DATE: Friday, March 30th, 2007
I woke up in my bed at the hotel, and I was glad to be able to recall which hotel I was in. I staggered out of my bedroom to find the gang, Brigand and some of his crew going through laptops and hard text. “Wha hoppened?” I asked muzzily.
“Finally, something he don’t know everything about,” Billy grumped.
After that bit of entirely predictable dickishness from the Squid, the crew filled me in: Lab. Icky Lovecraftian thingie. I broke it with my little sword, but knocked myself unconscious in the process. Guys in gray power suits came in and beat the crap out of everyone. Stashed them away on a ship. Brigand comes in and beats the crap out of the guys in power suits. Then they put the ship on remote control and bailed, so the local Civil Air Patrol could justify its budget by blowing it out of the air.
“If they were getting their asses handed to them, weren’t you guys supposed to come in and back them up?” I asked Rachel and Eddie.
“We couldn’t,” Eddie explained with that strange defensive embarrassment that comes when you gotta justify doing the tactically intelligent thing. “The cops got there a lot quicker’n we thought they would, and they had the place sealed up so tight that a cockroach would’a gotten patted down and had a Wants and Warrants check run on it! He told us to back off and head to the rally point, that he’d handle it.” Ed jerked a thumb at Brigand.
“Why’d you let us get taken?” I asked Brigand.
“Because I knew exactly where they were going to take all of you: to their Tac-Ship. So, instead of fighting a very efficient squad of guys in exotically powered armor, we simply took over the Tac-Ship, and let them board. They brought along the Fiendish Thingie, which was nicely packed away in a crash-proof container, so it’ll be found when the Police search the wreckage of that Tac-Ship. So, now strange exotically powered goons are seen to have captured you ON CAMERA, ON THE INTERNET, we have scads of information about not only the Instrumentality and that project, but their intelligence on other Renegade Science outfits in Las Vegas, and my presence in Vegas is still a secret.”
“The Instrumentality?” I asked.
“The Instrumentality of Reason is the group behind your mysterious ‘Mr. Bland’, the guy who kidnapped you and set all of this off,” Brigand answered. ‘They’re one of several groups of scientists who, for one reason or another, have decided that certain kinds of research has to be done, despite the fact that the various governments of the world have decided those subjects are simply too dangerous.” Brigand looked at one dossier. “I never thought that I’d say this, but for once I’m on the government’s side.”
“You… planned all of that?” I asked, unpleasantly reminded of exactly how out of our depth we were.
“No,” he said plainly. “I’m sneaky, but Dear God, I’m not that sneaky! No, the Instrumentality may be a bunch of renegades, but they are very big, going on anally obsessive, about procedure. Once I knew that we were dealing with the Instrumentality, I had a good idea as to what they’d do. And why risk your safety, our anonymity, and most importantly my teeth getting into a fight with their goons on camera? Especially when they could be finagled into giving us a ride out, which was exactly what we needed? No, I had another plan- don’t ask, I might want to use that bit again.”
“Okay…” I struggled to get my brain working full-throttle again, “what happened with the Kirbyometer? ah, I mean that big thing that was spitting out all the Kirby dots? I’m guessing that that was the ‘Prototype’ they had their drawers in a knot about.”
“Well, those Instrumentality tools were nice enough to take it along with us when they evac-ed the lab,” Roxie said. “Last I saw, it was nice and securely stowed aboard their ship in a protective casing. The airship went down, and I’m guessing that it survived the crash, along with the armor-tools.”
Proving that I am waking up, I realized something. “Did they have those freaky golden disks in their units, and the power stones?”
“Yes,” Brigand said. “MINE,” he added definitively. “Spoils of War and all that. I recognize that the power stones you have are yours, won fair and square, and I expect you to do the same for me.”
I shrugged. Understandable. The man’s not Santa Claus, so he does have his own interests to look after. “Okay and what’s the buzz on the ‘Net? How many hits did our Podcast get?”
“We got 638 viewers at the time of airing,” Suzy said. “I’d say that probably half of them were Law Enforcement types. But we got over 18 thousand hits in the nine hours that it took for the FBI to get YouTube to shut it down.”
“Y’mean we ain’t gonna make a ‘Thanks for all the Views’ video?” Rick snarked.
“Okay, it sounds like we got some serious Word of Mouth,” I nodded. “What are the reviews like?”
“Mainstream News is airing bits and pieces of it, cut up whatever way suits ‘em, same as always,” Chris said. “Fox News claims that it’s a staged Las Vegas stunt, CBS is just playing up that it’s all a confused mess, NBC is claiming that we staged the thing for some convoluted reason, CNN and BBC-News both are saying that this puts a whole new wrinkle on our story but are withholding judgment, and Al-Jazeera says that it’s just American weirdness as usual. On the Net-Front, we’ve got three forums with threads devoted to us, with the polling running- Publicity Stunt: 21%, Staged Mindfuck: 32%, Interrupted Appeal for Understanding: 22% and WTF?: 23%, though there’s some comments that suggest that the ‘Staged Mindfuck’ votes are being padded. Commentary is all over the place, with the usual trolling, flame wars, epileptic trees and side-taking. And there’s a Facebook page that shows all the signs of being a KoP sock-puppet.”
“Electronic Democracy,” Roxie said with a beetled brow and flat disgusted voice, “The absolute best argument yet for Oligarchy.”
“And it gets worse,” Chris grumped. “After we split, for some bizarre reason they sent in that sleazeburger SWIVE and a flight or squad or whatever of his Knights of Incompetence. They got all kinds of glamour shots of bringing out those poor guys in the cells, and there’s no word that the video camera that I left in there just so that my fingerprints could be found on it has been recovered.”
“Well then, what about information?” I asked. “Did we at least manage to drag out anything that we can actually USE?”
“We got a ton of operating notes and stuff like that for the Tulpa-generator,” Roxie said. “And a bunch of office files that are very interesting.”
“And to cut down the exposition,” Brigand dumped dossiers on the table in front of Mack, Roxie, Eddie, Chris and me. “My Net Ninja, Summer, boiled down a lot of the stuff you found and mixed it in with stuff she already had. You said that you were headed for Denver? Well, there’s a breakdown of the Black Lab scene in the Mile-High City, complete with names, addresses and pertinent particulars.”
“Wow, you really scored on your side gig, hah?” I asked Brigand. He just smirked smugly.
Chris cleared her throat dramatically. “Okay Brigand, you’ve come across, just like you said and then some. You’re as good as your word. And so are we. The deal was that you’d help us with our raid, and we’d do the same for you. What’s the raid?”
Brigand put his fingers to his lips, like he was going to take a big hit off a cigarette or something, looked at his fingers annoyed, and then collected himself. “Are you sure that you want to do it this way? I mean, I could take you all into my organization. All the rest of you aside, three telepaths and a clairvoyant would be a big shot in the arm to the effectiveness of my crew. And… I can’t guarantee that all of you will come back alive from what I have planned. It IS genuinely dangerous, and I CAN guarantee that it will be…” he searched for a word.
“Involved?” I offered with a sense of dread filling my stomach.
DATE: Saturday, March 31st, 2007
Mercer felt exposed and slightly ridiculous. His trademark hardass look, with the black leather duster and the mirrored shades, usually served him well. But waiting on the street a couple of blocks away from the Strip, he felt like he had a neon sign blinking over his head, saying ‘professional criminal up to no good’. The shuttle came almost exactly when it was supposed to, sparing him further discomfort. His sense of being absurd was not so much dispelled as displaced when he saw the other passengers: a man in red heat-armor with flame-decaled chestplate, helmet, pauldrons, greaves and bracers, and what looked suspiciously like a compacted flamethrower on his back; a redheaded woman who could have been a model for a ‘woman of mystery’ picture, wearing a black trench coat and wide-brimmed hat over what was basically a reinforced red strapless swimsuit; and a beautiful Asian woman wearing a more sedate fawn longcoat and printed scarf over a skintight strapless bodysuit that had the glossy luster of a polished black gemstone. They each had beside them a man in a business suit, each of whom could have had ‘Personal Bodyguard’ tags. The man in the fireproof armor lifted the visor of his helmet, revealing his face. He gave a wry smirk and drolly asked, “You’re here for the Avengers movie audition too?”
The woman in the trenchcoat gave him a look. “Mercer,” she said simply.
“Madam Syn,” he replied just as tersely. Well, give Madelyn her due, she knew how to keep business as business. Well, usually anyway.
The shuttle drove in uncomfortable silence a couple of blocks and picked up another man who’d foregone the 4-minion allowed backup. In pointed contrast to the others, he wore a very casual outfit of a loud Hawaiian shirt, light khaki trousers and a wide cane hat- with a subtly camouflaged facial masking hologram projector around his neck. He greeted the others with the slightly withdrawn neutrality of someone who was meeting potentially deadly competitors. But his ice melted and he gave the Asian woman a wide welcoming grin. “Hey Sapphire! Haven’t seen you since that Do in Malaysia!”
“Nightwolf,” she greeted him simply but amicably.
While the shuttle was well under capacity, it filled up considerably at the next stop. At the next stop, there were five figures who couldn’t seem to decide whether they were Darth Vader and four stormtroopers from Star Wars, some Cylons from Battlestar Galactica, or Cobra Commander (with a strong jot of Serpentor) and COBRA Vipers from G.I. Joe. The leader wore a long dark green cape with a wide hood over a black coalscuttle helmet with a featureless mirrored facemask. Under the spreading cape, he wore a bulky green breastplate that bore a snarling snake’s visage on the chest and matching talon-like gloves, but black sleeves and a long black skirt that brushed the ground. The ‘vipertroopers’ wore simpler versions with reflective silver coalscuttle helmets and blank masks, featureless silver breastplates and gauntlets, and black sleeves and trousers, and they carried what appeared to be elaborate carbine firearms. The leader climbed into the shuttle wordlessly, followed by his troopers. What camaraderie as there might have been evaporated and the shuttle drove on.
Another few blocks and the shuttle picked up a lone African American man, very tall, very broad shouldered, quite barrel-chested with a gleaming bald head, who was wearing a gray Nehru jacket over matching trousers. The tense silence continued for another few blocks, where they picked up three men in faux-military outfits.The two guards were wearing black berets with short gray jackets with gray drab backpack units, matching pants and black jackboots, while the leader wore a black high peaked billed cap and a gray greatcoat with black lapels and epaulettes draped with braid and awards and ornamentation. The man with the indecipherable tabs on his epaulettes broke into a smile. “Mercer, you old son of a bitch!” he said with a grin that lit up his face despite the sunglasses that he was wearing. “You coming to this clam bake too?”
“I’m just acting as a buyer, Major,” Mercer said. “I can’t afford the kind of hardware we’ll be bidding on.”
“Figures,” the Major grunted as he settled in. He remarked to the man in the fire protection gear, “He’s probably got someone somewhere who’s paying him just to breathe.”
“Not that much,” Mercer said modestly.
But even that bonhomie was quelled by the next trio of riders. It wasn’t the African woman leader’s shaven head, or the top hat that she wore atop it, or the swallowtail coat, or the skull pattern painted on her face. Nor was it the two stoic silent attendants she had, or their ashen complexions. No, it was the unsettling scent of slightly rancid pork that accompanied them, even under the smell of the woman’s cigar.
That was the last stop for the shuttle. It drove around Las Vegas aimlessly for a half-hour, and then headed north-by-northeast into the suburbs and then the desert. After another hour that was only made bearable by powerful air conditioning and a private wireless relay for the guests’ personal devises, the shuttle pulled up to one of the dozens of minor airstrips around Las Vegas.
The shuttle pulled up outside an outsized hangar. The supervillains were guided into the hangar and given a chance to stretch their legs and get refreshments. Dr. Napalm, the man in the fire armor watched as the supervillain in the Star Wars/COBRA pastiche costume and his minions stuck straws in cans of soft drinks and tucked the straws under the masks. “Wow, I don’t feel quite as silly about wearing my rig,” he chuckled to Mercer.
“I wouldn’t be quite so quick to dismiss Darth Viper,” Madam Syn, who had come up on their blind side said, stealing a glance in that direction with only her eyes over her lowered sunglasses, not turning her head. “I was just noticing that while it looks rather silly on first glance, as a matter of fact, he’s created a look that allows him to openly move armed men in densely packed areas without raising any great deal of fuss, let alone an alarm.”
