Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Combat Finals, Arena ‘99
“Well, Greasy, another combat final, another reason to despair for mutantkind. If those two yoyos are our only defense against Aitch-One, then we are in DEEP doo-doo.”
“Well, unfortunately, Peep, the instructors agree with you. A matching pair of Ds. If those two don’t wanna repeat the year, they’re gonna have to ace their exams next week. Still, they didn’t do THAT badly.”
“YES THEY DID! NO explosions, NO mass destruction, NO Ants flying apart in pieces, NO bustups, No NADA! They didn’t even take the spindle, they just kept flapping around until the time ran out! The only reason they didn’t both just FAIL, was that wussoid ‘avoiding civilian casualties’ ruling. And since they were both GUYS, the only ‘equipment failures’ involved actual equipment! <low groan> Cheer me up, Oil-Slick Face. At least tell me that our next matchup is between a pair of big, bouncy, babe-o-licious repressed lesbian exemplar chicks in bikinis.”
“Well, the announcement is that the next in the lineup are… Foxfire and OMAG.”
“OMAG? You mean that big Scotch lox who hangs with Horrorshow and the other Losers? The one who split himself into sixteen copies to form a human water fountain back in October? The one who was the main ammunition in the ‘Catapult Basketball League’ back in September? The one who panty-raided Dickinmouth Cottage- AND DIDN’T COME BACK WITH ANYTHING?”
“Ah, yeah. And it’s not ‘Scotch’, Peeper. Scotch is a whiskey. A person from Scotland is a Scot, and he’s Scots, not Scottish or Scotch.”
“I don’t care, Canadians don’t care, ANZACs don’t care, the English don’t care, the Irish don’t care, and even the freakin’ WELSH don’t care. Campers, in case you’ve been lucky enough to avoid them, OMAG is a core member of that crack squad of complete Luuuhhh-ZHERZ that infest Emerson Cottage, killing time and brain cells with bozo stunts that they stole from ‘Jackass the Handgame’, jacked up with mutant powers. Campers, you know me, Joe ‘Laissez les bons temps rouler’, I LOVE a good piece of wackiness. But Horrorshow’s latest effort? People, they DESTROYED Wizard’s animatronic duplicate of Majestic! Before she even had a chance to know LOVE!”
“Ah, Peep, I don’t think Majestic KNEW about that android? Like, before you mentioned it?”
“HEY, if I think these guys need to have their braincases checked, what does that SAY? Oh, and Pizza-Face? For the sake of my aching sanity, what the HE- ah, HECK is an ‘OMAG’?”
“Well, I did ask him, and after they fixed my teeth, I managed to find out that OMAG originally wanted to be called ‘OMAC’.”
“Wonderful. Dubble-Yew-Tee-Eef is an ‘OMAC’?”
“Well, ‘OMAC’ was an old Jack Kirby character whose name is an acronym for ‘One Man Army Corps’. Apparently he heard about it, and since his main trait is that he’s a ‘Multiplier’ Warper, he thought that would be a good handle.”
“But it was copyrighted already. What a Loser. And what does ‘OMAG’ mean?”
“One Man Army Group.”
“Amazing. It actually got worse. Okay, and is Foxfire a chick?”
“Let’s see... Yep! She’s a pretty vanilla Wizard, with – quote – ‘a specialization in Wizardry’, whatever that is.”
“I don’t place the handle. You got anything on this Foxfire chick, Greaso?”
“All that I have is that she’s listed with the Literary Club.”
“Meh. Lit Chick. Well, maybe OMAG will do something amusingly dumb. At least he’s good for THAT.”
* * * * * *
Runestrong looked up at the display, and said, “Hey, Sandy. They’re paging you. You’re next.”
Alexander ‘Sandy’ ‘OMAG’ Petrie cut off the Wi-Fi game that he’d been playing with Unbreakable, and got to his feet. He pulled the tactical vest that he’d let lie on the ground at his feet on over his cammie t-shirt, and then put the red tam-o-shanter with the white pom-pom on his head. The rest of his outfit was just as militaristic: olive drab pants, combat boots, and a loaded utility belt. All in all, he only lacked a bristling red beard to be an action movie image of a Scots Special Ops soldier, ready and eager to kick some. His friends gave him a few words of encouragement, and he headed out.
