Diamonds are a Vamp's Best Friend (Part 4)
A Whateley Academy Tale
Diamonds Are a Vamp's Best Friend
by Bek D. Corbin
7:41 AM Tuesday, April 10th, 2007
The service van pulled up along West 71st Street. It wasn’t easy; already there were three TV news vans parked outside their target, and the early morning pedestrians were giving those crews nasty looks. The Team Leader made sure that the company patches were securely glued-on, and that the paperwork looked right. “It doesn’t matter if it won’t stand up to a real examination,” he said, half to himself, “all it has to do is get us past the News vans and in the door. STRONGARM! Once we’re in, what do you do?”
"Take out the most obvious threats ASAP,” the big man grunted.
"JACK! What do you do?”
"I get you to the Security Panel. Once it’s open, I block the robot dogs’ hatches with the toolkits. Then I zoom around, find him,” he held up a picture of Emilio Hernandez, the Diaboliks’ security head and man-of-all-work. “I take him out quick. Then I find the cook and the nanny, and I bring ‘em to you.”
"GOONS! What do you do?”
"We take the guns out of the toolboxes and hold them on everyone,” the goon squad leader droned, more than a little peeved at having him and his team dismissed as ‘goons’. “When Jack brings you the old broads, we hold guns on them and keep anyone who tries to get ‘em away from doing that.”
"AND?” the Team Leader looked intently into the goon squad leader’s eyes.
"No funny stuff with the young chicks; they’re more dangerous than they look.”
"Very good. What is Priority A?”
"You go down into the basement and get that jewel that the Sunday papers were all full of.” They answered with the bored unison of men who’ve heard it before- over and over and over…
"Right! What’s Priority B?”
"Grab the Princess chick,” they answered in the same weary chorus. “There are two of them that look exactly the same, so grab both of ‘em. They both regenerate, so don’t worry about hurting them. Put them both in the special restraints, don’t take the tall chick or the short one with the really long hair.”
"Right! What’s Priority C?”
"Grab anything that looks valuable or really high tech, stash it in the toolboxes.”
"What’s the time frame we have to do all this in?”
"Five minutes,” they all droned. “Anyone who isn’t at the rally point at the end of the five minutes gets left behind.”
“By the way- does that include you?” Strongarm asked wryly.
“GET me there,” the leader hissed. Clutching his fist before him, he snarled, “NOW it all begins! TODAY begins my unstoppable march to GREATNESS! Today, I show the vaunted Dr. Diabolik and Gizmatic what a REAL villain can do! Today, all the world will know the name Doctor Insidious!”
"Ah, great Boss, really great,” said the Goon Leader. “But before we do that, can we, like, get some coffee? I mean, it isn’t even Eight o’clock yet!”
“Of course not!” ‘Dr. Insidious’ exulted, “That’s the genius of this plan! It’s early, and they haven’t had their coffee or breakfasts yet! They’re still half-asleep!”
"Yeah, super, groovy, cool,” Strongarm said with a flat disinterested voice, “Can we get this thing going already? I got a 10 o’clock appointment and I wanna have a decent breakfast before I go there.”
"Very well!” ‘Dr. Insidious’ agreed. “First, let me check the Police bands…” he pulled out a police band scanner and tried to listen in for a few minutes. “BLAST! That stupid disruption on the lower part of the island is kicking up again! That’s all that they’re talking about! Very well, we’ll have to risk it. Men! On to GLORY!”
"Yer a real father to yer men,” Jack B Quick grumbled.
But the crew didn’t charge out of the van. Rather, they all climbed out, and started arranging gear. Some they picked up the old-fashioned way, but some they loaded onto stretcher-like carriers and lugged across the street to the Diabolik townhouse. Their passage was barely noted by the various newshawks or entourages. They climbed the stoop and rang the bell. There was a brief pause, and a teenage girl with white hair and the bleary eyes and sour expression of someone’s who isn’t entirely awake, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe and fuzzy slippers opened the door. “Ah, Good Morning!” Dr. Insidious said with the bright cheery ‘morning person’ friendliness that was sure to rub any slow riser the wrong way. “We’re from the-”
"C’mon in,” Jadis grumbled, opening the door. As the crew filed in with the gear, Jadis yelled out, “MAL!”
Then a boy that Dr. Insidious recognized as Malachi Diabolik, the younger of the two siblings, came into the foyer completely dressed, accompanied by a remarkably attractive African ethnic girl and two slightly larger boys, all three about Malachi’s age.
"Ah, hello!” Dr. Insidious greeted them, “You must be Malachi Diabolik. We’re-”
"They’re a bunch of third-tier supervillains and a handful of fifth-tier henchmen, hoping to break into the place while we’re still just waking up,” Jadis cut him off. “The leader's some sort of electricity projector with a grab-bag of gadgets, the big guy is a cyborg with a massively reinforced right arm, and that one's some sort of speedster. The rest are goons. Mal, you and your guys handle this. Me, I’m gonna go get some coffee.” She staggered off, muttering about it being too damn early in the morning for this kind of crap.
There was a very tense, awkward moment as Malachi and Dr. Insidious and their respective crews stood there, looking at each other. Then there was a ‘fastest draw in the West’ moment as both Techno-Devil and Dr. Insidious went for weapons. Dr. Insidious drew something that was several different disparate pieces, but pulled together into a nasty-looking weapon. Malachi pulled out-
-a cell phone.
Dr. Insidious paused, confused at the sight, but Mal pushed a macro button on the phone and several very heavy nets dropped from the ceiling of the foyer onto the assembled villains. While the weight of the nets bore Jack and the Goons to the floor, it barely even hampered Strongarm, and Dr. Insidious threw the steel netting off himself with a blaze of electricity.
“INSIPID CODDLED WHELP!” Dr. Insidious roared as he burned his repairman’s outfit off himself, revealing his- ah, what’s the word? What did he request? Ah, here it is: Glory… glory?- his glory in his green bodysuit with purple buccaneer boots, gauntlets, and flowing cape with the requisite high sinister collar, a green hood, all trimmed with a gold metallic skull mask with lightning bolts extending back from the ears, gold-plated breastplate, bracers, and a matching ‘utility belt’ of various gizmos. “Know that now you face the ruthless power of… DOCTOR INSIDIOUS!”
"Ah, you DO realize that before all they really had was the say-so of that chick? But now you’ve given them cause to do anything to us this side of gelding us,” Strongarm pointed out.
"Excuse me?” Jobe interrupted from the doorway to the dining room, “’Doctor’ Insidious? Exactly where did you get your doctorate? Bogus State College? And what did you study? Advanced Cliché Studies? Theoretical Brain Damage? Applied Lameness?”
"He probably got his degree from the very finest, most prestigious box of Crackerjacks,” Belphy sneered.
"Stay out of this,” Malachi squawked (he was trying for a roar, but his vocal chords weren’t there yet), “He’s MI-er, OURS!”
"He’s SO masterful,” Freight Train faux-gushed, miming a quickly beating heart.
Strongarm wasn’t quite sure what to do. His orders were to take out the biggest threat, but the most obvious threat was the strapping busty black chick with white hair, but she wasn’t doing anything. And he had no idea as to what the black- er, African-American chick or the two other guys could do. Well, when orders fall through, fall back on common sense. Strongarm pulled the netting off Jack and the goons, and Jack zipped off. A split-second later, and Charger was hot on his heels.
"HEY!” Dr. Insidious yelled after Jack, “You were supposed to get ME to the Security Panel!”
"Way to observe off-air security, Boss,” Strongarm muttered.
"BLAST!” Dr. Insidious lurched past Mal and grabbed Erzili, pulling her in front of him, one of her arms twisted behind her back. “No one move, or the girl gets it!”
"You don’t have the nards,” Jadis sneered from where she was leaning against a doorway, sipping her morning coffee.
"I agree,” Belphy said around a mouthful of croissant. “All talk; no mayhem.”
"I think he’s going to cry,” Freight Train mocked.
"You shouldn’t try me!” Dr. I snarled and let off a big sparking jolt. Sapper soaked it up, and after a telling pause let out a scream.
"I DARE you to do that again,” Jobe challenged.
Dr. Insidious gave her an even bigger jolt, which Sapper didn’t even bother to pretend hurt. Obviously confused, even through the tacky mask, Dr. I gave her another surge of electricity. She just gave him a bland smirk. He gave her another, even bigger shock.
Sapper grabbed him by the high sinister collar and, her strength amplified by the electricity, threw him out of the foyer into the breakfast nook. Finally seeing something he could reasonably identify as a threat (he got paid extra if he neutralized a real threat; it was in his contract) Strongarm reached over and grabbed Sapper by the neck. But before he could retract his arm, Buzz latched onto it and sent a powerful vibration into the metal. One thing that most people don’t realize is that cyborgs don’t handle intense vibration very well. Inanimate solids transmit vibrations far better than liquids (and living tissue is mostly water), and that differentiation hits cyborgs where they’re tenderest: where the metal meets the meat.
Strongarm reacted to that by retracting his arm. Sapper reversed the grip and used the retraction to throw him against a wall.
Jadis watched one of the ‘goons’ sneak away from the fracas with far more interest than she did the actual fight.