“They’re just dismissed as cosplaying kids or a publicity campaign,” Mercer murmured, following her logic. “But at the same time, the second that they show that they’re for real, that look becomes even more sinister and intimidating. And now that I look, I can see that those guns are encased in Nerf toy shells, but we really have no idea as to what they’re actually packing. And the black parts look remarkably like absorption armor. Hell, I’ll bet he’s even got air conditioning in those suits. How else could he get that cape to billow indoors?”
“Come to think of it,” Dr. Napalm mused, “I have no idea as to what Darth Viper really looks like under that rig. It completely covers him and that skirt keeps you from telling whether he’s using platform shoes or anything; I have no idea how tall he really is, what his build is or what race he is. Heck, I’m not even really sure that he’s a HE.”
“And while getting into those outfits might take a while,” Madam Syn hazarded, “I’ll bet good money that getting out of them only takes a few seconds.”
Dr. Napalm considered that. Then he gingerly wondered how to approach the topic of how much of Baroness Cimitiere’s act was a put-on, and how much was something he really didn’t want to know about. Then an electronic chime sounded and they were told that the pre-auction showing was ready to start.
They were led past the curtain that separated the small portion of the front of the hanger from the majority in the back. After allowing the assembled supervillains to take in the sight of what was offered for sale, a chunky 50-ish man in a well-tailored suit stepped up. “Okay, I shouldn’t have to say this, but after that debacle in Pittsburg, it sort of has to be said: the, ah, parties who commissioned these vehicles have surrendered any claim to them. Either they’ve defaulted on their loans, or they’re in prison for longer than the escrow will allow, or they’re just plain DEAD. If you buy one of these today, the Syndicate will back your claim to ownership, no matter what. So, go ahead check them out. They’ve been given enough fuel for you to listen to the engines and like that. Just… not enough to get back to Las Vegas. We’re not stupid.”
As Mercer strolled among the vehicles, he noted with amusement that Baroness Cimitere did not zero in immediately on the tricked out vintage hearse, but rather began checking out the not-quite Batmobile decked-out speedster. Also, Darth Viper wasn’t examining either the flying saucer or the ‘flying convertible’ or even the bipedal walker tank, but instead was checking out the APC disguised as one of the thousands of Blue Bird™ school busses rolling around North America. Major Threat was looking at what appeared to be a very average ‘Soccer Mom’ sports van, which had heavy weapons extended from hidden recesses; apparently, it was another urban stealth APC, on a smaller scale. He also noted with wry amusement that both Madam Syn and Black Sapphire were checking out the sleek black Porsche Spyder® sports car. Madam Syn settled herself in the soft leather bucket seats and began fiddling with the controls, making sure that all the 007 toys were indeed there: the rear-mounted machine guns, the forward mounted RPG launder, the smoke screen, the tire shredders and so on. The revolving license plate gimmick had been replaced by a reconfigurable LEG plate. Black Sapphire reacted as the passenger’s seat jerked up, showing that the iconic Bond gadget was still alive and well. Saph and Syn shared a rare moment of bonding over that satisfaction. Mercer wryly remarked to himself that he’d thought that that was a guy thing.
As for himself, Mercer casually strolled among the items up for auction, doing his best to seem unconcerned as he examined each of the items equally, as not to give away his point of interest. He had no idea as to why his principal wanted the energy cannon. It was a rather ordinary ‘super-weapon’. If anything, it was sort of retro, the kind of thing that a ‘Mad Scientist’ might threaten to use on some 1940s metropolis, only much smaller. 1940s mad scientists had definitely gone with the notion ‘bigger is better’.
After a fair bit of strolling about trying to be causal by most of the prospective buyers, another chime sounded, and the auctioneer announced that the auction was about to begin. While regular seats were offered, they could sit or stand almost anywhere they wished. The bidding would be made silently on the local database via phoned-in bids. ‘Could have just done it on E-Bay,’ Mercer mused to himself.
Like all the others, Mercer pulled out his cell phone, connected to the database and then moved to where he could bid- or not- without being observed by the others. While he got along with Major Threat and Dr. Napalm, his relationship with Madam Syn was… complicated, at best, and he barely knew the others. Then again, just because he was bidding on the energy cannon for his client, there was nothing that said he couldn’t make a run on that Bond-mobile for himself, as long as he didn’t use his client’s funds…
The Battle-Bus sifted through some serious bidding, which Mercer helped along with a couple of well-timed bids that he had no intention of keeping up. Then, just after they wrapped up that auction and the ‘Not-Batmobile’ was on the block, one of the walls of the hangar exploded inwards.
Mercer was an experienced covert operative. He prided himself on being on the ball. Reasonably, if anything happened here, it would have been one of the other bidders. What they were doing wasn’t technically illegal, so there wasn’t any reason for the Police or Feds to come busting in. None of the local ‘Superheroes’ were dumb enough to jump a Biz meeting like this. And any black masks who had an axe to grind with one of the bidders would wait until the auction was over, and not come busting through the wall in a way that might set off the other bidders. So he was caught completely flat-footed with no cover nearby and no obvious backup as the dust settled. He lowered his mirrored shades and watched as a bunch of surprisingly short and slight (for the most part) figures in black hoodies with mirrored sunglasses poured through the wall and started in, only to stop cold. Mercer got a look, and not only were most of them- Hell, ALL of them!- kids, but a big chunk of them were girls! Not women; girls.
There was a very, very tense moment as everyone- supervillains, minions, dealers, dealer’s security, kids in hoodies- all looked at each other gape-jawed. Then Darth Viper did a high vaulting leap in the direction of the most obvious threat, the big black guy with the vague bluish outline. As Darth Viper crested his leap, he pulled out a handle and a dark green energy blade hissed into being; clearly the Darth was going for the classic ‘anime leaping strike’. But just as the blade was about to hit the big kid, one of the other kids produced a purple energy blade of his own and blocked the strike. Darth Viper did a rebound off the big kid, somersaulted over his head and landed behind them. The kid with the purple blade immediately went for him, the Viper Troopers opened up with their carbines, and the entire room exploded into action.
Knocked out of his inaction, Dr. Napalm slammed down his visor and went through the initiation process of getting his burner going. It was a weak spot in his procedure, but with pyrotechnics, Safety is always the prime consideration, and he was usually the one on the offensive. A big black guy with something weird about his face came charging at him. Dr. Napalm hastily threw up a half-assed wall of flame to protect himself. The kid came barreling right through the fire, and his hoodie and pants caught on fire, but the kid just kept coming. Fortunately for Dr. Napalm, his fire armor included some serious impact armor along with the fire gear. As he hit the ground feeling like he’d just been run over by a truck, Dr. Napalm was very worried that he’d just pissed off someone who could very well put him in the hospital. That worry faded as he recognized the strange sound that just erupted from his attacker as the sounds of intense pain. * Major Threat assumed his ‘I’m in command of this situation’ posture, standing erect, shoulders thrown back, hands clasped behind his back. He took note that Darth Viper’s troopers had opened up on the guy with the blue silhouette, and their ‘blasters’ were shedding very pragmatic (and reasonably large caliber) brass. “TROOPS!” he barked out and he didn’t so much hear his two men snap into position as feel them. “Faaallllllll… IN!” His two men, out of months of grueling training for just this, assumed the necessary near-blank, totally receptive mind-state, and hit the activation buttons on their backpacks. The twin devises copied the two men, and then the copies copied themselves and so on and so on, until there were suddenly 254 more men in the hangar. If the originals hadn’t been in that mind-neutral state, the duplication would have completely confused them and created a very nasty identity crisis riot. It was a sad flaw that was intrinsic to the units’ core design. But in that mind-neutral state, they were calm, collected, and completely subordinate to the mind that controlled them. “Squad A!” he barked. “Surround the hangar! Treat all auction personnel and authorized bidders as allies… of the moment. Squad B! Take that one as a hostage, subdue him, and then take another hostage until we control the situation!” * The problem with Major Threat’s solution, Mercer thought, was that his minions were severely crimping his (Mercer’s) style by crowding the combat area. ‘Well, best to get this over quickly and decisively,’ he thought to himself. ‘A hostage,” he thought, his eyes settling on one slender figure that was definitely female and wasn’t showing any signs of being aggressive. She was edging towards the vehicles, for what purpose he couldn’t tell. ‘Just what the doctor ordered.’ * Black Sapphire threw off her overcoat and scarf, allowed a moment for her iridescent black body sheath to glisten like a prize jewel, and then powered up to the roof of the hangar. She didn’t know what was going down, but she was all-too aware that there was no profit in getting dissed in front of all these supervillains. The Supervillain community would tolerate a lot, but it would never put up with a wuss. Despite his fanboy/ cosplay act, Darth Viper had both the nerve to mount an instant and effective counterattack and the wits to realize that the value of the credit for being the first one to attack was massive; the only way to eclipse Darth Viper would be to be the one to decisively settle the matter. Achieving immediate air superiority might be the way, depending on how the battle resolved itself. Then one of the intruders flew up to meet her, riding a golden disk. Wonderful! Everyone loves a good dogfight! * Nightwolf pulled the collar from around his neck, dropping the appearance of a slightly loutish middle aged tourist. Then in a move that he very pointedly never used around his daughter Regina, he crouched over in a bestial position, snarled in a way that showed exactly how much that ass-tard’s ‘improvement’ had done to him, and took the wind of the battle. There was a super-speedster zipping around who he didn’t recognize; obviously one of the attackers. Never try to hit a super-speedster; always surprise them by showing up unexpectedly where they have to go. Smoothly applying a move that he’d spent many hours perfecting, Nightwolf went super-dense, put all his strength into a leaping motion, only to go intangible at the very last second, thrusting himself high up into the air. He floated there for a second, and then went super-dense again, coming crashing down exactly where the speed-demon had committed to going. * Baroness Cimitere smirked as Darth Viper’s snaketroopers wasted a lot of ammunition trying to take down the young stud with the blue outline. “Don’t waste your time.” she said loudly, really working the ‘Down Island’ accent. “Leave this rude boy to me…” She strutted forward, really working the short-shorts and high heeled boots she wore under the swallowtail. She sashayed up to about five feet away from the boy, copped a pose with the nigh obligatory skull-capped cane set into the ground before her, took a big hit off her cigar, took it from her full lips and said, “Well, well, aren’t you the tender young slice of beefcake? Why you look good enough to EAT.” With that, she exhaled a big cloud of smoke, which somehow congealed into a bank of writhing shapes that settled into spectral forms, half classic spook and half skeleton. The Baroness took another big toke off the cigar and blew the smoke in the boy’s face. The young man’s look of tense but defiant confusion melted as the smoke turned into more spooks that started to sink bony claws into his flesh. * Sarcen stepped up to the large stony-fleshed boy and stared him right in the eye. After a moment of glaring at him dispassionately, Sarcen also turned stony, the ‘stone’ covering his Nehru jacket, and grew to the same height as the boy. The boy responded by putting another five feet into his own stature. Sarcen easily matched that. * Madam Syn picked her pigeon with care; the first one was always the hardest, but it always got easier with each new victim. She selected this one boy, just a boy, probably 15, if that. He was looking around anxiously at the fight, clearly out of his depth and casting around frantically for some way of doing anything. He looked like a nice boy; in other words, a perfect victim. Giving her bodyguard a motion to watch her back, Madam Syn took off her hat, shook out her hair, let her trench coat slip to show off her body, and slinked over to him. She smirked into his face, ran a finger over his jaw and purred, “Well, hello there.” And Rick felt his mind start to melt into an adolescent hormone fog * While Major Threat’s troops may have hampered the Car Dealer’s security men, they weren’t slowing Darth Viper or the boy with the violet blade much any. The two would pop up at each other in vaulting jumps, take swipes at each other, and land, dissolving a group of the troopers with a single touch of their blades. After a few of these, they’d cleared out a good chunk of the doppelganger troopers. Evan was congratulating himself on clearing the field for the others, when something registered. His options had narrowed considerably. The snake-blade guy hadn’t been trying to hit him; he’d been herding Evan into a position where the Snakeblade dominated all the lanes that Evan could effectively jump along. So either Evan waded through the Threat-troopers or he had to jump pretty much right into Snakeblade’s zone of fire. And the Threat-troopers were deploying tactical batons. And it certainly didn’t help Evan that he had the distinct impression that Snakeface was laughing at him behind that faceplate. * Billy ducked into the nearest shadows and used the power gem to become one with the shadow. Okay, the big thing was all the guys in the piss-ant army dress fatigues. They’d brought out tactical batons, and they were wailing on everyone they could lay hands on. The other guy, the one who was tricked out like an officer. He must be their leader. So Billy reached out with his tentacles and wrapped them around the ‘officer’s’ head, just to see what happened. The many army men all stopped for a second and seemed confused. ‘Okay,’ Billy thought, let’s see how long I can stretch this out.’ * As Mercer zipped up he scattered Major Threat’s bewildered goons aside like skittles. This gave the girl a chance to bring up a weapon. Shifting his power over to defense, he grabbed her by her jacket and snarled, “Go ahead, bitch! SHOOT!” Megan obliged him, and Mercer went ‘white-mind’ for a while. Megan took advantage of that to pull her hoodie out from his hands * Chris found that the not-gold disk they gotten from the armor guys in Sacramento made flying easier. But that didn’t make up for the fact that the slinky Asian chick in the glossy bodysuit and opera gloves was better at dogfighting than she was. They were both blasting holes in the roof of the hangar, but neither of them was really getting anywhere. And then Chris realized that she wasn’t anywhere near any of those holes- and the roof was getting damn cramped. * The speedster just managed to avoid Nightwolf as he landed. Those damned goons of Major Threat’s weren’t helping anything. Nightwolf tried the gambit again. Then he floated up in the air and got the little bitch’s trajectory. But just as he was about to drop, one of the two girls on the flying disks swooped up behind him and laid both hands on him. ZAP! Nightwolf dropped, not unconscious but seriously fazed. He dropped right in front of the speedster, as he’d intended. But he wasn’t super-dense, so the collision hurt him a lot more than it hurt her. Worse, she knocked him into Sarcen’s granite-like leg, so he took even more damage. * Roxie skimmed over the milling crowd, looking for people to help. And MAN, did she have a wide selection. Her side was getting seriously creamed all over the place! She scanned the situation looking for Mack, figuring that he would be the one who’d be best able to help others once she got him out of whatever was bogging him down. Then she spotted him: There was this kinky looking Black chick in serious Victorian Goth stripperwear who was stretching out her hand at Mack. Mack was grappling with this mass of fog that had these creepy looking hands coming out of it. Mack was tearing his way out of their grasp, but there was always more, and he looked like he was seriously squicked by the whole thing. Roxie did the ‘come up from behind’ thing again. She didn’t stun Miss Tophat, but the hands sort of dissolved, giving Mack a chance to fly up out of their reach. Roxie stopped to scan the scene again. Unfortunately, she was looking down, not up, and Black Sapphire took advantage of that to take a break from her dogfight and zap Roxie. Roxie toppled off her disk. “Y’know, that HURT!” Baroness Cimitere snarled as she settled her top hat back on her head. Then the fog formed around Roxie, and it started all over again. * No matter how big Eddie got, Sarcen managed to get at least a head taller. They stopped the intimidation contest with Eddie at his very tallest, and Sarcen looking down at him. Then the slamfest started. Eddie did have one advantage: he was used to slugging it out with guys his own size. Okay, he’d gotten into it with kids who were smaller than him, but he’d never wussed out of a fair fight in his life. The big rock guy didn’t seem to have that experience. Eddie plowed into him and then got a hold of Sarcen’s right arm. In Eddie’s experience, big guys preferred punches when fighting other guys their own size. When you’re big, leverage is not your friend. Eddie used Sarcen’s attempt to wrangle free, and did his best to twist that arm until it broke. It broke. It broke clean off. Sarcen didn’t seem that hurt. He just hauled off and pegged Eddie on the chin while Ed was gaping horrorstruck at the severed arm in his hand. Then Sarcen simply grew another arm. * Madam Syn pulled the boy to her in a mockery of a near-universal teenage male fantasy, draining him of as much vital energy as she could. When she was done, she’d be better able to handle the next one, and the next one, and the next one, until she was the most powerful player on the floor. But this one was taking so long! How much energy did this little nonentity HAVE? And then she sensed a core of very powerful energy deep within him, and latched onto that. She sensed the adolescent panic build; that always amused her. But instead of him flailing around helplessly, there was an explosion of energy, and Madam Syn felt herself thrown from him, with enough force to throw her across the hangar and leave a crack in the hangar wall when she hit.
The psychokinetic storm ripped through the entire melee, upsetting everyone. Both Eddie and Sarcen were thrown off their feet, badly squashing many of Major Threat’s soldier-clones. The force threw Chris off her flight disk, but Mack took the initiative to slam into Black Sapphire before she could take advantage of Chris clinging to the disk. Both Evan and Darth Viper were thrown in mid-leap. Evan twisted in time to ‘land on his feet’- on the wall, but the mock Sith (or maybe sssith’?) Lord hit hard. They both slid to the ground, and Evan caught Darth Viper just as he was getting to his feet. Evan nailed the supervillain square in the chest. Again, like he had with that ‘Blackheart’ guy in San Francisco, Evan felt a huge rush of energy fill him.
Then Rick dropped, exhausted, and the raging storm suddenly stopped, dropping everyone. Someone pulled out a police whistle and blew it loudly. Bucked by the sudden power-up, Evan beat everyone else to the ‘Spy Car’, and sliced off the Denver Boot with her energy sword. She got in just in time to beat Chris to it. Chris dropped into the shotgun seat, and Evan gunned the engine. Looking at the control panel, Evan asked, “I wonder what THIS does?” She touched one of the buttons, and the RPG that was sticking out the front grill shot out. It hit the side of the hangar, blowing a huge hole in the wall. “Works for me!” she beamed at Chris and hit the gas pedal. They accelerated to top speed, drove out the hole, and headed west.
Eddie fell to the ground, his bell well and truly rung. Megan waded through the dazed crowd of Minor Threats, and helped him to his feet. She bustled him over to where Billy was fiddling with the hatch lock on the Flying Saucer. Billy got through that quickly and Eddie pulled the hatch down. Hurrying to the cockpit, Megan touched the controls and went through the protocols for Launch initiation.
Mack and Rae headed for the near-Batmobile. Mack jumped in and tore out the ‘Club’ as Rae ripped off the ‘Boot’. Then with a maniacal laugh between them, they charged up the turbo thrusters and smashed through the east wall.
Suzy got Roxie and Rick, who were both pretty logy, over to the ‘Landspeeder’. Roxie was clear in the head enough to zap the Car Dealer’s security people as they pointed guns at them. Then Suzy got the controls straightened out, and zoomed the flying car out of the hangar door, heading south.
The supervillains, minions and security clustered around the saucer. “There’s no way that a bunch of KIDS-” Nightwolf’s brainfart was cut off by the sounds of the muffled (yet still earsplitting at that range) sounds of the ionic takeoff jets firing up. The entire crew (except for Sarcen, who simply curled up into ball and formed a stone shell around himself) scattered, and the saucer lifted, broke one of the holes in the roof larger, and headed north.
It occurred to Mercer that if he recovered the Viper sports car, the dealer might give him a hefty discount on it. So he shifted to super-speed and lit out after Evan and Chris.
“Woo-HOO!” Chris exulted, “I have always WANTED to ride in a car like this!”
“Oh Yeah!” Evan agreed, a big grin on her face, “Driving a cool car with a hot blonde beside me! Finally, I get to check something off my bucket list!”
Chris was about to agree when it struck her that she was the ‘hot blonde’ in question. Totally flustered, Chris blushed and looked at Evan. Evan was too wrapped up in driving the Viper to notice. Then it registered with Chris: not only was Evan a girl, but she was a damn cute girl. A minxish brunette with near-black hair and big sloe violet eyes, and a great figure that that hoodie hid- but not by much. Damn cute, if you like that kind of thing. And that kind of thing just happened to be one of the things that Chris really liked. Chris went into that mind-blank state that he always went into when he was near a girl who pushed his buttons. What did he have to offer a girl like that? Then it clicked: HE or, rather SHE was a girl like that! Okay, a different kind of girl like that but still- Chris looked around wildly as unfamiliar patterns of thought ran through her mind. Then her inhibitions found an out and latched her eyes onto the rear view mirror. “Hey! Evan! Someone’s following us!”
“What?” Evan snapped, grabbing the rear view mirror and checking it. “Yer KIDDING me!”
“Maybe he had his heart set on this car!”
“Well, can’t blame him there; this IS a stylin’ ride. But I kinda doubt that he’ll settle for just getting the keys. What say we see what other tricks this bad dog knows?” Evan paused a hand over the control panel.
“Keep your eye on the road,” Chris said primly. “Besides, you got to fire off the RPG.”
“Good point. Go ahead, be my guest!”
Chris opened the control panel and found the option for the rear-mounted machine guns. Opening that up, she waited until the incredibly fast-running man was in the crosshairs. When the targeting program flashed red crosshairs, and she touched the fire button. A red X flashed on the screen, with ‘click click’ printed under that. “Shit!” Chris snapped “They didn’t load the machine guns!”
“Well, now that I think about it, I’m amazed that the RPG round was live,” Evan mused. “They must have installed live rounds for testing, and just forgot to remove it.” Chris poked at the control panel and selected the ‘Smoke Screen’ option. The smoke screen combined elements of the oil slick dropper, in that it was a fullerene powder that clung to things but made them incredibly slippery. Which would have worked nicely on a paved road, but off-road, all it did was make the guy following them take off his shmutzed-up glasses and look pissed. Chris started buckling up into her seat and made a very hurried phone call as she did so. Then she insisted that Evan buckle up as well. Then, just as Mercer had caught up to the car and had latched onto the car door, she hit the trigger for both ejector seats. The car kept going for another thousand yards or so (it was getting low on gas anyway). When the two ejector seats hit the apex of their trajectories, the glider parachutes opened. They slowly drifted for a few minutes as the car zoomed on without them. Just as Mercer was making up his mind as to whether to continue after the car or wait for them when they landed, a blue glowing figure flew up. He grabbed their parachutes and towed the two fugitives over the horizon.
Mercer watched this sourly. He decided that the discount was the easier and surer option. But even that was spoiled for him. “Damn kids fucked up the paint job!”
DATE: Sunday, April First, 2007
Las Vegas was built on the notion that there is no such thing as ‘over the top’. In the ongoing search for the upper reaches of outrageousness, Steve Wynn, the developer of the Treasure Island resort had settled on ‘the Battle of Buccaneer Bay’,the cinematic spectacle of having two ‘pirate ships’ trade cannon blasts in mock naval combat, once an hour, on the hour, from 9 AM to 10 PM. And, being Las Vegas, there was a manager who saw a way of making a little money on the side.
The man known to the Law Enforcement community as ‘Major Threat’ waited on the preparations pier as the wooden ship pulled up. This time he was alone, and he was wearing very conventional civilian leisure clothes. He noted the underwater track that trucked the ship through its paces in the ‘battle. ‘So much for my hopes of finding a floating card game’, he quipped to himself. He presented his ticket to the ‘bosun’ and could board. The Major immediately went to the ‘captain’s cabin’ in the sterncastle. He was met at the door by a woman dressed as a ‘wench’ from a Hollywood pirate movie. She waved a wand over him and gently chided him to hand over any weapons. In turn, he pulled off his jacket and handed over the shoulder holster with the two large-bore automatics stashed in it. Then the two knives strapped to his forearms. Then the knife down his back. Then the straight razor tucked in his shoe. And the steel whip tucked into his pants. And the ‘pepper sprayer’ in his breast pocket. When he finally passed the scan. He handed over a satchel. From the satchel, the wench pulled out a ‘Maltese Falcon’ and put it through a scanner. When that passed muster, it was put in a case with eight others. The wench handed him a box of chips and wished him luck with professional politeness. As he walked into the cabin, the Major mused that for all the ostentation and elaborate technology, the main attraction in Las Vegas was still- and would be until the desert reclaimed the meadows- a table with some manner of game of chance, surrounded by kindred spirits.
Of course, these were kindred spirits in more ways than just a yen for a good game. “Hey Major!” Nightwolf greeted him from the table. “How’re the boys?”
“Are you talking about my soldiers or my sons?”
“Well,” the Major said as he sat down and looked around the table. “As for my men, both of them are in bad shape. They both lost a lot of body mass, and they took a lot of neural shock as well. I may have to recruit a whole new squad and retrain from scratch.”
“And what about your older boy, ‘Psike’?”
“He’s a disembodied brain in a floating bubble,” the Major answered with tones of abject disgust. “If my daughter or other son don’t stay in one piece and give me grandchildren, that’s IT for my legacy.”
Nightwolf shrugged. It wasn’t like he wasn’t having his own troubles with his daughter, Regina. “Okay, everyone, this gent is Major Threat. He’s not what you’d call a bosom buddy of mine, but he’s a good scout and I trust his IOU. Going around the table we have: Jabberwock, Dr. Photon, the Mamba, Jack Devil, Brillante, the Strix, and Power Lantern.”