“Hey, OMAG!” Breaker of the Grunts called out, from where he was sitting with Mule and Slapdash, “What’s your Base Tactical Layout for your Staging Point gonna be?”
“Oh, I was thinkin’ a wide-screen HDTV, a sofa, a shag rug, maybe a few throw pillows…” OMAG said with a grin.
Breaker scowled, “You’re just going to go in there and mix it up, just like you did when you were trying to rush the Grunts, aren’t you?”
“And why not? I ran rings around you chumps in those circle-jerk exercises that you put me through.”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
“Of course not! Yer pewny mind can’t handle how badly I made a fewl a’ yew!” OMAG said in a bad ‘Music Hall’ highlander accent.
“Look,” Breaker said in the tone of the upperclassman trying to talk sensibly to an underclassman, “you can’t just go in and goof around, especially with your power.”
“Oh? That’s how your Army went into Iraq!”
“Look, a Command-level cock-up doesn’t mean that you don’t need discipline and planning at the Tactical level. If anything, you need more discipline and sound thinking when the Brass pulls a boner. Your problem is that you let your powers bail you out of the brain-damaged crap that Horrorshow talks you and the rest of those Losers into, so it never sinks in that what you’re doing is STUPID!”
“Hey, Horrorshow and the guys know how to have a good time. Y’know, ‘a good time’? It’s something that you brown-nosed GI Joe wannabes wouldn’t know anything about. Your idea of down time is looking at all the rounds in your magazines and filing them ALL down to the exact proper length specified in the regs and trim the frays off your aglets and all that fucking tedious bullshit!”
“LOOK, we are training to be soldiers, not video game characters! Proper Prep Pays! Hey, you and the Losers almost KILL yourself each time that you pull one of your stunts, and you don’t have people shooting at you!”
“Hey, we’re NOT losers-”
“Loser, Loser, Loser!” Slapdash chided, making the ‘L for Loser’ sign with a finger on his forehead.
OMAG almost went for the bait but held back. “Tell you WHAT,” he hissed through his teeth. “I am gonna go and show the school was a real warrior can do. I’ll bet you that I’m gonna get an ‘A’ for how bad I whup that little bint. If I win, all you junior root-heads will show up at the Crystal Hall t’night at dinner in parade dress uniform and tell all assembled what great guys Me, an’ Horrorshow and the guys are, and never call us Losers AGAIN.”
“And if you DON’T get an ‘A’?”
“Then I’ll act as a human target for one of yer paintball exercises in the maze.”
“Tell you what,” Mule said. “If you get a ‘B’ it’s a draw, but if you get a ‘C’ or below, then you have to be target practice once for each grade below ‘A’ that you get.”
“Yer ON, Donkey-boy!” he stuck out a hand, and Breaker shook on it. “And I’m gonna want a personal salute from all’a you SUCKERS!” OMAG called out over his shoulder as he strode off, making the ‘L for Loser’ sign back at them.
But once he got to the unobserved corridor, Horrorshow, with Runestrong in tow as usual, hurried up. “Hold up, OMAG!” Horrorshow said. “Look, I didn’t want to give this to you before but,” Horrorshow looked around cautiously. He held up an ear bud. “I got a Bluetooth that’s linked to this. You’re going to need a good grade on this one, if you don’t wanna be held back a year. So, me and the boys will give you a little Tac- Ops support, very on the down-low, right?”
“Why?” Sandy asked, looking at the earbud, and then tucking it in a pocket. “It’s just a girl. She’s not even a brick or anything, just a witch.” Sandy was known as a bit of a hardass, so his offhanded dismissal of mages was sort of expected, even by Horrorshow and Runestrong (both mages). “If anything, I’ll have to watch it, so’s I don’t hurt her too much when I pop her.”