Then Jack B Quick came tumbling down the stairs. His blue-and-yellow supersuit looked like he’d broken open a cartridge of printer toner. Charger came carefully down the stairs after him. (speedsters hate stairs). The Goons were trying to get their guns out of the boxes, but the lids were stuck and wouldn’t open. But Criminal Masterminds are always prepared! Dr. Insidious took six components and connected them around his left hand. As he did that, Freight Train wandered over and watched with bland curiosity. Dr. I charged the device up and it whirled around his hand. But before the Catastronic Vortexinator could achieve critical rotation, Freight Train caught it and carefully removed it from his arm. She looked at it and asked, ‘What is it?” She tossed it to Belphoebe.
Belphy gave the weapon a disinterested once-over. “Some manner of ionic differential-based whirlwind generator. I’ll bet this was State of the Art- during the Reagan Administration.” Belphy adjusted a few components, and a whirlwind erupted out of it that lifted Jack and his goons off their feet and threw them around the foyer.
"HEY!” Charger yelped as he grabbed a banister to anchor himself, “WATCH THAT!”
Belphy watched the vortex-generator operate critically. “Maybe I could part it out for something useful…” she mused. Then something caught, and the whirling gizmo ground to a painful halt. “Or Not…”
"Hey! I paid- er, your feeble efforts to stop me are FUTILE!”
"Oh, we’re not stopping you,” Jobe said. “They’re stopping you,” she pointed at where Charger and Buzz were mopping up the place with Jack B Quick and the goons. “We’re just trying to stay interested.”
"Let’s see how interested you are in THIS!” Dr. Insidious assembled something that resembled a crystalline spike surrounded by four jagged ailerons. He feverishly pumped power into the device, but just as it appeared to be charged, and was beginning to vibrate, Jadis gestured and strands of purple, pale blue, and black energy streamed out of her hand. The strands wrapped around the device, and Jadis yanked it from his grasp. “Here,” she tossed the gizmo to Belphy and trudged off with muzzy unconcern.
Belphy looked the dingus over as Freight Train kept Dr. Insidious at arm’s length- literally, with her palm in his face as she leaned against the wall. Belphy turned it around and finally said, “It’s a rather shoddy multi-crystal heterodynamic vibration generator with acoustic tunneling vanes. Basically it’s a… mediocre attempt at a Sonic weapon.” The other drows, Jobe included, reacted with visceral reflexive hisses of pure hatred. Angie pulled the weapon from Belphy’s hand, threw it to the ground and smashed it to pieces as the others hissed at it. “I could have parted that out…”
Seeing his masterfully-laid plan going catastrophically awry, Dr. Insidious played his Ultimate Weapon! Moving with the speed of lightning, he drew, assembled and deployed his true Ace-in-the-Hole! “BEHOLD! My-”
A long grappler that resembled a plastic octopus on a leash lashed out of Belphoebe’s hand, and she languidly yanked the weapon out of Insidious’ hand. “hmmm…” she said, examining it. “Third-rate knockoff of the GizSlaughter. Crap!” she negligently tossed it over her shoulder.
Seeing his ace-in-the-hole trumped, Insidious played his ultimate hole card! Rushing over to the Goons, he pushed the boxes aside and stepped onto the ‘stretcher’. The ‘stretcher’ was actually his Sky Chariot! Powering up the flying rig, Dr. Insidious kicked the minion who was trying to climb up off, and dashed for the window! As he crashed through the window, the Diabolik boy yelped, “HEY! We just fixed that!”
"You know, he’s just going to leave you here,” Bova commented to Strongarm.
"So what? He paid up front. Hey, can I use a phone? I have an appointment at 10, and if I don’t cancel, he’ll bill me whether I show up or not.”
Down in the basement, the sole female ‘goon’ carefully made her way to the vault. Okay, this time she didn’t have to worry about alarms- that idiot ‘Dr. Sinister’ had set off every alarm in the place. She went to the vault and pulled out her prepared ‘pocket safecracker’. First, she carefully examined the interface to see if the person in charge of their security had laid down any sucker-bait. Then she carefully searched every inch of the vault foyer, and was about to open the vault-
-when she heard a slurp behind her.
The Intruder spun around to face Jadis Diabolik as she was calmly in mid-sip of her coffee. Jadis swallowed and said, “Don’t mind me. I’m still waking up.” She took another sip without worry.
"No, you don’t!” the Intruder quibbled, “You have an implant that augments your intelligence, which would mean that you’re instantly awake and alert the second you wake up!”
Jadis looked annoyed. “What? Another informed and aware housebreaker? Is this gonna be a thing? Am I gonna have to put up with competent people giving me grief all week?” Then Jadis peered at the Intruder. “Wait a minute… you’re the woman who broke in last night with the Nightdork twins. Do you know how long it took to air out the house after you set off that aerosol?”
The intruder lunged at Jadis. Jadis immediately retaliated by throwing her coffee in the woman’s face, but that didn’t even slow her down. The burglar didn’t try to overcome Jadis; she just did a vaulting leap over the girl’s head. Jadis nailed her coming down with a spinning leg sweep, but the burglar quickly recovered and slapped a spell slip on Jadis’ forehead. Jadis quickly tore the slip off and snarled, “What? Are they selling these at Walgreen’s, ten for a buck?”
As Jadis wasted time turning around, the burglar dropped a smoke bomb and did a high vaulting leap that got her to the stairwell.
One look at me, and you can tell that I’m a natural-born creature of the night. I loathe early morning hours. So please, God, tell me, WHY I am cursed with people who insist on getting me up in time to get to class, when there are NO CLASSES?
Despite screamed demands to ‘shut the fuck UP!’, people downstairs insisted on making enough noise to- well, let’s not got there. So, finally, I dragged myself out of bed- yes, bed, coffins are for posers- wrapped myself in my dressing gown and proceeded downstairs in a militant yet ladylike manner. As I marched down the stairs, the tenor of the ruckus changed, but what the hell, I’m up, awake and pissed, and God help the poor doink I run into.
When I came down the stairs, Jobe and her girl group were kicking back watching Mal and his flunkies mix it up with a guy in a shmutzed-up blue-and-yellow supersuit that looked like he got it from one of those ‘Yes, we can make a superhero out of YOU!’ websites. Mal had his ‘Techno-Devil’ trident out, and was trying to keep the Fashion Failure from getting away while Buzz and Charge were maneuvering to get him in the bag. Blueboy was still at large- such as he was- ‘cause the boys weren’t really that good at coordinating, and they were tripping each other up. Erzili was sitting on top of this big guy in a superbad suit with an over-built bionic arm that she had leveraged behind his back. There were a bunch of guys in what looked like repairmen’s outfits sitting on the floor with their hands on their heads, as a bunch of- what did Mal call them again? Those stupid robot faux-dog things, that look like over-sized toasters with bear traps welded to one end? Oh, right- REX units standing guard over them, growling and gnashing their bear traps.
The drow were, as I said, just kicking back watching this, and making little comments that suggested that they were betting on the outcome, using points, quatloos, or some other esoteric unit of wagering. Is it crass of me to hope that it’s orgasms?
Looking around, I was suddenly seized by an overwhelming urge, an uncontrollable thirst for, sweet, hot, thick, delicious-
What? I just got up, what did you think I was hankering for?
Realizing that Mal would never forgive me if I got in the way of this- boys can be so unreasonable about that kind of thing, thank you Mother Mary, that I personally don’t have to keep it up anymore- I shuffled through the melee and past the drow into the dining room, where I availed myself of the carafe of the ebon elixir. I tasted it, and while I’m not coffee snob enough to identify specific varieties, it was, thank you Jesus, coffee.
With a cup of the elixir vitae in my hand, I wandered over to where the drow were watching and asked, “So?”
"Short form:” Bova said with a sip of her own java, “Over-ambitious idiots, harebrained scheme, poor execution, Jadis can’t be bothered, Mal’s team handling it, bottom-rung speedster being awkward.”
I took a breath and was about to offer the opening bid in a betting pool, when the Dunderbolt in blue-and-yellow Dacron blundered into me, spilling my coffee all over my dressing gown. Losing the coffee and the mild burn both would have been outrage enough, BUT- “THIS… is… SILK!” I thundered, grabbing ‘Jack B Stupid’ by his tacky outfit and dragging him up off his frantically milling feet, “Do You… Have ANY IDEA… How HARD it is to get coffee stains… out of SILK?” By this time, my fangs were out, and my ruby-red eyes were raging pits of hellfire.
He gave out a squeak, there was the telltale whiff of ammonia, and I was about to do things that would have made Vlad Tepesh think twice. Then the door to the basement burst open and a woman in a workman’s uniform rushed out. She stopped, looked around, and pulled something from her toolbelt. It sort of exploded into a hail of teeny pellets that skittered around, somehow managing to get themselves under everyone’s feet with a diabol-er, fiendish intelligence. Everyone went down, but I put my Vamp-darkness up on sheer reflex. I come from a solidly Labor family, and I can tell that that woman is NOT a member of the IBEW. But first things first: while he was groping around in the dark (speedsters hate darkness), I took advantage of his lack of perambulation to undo the straps on his boots.
Then Jadis came pelting out of the same door as the ‘workwoman’, and she stopped dead and cussed. Okay, it took me a moment to realize that Jadis couldn’t see in my darkness. Well, that’s what you get for being so danged uber-competent all the time. I dropped my vamp-darkness, but the *ahem!* ‘working woman’ used the break to make it out the door. Or, rather, blow the door off its hinges with a grenade that knocked everyone off their feet. And right on her heels, Jerkoff Quick was out the door-without his shoes.