The Major nodded. “Okay, and who’s SHE?” he pointed at the tall strapping redhead who was leaning against the wall just to the back of the sleek African American woman introduced as ‘the Mamba’.
“That’s the Man-Eater,” the Mamba said with a sonorous voice that carried a noticeable but not overwhelming New York/ New Jersey accent. “She’s backing me, but she insists on watching as part of the deal.”
“Power Lantern?” the Major asked, looking at the guy with the white ceramet hauberk over a dark satiny body suit with a domino mask and gloves that matched the hauberk.
“Hey, with my powers, if I didn’t riff on it, someone else would,” ‘Power Lantern’ said defensively.
“No, that’s not it,” the Major maintained. “The mask. Lose the mask. I won’t play with anyone who wears sunglasses or a mask at the table.” He lifted his own shades from his pocket by way of illustration.
Power Lantern quibbled but the ‘pirate wench’ said in very final tones, “You agreed that if one more person objected that you’d take off the mask.”
With an aggrieved air, Power Lantern got up from the table and walked over to where the coats where hung. He rummaged around in the pockets of one coat, and produced a pair of very mundane eyeglasses. He removed the mask and put on the glasses. When he sat down again, he explained, “I had corrective lenses installed in the mask. And… I’m just so comfortable with them now that I’m not used to normal glasses.”
That was accepted with a general shrug around the table. Compared with some stories told in the black mask set, that was pretty reasonable.
But Major Threat had moved on. He glowered at the Strix. “Doesn’t this place have a rule against Witches at the table?”
“Well, if they do, then they certainly have one against psychics,” the sleek, darkly attractive woman purred as she looked at an unremarkable man who sat with his back to the wall, his head canted backwards and his eyes closed
Yet, even though he was absolutely still, there was no sign that he was asleep. The Major grumbled Vegas had it in for psychics, but that was just background noise as the game began again.
The game decided was Texas Hold ‘em. As the cards were dealt, the Strix asked the Major with a needling tone, “So, your oldest boy is a brain in a bubble? Did another of your famous intricate maneuvers that you always say will be so fantastic, wind up as another horrible shambles?”
“NO,” the Major grumbled, glowering at the Strix over his cards. “He did something stupid at that school I spend so much to send him to, and by the time that they stabilized him, all that was left of him was a brain in a jar.” He sent the Strix a ‘gee thanks for bringing up a sore point’ scowl. “The worst part is that while he was a little dingy before, losing his body took a sledgehammer to his sanity. Now he LIKES being a disembodied brain! I spent five MILLION dollars getting Jobe Wilkins to clone him a new body from old DNA, and what does the refugee from Triskelion do? He had the Wilkins kid grow him a ‘meat puppet’ that he can telepathically control. Of TIMOTHY DALTON. Five MILLION dollars so the kid can swank around looking like a third-echelon James Bond!”
The Strix had the bad judgment to snicker, but the Mamba cut in, “Job? Like in the Bible?”
“No, Jobe, J-O-B-E, as in Gizmatic’s snot-nosed, punk-ass super-genius mad scientist kid. Makes Simon Cowell look like ‘Mister Warmth’, but there are maybe three or four Bio-Engineers working today who can top him.”
“Weird,” Man-Eater said from her place by the wall. “You don’t hear a name like that for years, and then you hear it in two different places inside a month or two.”
“Yeah,” Mamba agreed. “Manny and me met in the Fish Tank at Foley Square in New York. I got busted by Lioness for B&E and Manny banged up a block or so of the Lower East Side with Captain Quantum. We was stuck in the Fish Tank with the Killer Doll, Bloody Mary, and Big Bertha. We was chillin’, trying to figure out our moves, you know how it is. Then they drag in this kid, and she was black! I don’t mean this kind of black,” she held up her hand, “I mean black! Like Ink! And she had white hair and a great bod and clothes out of Vogue. And she was totally out of it, complete vapor lock! Lights are on, but nobody’s home! So, Bloody Mary… well, she’s Bloody Mary! She goes to razz the kid. Kid smacks her down, HARD, just like that! And she never breaks that blank fish-eye look, not for a second!”
“Yeah,” the Man-Eater backed her up. “Big Bertha tried to break it up- I think- and the bitch broke her arm! Just like that!”
“OWch!” Jack Devil winced. “Big Bertha? I’ve gone a round or two with her. Now there is one tough bitch! But what does that have to do with Gizmatic’s kid, Jobe?”
“Well, after she breaks Bertha’s arm, little miss ‘Danger to Herself and Others’ just stands there with Bertha’s broken arm in her hand,” the Mamba said. “The rest of us just did our best to stay the fuck OUT of that, whatever it was. Then, maybe half an hour later, the screw lets in this scrawny teenage white chick with weird white hair. She comes in and starts giving Miss Black-and-White-and-crazy-all-over shit. She calls her ‘Jobe’ and she talks at her like she made a mess in the kitchen or something. Then she walks the nutcase out, and the rest of us just thanked GOD!”
“But it was all good,” the Man-Eater cut in. “Somebody pointed out that the NYPD had violated our Civil Rights, endangered our health and lives, yada, yada, yada, and most of us got cut loose behind it.”
“Skinny white girl with white hair?” Nightwolf visibly scratched at a memory. “Did she have… kind’a like horns, her front locks sort of looked like horns?”
“Yeah! Horns, just like that!”
“Sounds kind of like Dr. Diabolik’s daughter, Jadis. My daughter, Regina, used to go to Whateley a year ahead of her.”
“Jadis?” the Man-Eater nodded vigorously, “Yeah, that was the name! The Jobe chick called her Jadis and said something about her father disowning her!”
“HAH?” Major Threat honked, “What the fuck is going ON over at that school?”
“That is less significant than the juvenile delinquent problem here in Las Vegas,” Dr. Photon with an accented nasal drone. “A few days ago, the ‘Candy Store’ was raided by a group of super powered teenagers. They got away with scraps, but they managed to get away. Yesterday, the regular vacated commissions auction was also raided, and while they stole four vehicles, they left the vehicles abandoned once the fuel ran out. Descriptions of the miscreants vary, but there are certain constants: a granite-featured giant, a blue glowing brick, a girl with a purple energy sword, and a boy with four ‘tentacles’.”
“Wasn’t there a big blue glowing guy and a guy with tentacles and a chick with a purple sword mixed up with that mess at that Black Lab out on Newton Road a couple of days ago?” Jabberwock asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Jack Devil muttered. “They said that they were kids who’d been kidnapped and experimented on, over in Sacramento.”
“But what does THAT have to do with raiding the Candy Store or the Discards auction?” Brillante asked.
“Obviously, someone’s using them,” Dr. Photon mused. “How else would they even KNOW about Sierra Loan and Consignment? But to what end? The paltry amount they stole was hardly worth bringing down the wrath of the Genovese family.”
“Are you sure it was the same kids who hit the Candy Store that hit the Discards auction?” the Man-Eater asked.
Nightwolf shrugged. “The description sounds the same. The Major and I were there, bidding. It was business as usual, and then BAM!”
The roof of the cabin caved in, causing the ship to rock side-to-side, which knocked the card players, the ‘wenches’ and the security guards well off their balances. What had come through the roof was a figure that looked like an assault cyborg designed by a huge fan of Gangsta Rap. The Cyborg was almost immediately joined by a strapping young African American man with an outline of blue, and a very chunky young man with the complexion of a granite mountain, all of them wearing the same jeans and hoodies, sports parka and baseball caps. “WHAT?” Major Threat yelped, “You punks AGAIN?”
“Are you sure about this, Danica?” McDaniels asked as he set up a tripod for the camera. “I mean, this bogus pirate battle is pretty much Treasure Island’s bread-n-butter. I kinda doubt that their lawyers are gonna like you using it as a backdrop.”
“MacDee, all we have is background and filler, and some unsubstantiated chatter,” Danica Hanson said as she checked out how her makeup and hair looked in the natural light. “So we gotta give the AdMass a reason to keep watching, and this is a ton better than the boring wrecked-building shots that everyone else is doing. Besides, the real appeal of this dog-and-pony show is coming to see it live; so, if anything, this is free advertising for TI.”
“And what if Treasure Island’s lawyers don’t see it that way?”
“Then we let HeroWatch’s lawyers handle it,” Brett Cummings said pragmatically as he checked the contrast of his jacket with Danica’s blazer on the monitor.
McDaniels shrugged. Whatthehell, he was on salary anyway… “Okay, the show is gonna start soon, and we only have so much of this light left, so let’s get this done on the first take, ‘kay? Otherwise, we’ll have to spend an hour refiguring the lighting for everything all over again. Annnddd… Five, Four, Three, Two, One-GO!”
Dancia and Brett smiled brightly into the camera. “Hello, this is Danica Hanson-”
“-and Brett Cummings, for HeroWatch, on location in LAS VEGAS!”
“It’s been three days since the unexpected break-in at the Hofstadter and Cooper Product Testing Labs on Newton Road,” Danica continued. “While much about the hotly-debated netcast operation is still unclear, certain aspects are coming into focus: first of all, the persons claiming to be Darcel MacArthur and Roxanne Lockhart match the descriptions of persons involved in the Sacramento and San Francisco incidents associated with the Martin Sammish kidnappings.”
“While neither of them resemble either MacArthur or Lockhart,” Brett took the ball, “and their rationale for that is specious at best, sources close to the Sacramento area high school confirm that their comments do show a detailed knowledge of the student body.”
“While Las Vegas authorities and MCO and Knights of Purity spokesmen are maintaining silence regarding the details of the Newton Road incident,” Danica took the ball, “unofficial sources confirm that over 20 persons, who show all the signs of being unwilling experiment subjects, were removed from the building. Their current whereabouts and conditions are being kept strictly confidential. However, no one is willing to make any statements whatsoever about any physical or documentary evidence found there.”
“Nevada Wing Civil Air Patrol confirms that their controversial heavily-armed fast response interceptor, ‘Blue Thunder’ shot down an unregistered and armed airship on the same trajectory as that of the airship that escaped from the Hofstadter & Cooper compound,” Brett took over. “The airship refused to respond to instructions to land, and was shot down with little collateral damage and no civilian casualties. The downed airship and various items from the airship are being closely examined by Nevada State Attorney General office, along with FBI, DARPA and DPA assistance.”
“While there are several similarities to the procedures used in labs in Las Vegas and Sacramento, Las Vegas District Attorney officials are being careful about making any decisions regarding the claims of the two people who podcasted their break-in of the Hofstadter and Cooper labs.”
Their Production Assistant, Janice, signaled them that the pirate ships were beginning their run, so it was time to wrap. “But the most mysterious thing about this entire tangled affair is the question of WHY the 12 students from Martin Samish High were taken in the first place? Aside from the inexplicable attempt to either seize or contact US Air Force Lt. Colonel Michael Ramsey, the only other development that can be absolutely connected to the Martin Sammish students is the unexplained disappearance of Darcel MacArthur’s family. Everything else is connected to the alleged super-powered ‘terrorists’, who themselves claim to BE the Martin Sammish students. Why did they then travel to San Francisco, instead of surrendering to the authorities in Sacramento? Why have they traveled to Las Vegas? What connection, if any do they have to Hofstadter & Cooper? The only thing that’s clear is that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of these loose cannons.”
Danica had timed her delivery so that the mention of the ‘loose cannons’ would synch with the first ‘volley’ of cannon fire from the lead ship. But instead of the carefully choreographed ‘shot’, something erupted up out of the cabin at the rear of one of the ships.
As Danica flinched badly (on camera), Brett picked up the ball. “I don’t believe it! A superpowered fight has broken out from one of the ships! The crowds here do not seem to understand that this isn’t part of the show! Our production assistant, Janice, will inform the Las Vegas police, and in the meantime, I will do my best to keep this remarkable event clear for our viewers!”
Picking up the ‘I’- not, ‘we’ or ‘Danica and I’, but just ‘I’, Danica jumped in with, “While WE will do our best to get everything as it happens, since we had NO IDEA that this would happen, we only have a single camera right now, so we’ll have to concentrate on one aspect of the battle at a time!” Watching the monitor to be sure that her hand wasn’t in the frame, but where it would be seen by McDee, Danica jerked a thumb to suggest that he turn the camera over to the fight.
McDaniels reflexively tuned out the talking heads’ chatter, but he picked up on almost everything visual in his feed. He turned his camera, and with the delicate touch that came from lots of practice, he found and fixed on a fight.