“That may be easier said than done,” Runestrong said. “I know her from a few of her classes. She’s very good with illusions and evasion. And she has a fox familiar, which means that she thinks that she’s clever and subtle.”
“Oh good,” OMAG said with just a touch more of his Glaswegian accent than he normally let through. “Then she’s stupid. Most of the people who make a lot of noise on how clever they are, are totally thick. If anything, this is my chance to really put on a show!” With a cocky grin, OMAG strutted off to Arena 99’s entry gate.
Horrorshow and Runestrong looked at each other. “He’s gonna need all the help we can give him,” Horrorshow said matter-of-factly.
“Oh… Yeah…” Runestrong agreed with a drawl. They returned to their friends in the stands.
* * * * * *
Elaine ‘Loophole’ Nalley craned her head forward and asked, “Is it just me, or are the ‘mock buildings’ that they’re putting up a lot more… substantial?”
“It’s just you,” the rest of the Lit Chix reflexively said in unison.
“Actually, she’s right.” Heather ‘Selkie’ O’Malley said, looking at the reconstruction crew at work. “They’re bringing in entire modules, not just facades.”
“I guess that they don’t want the later matches using ideas using the flats that they got from the earlier matches,” Simone ‘Arachne’ Bender said as she looked up from her sketch pad.
“They’re just escalating the violence,” ‘Doc’ Nalley said with a grump.
“Yeah, yeah, we heard this when YOU went through the wringer,” Renae ‘Reverb’ Griest said.
“Still, you have to give them credit,” Maggie ‘Lifeline’ Vincent said. “From wreckage to reasonable facsimile in five minutes. They even swept up the debris.”
“Yeah, let’s have a big hand for the ‘Ant’ robots, who’ll probably get trashed in the next scenario,” Becky ‘Foxfire’ Corbin snarked.
“Hold on, here’s the next victim,” Barbara ‘Babs’ ‘Compiler’ Yunkle said, peering at the large screen. “It’s OMAG.”
“OMAG?” Heather asked, confused. “Have I met him?”
“Not if you’re lucky,” Simone said dryly. “He’s a frosh who’s hooked up with a bunch of Sophs in Emerson, and they’re doing the ‘Jackass’ thing. He’s a Multiplier, he’s big and he’s tough.”
Lifeline looked very uncomfortable.
“Well, at least it should be amusing to watch,” Foxfire said. “A lot more fun to watch than be in the middle of. I wonder what poor loser they’re going to… aaawww… NUTS! Why ME?” Becky snarled as her name was called and her MID started to display on the screen.
“Justice?” Renae said puckishly.
“Okay, okay, Mags, are my spell slips grammatically correct?” Rebecca ‘Foxfire’ Corbin asked her friend as they clipped rapidly toward the entry gate.
Maggie ‘Lifeline’ Vincent looked over the spells slips and said, “Yes, they’re okay. But should you be taking magic gear into the crash with you? You’re supposed to only have with you the stuff that you’d normally be carrying.”
“And I normally carry protective amulets and bozo-avoidance talismans, and I usually have a few spell slips on me, just in case!” Bekky insisted. “Have you seen some of the whackos they have walking around free in this place? I just want to be sure that that batch is kosher.” Then Bekky noticed something about Lifeline. “ah, Mags? You okay? You look like you stepped in something and haven’t had a chance to scrape it off yet.”
Maggie looked quite distressed. “uhm… last week… he, ah, tried to hit on me. He wasn’t… uhm… exactly what you’d call ‘gallant’ about how he did it. He got me in a corner. All six of him. And he was pretty free with his suggestions… and his hands…”
The Lit Chix suddenly lost all their flippancy and went deadly serious, even the usually diffident Heather looked like she was ready to play hurley with OMAG’s head. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Arachne, her six extra spider eyes showing in her threat display.
“NO!” Maggie blurted, “I don’t think he was going to go that far, he was just… well… forward… and grabby…”
“Even so, that bad boy needs a good spankin’,” ‘Loophole’ Nalley snarled.
