’s shield to a nubbin around his arm. Panicked, Ultramax swung his hammer at Ray. Ray cut the head off the hammer at the shaft as it swung, sending the mallet-head flying. As Ultramax tried to recover from over-swinging his hammer, Ray tripped him. “Let’s see, according to your write up, you can lift about four and a half tons, right?”
“SO?” Ultramax snapped as he started to get to his feet.
“Then I’d turn on my protection, if I was you.” Ray lifted the huge globe and settled it on Ultramax’s back. Ultramax reflexively switched to defense when he felt the weight on his back, but that meant that he couldn’t use his super-strength to free himself. “Oh, by the way- from a point of strict professionalism, listing your weaknesses online is STUPID.” Ray paused and searched his mind. “Oh, yeah. I surrender.”
“SOMEBODY GET THIS THING OFF OF ME!”
“Sorry, can’t help you. I’ve surrendered.”
Rosethorn walked into the courtyard carrying Aurora. “Hey, weren’t we supposed to surrender?” Ray asked him.
“She was like this when I found her,” Romeo explained. “I couldn’t leave her in the cold water, now could I? What about you?”
“WHAT? I surrendered, the second that bandage boy here stopped swinging that hammer at me! Didn’t I, Yew-Max?”
Then Jadis entered the courtyard in her beast form, carrying Gryphon’s armor. Gryphon was still inside, cussing loudly, even with the PA system down. Cutlass followed, carrying Rubberboy, who was curled up in a ball in her arms. Erzili followed, chatting with Tower, who was carrying a furiously struggling Sabbath in his arms. “Hey guys!” Jadis said when she saw Ray and Romeo. “I thought that we agreed to surrender once we got the yoyos to this courtyard.”
“We DID!” Ray maintained. “And you’re a fine one to talk, Beast!”
“Hey, we’re here, and now we’re surrendering.” Jadis set Gryphon down upright and dropped her beast-skin. “For the record- we surrender,” Jadis said into Gryphon’s faceplate with a smirk.
“aaahhh… maaannn…” Cutlass muttered in abject disgust.
There was a whistling of a wind, and Winter dropped into the courtyard. “Is it over? Can we GO now?” she asked.
“Where’s that blaster chick in red and purple?” Ray asked.
“Oh Sucralose?” Winter asked blithely. “Not a problem. I, ah, left her in her native habitat.”
“Okay, that just leaves Thrash, Jay-Arm and Mal unaccounted for on our side, and Tiger Girl and Nightchylde on theirs. Just a minute.” She pulled out her cell phone and made a couple of calls.
Mal had gotten in sync with Thrash and Tiger Girl’s race through the exhibit and was getting some primo footage. He never let the lens leave Trasher, even when he answered the phone call on his integral telephone implant. He grunted annoyance, but said, “Okay, got it.” Then he yelled out to Thrasher. “YO! THRASH! Jadis says that it’s time to stop futzing around and get to the courtyard!”
“Five more minutes?”
“Five more minutes?” Tigergirl panted, incredulous.
“Five more minutes?” Mal echoed. “SORRY! She says NOW!”
“Nuts! She’s worse than my MOM.” Thrasher kipped up to the top of the giant pair of scissors and slid down one of the blades, using the slope to build up momentum that shot him out of the room. Tiger Girl tore out of the room after him, not slowing down to notice the boy in the red long coat, who was giggling as he reviewed the footage on his video camera.
Fanshaw and a man who turned out to be Krebbs, the Curator, were waiting with the Seeds (and Cadets) when Thrasher slid into the courtyard, and up to them. “Here you go, Dude! One incredibly rare and valuable book of antique mushy stuff, all safe and secure!” he handed Krebbs the book. Krebbs accepted the tome with the air of a mother being handed her baby back. Krebbs began to vociferously thank the Seeds for keeping his museum safe, and Gryphon screeched in anguished surprise that THEY were being lauded.
Jadis turned to Winter and said, “I think that you should go get Splendor and bring her back here, so that her friends can see that she’s all right.”
“Do I HAVE to?” Winter whined, “She’s all sticky!” Jadis gritted her teeth, and reminded herself that Mr. and Mrs. Kilgarren-Donnehammer were very nice people for professional criminals, and they’d really helped her with a special psychokinesis project, and they wouldn’t appreciate it if she eviscerated their only child.
As all of this went on, Jean-Armand and Nightchylde entered the courtyard. Nightchylde rejoined her friends and Nephandus strutted over to the Bad Seeds’ side. “And what have YOU been up to?” Jadis asked, taking note of the smudge of lipstick on Jean-Armand’s smirking lips.
“What?” Jean-Armand said smoothly. “You said that we were to surrender at the first opportunity, so I surrendered.”
As the Bad Seeds started to leave, Thrasher came over to a still-fuming Tiger Girl and said, “Nice Run, Tiggs. You got some moves. You’re not Aquerna, but you’re good.”
“Aquerna?” Tiger Girl bleated, “Who the hell is AQUERNA?”
Sneaky Pete watched calmly (and invisibly) as Cyclone and Sabbath were loaded into the Iron Coffin, New York’s infamous paranormal prisoner transport. Well, so much for that scam. He’d walked out of this job with empty hands, but he’d had a good run with it. Besides, all good scams run their course in time, and if you’re lucky you can walk away when it does. And as far as he knew, both Cyclone and Sabbath were paid up on their ‘prison insurance’, so they’d be out in a few months or so, depending on where the courts sent them. Still, it annoyed him that he’d still have to split the hundred grand with Sabbath; his agent, Hubie, would insist (the leech!). But then, Hubie was still pissed that Pete had gone behind his back and paid off his bookie with all those diamonds.
Then it struck Pete that all they really had on Sabbath was this one attempted burglary. There wasn’t anything really connecting her to the Tiffany’s or Getty jobs, beyond being with Mr. Cool on this job. Cyclone was listed as an escaped convict, but as far as Pete knew, Sabbath wasn’t in the system yet. But that would change, and the second that the cops searched her apartment (SOP), they’d find, in that safe that Sabbath thought he didn’t know about, all the Tiffany’s stuff that Sabbath couldn’t move and the jades that she’d lifted and probably a lot of other stuff that he didn’t know about. Instant 25- to- 50, right there. And there was all the other stuff that he didn’t know in there as well. But if all that incriminating evidence were to simply disappear? Sabbath would simply assume that the cops lined their pockets with it when the searched the place, and claimed that they couldn’t find anything. Suddenly, Sneaky Pete was filled with the Christmas spirit, and he figured that the best present that he could give Sabbath would be a reduced docket, when she faced the judge.
And as for him, he’d celebrate the season as it SHOULD be celebrated- in Atlantic City.
The girl known as Splendor managed to drag her way out from under the noxious pile of semi-frozen, semi-rancid yuck. The smell was horrible. She looked at the shocked restaurant workers gawping at her, and barely registered them. Then she snarled, more to the universe than to the kitchen slags, “That bitch is going to PAY for this! No matter what it takes, she’s gonna PAY, and that bitch Diabolik is going to pay too!” With that, she lifted off, her face a clenched mask of rage.
To Be Continued