Danica: “Taking the high ground, ‘Blue Mack’, the young man claiming to be Darcel MacArthur, is being chased by a red devil, complete with pitchfork, riding a cloud of brownish yellow smoke. ‘Blue Mack’ is dressed as he was at the lab on Newton Road, in a silver-and-blue sports parka and baseball cap with a cannon as the logo on the cap. The devil is dressed in red-what else?- with a classic devil mask- I’m assuming- with a pitchfork that seems to work quite nicely as a flamethrower! Blue Mack is trying to maneuver himself to make a flying tackle at the Red Devil, but to give the devil his due, he knows that he has control of this fight and he’s not about to give it up! He’s blasting away, trying to keep Blue Mack from getting a straight line of attack on him. He doesn’t seem to be very worried about the spectators below, who, sad to say, haven’t quite picked up on the fact that this isn’t part of the show!
“OH MY GAWD! The Red Devil just blasted the Buccaneer Bay sign near the grandstands! Spectators are running as fast as they can, but there’s no way that they’ll be able to get out of the stands in time! No, Blue Mack just flew over to the sign and he’s holding it up with everything he’s got! That sign must weight over two TONS, but Blue Mack is holding it while flying, this is amazing, people!
“But the Red Devil knows an opening when he sees one! Blue Mack is giving those spectators still in the seats some time, but the Red Devil doesn’t seem to care. He’s taking his time, setting his trident for the shot and…
“OW! Perfect shot to the back! Blue Mack is falling, and oh no, the sign fell on top of him! Wait, there’s some movement in the debris of the sign. The Red Devil is right on top of it, waiting for Blue Mack to break through the wreckage of the Treasure Island sign, his pitchfork ready.
“But wait! One of the other Loose Cannons, a blonde girl riding a golden disk just came up on the Red Devil’s blindside and literally knocked him off his cloud!”
Brett: “And the action isn’t limited to the open air, folks! There’s a fight going on up in the rigging of the Brigantine!” Out of frame, Brett frantically gestured McD’s attention to one of the ships in the ‘battle’. “It’s a classic Hollywood swashbuckler! A man with a wolf’s head is swinging gymnastically through the upper rigging of the brigantine, frantically trying to get the upper hand on a young woman waving around a lightsaber!”
Danica: “But they are moving much too quickly for our only camera to follow, so let’s concentrate on the fight that doesn’t have a jungle gym of ropes and spars blocking the view! The girl on the flying disk is shining a powerful spotlight in the Red Devil’s eyes, probably to give Blue Mack a chance to get out from the wreckage without taking another hellblast! The Red Devil is trying to get around that by blocking her spotlight with some smoke, but it seems to be burning the smoke away. Spotlight Girl appears to have picked up on that, as she’s shifted her spotlight away from the Red Devil’s eyes, and onto the cloud he’s flying on-
“OH! But it doesn’t matter, because Blue Mack has burst out of the wreckage and has managed to get past the Red Devil’s guard! He is handing out some truly righteous payback. MAN, the Devil’s gonna feel that in the morning!”
Brett: “And Spotlight Girl has some problems of her own! A guy in what I can only describe as a ‘colorblind Green Lantern’ outfit just came blasting out of the sky, and almost completely blew Spotlight Girl out of the fight- not to mention, her flying disk. Now she’s deflecting his blasts, but she can’t do that AND get back onto her flying disk. Blue Mack has his hands full with the Red Devil and-
Danica: “OH! Another girl on a flying disk has flown up to help Spotlight Girl!”
Brett: “Girl? Are you sure about that, Danica?”
Danica: “Okay, she’s a little slender in the hips, but we’re talking kids here… but you’re right, Brett. It’s a little soon to make a call on that. Anyway, the Shocker is throwing around some serious electricity, and… Power Lantern? Are you sure about that, Janice? Anyway, Power Lantern, a veteran supervillain with 4 major felony warrants out for him, has had to break off from Spotlight Girl. Spotlight Girl is back on her flying disk, and-”
Brett: “Blue Mack and the Shocker have switched opponents! The Shocker is sending a powerful current through the Red Devil’s pitchfork and Blue Mack is trying to get past Power Lantern’s force shields, without a lot of luck.”
Danica: “But the Shocker breaks off from the Red Devil and has used… his?... electricity to snag the… glasses? The Glasses off Power Lantern. Power Lantern does not look happy. It seems that he’s both a ranged blaster and near-sighted.”
Brett: “NOT a good combination, Danica! Power Lantern has fallen back on randomly blasting everything that comes near him! It’s doing a good job of keeping Blue Mack at bay, but Spotlight Girl has gained altitude and I think that she’s going to attack Power Lantern out of the sun.”
Danica: “But it looks like Power Lantern has some backup of his own! A pair of females, one seemingly made of glass with a flight pack and the other with some sort of gray bird wings, are flying up on an intercept course with Spotlight Girl. Spotlight Girl shoots a beam of light at the glass woman-”
Brett: “WOW! That is BRIGHT! Somehow the Glass Woman is refracting Spotlight Girl’s blast and magnifying it. I can barely see what’s going on, and I sort of doubt that Spotlight Girl’s doing any better.”
Danica: “Wait, for some reason, Spotlight Girl is keeping up her barrage of light! Yes, it’s keeping the Owlwoman from doing anything, but why is she making Glass Woman more powerful?”
Brett: “And there’s your answer, Danica! Glasswoman just dropped. My guess is that her own power just burned out her jetpack. If she meant to do that, it was a nice move on Spotlight Girl’s part.
Danica: “And Power Lantern, possibly thinking that the bright light was Spotlight Girl, just blasted Owlwo- oh, I’m sorry, but I’ve just been informed that the villain I was just talking about is called ‘The Strix’, and that ‘Owlwoman’ is a registered and trademarked name. Anyway, Power Lantern just blasted the Strix and-”
Brett: “OH! And Blue Mack has just executed a classic power fly-through on Power Lantern! Not only has he knocked Power Lantern out of the fight with Spotlight Girl and the Shocker, but he knocked him into the rigging of the Brigantine, and even fouled the wolf-head who was mixing it up with the purple sword girl!”
Danica: “’Purple sword girl’? Work on it, Brett. But the swordgirl used that moment of distraction to blast the Wolf’s Head out of the rigging and into the water with some kind of eyeblast. Oh! And now Swordgirl just used Power Lantern being tangled up in some rigging to stab him right in the chest!”
Brett: “For the record, it does NOT appear that we’ve just witnessed a cold-blooded murder, but Power Lantern does NOT look happy. Indeed, he’s sagging into the rigging, and I think that he’s out of the ga- er, fight.”
Danica: “This fight seems to be about possession of some things that the Loose Cannons are passing between each other. It hasn’t been that apparent so far, but maybe if our cameraman can follow whatever it is that Blue Mack now has in his hand?”
McDaniels knew a hint when he was bludgeoned over the head with it, and he quickly shifted his focus to ‘Blue Mack’ and did indeed manage to get a brief shot of what was in ‘Blue Mack’s’ hand just as he cocked his arm to throw whatever it was like a football. Then Mack passed it to ‘the Shocker’ who caught it, and then looked around. McDaniels got a better shot of the thing they were passing around in Roxie’s hands, and he sent stills from both shots to the producer.
Brett: “It’s… a golden football?”
Danica: “NO! It’s a Falcon! It’s a Maltese Falcon! They’re throwing statuettes of birds made of GOLD around!”
Brett: “Oh man, we’re gonna be catching Humphrey Bogart jokes for months…”
Danica: “Aaannnddd… The Strix and a man who’s just floating in midair are having some sort of heated confab on the sidelines.”
Brett: “Half of me says that it’s a pair of football coaches arguing strategy and half of me says it’s like one of my poker buddies bickering with his Ex.”
Danica: “And now we have a 20? 30? 40? foot tall GIANT has waded into the bay and seems to be rooting around in the water for something.”
Brett: “I think he’s feeling around for any Falcons that might have dropped into the water. He’s definitely one of the Loose Cannons: he’s wearing the Cannon’s baseball cap and sports parka. But his skin has the look of stone, and he’s wearing a… Gay Pride T-shirt?”
Danica: “Wow, this puts a whole new spin on ‘Stonewall’.”
Brett: “Wait a minute, there’s a figure in the grandstands, helping the spectators to evacuate. It’s the Buccaneer™! Treasure Island Resort®’s in-house superhero has arrived and he’s making sure that the guests are safe before wading into the fray.”
Danica: “Which ironically, is helping some of the panicking guests regain their calm. They think that it’s all just a big show again.”
Brett: “The big Stonewall kid is having problems with a strange distorted figure who has climbed up on his back and is raking him with strange claws.”
Danica: “And the Glass Woman is back on the field! She’s being carried by a man who’s wearing… a white lab coat and goggles? And he’s flying by using a jet pack. But Glass Woman seems to be lit from within and is blasting at Stonewall with bursts of light!”
Brett: “But a figure with long tentacle-like arms just jumped out of the rigging on top of the Mad Scientist’s back and has shorted out the flight pack! Both Glass Woman and Dr. Chromedome go splash! The Squid immediately clambers onto the Frigate, but he seems to have his hands full: all SIX of them! If I’m seeing correctly he as SIX gold Maltese Falcons!”
Danica: “And you’re not the only one to see that, Brett! Two women, a tall redhead and a sleek African American- I’m assuming- have also spotted that, and they are hot on his heels! All three are swinging through the rigging like greased lightning, and I’m amazed that our cameraman is able to keep up with them! The Squid is heading toward the deck, but the Damsels of Distress are hot on his heels!”
Brett: “This is getting very tense, Danica! Besides the Loose Cannons and these veteran supervillains, the Las Vegas Strip superheroes are beginning to answer the call of duty! While the Buccaneer is already involved, the Volcano™ and Lady Luck™ from the nearby Mirage® and Wynn’s® resorts have shown up, and I think that we can expect to see more show up before too long!”
Danica: “The Squid has hit the deck and is moving as fast as those four tentacles can make him go. The falcons he’s holding onto are slowing him down, but not by much. And he needs it because those two women are FAST! He’s heading for the pier which the Frigate is approaching, but it doesn’t look like-”
Brett: “WHOA! He had unexpected backup! What looks like a robot wearing the colors of the Loose Cannons was waiting at the pier! He has a powerful laser built into his arm and he just shot the redhead! He covers the Squid, and is jumping onto the Frigate to keep the snakewoman from following. Red is back up, but this Robo-Thug is no gentleman! He’s smacking these two women around with a heavy-and steel hard- hand!”
Danica: “Brett, it looks like the Las Vegas Strip superheroes have finally pulled it together! Besides the Buccaneer, the Volcano and Lady Luck, the Blue Djinn, the Silver Centurion, and the Gunslinger have made it here from Aladdin’s, Caesar’s Palace, and the Frontier hotels downtown, and the Flamingo, the Crimson Cavalier, the Golden Pharaoh, Leo the Lion and Captain Nevada have also made the scene.”
Brett: “And that seems to be the Loose Cannon’s cue to split! They’re peeling off, heading for the pier, with Robo-Thug and Spotlight Girl covering them with heavy energy fire. The Veterans are torn between keeping up the fight and getting out while the getting’s good! And… HERE COME THE HEROES!”
We hadn’t intended for the fight to go public like that. We’d expected the supervils to take the fight into the Service areas of the Treasure Island complex, not go busting out the side of the frickin’ ship! But that doesn’t mean that the time we spent studying the layout of the service areas was wasted. Once Mack airlifted Rachel off the ship onto the pier with the rest of us, we ran in a mass into the service areas. Then, once we were sure that we hadn’t left anyone behind, we’d break up into three smaller groups. We had changes of clothing for each of the sub-groups. One group would sneak out with that… whatever high school hoo-hah that we’d come in with. Another group would dress up as service personnel, and hope that in the confusion, nobody looked too closely. And the third would just change into your basic tourist kids looking for their folks.
A nice, simple, sound strategy.
WHY is it that nice, simple sound strategies never work for us?
The hardest part was figuring out who’d go out as service personnel. On the theory that bigger meant older, Rachel, Eddie and Mack went out in the jumpsuits. Past that, Gwen got an upgrade to ‘Cool Kid’ along with Marly, Roxie and Chris, and switched out the ‘Marty Sam’ blues for some cheerleader warmup jackets from a school that seriously needed to rethink their colors. And I went out in the ‘weenie’ group with Rick, Ginny, Suzie and Billy, shucking the blues for off-the-rack civvies. But the hard part was getting Billy to give up those falcons and let Mack carry them out in a garbage can.