And then Jadis bolted through the basement door and yelled, “Stop her!”
"Because she’s the one who set off that gas grenade last night!”
“WHAT? I’m gonna have to have my best cashmere sweater dry-cleaned -again!- because of her!” With that shot of red-hot righteous fury propelling me on, I was out the door, hot on her heels-
-unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses, and I’m real sensitive to light (being an albino and all that), so even at Eight in the morning (or whatever), so I had to stop and cope. Which, all things considered, was probably a good thing. Jadis was charging after the bogus goonette, when she was cut off by a guy in a suit of white cermet power armor that had serious Dr. Octopus issues. Do not ask me where he came from; I didn’t see him coming, and not seeing a guy in white cermet power armor on a New York City street? Even this early in the morning, I’m not that oblivious. But Jadis managed to stop and seemed to recognize him. Big shock, she probably has a dossier on him somewhere.
But as Jadis was reacting to him, two more guys in white power armor popped out of… somewhere… one took to the air and shot a concentrated beam of coruscating (and here I thought I’d never use that word in a sentence, out of school!) light at her. The other aimed a big bullhorn at her and let out a screeching yodel that may not have been painful, but was definitely rattling.
While Jadis was reacting to that (and so were everyone else on the block) another power suit slipped out of whatever cover these guys were using, holding a big bat. But he didn’t do anything. The other power suit, who zoomed up on Acme® rocket skates or something, and body-checked Jadis right into the first guy. The octopus arms wrapped around Jadis, and you could hear metallic catches click into place. Then the guy with the bullhorn switched that out for some sort of sprayer. He hosed Jadis down, still inside the arms, with a thick syrupy red liquid. Then he did something with the sprayer, and he sprayed her with a thick syrupy blue liquid, and the guy with the flight rig beamed something down on both Jadis and the capture unit. The liquid bubbled furiously for a second, as two of the power suits quickly wrapped thick Kevlar (probably) belts around Jadis. Then the frothing stopped, the suds collapsed and it congealed into a purplish shrink wrap with Jadis inside. And it was all ‘biff- bing- bang- boom- snag- glop- fizz-done’.
"HEY!” Freight Train yelled as she marched out the door, “What the HELL do you assholes thing you’re doing?”
As one the guys in white crockery drew very large, very high caliber looking fully automatic firearms and aimed them at Angie. Not that Angie was intimidated in the least. “Stay Back! This is a Knights of Purity™ operation! Any interference will be met with Lethal Force!”
I heard Jobe begin to say something, and realizing that Jadis wasn’t there to SIT on her, I stepped in and stepped forward, cutting her Imperial PITA off. Putting on my most unthreatening mien and most cultured Boston Brahmine voice, I asked, “Excuse me, but are you absolutely certain of that? As I understand it, the Knights of Purity are a civilian security service. Do you really have a charter to do this?”
"Don’t try to bluff us! We HAVE a valid contract! Stay out of this!”
"Excuse me? But what kind of ‘Valid Contract’ gives you the right to attack unarmed minors, and threaten civilians with lethal force?” I riposted. Hey, someone’s gotta lawyer down these yoyos, and Jadis is kind of… tied up… at the moment.
"We were called by a resident of this street to deal with rampaging superpowered VILLAINS! That automatically calls for lethal force!”
I folded my arms against my chest and gave them my best ‘Aunt Doris’ look of withering disapproval. “So, you ignored the ‘Green Goblin’ poser who broke through the window and the speedster in the cheap supervillain costume, and concentrated all your manly efforts on a single teenage girl in her bathrobe?”
"She is a KNOWN supervillain!”
"No, her FATHER is a known supervillain,” I corrected him. “SHE has never been arrested for any such crimes, let alone there be open Wants or Warrants out for her.”
"You are OBSTRUCTING-” the leader started, trying to buffalo us into either attacking or letting them just walk off with Jadis.
"You can stop lawyering, Vamp,” Bova said suavely. “I have Mr. Dunmore, Jadis’ attorney, on the phone.”
“What?” the leader bleated with tones of worry. I think they had orders to not let Jadis start picking their actions apart, or to let her get in touch with her lawyer. From what I’ve heard about him, he’s expensive, but worth it.
But that wasn’t the worst of it for them. A limousine flying gaudy flags pulled up. “Oh, now you’re well and truly in for it,” Belphy said.
The limo stopped and Lorna Wilkins, Empress Consort of Karedona and GizMom stepped out, looking very chic. She paused for the Media cameras, and then stepped into the fray. “Excuse me,” she addressed the Knight’s leader, commander, whatever, “but are you having a sidewalk sale on cheap discard power armor?”
"MA’AM, stay OUT of this!” he said in loud, clear, but technically respectful tones.
"Oh, but she’s already involved in this!” I corrected him. “You see, this the Empress Consort of Karedonia, and mother of one, possibly two- have you and your Imperial husband decided on that, Missuz Wilkins?- of the girls that you were just threatening with grievous bodily harm.”
"WHAT?” the Empress trumpeted, “You threatened MY GIRLS?” She wrapped Jobe up in a protective maternal embrace. “That is SHOCKING! Absolutely scandalous! By the way, sweetie, what are you all doing out here on the sidewalk in your nighties?”
"Well, it’s sort of a Whateley tradition,” Jobe replied. “Spring into action, regardless of how you’re dressed, that sort of thing.”
"And where’s Jadis? Why isn’t she handling this?”
"She’s in THERE,” Bova answered, pointing at the featureless manikin that the Knight of Grabbiness was clutching. “Oh, and you lot had better have a solvent for that goop. Jadis is having trouble breathing. Yes, Mr. Dunmore,” she added into the cell phone she was holding, “No provision whatsoever, as I can tell, to ensure her breathing. Yes, I’d say clear and material negligence and disregard for the health and welfare of their prisoner. Well, as I understand it, at any rate.”
"Really!” GizMom growled, standing up into the Knight Commander’s personal space, paying absolutely no attention to either the power armor or the heavy MilSpec weaponry.
Then another limo pulled up, no flags or diplomatic plates, but clearly not worried about parking or traffic ordinances. The door opened and Mrs. Griffin, wearing an exquisitely tailored pinstripe office ensemble, stepped out. She paused and smiled for the Media cameras. “Aaannnddd… what’s going on?” And it was two Alpha cats yowling at each other time. As the Griffin and GizMom competed to show off exactly how much clout she had, and how badly she could maul the KoP legally and financially- only in the most decorous and gracious way possible, of course- it was less ‘would the KoP cart Jadis away?’ than ‘Who’d take the mask and brush of the KoP?’
As the Knights watched this with understandable horror, Bova sidled up to the powergoon with all the attached accessories, and found a spray bottle. She spritzed the glop covering Jadis’ face, waited a moment, and then pulled that section back, uncovering Jadis’ face. Jadis gusted out a big breath of stale and gasped back in fresh air. After some very loud and heavy breathing, she snarled, “When my lawyer gets through with you, you’ll be lucky to get contracts as Shopping Mall Guards!”
"Well on the upside,” Bova said, “at least you won’t have to be exfoliated soon! Whatever they’re using has real beauty mask potential!” she held up the gelatinous section that had covered Jadis’ face, and pointed out the film of dead skin cells, dirt and leftover makeup.
Sadly, it turned out that the Knights really were responding to a call from an irate neighbor. So Jadis had to settle for siccing the Empress on that obstreperous neighbor. She really does have a very nasty vindictive streak, that girl; I hear she gets it from her father.
The Knights managed to make something out of the fiasco, when Jack B. Stupid tried to sneak back and get his shoes. You see, while there are all kinds of speedsters, they tend to devolve into two basic types: the ones who don’t really run, but just use their feet as a sort of context; and the ones who are very, very careful about their tootsies. The former type doesn’t bother with the expense of custom-made, impact- absorbing, friction-shedding built-up shoes. The latter type, who does go to the bother and expense of those shoes, tend to be very particular about only running in those shoes. Unshielded jackhammer impact is murder on the metatarsals. So Jack B. Screwed had a lot invested in those super-sneakers. Well, the Knights would have made something out of it, if the news crews had been able to send in their footage. That router problem on the south side of the island was still kicking up problems.
About an hour later, after getting that goop out of her hair, Jadis came back down and got some late breakfast. The Empress and the Griffin (humph. Sounds like a paperback Regency romance novel) were still genteelly fencing back and forth over the day’s agenda. Jadis settled in, and was dividing her attention between stoking the furnace and keeping her position as the ‘undecided but deciding third party’. So, when the doorbell rang, she asked me to answer it. Going to the door, wearing a fetching little ensemble of a red leather blazer over black jeans and a black lace top, I remembered what had happened to Jadis the last time she just opened the door without looking. But the door monitor was tied into the Security system, which was still under repair. So, covering myself with the door, I opened it, peered around the edge and asked, “Yes?”
Someone kicked in the door, not with enough force to dislodge the door itself (Dr. Diabolik really does have very high standards about that sort of thing), but enough to send me flying back. But I spent over a hard year on the mean streets of Boston, and several very hard months at Whateley. My reflexes were sharp enough for me to roll with the blow and use the force to tumble back to my feet. I immediately called up my darkness field and yelled, “JADIS! CONTACT!”