“Get in line,” Bekky said sternly, “I’ve already got a date to kick that shit head out of his ass.” But then she faltered, “So, ah… exactly how powerful IS this guy?”
“What’s the matter, Bekky?” ‘Loophole’ sniped, “Nervous?”
“As a matter of fact, YES! I have very closely held religious convictions regarding human suffering – especially MINE! C’mon, what’s the info on this ‘OMAG’ guy?”
“He’s a ‘Multiple Man’ type warper,” said someone who was not a member of the ‘Lit Chix’. “He can split himself into up sixteen copies of himself and coordinate between them, operating as a perfectly synchronized team – when he can concentrate. His base unit is definitely tougher and stronger than baseline, but not superhuman. His warping also gives him a measure of protection, so he’s pretty hard to hurt. Even then he tends to share out the owwies among his units.”
The Lit Chix turned to see a petite girl with short blonde hair standing a bit away from them. She was wearing olive drab and an amused expression. “Hello, Bunker,” Loophole said. “Tell me, isn’t OMAG one of yours?”
“Oh, he started out rushing the Grunts,” Bunker said with a wry smile. “You’d have to be dense not to see the tactical advantages in his power. Power, he’s got. Guts, he’s got. Attitude, he’s got. Brains and discipline? Not a lick.”
“Why are you telling ME this?” Bekky asked suspiciously.
“Well, OMAG has something of an ego, and a bit of a problem with authority, and his language when he was leaving the Grunts was less than respectful. And, like the young lady said, he’s got a lot of grabby hands. Now, I’m not offering any deals, you understand, but there are certain persons who’d be rather obliged if the One Man Army Group got whittled down to size.”
“One Man Army Group? Is that what OMAG stands for?”
“Yeah, just like that.”
“Oh well, nuthin’ left to it, but to do it,” Bekky sighed and she trudged over to the ‘gladiators’ entrance’ and signed in. She walked over to her circle and looked over at OMAG in his circle. OMAG returned her cool gaze with the smirk that the class bully gives the wimp that he’s about to kick around the playground.
“Okay,” the moderator said clinically, “the modules for this one are solid, and there are stairs and like that, but no real rooms. You can go inside the modules, but if either of you hide inside any of them for more than sixty seconds, you default to the other guy, and get a D. Remember, the Ants are civilians; if you damage them, you get dinged on your grade. The Ants with the Red Bands are Police, Firefighters, Paramedics, and like that; if you damage them, you get dinged ten times as bad. Do you both understand?”
Foxfire and OMAG both nodded, and the moderator started to leave the area as the countdown started.
“Five… Four… Three… Two… ONE… GO!” blared the loudspeaker.
* * * * * *
“Well, they’re both going for the ‘Costume Change’ extra credit.”
“Oh, gimme a break! A bandana mask? That lox expects extra credit for a bandana mask?”
“Well it IS in his clan tartan, Peep…”
“BULL! I heard from Bannockburn that that ‘clan tartan’ bit is just something that some Victorian bozo came up with, back in the 19th Century! Real old-time Scotties didn’t HAVE clan tartans! They couldn’t afford any of that custom tartan crap!”
“Well, at least Foxfire has a legitimate costume: hooded cape, thigh-high boots, opera gloves, loose skirt bound by a leather girdle, all in various shades of blue, and a fox-headed staff that came out of nowhere.”
* * * * * *
“HEY! OMAG!” Foxfire snapped, “Get over here!” she assumed a ‘severe mother about to scold an unruly child’ posture.
OMAG paused, did the ‘you talking to ME?’ pose, and then ambled over curiously to see what the little bitch wanted. He loomed a good seven inches over her, and he physically overshadowed her with his brawny bulk. Not that that seemed to register with the scowl that showed through Foxfire’s mask. “So? Whad d’yew want, Four-Eyes?”
* * * * * *
I don’t believe this,” Peeper groaned, “they’re having a conference! What have the Combat Finals come to? What’s next? Tea and scones?”