It was almost as hard as not popping Roxie (or Rocky or whatever we’re gonna call him when he’s male) one when he got all Mack Daddy and offered me a place with ‘his girls’, ‘cause I was way too cute to be clustering around Billy. Now, Roxie’s smart and a girl most of the time. Does testosterone really make you that dumb? I mean, Rick was standing right there!
Apparently so, ‘cause Billy was rocking a pretty ‘check me out, I got babes’ ‘tood as we headed for the doors back into the general area of the resort. Rick was looking like he was getting ready to go off on Billy when something caught Billy’s eye. Billy split off from our group and headed deeper into the complex. “BILLY!” I hissed at him. “Get BACK here, you little shitstain! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Nothing. He just disappeared around a corner, and when I went after him, he was gone. “CRAP! Ginny, do you have any idea what that retard is up to?”
Ginny sort of wilted and ducked her head. “I… dunno. I mean, I’m not that good at reading minds yet and… there’s that weird, y’know… fog over you guys’ minds. I’d have to really try, or at least really WANT to read his mind. And…”
“And like anyone sane, you don’t really want to read Billy’s mind,” I finished for her.
“Can’t say as I blame you,” Rick agreed in a flat disgusted voice that matched mine perfectly.
“Agreed,” Suzy said. “But we can’t leave him here. If nothing else, Billy’s the one who understands the layout of the security cameras along this stretch.”
“AND he’s the one who has the ‘Psychic Invisibility’ dingus,” Rick pointed out.
“SHIT!” I hissed through my teeth. “We gotta find him and get out of here before his latest brainfart stinks up our exit for everyone! Remember, if anyone spots us, we’re looking for our friend who we saw go in the door to this section, and we are trying to find him before he gets us all into trouble.”
“Well, it’s simple enough to remember,” Ginny quipped, trying to ease into our patterns of banter. “And it even has the advantage of being the truth!”
“Okay, if we run into anyone, let Ginny do the talking,” Suzy said. “You have picked up on the trick of ‘listening’ for what people want to hear, right?”
We’d been walking down the way that Billy had gone as we were talking. Ginny started to say something, I got the impression that she was going for some kind of zinger, when she gleeped and ducked down to avoid something. Rick reacted by stopping it with his PK. But I wasn’t going ‘oh wow, cool beans!’; I had my hands full just barely catching a 30-pound canvas bag that was coming at me at about 40 MPH. I was just wrapping my head around that, and my eyes were just focusing on the word ‘BRINK’S’ printed on the canvas, when alarms went off and Billy came pelting at us top speed. Okay, alarms were already going off because of the full-fledged supervillain battle going on outside, but these alarms were going off INSIDE. Around US.
Oh, right- ‘Brink’s’. As in the Armored Car and Cash Moving service.
I grabbed Ginny’s hand and did a 180. “HAUL!” I snapped and the rest had the good sense to follow my lead. Once we were out of the immediate corridor, where there were armed guards already looking for us, I shoved two of the three canvas bags into Suzy’s hands. “RUN, get these OUT of here,” I said as I sliced the hasps that kept the heavy metal tags on the bags. “Don’t bother with the alarms and shit, just get these OUT of here. These tags have RFIDs- those are the things that Inventory Control uses to keep people from shoplifting and like that?- get them OUT of here, and… onto another resort or something. Dump the tags there, and stash the bags where we can come and find them later.”
“Yeah, and what about that one?” Suzy nodded at the cash bag still in Billy’s sticky little fingers. I sheared the tag off that one as well and handed it to her. “Good call, Evie!” And Suzy was gone.
“Okay, let’s move… in a completely different direction,” Billy said cheerfully. But he registered the uniform scowl that the three of us were shooting him. “What? We need the money!And it’s paper money not coins, so it’s light! Hey, I got that psychic invisibility dingus, remember? We can just walk out with the money!”
“Billy,” I said in the Voice of Disappointed Reason, “that thing won’t work on cameras, which are trained on every entrance in this resort, including- no, especially- the door from the Service Area into the General Area. And that bag has BRINKS on it in big red letters. And even with Suzy removing the tags off the premises, these are Professionals- they know all the tricks and dodges. They’ll be looking for it!”
“So, you girls find some shopping bags and we’ll move the cash from this-”
Billy was in the middle of enunciating his next grand brainfart when something came out of left field and sandbagged me.
If there is one good thing about kids, it’s that you can trust them to make the same dumb mistakes that other kids have made. And once Blackheart heard about them trying to jack the Pirate Ship Game, Blackheart knew that they’d try to sneak out through the resort. It was just such a kid thing to try. Yeah, breaking up after a big bust-up like that was a good move, but then they went and did something totally braindead like ripping off the casino’s cash room! And Fifty Grand petty cash bags to boot! And sending off the speedster chick that way was a reasonable move, but it left them without their most effective fighter.
Well, never let it be said that Blackheart turned down a good cheap shot. Before the punks registered that they were even there, Blackie let off a blast that would have put a baseline prizefighter in the hospital, and took out the chick that was making all the ‘leader’ noises. She might be the bitch who shanked him and jacked him for all that power, she might not. All those damn little crybaby Goth punks looked alike to him.
The rest of the crew picked up, just like that, no orders or nothin’, the sign of real Pros. Rawhide charged at the idiot who’d ripped off the cash room. He might be numb between the ears, but those arms still made him dangerous. Prettyboy went straight for the skinny redheaded skank. But then, he would. He was the only one of the crew who was more dangerous after a kill, and they’d need him if the rest of the super-punks checked in on this bunch of losers. Evil Eye stepped up and gave the boy his evil eye. The boy stopped, and Blackheart stepped back, just in case the little bitch was still a danger, and covered the rest of the crew.
And after a nice textbook opening move, it promptly went screwy. The little Goth-bitch, who should have been out cold, made a move like a bat out of hell, but she didn’t go for Blackheart. Instead, she dove for Rawhide, who had cornered the freak with the arms, but couldn’t get past those arms. She gave him a slash across the small of his back that totaled the leather jacket that Rawhide was wearing. Rawhide wasn’t hurt that bad- Blackheart had seen him get hit by a Mack truck and get right back up- but he was dazed. Then she yelled, “Billy! Switch!”And the tentacle-freak stretched out one of his tentacles, snagged one of Blackheart’s wrists and pulled him off his feet.
Not that Evil Eye or Prettyboy were doing any better. Despite Prettyboy looking like something form the cover of a teen scene magazine, the redhead’s reaction to him was to scream and grab something that looked like someone tried to make a purse out of an old Playstation. When Prettyboy reached out the take a hold of her, he ran into something that the crew was savvy enough to know was some kind of personal force field. Prettyboy prodded the field, first with the flats of his palms and then his fists, and then he really started wailing away at the field. Prettyboy did not handle frustration very well, especially when he was hurting.
Evil Eye started out pretty well. Blackheart didn’t have a lot of patience with psychics, by and large. He had Evil Eye on the crew because when he wasn’t at the poker table or messing with a chick, the guy was all business. Unlike a lot of mindbenders, who had rock star egos, Evil Eye knew how to keep it real. Usually he stayed in the background, read the chumps’ minds, clued in the rest of the crew as to how the opposition was going to jump, and didn’t turn everything into a big opera. When he did get physical, he kept it simple: he’d boggle the other guy’s brain and then do him with a knife. Nice, simple, effective, to the point. Props to the little guy.
And Evil Eye was doing just that. He had the other boy of the group in a mindlock, and had his blade out. He wouldn’t kill the kid, just poke a few holes in him to keep him from doing anything stupid. When he was done with that, he’d boggle one of the other kids, and let the other guy take the chump out. But just as Evil Eye had the kid’s jacket in his left hand and was prepping to jab him in the gut, the kid threw his head back and let out a weird yowl. Then Evil Eye was thrown against the wall by an invisible hand. But that wasn’t the end of it. The corridor was lined with carts of various cleaning and housekeeping and maintenance supplies. Sheets, towels, soaps, linens, potpourris, blankets, pillows, bottles and tubes of cleaning supplies and other things started flying around the hallway, confusing the hell out of the situation.
Then, just to make a complete cluster fuck of it, that canvas Brink’s bag ripped open and a flurry of singles, fivers, tens and twenties flew out, turning into a green blizzard. Blackheart looked around frantically, but could only make out vague shapes and brief movement. He lashed out with his black energy, but that only made things worse. As a matter of fact, while he didn’t know it, he even managed to blast Rawhide, who was having more than his share of trouble with the sword-chick. He was holding his ground, but in that kind of fight, holding your ground is just a slow way of losing.
Then the tentacle freak grabbed big wads of cash and shoved one of them down Blackheart’s mouth. As Blackheart gave up fighting and devoted himself completely to not choking on money, a nauseating thought occurred to him: if he died like this, he’d have fought all his life to be taken seriously, only to wind up as a bad joke that would make the rounds for years.
As he peeled himself off the wall, it occurred to Evil Eye that what worked for those punks could work for them as well. “Prettyboy!” he yelped, “SWITCH!” Evil Eye gave it a subtle mental ‘sting’ that didn’t quite snap Prettyboy out of his berserk, but sort of derailed it a bit. Prettyboy looked around, saw the kid in the eye of the hurricane, and went for it. He plowed through the rainless storm and grabbed Rick, pulling him off his feet and pulling him to him in an embrace that was equal parts seduction and savagery.
Evil Eye was absolutely confused. He was locked in a mental battle with the redheaded chick who was cringing inside the force field bubble. And he was losing. But he wasn’t losing. Well, he wasn’t getting his ass handed to him. It didn’t make any sense! Evil Eye knew that he wasn’t very powerful, but he got around that by just not getting into any of those braindead ‘psychic battles’ that psychics who brag about how powerful they are like so much. But here he was, flailing away at this kid, and not getting anywhere. But if she could hold him off like that, why wasn’t she taking the fight to him? She had power, more power than he had- so why was she just curled up inside that stupid ball like that? She was holding him off, but he could tell that she was doing something else. And that was what really confused him. She was obviously a newb, a rookie with more power than control- so what was she doing?
Then there was a strange sickening crack, and the ‘storm’ went silent and still. The green ‘blizzard’ fluttered to the ground, and the heavier things just dropped. In the center of this bizarre tableau was a travesty of a fairy tale scene with a handsome prince kissing his sleeping beauty. Prettyboy stood over Rick with his mouth over the boy’s. The travesty was made macabre by Rick’s twitching body and the obscene angle of his neck, which suggested a snapped cervical vertebra. As Rick gave out his last spasm and went still, Prettyboy pulled his mouth from Rick’s and looked at him with distaste. “That just felt so…. GAY…” He said with a hint of disgust in his voice.
Blackheart took advantage of the kid’s shock to blast the tentacle freak away from him and spit out those dollar bills. “Well,” he rasped, “I think we got us a whole new ballgame…”
And then a wall came crashing in, and a 14-foot-high giant made of stone was standing there, looking like the wrath of an Aztec god, wrapped up in the tattered remains of a Treasure Island maintenance worker’s overalls. “GET. AWAY. FROM HER. YOU ASSHOLE!” the giant grated out at Evil Eye. Evil Eye damn near shit on himself and skittered away from the redhead. Rawhide managed to separate himself from the chick with the sword and staggered over to look up into the giant’s face with his usual badass face. Then two big black bucks, also wearing maintenance workers’ overalls came from behind the giant’s back. One was sort of glowing blue, and the other one looked like he was made of living metal.
The redhead finally dropped that force bubble and scampered over to the giant, almost managing to wrap her arms around him. Almost. Blackheart didn’t have a lot of patience for fancy-schmancy ‘codes’ and ‘gentleman outlaw’ crap. The closest thing he had was a deep-rooted aversion to looking like a wimp in front of anyone. And he knew that the rest of his crew would rather go to the hospital than wuss out in front of him. So Blackheart and his crew squared themselves to go at it again, despite the odds.
Then that speedster chick zoomed in. “GUYS! The Treasure Island security goons are on their way! And the Buccaneer and the Volcano are backing ‘em up! Let’s MOTOR!”
And that was the one possible thing that Blackheart’s Crew and the Loose Cannon kids could agree on. Somehow in the confusion, Rawhide managed to hang onto the one thing that pulled that cluster fuck out of a complete loss and into a solid win for the crew: the body of the kid that Prettyboy had killed, and the backpack full of ‘Loose Cannon’ clothes. After all, there was a 15 grand each bounty out on their heads from Dugan.
It was weird. Rick was dead. But we barely knew the kid. Even Megan, who’d been trapped with him at Snowfish, didn’t know him that well. I mean, he’d pretty much kept to himself, and hadn’t been Mister Bright-shining-happy-guy even when he’d been with the rest of us. Okay, between what UNITY had put him through and the shit with his dad that I picked up on, it would be surprising if he hadn’t had some serious issues, but it’s hard to get chummy with a curled-up ball of hostility.