A female figure (yes, I can see in my darkness, but I’m not too good with colors or details) charged in the door, yelling, “Ultramax! Secure the area! Tower! Guard the door! Powerjack! Take out the defenses! Splendor! Overwatch! Aurora! Take out the vampire! Nightchylde! Neutralize the darkness! Rubberboy! On Utility!” As she was yelling this, a more male figure with a shield zipped in and stopped dead. Just behind him, a more delicate female figure in a skirt ducked in the door and stepped off to the side. Another, slightly more robust female flew in and started casting around the room with tendrils of a different kind of darkness. And lastly, a stretcher elongated into the room and took the high ground near the roof.
Not that the chick who charged in first was just shouting orders. She came straight at me and started swinging. And not big sweeping swings, either. No, she had a good idea as to where I was, and tried a nasty set of herding strikes to try and set me up for a big punch. But Tolman-sensei showed me how to spot that kind of setup, so I ducked under that and grappled her. She had some sort of powerful force field going on, but please! Force fields are like canapes for me. I grabbed onto her, latched onto her force field and vamped off a nice little perk-me-up.
Then I heard Jadis yell, “VAMP! You’re Covered!” Y’see? That’s how Concise, Cryptic and Competent is supposed to work. Jadis knows that I know that that means that she and a few of the others are in place, and I’m supposed to drop the darkness. But Leader-chick here doesn’t. She was way too mouthy with her orders. Damn, it feels good to be one-up on the opposition.
I threw Leader-chick up into the air and let my darkness drop. Freight Train, Bova and Belphy were already spread out in the darkness, so they had the drop on the intruders. Belphy literally had the drop on the flying chick with a BFG. Jadis and Mal were in the doorway to the breakfast nook, and Mal had another BFG tracking the flying chick. Behind them, Erzili, Buzzer and Charger, were watching, looking for their cues. And behind them, Jobe, the Empress and Mrs. Griffin were looking in with puzzled expressions.
Freight Train jumped the guy with the shield, who was working a really busy ‘I worked in every bit of stuff from my favorite superheroes’ outfit, right up to a big-ass fake-Thor hammer, and got him in a choke hold. Bova did likewise with the stretcher. Belphy fired a band that wrapped itself around the flying chick’s neck. Apparently, Drow are very big on choke holds.
But the Leader-chick only had eyes for Jadis. “DIABOLIK!” she snarled and threw herself at Jadis, completely ignoring the fact that I’d just proven that I was a clear and present danger. Really! The NERVE of some people!
Jadis had not seen that coming, because her response to that was to just step into it. I think that she used a knee-jerk reflex to ‘Go Beastly’, and that ain’t an option at the moment. Ito-sensei is gonna give her holy hell about that when he hears about it. She recovered with those silver-black-and-blue streams of hers, but she didn’t have the combat reflex down. Leader-chick went in close and personal, and was throwing in a bunch of snap-and-crescent kicks into the mix with her punches. Mal was looking at her and her crew with a ‘Hah?’ expression and held back the others.
Just as I was about to blind-side the glitzy leader-chick to give Jadis some breathing room, there was a female voice at the door. “BRONZE! Dammit, Bronze, step down! All of you, STEP DOWN!”
At the door, but clearly separate from the action were four teenagers, a girl in a red-and-purple supersuit, a boy in a gray jumpsuit with a few strategic hard plates over that and white Ts on his chest and forehead, another boy in a black bodysuit with weird silver hardplate over various spots, and a blonde girl working a Tiger motif costume. Everyone else stopped in their tracks but Leader-chick, ‘Bronze’ I’m assuming (hey, she had a noticeable bronze metallic sheen all over, I’d say it was a good bet) took advantage of Jadis’ stepping down to sucker-punch Jadis, clocking her a good one upside the head with a crescent kick.
"BRONZE!” the tiger-chick snapped, marching into the room, ignoring the rest, “What do you think you’re DOING?”
"I’m securing the area!” Bronze said solidly, not yelling but holding her ground.
"We’re not supposed to ‘Secure the Area’!” Tiger-chick snarled into her face. “We’re supposed to walk up, knock on the door, explain the situation and wait to be let in! if you’d been LISTENING at the briefing, you’d KNOW that!”
"This is the DIABOLIK house!” Bronze answered back, “Do you honestly think they’d just open the door and let us in?” Then she glared at the other three kids, the ones who’d held back, and growled, “And WHY didn’t you follow orders and back us up?”
"Because you’re NOT the leader?” the tall kid in gray said, all matter-of-fact. “Besides, WE listened at the briefing, and charging in like that was a dumb idea.”
Jadis got up and said, “Tiger Girl?” She looked around, collected her cool and said, “Dare I presume that the posts on your website saying that Gryphon ‘graduating’ and you stepping up into the leadership role weren’t just PR?”
"Ah… yeah,” Tiger Girl said stiffly. “Sorry about this.”
"Okay, and what are the Cadet Crusaders DOING here? Besides committing Breaking & Entry, Felonious Assault, and Battery with a Superhuman Ability?” Jadis said the second part pointedly in Bronze’s direction.
"We are HERE to rescue the Empress of Karedonia and recover the stolen Karedonian Crown Jewels!” Bronze said, assuming a heroic pose. “Your reign of theft, treachery and terror is OVER, Diabolik!”
"Hah?” Jadis bleated. Then she leaned intently and said, “Repeat that.” Bronze did, though without the conviction or elan of her first time. Jadis watched her closely as she spoke, and then you could just see the penny drop. “MELODY? Melody HAVOC? Splendor, is this some kind of sick JOKE?”
"Honest, Jadis, I had nothing to do with it!” the red-and-purple chick said.
That started a spirited session of bickering between Jadis and Bronze, with Tiger Girl trying to get in a word edgewise. As they nattered at each other, I and the drow edged over to Malachi, who seemed to know what was going on. “Melody Havoc?” Bova prompted Mal.
Mal sighed and said, “Melody Havoc is the daughter of Dr. Miles Havoc, the investigative scientist, and Gloria Garland, the big noise Disaster Intervention Specialist at International Crisis. Both of her parents are, like, HUGE into ‘mens sano in en corpre sano’, ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ and being the very best at everything. When they weren’t toting Melody and her brothers and sisters around the globe on one big adventure or another, they’d park them at Westchester Montessori, where Jads and I went. Thing is, Mel and Jads get up each other’s nose like you wouldn’t believe, and they had this big rivalry to be the smartest girl in school, the best athlete, and the all-around ace. Mel beat Jadis hands-down at sports and being popular, but at everything else, it was a dead heat. It looks like Mel heard that Jadis got super powers, and simply HAD to get super powers of her own.”
"So, how did Melody react when she heard that Jadis was the daughter of Dr. Diabolik?”
“She jumped Jads on the street, wrestled her to the ground, and tried to get her arrested on general principles.” Strangely, Mal’s expression wasn’t one where he was remembering things that he found amusing.
At this point, Jadis broke off the bitch-fest and demanded, “And let’s get back to the real point: WHAT ARE YOU ALL DOING HERE IN MY HOUSE?”
"I’m afraid that that’s my doing,” Mrs. Griffin said graciously as she pushed through the crowd. “When I heard about the attacks on your house last night, I contacted the District Attorney, and he agreed to put the Cadet Crusaders on helping to protect the Amethyst and the rest of the crown jewels. After all, the sort of thieves willing to go after the jewels here would be beyond a normal police guard, and putting either someone from the Empire City Guard, or Sentinel or the Flying Squad would be too much, no? But the Cadets are just enough, and they could use to learn something about patience.”
"Not… in…. MY…. House…” Jadis grated out through clenched teeth. “PUT… the… stupid…. ROCK… somewhere…. Else!”
"That’s not your call, Diabolik,” Bronze said snottily.
"YES, it IS,” Jadis said getting up into Bronze’s face.
"ACTUALLY,” Mr. Hernandez, who’d understandably held back so far, “It’s MY call. As the head of security for this building, and the designated representative of Mr. J Parkinson Dunmore, Jadis and Malachi’s legal guardian, whether the sapphire stays here or is sent somewhere else is my call. But since I can’t tell Princess Jobe or her attendants to leave, this house is still a prime target for burglars and other home invaders. Removing the sapphire before it’s taken to Karedonia would complicate things, which is the last thing we need at this point.
"I’m sorry, Jadis, but annoying as it is, the best move is to keep the sapphire here.” Bronze shot a superior smirk of victory at Jadis. “BUT,” Hernandez turned to stare right into Bronze’s eyes, “on that note, this is MY place of responsibility. I have the final say- NOT YOU, MISS HAVOC,” he said in a tone that implied that he’d had problems with Bronze before. “By my understanding of your brief, you Cadets are at MY disposal. You are assisting ME, not the other way around.”
"Hey, if it’s going to be that big a hassle, why don’t I just stay out of it?” Bronze said, implying that she was too cool for this scene.
"FINALLY, you say something that I can agree with,” Jadis said through a shark-toothed grin.
"Excuse me?” cut in one of the cadets, the girl in the shades-of-pink skirt outfit. “Miss Diabolik? Your mind… it’s different. You’re not evil. What happened?”