“Actually, Peep, it looks more like they’re having an argument.”
* * * * * *
“What did you do to Lifeline?” Foxfire demanded snappishly.
“Lifeline?” even through the kerchief mask, OMAG’s confusion was apparent. Then the penny dropped. “Oh! Lifeline…” he drawled salaciously. “Oh, she’s been talking about me, has she?” he smirked, “and you wanted to see what all the fuss was about, didn’t you?”
“Oh, Barf…” Bekky choked, “Listen up, you-”
“Why should I listen? Yer not sayin’ anything that anyone wants t’hear. But yer not THAT bad lookin’-”
“But you’d look better without the specs.” OMAG snatched the glasses that were perched on top of her mask and tossed them over his shoulder.
“HEY!” Bekky yelped, “those are expensive!” Bekky used her magic to catch the glasses on the fly and levitate them back to her.
“So? Get contacts. See? Much better…” Suddenly Bekky was surrounded by OMAG and his replica-units. And their hands, which were taking rather drastic liberties with her body.
“Hey, hey, HEY!” Bekky shouted, as she erupted in pale blue foxfire, “Watch the HANDS!”
OMAG jumped back, but he wasn’t beaten by a long shot. One of the units threw OMAG-Prime something and he smirked, “Now, is that any way for you to act?” He held up Slyboots, Bekky’s familiar, who had been riding her shoulder, by the scruff of the neck. Boots made a whimper and struggled in his grasp, but couldn’t escape his grip.
“HEY! Leave her alone, you haggis-breathed halfwit!”
“Nah-Ah! You bring her inta the arena, so she’s fair game. Now, let’s stop fartin’ around. I got you, fair and square, and it ain’t even been ten seconds now. You just up and walk out’a here, and maybe I don’t take Fluffy’s mask and brush for a trophy.” He adjusted his grip so that he had Slyboots by the neck, and he took Boots’ tail in his other hand.
Placing her glasses back on her nose, Bekky trembled with incandescent rage. “Oh, now it is SO on!” Suddenly, Slyboots erupted in blue fire, scalding OMAG-Prime’s hands. Boots flowed, mist-form, back onto Bekky’s shoulders. “Listen up, you Brigadoon Bozo! You can piss off the Grunts, I don’t care! You can sleaze around Maggie; she’s a big girl and she can fight her own battles! You can feel me up and take away my glasses, it’s the arena! BUT! Nobody! Hurts! My! BOOTS! This Means WAR!”
“Viewers, Foxfire has done a classic ‘Iron Star’ shift, and is now dressed entirely in a form-fitting suit of plate armor with cape, shield and a very large SWORD, all wreathed in pale blue fire! She’s jumping at OMAG and-”
* * * * * *
The will-o-the-wisp warrior made a classic anime sword-leap, using the force of her leap to lend force to her sword-blow. OMAG split apart into four units, which dodged in four different directions, and then turned to jump Foxfire from each quarter. But when they hit, ‘Foxfire’ dissolved into a thick gooey paste that splattered all over them.
“SUCK- ER!” Foxfire jeered from where she really was, and her fox familiar blew OMAG a juicy raspberry. *brrrffftth!!* OMAG snarled and split off another unit, one that wasn’t covered in goo; Foxfire ran off with a merry cackle, and the chase was on.
Foxfire ran to the side of one building, planted her staff and rode it up to the roof as the staff grew in length by three stories. She clambered over to the roof, and retracted the staff up into her hand. OMAG latched onto the staff and tried to ride it up as well, but it slipped out of his hand at the second story and he dropped sharply. He landed with a thud at the bottom. OMAG looked up with a snarl at Foxfire and Slyboots, the latter of whom returned his snarl with another raspberry. *Brrphth!*
OMAG-Prime recalled all his units and struggled out of the goop. Then, red-faced with rage, he charged to the building and did the ‘Human Ladder’ maneuver, where he created eight copies of himself under himself, to lift him up to the roof. There he spotted Foxfire, somehow building a bridge to the next building over. He split himself into five units, and ran to the edge of the building. Four of the units cupped their hands and gave the prime unit a toss over the gap to the other building. OMAG immediately split off another three units, which gathered where the other end of Foxfire’s bridge landed and started up the bridge, to where Foxfire was just starting to assimilate the fact that she’d been flanked. Foxfire turned around, only to find another four OMAG units climbing up the bridge towards her. “So? How’s THIS for clever, fox-girl?” OMAG-Prime jeered.