But even so, losing him that way hurt bad. Not as bad as when we’d lost Shaun, but even so, we’d lost another one. Ginny was curled up with her arms around Eddie, trying to sort through it all. Marly was sort of off by herself, not getting close to anyone. Well, except for Yvonne, who was sitting next to her with her hand on Marly’s, the closest that I’ve seen to a genuine reaction that I’ve ever seen from Yvonne. Sparky was wandering around person to person, whimpering to them, nuzzling them with his nose, trying console as best he could. MAN, it must suck to be telepathic at times like this; I mean, feeling your own pain is hard enough. But feeling everyone else’s, even through that ‘fog’ over our minds that Ginny talked about?
Brigand was standing there with that weird blend of judgement and compassion that I’ve seen on some veterans’ face when they deal with guys just coming back from a hard tour in Iraq. He was thinking hard about something, worrying at it, carefully thinking it out. Then again, he’d lost guys too and he knew exactly how it felt. He let us deal with it for a while, and when he thought that we’d coped as well as we could, he spoke up. “Okay People, I know that it’s hard, but you’ve got to step up and get going. That last fiasco didn’t turn up what I needed anymore than the car auction.”
“WHAT?” Mack yelped, “You want us to do MORE?”
“You’ve got to get out of town NOW,” Brigand said. “You hitting Sierra Loan and Consignment and the Discards auction was one thing- only people inside the supervillain and organized crime communities knew about that. The Hofstadter and Cooper lab was way out in the open, but it was the kind of thing that could happen anywhere. But the second that that fight went out into the open, all bets were off! That wasn’t just on TV, it was on HeroWatch! HeroWatch only had one camera on the scene- it was a pure fluke that they were there at all- but there were dozens of cell phones and video cameras there. It’ll be crappy footage, but right at the moment, there’s a lively and profitable market for shots from that fight, and every possible angle and occurrence will be gone over with a microscope. That fight connected the resorts with supervillains, and everyone is in full cover their ass mode! Everyone, the Nevada State Attorney, the Nevada Gaming Commission, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, even the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, are all bending over backwards showing that they’re not condoning, let alone abetting supervillains! And you messed with the resorts!”
“Ah, WE messed with the resorts?” Roxie demanded.
“The point being, is that everyone, and I DO mean everyone, in Las Vegas wants this whole thing OVER. Having all of your heads on pikes would be the optimum solutions- at least as far as they’re concerned- but they’ll settle for having all of you out of town ASAP!”
“We’ve been trying to do that,” Chris pointed out. “But now, if anything, that’s gonna be harder!”
“Fortunately, there’s something that will serve both of our purposes.”
“Okay…” Mack said cautiously, “What do you got up your sleeve this time, Brigand?”
“Yeah, I mean, we thrashed this out!” I cut in. “The train’s out, planes aren’t even a bad joke, driving out is just asking for trouble, and a bus is downright laughable!”
“Oh?” Brigand asked puckishly, “And what about… a flying saucer?”
“A FLYING SAUCER?” we all echoed.
“You’re talking about that crazy mindfuck hovercraft that I flew out of the hangar?” Megan asked, “But I crashed that!”
“Velthar the Vanquisher’s Star Corsair was designed as a landing vehicle for jumped up smash-and-grab raids on moderately defended corporate research labs,” Brigand explained. “Sort of a grubby, scaled-down version of what Dr. Diabolik does. Velthar would come in low under radar, blast hardpoints or armored doors with a plasma weapon, drop canisters of psychotropic gas, disembark between 3 and 5 squads of 10 men each dressed up as alien invaders, and fly off with prototypes, computers, files, exotic materials and really anything with resale value. It was designed to take a hit from a LAWS rocket- you kids do know what LAWS rockets are, right?- crash land on either dry land or water, and hold together. Megan, what you flew was his sixth iteration of that design, and despite his rather… idiosyncratic ideas on psychological warfare, Velthar is a big believer in ‘learn from your mistakes’. Besides, you managed to get that thing down for a… comparatively… smooth landing. Megan. It looked a lot worse than it really was. But then, that’s part of the Corsair’s design. Velthar’s first raid was a ‘Trojan Horse’ where he *ahem!* ‘crashed’ the saucer a half-mile away from a remote isolated DARPA lab complex. According to my sources, the Star Corsair was pretty banged up, the suspension was a little out of whack, one of the major lift jet clusters needed work, and the paintjob was trashed, but that’s about it. Darth Viper- the guy you were mixing it up with at the auction, Evan- jumped on it, and got it to a repair service. As it is, the Corsair may not be able to get you into orbit, but with any luck, it should get you to…?” Brigand ended with a curious look to Mack.
“Denver,” Mack said, still not elaborating any.
Brigand nodded. “Denver. Yeah, that’s within its striking range. One way, but it’ll get you there. Now, conveniently, the repair yard where the Corsair is being worked on is of considerable interest to me.”
“Why?” Roxie asked.
“While neither the raid on the vehicle auction nor the strike on the poker game turned up what I wanted, I did manage to pick up some very suggestive information on the activities of a very elusive party. The information that I got suggests that that repair yard does work for that slippery party. So, finding that repair yard’s confidential files may not give me their home address, but it will put me that much closer to finding them.”
“And what do you want US to do?” Mack asked cautiously.
“Just get into the flying saucer, boot it up, and fly away,” Brigand said with a ‘isn’t that simple?’ smile. “They’ll be so busy reacting to that, that my people will be able to walk in, search the office for secret files and carry them off without a hitch. ‘IF you can keep your head, while those around you are losing theirs’, and that sort of thing.”
Mack, Roxie, Eddie and I exchanged looks. “Well…” I summed up. “It has the advantage of being the very last thing that they’d expect.”
“Yeah,” Eddie agreed. “And it’s a more stylin’ ride than that schoolbus.”
“Or that hearse,” Suzy snipped.
Madam Syn actively disliked this part of the business, dealing with common thugs. But she also knew that she had a reputation for being ‘high maintenance’, which was just another way of saying ‘stuck-up bitch’. That didn’t do good things for her employability. So, whenever she could, she made a point of being terribly, terribly professional, especially where anyone with clout in Organized Crime circles was watching. So she sucked it up and put on the ‘garden variety Las Vegas bimbo’ outfit with the blonde haystack wig, and sailed through the beauty parlor and into the back without slowing down.
In the back were four men standing around something with a sheet over it. One guy had the ‘middle class lawyer’ look that Organized Crime types preferred to affect in Vegas. Next to him was an off-the-rack enforcer type. Across the lump from those two was a greasy East Coast thug type who affected a black-on-black outfit, mirrored aviators and a Wayne Newton mustache, and big leather cowboy who couldn’t more obviously have been a brick if he’d worn a T-shirt with a picture of a brick on it.
The lawyer type stepped forward and asked, “You were at the Discards Auto auction two days ago?”
‘File that under ‘rhetorical question’,’ Mdm. Syn thought to herself. “Yes,” she said simply. She’d expected to eat and drink off that story for a week. But it barely lasted a day before that Buccaneer Bay bash shot it down as the hot story in town.
“According to some people we’ve spoken to, during the fight, you mixed it up with a teenage boy, maybe 15 or 16, white, with longish dark hair.”
“As I recall, there were two boys there who match that general description.”
“This one threw you across the hangar and whipped up a storm that stopped the fight cold,” the greaseball said with a gravely voice.
“Yes, a classic psychokinetic ‘poltergeist’ storm,” Madam Syn said clinically. “He had a surprising amount of power. From what HeroWatch says, the *ahem!*‘Loose Cannons’ claim that someone experimented on them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re telling the truth. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that boy didn’t burn himself out inside a year.”
“Not to worry.” The greaseball pulled the sheet off. Sitting in a disused beauty chair was a teenage boy, maybe 15 or 16, white, longish dark hair. He was roped onto the chair. His face was frozen in a distorted grimace. He was very clearly dead.
“Is this the boy you fought at the auction?” the lawyer asked.
Oh right. Mdm. Syn had heard that there was a bounty on the punks who ripped off the Candy Store. And if there wasn’t one then, there sure as hell was one after the raid on the Discards auction. She looked closely at the boy. The problem was that he was such an average looking kid. She’d bet that even the kids at his old school had had a problem telling him from a dozen others in his year. She stepped forward and studied his face. She thought carefully about it. Then she remembered the one thing about him that stuck out at all from the encounter. Leaning in, she pulled down his lip and looked at his teeth. “Yep. That’s him.”
The greaseball made a glad sound of vindication, but the lawyer quibbled, “How can you be sure?”
“Look at his teeth. See those cheap-ass braces? Those things should have been removed months ago. Trust me, the taste of rusting braces on rotting teeth is not something you forget quickly.”
“One more thing.” The enforcer picked up a backpack and pulled out a blue sports parka and matching baseball cap. “Recognize these?”
“Maybe.” She took the parka and then the cap, closely examining the cannon logo on both. “Yep. It’s a generic cannon logo, but it’s the right generic cannon logo.”
The lawyer looked at Madam Syn and then the greaseball. He visibly decided that she wouldn’t risk herself by lying to the Mob over such a trivial thing, especially for cheap thugs like Blackboy and Leathergoon. “Okay,” the lawyer said. “Here.” He doled out $500 in 10s and 20s into her hand. Understanding that she wasn’t needed anymore, and not particularly wanting to be there in the first place, she tucked the money in her purse and started to leave. As she left, she heard the lawyer say, “Okay, Blackheart, you’ve earned your money. Do you think you can get any more of them?”
“Not to worry,” Blackheart breezed, “I got these punks MAPPED!”
DATE: Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007
It turned out that the repair yard that Brigand was so interested in was one of the addresses that Roxie had investigated earlier. It fit in with the rest of the industrial wasteland vibe of the neighborhood, but Roxie pointed out smugly that it had one major flaw in its disguise: legit vehicle repair and custom modification yards don’t have heavily-armed 12-man squads. Or SOTA perimeter observation systems.
Billy was in hog-heaven; this was his meat, grilled just the way he liked it. It was obviously going to be a sneak initial entry, with him leading Megan in so that they could warm up the saucer. When the systems were all booted up and ready to initialize the engines, we’d set off some very LOUD equipment to distract the guards and cover the sound of the jets warming up.
“Are you sure that the stuff you say we can find there is loud enough to cover the sound of those jets?” Eddie asked Brigand. “Cause those things were HELLA loud when we took off in it!”
Brigand shook his head. “The hard part will be warming up the jets, which is reasonably quiet. Well, at least in comparison to the jets at full thrust. Turning on the conveyor will cover the sounds of the jets warming. When they’re warmed up, you kids board the saucer and just take off. Once you’re all aboard, being loud and grabbing the guards’ attention is sort of the wholepoint. Just remember to circle the repair yard two or three times, just to keep them interested, before you head east.”
“Do they have any heavy weaponry there?” Mack asked with reasonable concern.
“Nothing that could bring down the Star Corsair,” he assured us.
“Do you really think that that repair yard’s confidential files have the information you need?” Roxie asked.
“Even if they don’t, this will be worth doing,” Brigand said. “With you kids not only out of town, but leaving in such a loud and obvious matter, things in Las Vegas will go back to Business as Usual- and I can get back to MY business. Your profile was a little compromised by that run at Treasure Island’s treasure room, but somehow Billy managed to get around their Security cameras, and the presence of four known supervillains nicely confuses the issue. So, your visibility is high, the confusion factor is higher, people are asking themselves the questions you want, you have a ride out of town, you have $100,000 in small bills spending money, seven Maltese Falcons that you can cash in when that runs out, a list of places to go in the Mile-High City, and best of all, nobody knows that I’m in Vegas, let alone that I’m connected with you kids. It’s not a perfect solution, but it beats 90% of the alternatives.”
“So, we do this one like the others, just wing it and don’t worry about screwing up?” Billy asked.
“Hope so,” Rae droned snidely, “’Cause that’s yer specialty, Squid.”
“As a matter of fact, NO, Billy,” Brigand said without a trace of his usual smirk. “Straylight Custom Vehicle Modifications and Painting is a pro outfit that deals with a strong supervillain clientele. Straylight’s been in the business for over 20 years, and they haven’t lasted that long with a client list like that by being pushovers. They’re not expecting anything, but handling looters with super powers is business as usual for them. You’re going to have to go in, do it fast and do it right the First Time. Besides getting Megan into the Corsair to warm it up, you’re going to have to make sure that it’s fueled, that it isn’t secured, that all the parts are in place- firms like Straylight do leave out one or two vital pieces until the final payment is made-, that the exit gate is open, and that the conveyor that you’re relying on to cover you is up and running.