"Oh, ah, for everyone else, this is Aurora,” Tiger Girl introduced her. She went on to explain that Aurora had literally been created to be a superhero from various genetic sequences by some company that was trying to create superheroes to order. She was literally designed, born and raised to be a psychic superhero. Aurora and Rubberboy had been part of a short-lived project called ‘Designer Heroes’. They were the only surviving members of the six-person team. Both Jobe and Belphy perked up with interest at that, though I think for very different reasons. And both Aurora and Rubberboy were very interested in Jobe and Belphy when Jadis introduced the Drow, for I’m guessing the same reasons as Belphy, and very different reasons than Jobe.
"But it was Bova who stepped up. “You’re a telepath, right?” she asked Aurora. Aurora paused, a puzzled expression crossed her face, and then she nodded. “What you sensed before was Jadis’ devil,” she explained in that weird way that you see at Whateley when two telepaths are talking. They say words, but you get the impression that a lot more information is going back and forth, and maybe that even that much talking is just being polite for the mind-deaf. She explained about that freaky devil-thing that Dr. Diabolik implanted in Jadis, and how it was down for the count for a few days. “It’s weird,” Bova summed up. “Almost every telepath at school swears up and down that Jadis is as evil as sin, but I’ve never known her to even try to take advantage of someone who wasn’t trying to do her the dirt. She even went out of her way to help me out of a fix that was killing me by inches. Then yesterday, some creep called Doc Cambion slapped something on her forehead, and now? Now, she reads as no more evil than someone who isn’t a complete doormat. She can’t use that devil-thing that she finds so useful, but at least being near her isn’t like sharing a lift with the Princess of Darkness.”
Jadis reacted with that look you see on people who’ve just been told that they have BO.
Bronze just gave a ‘yeah, RIGHT’ humph. “Look, since it’s clear that I’m not welcome in this dump, the best use of my time is to contact someone who’s an expert in Medieval Theology, and get an expert’s opinion on the clue.”
"The clue?” Tiger Girl groaned. “Are you still harping on about THAT?”
"Hey, Diabolik, you think you’re so smart,” Bronze smirked in her direction. “You know how twisted self-declared ‘evil geniuses’ think. Some nutjob called ‘Professor Puzzle’ is running around, stealing masterpiece works of metalsmithing and clockmaking. In Washington DC, he stole something called the ‘Caliph’s Sextant’ from the ‘Orient’ wing of the Smithsonian. In Philadelphia, he stole a dingus called ‘the Heretical Clock’ from the Franklin Institute. And yesterday, the Cadet Crusaders received a parchment that we think is the companion piece to one left in the Franklin Institute.” Bronze took a wad of papers from her utility belt (she had more pouches and straps than Jim Lee!) and unfolded them.
“Brooonnnze!” Tiger Girl groaned. “We don’t have time for this!”
But Jadis snatched the papers from Bronze’s hand, glanced at them and said, “Cellini’s Planetarium.”
That stopped everything.
"How do you get that?” Bronze said sharply, giving Jadis a suspicious look.
"Okay, the two pages for the Caliph’s Sextant are obvious. The ones for the Heretical Clock not so much. That leaves the diagram of the turtle and the reproduction of the Flammarion engraving, the classic woodblock print of the missionary penetrating the curtain of the sky.”
"Okay, obviously the woodblock print is the reference to the Planetarium,” Bronze allowed. “But how do you get Cellini from a dissection of a turtle?”
“It’s not a dissection;” Jadis answered with a superior smirk, “it’s a blue print! Benvenuto Cellini was a Renaissance era master craftsman and engineer, not quite famous enough to get his own ninja turtle, so he made his own. One of Cellini’s most famous- if trivial- works was a life-sized automaton of a turtle that you could wind up and it would walk down the table, carrying a small basket of toothpicks for dinner guests. A masterpiece of goldsmithing and metalwork, and a triumph of clockwork- for a party novelty. Ah well, conspicuous consumption, Di Medici style.
"The Cellini Planetarium was commissioned in Firenze sometime between 1535 and 1540- Cellini could be aggravatingly vague in his memoirs, when he wasn’t singing his own praises- and is an eccentric Pre-Copernican model of the solar system based on Aristotle’s theory of ‘crystal spheres’.”
"And what does THAT have to-”
Before Bronze could complete her kvetch, Jadis reached over to the end table, pulled one magazine out from the pile of magazines and newspapers and so on. She flipped expertly to one section and showed Bronze a glossy article on the Walker Museum. “The Walker’s holding an exhibit of Astrology-themed artworks. And to give Cellini his due, while he was a massive braggart, his Planetarium is in the very best standards of the Renaissance, a masterpiece of both beauty and contrivance.” Jadis gave Bronze an acidulous smirk and said, “There. You have someplace to go. So, GO.”
"What a happy coincidence,” Bronze said with an equally acidulous grin.
"BRONZE,” Tiger Girl said, folding her arms and giving it the ‘I’m in charge here, dammit’ juice, “You can’t go off on your own like that. Besides the fact that we’ve been ordered to guard the Princess’ Amethyst, if you go off on your own, you won’t be on Cadets business, so the Walker probably won’t even let you In, let alone let you guard the Planetarium.”
"The Walker Museum?” Mrs. Griffin wedged herself into the conversation. “As a matter of fact, the Walker is on our short list for possible photo shoot sites today. If we take the sapphire along, we can work it into the shoot, and we’ll have not only you, Jadis, and the drow, but the Cadet Crusaders there to protect it.”
"Why is she asking YOU?” Bronze gave Jadis a suspicious glare you could see through her Tac-visor.
"I put up the money for its immediate release,” Jadis said matter-of-factly. “So, until the Empire of Karedonia ponies up the money to cover that, the sapphire is mine, and I have the final say in what happens to it.”
"Really!” Jobe huffed, “What’s all the fuss about, Jads? You know that we’re good for it!”
"Says the girl who’s bumming a bunk in my spare bedroom,” Jadis droned back at her.
"Exactly HOW is this supposed to support the victims of supervillain violence?” I asked, looking around the ‘teaser’ lobby of the Walker museum, a large polished marble atrium with a grab bag sampler of the exhibits higher up in the museum.
"What’s the matter, Jadis?” Melody sneered back at me. “Hits a nerve?”
"It may come as a world-shattering shock, Mel, but not every conversation concerns- or includes- you,” I cooed back. Then I ignored her, which is of course, her idea of Hell on Earth, and turned to the Griffin. “Okay, exactly WHY are you shooting this at the Walker, why are the Drow involved, and far more importantly, why is my sapphire necessary?”
"YOUR sapphire?” Jobe asked with real ice in her voice.
"Until Emperor Daddy forks over for it, it’s MY rock,” I shot back.
"Jadis, this doesn’t directly affect Red Cape,” Mrs. Griffin explained, “This is really some preparatory back-scratching. The shoot is for an ad for the American Heritage Society, the one that got raided last Christmas, just before the big fuss with the Angel of Hell’s Kitchen hit? BUT, the ad will mention the Walker AND Red Cape, and it will keep the Drow in the public eye. Okay, working the sapphire into the shoot is going to be kind of a stretch, but we’re professionals; we’ll shoehorn it in somehow.”
"‘Professional WHAT?’ I silently asked myself. Bova let out a snerk. I may have to work on my mental security. I’m not used to telepaths being able to ‘hear’ me.
"We should be in the Exhibit Room, guarding the planetarium,” Bronze groused.
“Oh, definitely, Me-er Bronze,” I sneered, “Go ahead, just walk into a heavily-guarded closely-monitored room. It’s probably what Professor Puzzle wants you do to, probably set off some alarm so he can insert something during the phase interrupt cycle.”
"And what do YOU know about Professor Puzzle?”
“Professor Puzzle, real name still unknown, operating since 1993. Male (most likely), Caucasian (again, most likely). Age unknown; believed to between 5’8” and 5’11”- the hat he wears makes exact height uncertain; weight in the 170 to 190 range- that overcoat does the same for his weight. No known super-powers, but he has access to a wide and eclectic array of super-science gadgets. His specialty is the theft of Historical relics and objects d’art. His Modus Operandi is ‘Stage Magician’, with surprise and misdirection as his foremost tactic. No one has died on any of his sprees, but there’s been a good deal of collateral damage, and there have been a few injuries. His trademark is to send ‘jigsaw puzzle’ pieces to the Police, superheroes and a few amateur detectives, that somehow spell out what his target is. What? Professor Puzzle sent you pictures, Bronze? He didn’t think that you had the brains to figure out his jigsaw puzzles? WOW, if I was you, Bronze, I’d be insulted!”
Oh, I’d forgotten how much fun it is to score on Melody ‘It’s all about ME!’ Havoc.
“The only insult is the hypocrisy of the daughter of a mass murderer trying to camouflage her transparent complicity in the slaughter of thousands by making a production of collecting a few thousand dollars to buy bandaids for wounds that will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to heal!”
"Really, Mel, you shouldn’t feel so guilty about it!” I breezed back, “Your involvement in that terrible debacle in Indonesia was minimal! And the World Tribunal never found enough evidence to indict your mother. Well, not enough to convict, anyway.”
"That was a complete fabrication, a stinking LIE that the Indonesian Ministry of Health floated to try and squeeze a BRIBE out of International Crisis!” Bronze almost shrieked.