“This time, you train. I’ve rented an industrial space three blocks away from Straylight that’s the same size and basic layout as Straylight, and has most of the same basic junk. You’ll spend three days converting that lot into as near to an exact replica of Straylight as we can get away with, with the excuse that you’re a Film School class doing a class project. That won’t even raise a blip in Las Vegas. There’s no better way to get the hang of a complex than to build a duplicate of it. You’ll live on-site while you’re building it. When you’re done, we’ll figure out the best combinations of teams and players and run you through a few practice runs.”
And let’s take that as read, shall we? I mean, there’s a reason why TV and Movie directors cut to a montage about this time: actual construction is damn boring. But we did get the hang of how the Straylight compound was put together.And, okay, we were getting a little too used to luxury accommodations at 4-star hotels. The rough and ready sleeping arrangements we lived in at the drill site really was more in keeping with what we could expect between Denver and Chicago.
For the actual run, we decided on five, reasonably small task-specific teams:
“The Cockpit Team, who’d go straight to the Corsair, open it, boot up the systems and start up the jets.Megan and Roxie were our starting lineup Cockpit Team. Megan, of course, because of her psychometry, and Roxie because she actually knew something about computers, and she could advise Megan from over her shoulder for anything that Meg’s ESP couldn’t fill her in on.
The Conveyor Team, who’d get the Cockpit Team to the Corsair, hook the Corsair up to the fuel pump, then head to the Conveyor belt, rig it so that it would take as long as possible to shut down, set it off and backup anyone who needed an assist.Chris and Suzie were our starting lineup Conveyor Team. If Suzie needed firepower backup, Chris could provide it; if Chris needed a quick exit, Suzie could provide that.
The Gate Team. We couldn’t trust that our pilot could handle actual flight right off the bat, so we needed an exit for the Corsair’s hovercraft mode. The Gate Team would either pick the lock for the gate on the straightest path from the Corsair’s bay, or they’d rip or blast it off at the last second, if that was what it took. Eddie and Mack were our starting lineup Gate Team. Once the gate was taken care of, Mack would air evac Eddie to the Corsair in motion.
The Overwatch Team. They were the lookouts who’d keep an eye on the situation from a distance and contact anyone who was about to get rumbled. Again, our lookouts were Ginny and Marley. With their telepathy, they could stay in touch with each other, or any of us, in ways that normal radio band oversight couldn’t catch. Mack would pick them up once the Corsair was out of the compound and in motion.
The Undercarriage Team. They had the persnickety job of trying to figure out whether the Corsair was fit to fly, if we had the parts to fix whatever it was or if we needed to take out the guards at the Straylight, and break out the welding rigs. This job fell, due in equal parts to being best fit and the process of elimination, to Billy, Rachel and me. Billy’s arms were the best for getting into all the nooks and crannies of an ionic thrust jet, I was able to super-cram the principals and techniques of maintenance and repair of an ionic thrust jet, and Rachel could do the inevitable heavy lifting, and cover Billy and me if things got hairy. Brigand’s intelligence was that the Straylight people had finished and were waiting for Darth Viper to pay for the repairs.But given the level of dirty trickery and flat-out fraud in the civilian auto repair industry, how far can you trust a bunch of supervillain mechanics? We’d sneak in a couple of hours before the rest of the teams started; they’d only begin the run if we said that the Jupiter 2 was ready to get lost in space.
After four test runs, even with Brigand’s guys acting as guards and surprises like last-minute inspections, police raids, and flour ‘explosions’, we didn’t think that we could saucer-jack that puppy, we knew it!
“And NOW, the Clusterfuck run,” Brigand said with that annoying smirk
‘The WHAT?’ was our general reaction.
“One of the great ironies of the human mind is that we learn more from failure than we do from success,” he said, clearly slipping into one of those ‘inspiring teacher’ fantasies that people over 40 seem to have. “Success is wonderful, but you only really learn about the shortcomings, flaws, gaps, errors, false assumptions, and so on, when you have a catastrophic failure.”
“You mean, something like someone-” Roxie gave Billy the hairy eyeball, “decides that he simply can’t live without the Straylight’s reproduction of a Transformers Autobot?”
“Now, now,” Brigand tutted, “that won’t happen. If nothing else, everyone knows that the Deceptions’ are WAY cooler than the Autobots.” He waved that down. “What we’re going to do is switch around the roster so that we have the worst possible combinations of people and jobs, and then throw some new surprises your way. Besides putting you all in positions where you’re well out of your comfort zones, it’ll give you all much better ideas as to what other people are putting up with, AND you’ll be coping with the situation in ways where your powers won’t be an asset. Trust me, people with super powers have a nasty tendency to fall into the ‘when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’ trap.”
This time our roster was: for the Cockpit Team, it was Eddie and Ginny. Just what we need for our pilots, two people who know nothing about technology. Our Conveyor Team was Mack and Marly. Well, at least that shouldn’t be too bad. IF Mack can keep his ‘White Knight’ reflexes under control, and Marly doesn’t peep past that ‘fog’ and have a bad reaction to what she finds. The Gate Team was Rachel and Megan. Which, all things considered, wasn’t that bad a mixture. They had a much better chance of stealthing past the lock with Meg’s ESP, but if that didn’t work, Rachel could either burn the door off its hinges or just rip it off them. The Undercarriage Team consisted of Chris, Roxie and Suzy. Well, at least Roxie was able to turbo-cram the same principles and techniques that I did, and now we have two not-experts on ionic jet technology. And the Overwatch Team was… Billy… and ME.
Cue the ‘we’re gonna DIE’ chant.
DATE: Friday, April 6th, 2007
The plan was that we were going to run through the ‘Clusterfuck’ run, and if we didn’t learn anything game-changing, we’d send the front-string Undercarriage Team over to Straylight. We’d get a good look at the underside of that puppy, and see for reals if this thing was gonna work.
It was just after nightfall. Dark enough that it would be just like the real run on Straylight, but not so late that any of the neighbors would raise a ruckus. The Cops were primed with the excuse that it was just another shoot for our film school class. Which, when you think about it, would be a good game to pull for the real run; tell the Cops that the Straylight people were letting us use their yard for another shoot, which we needed for arcane reasons only clear to film snobs. We were gathered at the launch point, which corresponded to our entry point to the Straylight compound. Ginny had a clipboard with Meg’s notes about how the Corsair worked, as best she understood. Ginny’s job was just to get the system booted up and prep the jets for when the Undercarriage team gave the Okay. She could telepathically communicate with Megan in case she needed some technical assistance. God help us all if she needed Eddie’s help. He’s come a long way, but the Meathead is still strong with that one. The Undercarriage Team all had my technical notes for the ionic thrust units, and Suzy didn’t have a male ego, coming or going, to keep her from calling me. On the Gate Team, Megan had a pretty good technical breakdown of how the locking mechanism worked, and Mack had drawn out a description of the gate’s strong and weak points. Billy and I had our handless communications rigs on, and we were packing some nice low-light rigged binoculars, and Marly had clued me in to some blind spots that had given her some problems.
If nothing else, the First String teams understood their jobs more clearly for explaining it all to the Scrubs.
With Brigand looking at a stopwatch, we made tracks for our appointed targets. Even with the booby-traps and position blockers put on Ginny and Marly’s favored vantage points, between Billy’s tentacles and my power-jumping, we still shaved two solid minutes off their best time. “Sorry, Ed, Ginny, but we hadda take out two sensor pods. I know you’re supposed to go straight to the Co- target, but you’re closest and you’ve got some time before Stage Two kicks in. Go to the Office- straight ahead 10 yards, hang a right- and pull the wiring from the window on the right of the door. Cool, you’re on course, guys. Hold it! You got a roamer coming up on your North-North-East. Good move guys… hold that… he doesn’t see you… he’s moving on… aaaannnddd… GO! You’re right there… nobody in the office at the moment… oh, good one, Ginger! Okay, back on schedule, go to the left three lanes, hang a right, and you’ll be back on track.
“Suze, how’s the lube job coming along? Yeah, well you should’a seen the paste-bomb he sicced on the Squid. Now that was fun- oh crap, unforeseen complication, I’ll get back to you.
“Megan, forget trying to stealth the lock. Let Rae take care of that when the time comes. Hustle on over to Target One, Tough Grader just played something on Ed and Ginny, and Ginny’s freaking. You’re gonna have to crank her up after all.
“Mack, howcome the Ruckus isn’t rucking? Oh. Yeah, Teach played a nasty trick on Target One, and Ginny’s freaking, so Marly’s probably riffing off that.
“What? Right, go see what you can do, Squid.
“Oh, there was a trap on Target Three, and Rae was handling it alone. Squid’s gone to- hold on, Boss, we got something going with Target Two. Let me get back to you-
“Target Two! Suzy? Chris? Roxie? C’mon, somebody squawk back!
“Hey, Mack! There’s- What?” I swung the binoculars over to the Conveyor’s main panel, which was where Mack and Marly should be. I could just barely make out a glowing blue ball, which given the size context of the panel, was just small enough to be Mack all curled up, but way too small to be anything even vaguely comfortable. Then I spotted Marly. She was clearly wigging out, and trying to pry open the ball, and having exactly bupkiss for results
“Squid? We are squarely in the Clusterfuck segment of our program. When you pry Rae out of that whatever it is, send her to back up Mack at Target Four. Squid? Squid, squawk back! Billy?”
Crap! I know this is supposed to be the Clusterfuck run, but I hate it when things run off the rails all at once. Here’s hoping that it’s just that ‘dammit, you’re supposed to take this seriously!’ slap in the chops that slightly sadistic drill instructors love to pull. I did a power leap from my vantage point to a nearby stack of gear, double hopped in Mack’s general direction, but then I spotted Billy. He was mixing it up with a crew of five of Brigand’s men. But they weren’t in the clearly visible ‘I’m doing the rounds’ duds. No, they were in a very effective combination of stealth grays and body armor. One of them nailed Billy in the face with pepper spray or whatever, and while he was reacting to that, another one got him with a hand shocker. He went down, they slipped a sack over his head, and the Squid was calamari.
“All Teams, All Teams, pick up- THIS IS NOT A DRILL, something has gone SERIOUSLY wrong, for reals! Is anyone out there? Suzy, Eddy, Roxie, Chris, Ginny- ANYBODY, squawk back!” Nada. Okay, they’re expecting me to go and try and break Mack out. But Rachel’s the better option. She has super-strength AND energy attacks, plus anything else that she hasn’t figured out yet. She’s already at the gate, so after I free her, we’ll bust out the gate, and they’ll expect us to run off as quickly as we can. Then we circle around to Entry Point Four, hop over the wall and see what’s going on with Eddy and Ginny. If they’re up to doing anything, we’ll see about helping Mack and Marly. If not-
Well, we’ll improvise. That the best I can come up with right now.
But as I was jumping along the tops of the obstacle gear, I almost got jumped by a group of very well-coordinated guys in Brigand-minion armor working a big capture net for everything it was worth. I sliced through the net and belted for Rachel with everything that I had, when I felt a Clue-Bat bop me on the head. That weird sense that nags at me every so often clued me in that I was being herded via reverse psychology toward Rachel. They had her trapped somehow.
Either Brigand has sprung that ‘we’ll never see it coming’ backstab on us, or someone who’s as sneaky as Brigand is has turned this around on us. And I don’t know which is scarier. Okay, assume that everything even vaguely easy is covered or boobytrapped so bad that Lara Croft couldn’t get past it with infinite lives. So, I’ll go to the toughest segment of the wall, and CUT my way out. As I hopped, skipped and jumped in that direction, I seriously considered using that weird ‘falling’ thing that had saved my bacon back at the Country Club mall in Sacramento.
If only I knew how that worked.
I really should have known better than to try and figure out how to pull that off on the fly. Just as I landed within jumping distance of that stretch of wall, and was warming up one of my destructo-blasts, I felt my foot catch on something that felt way too much like a tripwire for comfort. Bursts of light and booms of sound erupted and as I reacted to that, someone came right past my guard into my too-close to cope with space and started pounding the hell out of me. I tried to jump out of his area, but he grabbed my ankle and turned the power of my jump into slamming me down into the hard-packed dirt. Reeling from this, I looked up and I just barely managed to focus on the guy who sandbagged me.
Shit. Rachel was right. It was Brigand. And we never saw it coming.