"Did _I_ say that it wasn’t?”
"The Indonesian Government, at least the officials who weren’t trying to glom onto a big payoff-”
"Both of them.”
"-gave my Dad the Eye of Lemuria to safeguard it! Leaving it in Jakarta would have been an invitation to civil war! Disaster!”
"Which sounds so much better than ‘smuggled a priceless unique antiquity out of the country, using an alleged research ship’,” I smiled serenely into her face. My only problem is that that bronze sheen keeps me from seeing Mel’s face go red and blotchy.
"It was a legitimate removal of a dangerous construct from an area that had already suffered the effects of a near-disaster!”
“That’s your story, and you’re sticking to it.” Okay, from the looks of the Drow, the Cadets, the Griffin and the photo crew, I could tell that I was edging dangerously into ‘provoking bitch’ territory, so I changed the subject. “So… ‘Bronze’… as I recall, your family has always been very big on the notion that you don’t need super powers to be heroic. If anything, they’ve always given the distinct impression that they regard having superhuman abilities as something of a cheat. How did they react when your mutant traits activated?”
“I’m not a mutant,” she said like it was an insult or something. But she was sharp and socially acute enough to pick up on how the Drow reacted to that. And more than a couple of the Cadets as well. Delicately stepping away from the whole ‘mutant’ aspect, she kept on, “I’m what’s called a ‘Batson Factor’, or ‘Origin’. During the ‘Lost Lemuria’ mess, that nutjob ‘Mind Priest’ kidnapped me-”
I snuck in with, “I’ve always wondered, Mel- WHY is it that your parents never get investigated by Family Services, what with the way they drag you kids into harm’s way as they do?”
"As I was SAYING, that psycho ‘Mind Priest’ used some of his allegedly ‘Lost Lemurian’ technology on me, supposedly to turn me into some kind of traditional ceremonial living bronze statue killing machine. He gave me an order to kill Mom, Dad and Harris, but I just kicked his ass for it.”
"And now you are trapped, TRAPPED! In a world made of cardboard, abandoned by your parents, once a promising paragon, now an OUTCAST!” I flung a forearm against my tortured brow, hamming it up for all I was worth.
"I can turn this OFF, y’know,” she grated through clenched teeth. “And I’m with the Cadets to perfect my control of my superior strength. I have to be careful, y’know, being able to lift 4 tons.”
"Yes, I know,” I assured her. “It was very difficult to learn how to lift SIX tons safely.”
"Of course, being able to stop a .50 caliber bullet does have its advantages,” she shot back.
"Poor thing, so delicate- I can stop a RPG myself. When I let one hit.”
Then a docent interrupted us by handing me a note. I excused myself and checked my DadPhone. And the WAA website reported that alumni Witchfire92 wanted an immediate meet, and was waiting for me in the cafeteria of the Walker. “Excuse me,” I said to the room, “carry on with your feng shui, or whatever it is you’re doing.”
I walked slowly to the cafeteria, taking as much time as I could to go over the WAA file on ‘Witchfire92’. It was pretty bare-bones: Mystic Arts Program, graduated with the Class of 1992, went to Waterhouse University here in NYC, graduated in 1998 with a degree in Cultural Anthropology and a MBA. And after that, it listed something about ‘Broker in Objets d’Vertu’, and ‘Investments Mediator’. Now normally, ‘Broker in Objets d’Vertu’ could just mean that she buys and sells upscale knickknacks, like Faberge eggs or netsuke or like that. But she’s a mystically talented mutant who graduated from the Mystic Arts Program at Whateley; suddenly ‘objets d’vertu’ takes on a much more sinister tone.
When I got to the cafeteria, a woman spotted me and waved me over. When I got to her table, my first impression was that she was one of those women who start off cocktail party conversation with, ‘Yes, I did some modeling- in college’. She was tall, trim, lithe, well-proportioned, well-dressed, and if I didn’t go to Whateley, I’d probably be intimidated as all hell by her.
She graciously waved me to take a chair, which I did. I gave her a ‘Well?’ smile. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Miss Diabolik,” she opened.
"Witchfire,” I responded, “normally, I’d show you the respect and consideration due a Whateley alumna. BUT I have every reason to suspect that a precious gem that I have multiple vested interests in has been finessed to this location with malice aforethought. And even if its presence here is not the result of a cunning plot, then this place is still a witches’ cauldron of chaotic potentials, beginning with an undertrained crew of superhero wannabees and finishing with a smart aleck supervillain with a reputation for pulling the unexpected. Given all that, can we cut through the pleasantries and get to the point?”
Witchfire flashed me a miffed look, but saw my point and got to her pitch. “Miss Diabolik, I am the Witch Queen.”
"And how do the various shades and hues and varieties of witches around the country feel about that?” I shot back.
"It’s an affectation, of course,” she admitted. “And one that’s ticked off some very nasty players at me over the years. I am a supervillain-”
"It does ring a bell,” I said. Well, ‘fuzzy memory’ is far more charitable than ‘you’re too minor league for me to have a full dossier on’. “Supervillain, you run a crew of guys you style as your ‘Witch Knights’, complete with chivalric armor. You mostly focus on robbery, with a specialty in what you refer to as ‘objets d’vertu’, or small precious objects that may or may not have some magical virtue, though there is some speculation that you might also be involved in some Insurance Fraud, some Stock Manipulation, and a scam where you plant a minor goblin or other noxious spirit in a business, and put the squeeze on the owners to get rid of it.”
She smirked and admitted, “I mostly do the robberies to keep the Authorities thinking that I’m a supervillain, and not wondering about the Insurance Fraud, Stock Manipulation or the Ghostbuster hustle, which is where most of my money comes from. Running a crew of ‘Witch Knights’ isn’t cheap. And since you’re so insistent on getting to the point: that gem that you’re so worried about happens to belong to ME. And I want it back.”
"And I’m supposed to hand it over, just like that?”
She proceeded to describe the gem in very technical detail, describing the precise weight of the stone in milligrams, the length and breadth and thickness in millimeters, the exact angles of the spinel points, the specific coloration of the stone, and the flaws in the crystal. She then told me which workstation the stone had been found on, at Tiffany’s.
Okay, either the ‘amethyst’ IS her property, or she knows a LOT more about that thing than I do. The first possibility is simply awkward; the second is downright frightening. “Miss Diabolik, I’m talking to you this way out of respect for your father, and out of consideration for the reputation that your house, your guests and you have gained recently. I don’t want to give you or yours trouble. But I tell you in complete honesty that all that stone is, is trouble. It’s the kind of trouble that only gets more troublesome when you go looking for help. But it’s the kind of trouble that I know how to handle. I don’t expect you to just hand it over. I’m just letting you know that when the trouble gets too thick, you DO have an option: just contact me through the WAA, and I’ll take the stone and let the troublemakers know that the stone has passed on to me.”
I gave her a long measuring look. “There are problems with that… Princess Jobe has taken a shine to the rock.”
She shrugged. “So, switch out the real sapphire for one of the decoys; it’s not like she’s memorized the flaws.”
I gave her a pained smile. “It’s not that simple: Jobe has almost no natural inclination for precious gems. There’s every sign that it’s an unnatural infatuation focused directly through the stone somehow.”
The Witch Queen’s face curdled. “Ashtaroth. That would explain why my moonlighting jeweler forgot the damned thing on his desk in the first place.”
"The wiseass in red you got into that farcical fight at the disco with. My men were the ones you ran into in the alley. They were trying to nail him and his minions, but you ran into them first. He’s a very rapacious criminal mystic, the sort who regards the Code of the Honorable Outlaw as ‘bourgeois’.”
"Even the bit about not cribbing someone else’s game?”
“Especially the bit about not cribbing someone else’s game. If anything, he seems to regard snatching someone else’s prize out from under them as particularly sporting.”
Eeewww… THAT kind. And that sort of ratsass doesn’t tend to have a sense of humor about losing. Ironically- no, hypocritically- they tend to get very pissy when anyone crosses them. “To be honest, Your Highness, if it was up to me, I’d hand the jewel back over to you, and regard the 80 thousand I’d lose as a fair trade for the peace and quiet. But there are three problems with that:
"First, Jobe’s mother has decided, and worse, stated that the Amethyst is going to be the centerpiece of the Karedonian Crown Jewels. That complicates things well beyond the cost of a Tiffany’s gift certificate. The only reason that I don’t spell out for you how badly it complicates things is that it would take too long and still only scratch the surface.
"Second, Ashtaroth has sunk his claws into Jobe. We’ve got to take care of that before Mr. Red figures exactly what he’s latched onto. And since this went down on my watch, I need to be the one to make sure that he gets declawed.
"Third, my house has become the object of repeated invasions. If I just give away the Amethyst like that, it would be taken as a sign of weakness on both sides of the Law. You’re not just a supervillain; you lead a crime organization- a small crime organization, but still an organization. You tell ME: what happens to people in our position when word gets out that you’re weak?
The Witch Queen maintained her regal poise, but I could still my point hit home. “So, the crux of all this is Ashtaroth… If he’s neutralized, how will Princess Jobe feel about the Amethyst?”
"Normally, Jobe only interest in a ruby is how well it can tune a laser,” I answered. “That’s how I knew her infatuation with the stone was bogus.”
"So, if her normal indifference is restored, then the Princess won’t care about the gem one way or another…”
"Sorry,” I cut her off. “But Jobe is of the ‘Whim of Iron’ school of royalty. On the other hand, once Ashtaroth’s influence is cut, I can simply swap out one of the decoys that Tiffany’s provided, and things sort out nicely: You get your rock, Jobe gets her crown, the Empress gets her sparkly stuff, the Griffin gets her 15 minutes of spotlight, Gizmatic gets his status symbol, Karedonia gets a point of national pride, the Jewelers of New York get to jockey for status, and I make sure that everyone in the Super community knows that I handed Ashtaroth his head on a platter.”
The Witch Queen smiled. “I agree, a lovely outcome: IF you can lay your hands on Ashtaroth. I’ve been trying to nail the scumbag for years.”
"Well then, you’d better decide how much that rock is worth to you,” I pointed out. “You know the Black Arts community in and around the Boroughs a lot better than I do. Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea to ask around how to contact the Magus or the Shadowmage… Tiger Girl knows Ironjack, who’s with Sentinel now…”
"I… wouldn’t…” the Witch Queen hedged. “If either of them laid eyes on the Sapphire, it could get very sticky… And for supposed ‘Heroes’, they have some very odd notions about private property…”
"Interesting…” I was about to see what I could leverage that into, when alarms went off. It could be nothing. It could have nothing to do with either the Sapphire or Cellini’s Planetarium. But what are the odds of that? I was out of my chair, out of the cafeteria and down the hallway. I was almost at the chamber where the photo shoot was happening, when a pair of hands grabbed me and threw me against one of the walls. I bounced off the wall and was ready to hand someone their head, when I heard a voice say, “Diabolik?”
“Havoc?” I shot back seeing ‘Bronze’ standing there. “What’s your damage, Heather?” Yes, I watch ‘Gilmore Girls’. So sue me.
"Well, what do you want? This weird purple, black and blue… mess comes streaming down the hall… What did you think you were doing?” Oh poor thing… she saw my unfiltered power and got all a-scared.
"I was reacting to the ALARMS!” I snapped back, leaving ‘idiot’ unspoken but universally understood.
"Professor Puzzle is striking to take the Planetarium, just as I knew he would!”
"Oh, so you won’t need to consult an expert on Medieval Theology then?” I riposted.
"Powerjack, Splendor, Ultramax- you come with me, we’re using Gambit Red-7-32! Tower, Arby, Gambit Blue-3-12! Tiger Girl, Aurora, Gambit Green-4-01!”
The Cadet Crusaders all stood there, looking at Bronze blankly. “First of all, Bronze, you’re not in charge,” Tiger Girl gently reminded her. “Secondly, nobody’s read your stupid playbook! Third, nobody WANTS to read your stupid playbook! It’s 300 pages thick! Single spaced!” Bronze started to quibble, but Tiger Girl said, “Bronze, Puzzle’s been targeting you, so the smart thing is to not play his game. You stay down here with Diab- er, Jadis and her friend. Empress, Mrs. Griffin, I’m going to have to insist that you, the Princess and her ladies in waiting go to the Curator’s office for safety.” This was met with snickers from the Drow, but the Empress nodded. “Jadis, you, your friend and Bronze stay here with the sapphire. You’ve got a vested interest in keeping it here, and this way no one can accuse you of anything.” Okay, someone’s been reading ‘Common Sense Tactics for Superheroes’. “Pee-Jay, you fly Aurora up to the Astrology room. Rory, odds are that Puzzle’s already left that room. You search for any traces of him. Pee-Jay, you cover her. Ultramax, you cover the west stair landing; Splendor you fly up the west stairwell. Tower, Nightchylde, you do the same for the east stairwell. Arby, you and I will cover the elevators. Remember, if you see anything, anything at all, give a call-out, and only try to delay him until the rest of us get there. Guys, work WITH Security; they know this building better than we ever could, so let them do the search. Just cover them when they flush something out. And this is VERY important- DON’T BREAK ANYTHING!”
"But MY plan will-”
"BRONZE, we’d still be reading the fukkin’ book when the sun comes up tomorrow morning! Let’s GO!” With that, the Cadets broke and headed off, actually looking… Dear God! Efficient, for a change!
Bronze watched this with her arms folded, her shoulders hunched and her chin thrust forward in frustration. “My plan would-”
I know that I shouldn’t, we may need her later, but I couldn’t help it- “Completely encircle Paris, if you can come up with three more divisions, and some new roads to move them on?”
I doubt that Melody caught my reference to the Von Schlieffen Plan, but she knew that I was needling her. She grew more closed and hostile. Vamp picked up on this and tried to defuse the situation. “So, Jadis… What’s this exhibit supposed to be? I mean, it looks like an Appalachian garage sale.”
"Well, Alex, it’s an exhibit of the crafts and wares produced by various American Utopian movements, like the Shaker, the Quakers, the Mormons and so on. A lot of them supported themselves by crafts- the Shakers were famous for the furniture they made. You’ve heard of Oneida silverware? That was a product of the Oneida colony of the Perfectionist movement.”
“Jadis?” Vamp asked with a hushed, fearful voice, “Didn’t the Shakers die out due to-” <shudder> “celibacy?”
"Well, they put all their passion into their praying- and weaving and carving and like that.”
Vamp looked around at the exhibits, studying them and made a low measuring hum. “Yeah, I can see a certain passion, a dedication to making a really, really GOOD dinner fork…”
Melo- er, Bronze (gotta keep up that secret ID secret) had been doing a slow burn, froze when she heard a crash from the east. Then she snapped to and snarled at both of us, “YOU! Just stay there! Don’t do ANYTHING! You do anything, anything at ALL, and I’ll throw you inside for Obstruction and whatever else I can think of!” Then she ran off as quickly as that skin-tight outfit of hers would let her.
With an ingenuous look on her face, Vamp leaned over and asked, “Can she really do that?”
"The Cads have no real Police Powers,” I answered. “On the other hand, if I do anything, Bronze will probably whip up an elaborate scheme that I’m supposed to have hatched, and all of what’s happened will just be an intricate scheme to get inside the Walker.”
“Jadis, you’re not one of those people who hold a grudge because someone stole your Oreos at recess back in Second Grade, are you?”
"Fig Newtons. They were Fig Newtons.”
“Oh well! If they were Fig Newtons…”
So we stood there and listened to the unmistakable sound of priceless artifacts being used as improvised weaponry.
Listening to all that havoc- er, mayhem going on was like being backstage at a Warner Brothers’ cartoon. Half of me wanted to get in on the action. But the other half of me was painfully aware of the damages tab that the Cadets were running up. And I was blissfully secure in the knowledge that I had an iron-clad alibi backed up by the Walker’s own security cameras.
Then a figure out of a revisionist production of the Wizard of Oz appeared. He was a man in an out-dated suit that gave him the impression of being rather short and slight, but that may have been the deliberate impression of the top hat and bulky overcoat. He was dressed in mauve, that odd shade of grayish purple for the hat and overcoat and muzzle that covered the lower half of his face, and his gloves. Oh, and his spats. Well, I do have to admit that it was the sort of outfit that called for spats. The upper half of his face was covered by a bulky set of brass goggles. To be honest, he rather reminded me of the mascot for that exterminator company, the one where they have the statue on their trucks of the guy leaning over a thuggish looking rat, holding a big mallet behind his back? He was carrying a good-sized armored case in his left hand and a large retro-clunky gizmotronic zap-gun in his right. The Wizard of Oz comes in because he dropped down the stairwell right in front of our exhibit’s chamber in a large transparent bubble, ala Glinda the Good. I got the impression that the bubble was created by the gizmotronic gun.
The bubble ‘popped’ when he touched ground. He looked around, and seemed surprised when he spotted Jadis and me, er, I. We had one of those silent conversations where he asked us what was going on; we replied that we weren’t involved in the whole thing and happy to keep it that way. He recognized Jadis and assumed that I was somewhere in her league and didn’t want to start up with us. We responded that we were quite satisfied with that accord. He inquired as to whether the west staircase was tactically advisable. Jadis gave a blasé look that suggested otherward, and suggested another, less used stairwell as an alternative. The Professor (who else could it be?) gave a curt bow of thanks and tipped his hat to salute professional courtesy. All caught on camera and giving evidence of BUPKISS.
By the time the Professor got to the stairwell, a body of some five or six goons in matching mauve outfits with numbers on the back, breast and right shoulders had caught up with him. The professor latched onto a cable dropped from below and created another bubble with his gizmotronic zap gun. The cable swiftly drew them up, bubble and all.
"Hey, Bronze said if we did anything-”
"Anything at ALL,” Jadis agreed.
"And I’VE never seen Professor Puzzle-”
"For all we knew, he could have been an eccentric patron of the Arts.”
"New York is lousy with ‘em.”
We were well into our droll rationalization skit when a newly-familiar figure (and all the more ludicrous for it) stepped into the doorway, copped a pose, made sure that his purple cape was flowing, and aimed at us a cobbled-together agglomeration of components, modules and do-dads that only needed a rubber duck to be completely silly. “AT LAST!” he bellowed (no, he didn’t really bellow, he… what does fit here? Squeaked? Squawked? Bugled? Whinnied?) Gargled, I think, “Now my Master Plan is COMPLETE! Now I have both the fabled Imperial Karedonian Emerald-”
“Sapphire,” Jadis corrected him, “Emerald is variant of Beryl, and Sapphire is a variant of corundum and significantly softer.”
“And your point IS?”
Jadis just gestured, and her purple, blue and black streams lashed out, snagged onto one central module, and yanked it out the framework and into her hand. “That I’m getting better at this,” Jadis smugged. “Now, I’m not exactly sure what that thing is supposed to be. Or what THIS is,” she held up the dingbob. “But go ahead- PULL the trigger.” By this time, her smirk had turned into a (forgive me) diabolical grin.
Intern Insidious (no way he’s completed a Residency) looked at his whateveritwas, and was working furiously on his next brainfart when a miracle dropped out of the blue on top of him.
Okay, six figures in familiar not-ninja outfits with devil masks don’t count as a miracle, either for Sid or for us. Neither did the familiar figure in a red trench coat with a more elaborate devil mask that dropped out of the sky -or the stairwell, which just doesn’t sound as poetic. The six not-ninjas all had things that weren’t shuriken cocked to throw, and their leader was holding something that consisted of a bunch of hoops and circles and jeweled figures all set inside each other, set atop an overbuilt egg-beater type contraption. I reflexively dropped my darkness on the scene, which may not have been the best thing to do this time. I still just barely managed to jump out of the path of the icky-nasty things the not-ninjas threw at me. Jadis had her streams woven into a shield in front of her, but I got the distinct impression that she’d have been a lot more effective if she could have seen what Big Red was doing. As it was, by the time that I managed to lift my darkness, Mr. Sinister Devil Mask Guy was doing something that made the Planetarium spin around and caused weird shapes and designs to float around the outer sphere of the dingus.
When Jadis finally could see what he was up to, she choked out a ‘oh crap’ noise, and for once she looked like she didn’t have just the perfect thing for the occasion in her purse. Worse, the not-ninjas came for her with something that I knew just enough to be terrified of: strips of paper with (I assume) magical writing on them. I tackled one clutch of not-ninjas (do ninjas, not or otherwise, come in ‘clutches’ or what?) and gave Jadis some breathing room.
Jadis showed that as tough as she made herself out to be, she understood the Better Part of Valor, and dived for the sapphire. She snatched the rock off the pedestal they had it on and made to get away. The not-ninjas managed to get in her way and had their deadly Bus Transfers of Doom ready. I knocked a couple of them down from behind, but even I can only be in so many places at once. And the world is poorer for that.
Jadis formed a sword out of her streams (why not? It’s very chic these days) and struck at one non-ninja’s spell-slip-holding hand with it. And lopped the hand clean off, spell-slip and all. And that was it. No blood, no screaming, no dancing around in pain, not even sparking wires or anything.
But as Jadis and I were wrapping our heads around that, Big Red has finished fiddling with his kaleidoscope from hell. A hail of weird magic-looking characters hit Jadis square in the face. As the Red Man worked the cranks and slides of the mechanism like a violin virtuoso, the Beast came sliding out of Jadis. That horned, fanged, black furred THING that scared just about everyone at Whateley with a lick of sense. And Mr. Guy had it hooked. Worse than hooked, he had it wired. He had his hooks into it, and he was figuring out how to make it his bitch. ‘Cause if he could make the Beast his bitch, then so was Jadis.
No wonder he wasn’t fucking with Jobe more; he was trawling for REAL Big Game.
I tried to get at him, take him out of the equation, but his flunkies were all over me. And not in the way I like. And there was something seriously OFF about these guys. Yeah, I know, wizard’s minions don’t tend toward the bland, but these guys… just something’s off…
Mind you, Jadis wasn’t just sitting there cringing, whimpering ‘Oh Noes!’ No, she was doing… something… she was keeping the Beast under her control. But it was a fight, a real fight.
Then- I’d say just when it was ‘All or Nothing’ time, but how would I know that?- a bubble appeared around the globe of the Planetarium. Just then a second bubble formed around the whole thing. Mr. Red couldn’t touch the controls. It was still doing whatever the hell it was doing before, but there wasn’t anyone at the controls. Jadis gathered up the Beast and somehow, she threw the damn thing at him. And he may still have had his hooks into it, but he didn’t have it wired anymore.
And the Beast?
Well, the Beast did what beasts do. It tore him apart. It just sank its claws and teeth into him and tore him to shreds. Literally. Shreds. Rags. No blood, no bone, no flesh, just fabric.
It all clicked together, like that one piece in the jigsaw puzzle that you have to find to figure out where everything else goes. I jumped one of the really-not-ninjas and pulled off the devil mask.
The other empty suit guys saw that the jig was up. They slumped and gave up the ghost. Or whatever.
Then there was another shape that came down the stairwell, right in front of our room. Professor Puzzle dropped down on a cable like a spider. He stopped, looked at the scene of carnage, tipped his hat, grabbed the bubble with the Planetarium inside it, and lifted back up with a jerk.
Our mutual ‘HAH?’ daze was broken when ‘Dr. Insidious’ bolted from the room. I started to go for him, but Jadis stopped me. “Sorry, Vamp, but we can’t beat the crap out of him,” she said with a touch of her old sass. “Mal’s got dibs on him.”
"So, you’re saying that you had a no-holds-barred, to-the-death fight with a basket of dirty laundry and almost lost?” ‘Bronze’ said with nose full of snot.
"Hey, check out the security footage if you don’t believe me,” Jadis said, not letting the Designated Heroine in her Own Mind get to her.
Aurora picked up the clothes from the table and asked, “HOW?”
“My guess is that Ashtaroth has developed a magical version of telepresence, that he-”
"Ashtaroth?” Bronze demanded.
"A criminal mystic,” Jadis answered. “Very grabby, doesn’t play well with others.”
"There’s an ‘Ashtaroth’ mentioned in Professor Puzzle’s dossier,” Tower said. “Apparently, Ashtaroth is very fond of letting Professor Puzzle or other enterprising supervillains do all the hard work, and then swooping in to take the prize.”
"How unprofessional,” Jadis sniffed. “Anyway, as I was saying before I was so RUDELY interrupted, Ashtaroth has some way of enchanting these outfits so they take on motion. He and his flunkies probably attune themselves to these outfits and a perfectly matching second set. They smuggle the first set of clothes in somehow, and when they have unimpeachable alibis, across town say, they put on the second set. The first set mirror the actions of the second set, and Ashtaroth and his flunkies can see and hear and even feel what the first set are experiencing. So the first set of clothes can go out and commit various crimes and take horrific risks, because if anything goes wrong? So What? It’s just a bunch of clothing.”
"You’re making a lot of deductions, just on a bunch of torn-up rags,” Aurora said, tilting her head and looking at Jadis oddly.
"Look at the bright side,” Bova snarked, “at least a dog didn’t not bark in the night.”
"WHY did you let Professor Puzzle escape with Salieri’s Planetarium?” Bronze demanded loudly.
"Cellini’s Planetarium,” Jadis corrected her. “Salieri was a late 18th Century composer who’s often unfairly accused of murdering Mozart. And as for Professor Puzzle? It wasn’t our job. Our job was to protect the sapphire. And we did.”
“Just think, Bronze,” Tiger Girl cut in with a snide grin, “if you’d stayed there and obeyed orders, you might have caught him.”
"Oh well,” Mrs. Griffin sighed, “at least that little bedbug Puzzle ransoms the things he steals back, and in good condition. After a few months. Well, I’ve got things to take care of. Empress, Princess Jobe, we were in the Curator’s office, so what say we let these take care of the paperwork, while we check out that new place, Mugsy’s; it’s the most delightfully trashy place, all done up in 1920’s speakeasy chic!”
One of the problems I have with my admittedly superb (and necessary) understanding of legal procedure is that I don’t really trust bureaucrats to fill out documents right. Which means that unlike the vast majority of people, who just fill out the blanks and get it over with, I feel compelled to be sure that the pencil-pusher pushes his pencil into the right boxes. Short Form: while Jobe was enjoying ‘delightfully trashy’ haut cuisine (don’t ask me what that means), I spent three hours making sure that the red tape was tied properly. After that, I shepherded Vamp and the remaining drow and, yes, the Cadet Crusaders to a restaurant that was neither delightfully trashy nor haut cuisine. My only consolation was that ‘Bronze’ turned up her nose at it, took a hike, and took Splendor with her.
And, while Vamp may overplay the ‘I’m a Lady’ hand- severely- I will have to give her due props. It takes some genuine panache to get a New York maitre‘d to seat superheroes in full costume.
And then the limo drove us all (except for Jobe and GizMom) back to Chez Diabolik. Just as we were getting out of the limo, heading for the front door, a kid who looked like a redheaded Dennis the Menace in blue bib overalls and red-and-white striped shirt bolted out the door. I started to react, when a figure came scrambling out the door- dear GOD is that Gina Larrimore?- covered in foam and gunk and bits and pieces of crap. She ran down the stairs screaming, “Gimme that, you little $#!t$t@in!” at the top of her lungs.
Even after the day I just had, that took me flat-footed. Nightfox and the kid zipped into traffic, were across the street and down an alley and out of sight. For someone who looked maybe Five or Six, that kid had some serious moves. I have GOT to find out what the HELL that was about.
To Be Continued