“Not very,” came a voice from behind him. OMAG spun around to look Foxfire right in the face. Stunned, he looked back at the bridge, just in time for both the ‘Foxfire’ standing on the bridge and the bridge itself to disappear. OMAG started to ‘recall’ the units, when Foxfire tapped him on the shoulder again, and when he turned, she shoved a pie right in his face. *Splorch!* That distracted OMAG long enough that he couldn’t recall his units before they hit. The units ‘popped’ as they hit the street, rather than taking real traumatic damage, but for OMAG it was like standing in front of a baseball pitching machine on full blast.
As OMAG shook his head to get the stars out of his eyes, Foxfire gave him a merry whistle, stuck out her tongue at him and dropped over the side of the building back onto the street. OMAG rushed to the roof door, only to find that it was locked from the inside and very durable. He reared back to kick the door in, and then kicked himself for being dense. He rushed to the edge of the roof and jumped over, doing a reverse ‘human ladder’ under him, absorbing the units as he dropped.
OMAG looked around him; he wouldn’t put it past the little witch to have laid landmines around the street. Okay, fun time was over; it was time to get serious. A big part of his grade for the semester was tied up in this! His best bet was to stop letting the little witch call the shots; Foxfire was counting on tripping him up with fancy footwork, so he’d keep it as simple as possible. Just beat her to the spindle, surround it with units, and answer the stupid questions. She was probably wasting time setting something up to make him look stupid, so he’d have a shot at getting to the spindle.
He turned a corner and spotted the spindle. He beat feet for it, and just as he got there, a ring of pale blue fire appeared around the spindle! He split off four units, who hoisted him over the ring of fire, without even breaking his stride. HAH! He recalled the units, and then split off as many as he could while leaving himself enough brainpower to actually answer the questions. OMAG switched on the computer, and then he wasn’t sure, but there was something wrong. But then the first question popped up: [Who is your favorite singer?]
OMAG paused and typed in: Kylie Minogue.
[WHAT? You like Kylie Minogue? You are such DORK!]
“What?” OMAG bleated.
[You didn’t really think that it was going to be THAT easy, now did you?]
Suddenly, the spindle turned into a huge ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ style carnivorous plant that snapped OMAG up. In horror, OMAG recalled all his units from outside and split them off again inside, adding all their strength to prying the jaws apart and letting OMAG-Prime out. As OMAG breathed hard, getting his wits back, someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he took another pie in the face when he reacted. *Splorch!* He reflexively stopped directing his units and they were quickly chewed up by the ‘plant’.
When OMAG recovered his wits from that, he looked around and spotted the real spindle, and ran hell-for-leather to it. But when he looked around for any sign of Foxfire, he spotted another spindle at the end of the other block. He looked in each direction, and at every intersection of the truncated ‘city’, there was a spindle. And every one of them, save ONE, was one of Foxfire’s daft traps.
If nothing else, he was impressed by how FAST the little bitch was.
Then he heard a chime from overhead, and he heard the annoyingly smooth and soothing computerized voice announce that the spindle was in use. Of course! That’s what had been wrong before! No chime! Every time the spindle was fired up, they announced it, so you couldn’t sneak a win. He yanked a bicycle away from a ‘kid’ ANT and pedaled with everything he had for the sound of the chime. Yes! There! He fell getting off the bicycle, but he scrambled to his feet and pulled Foxfire out of the spindle just as the voice announced that she was answering her second question. He gave her a good smack in the chops, girl or no girl.
Then she changed. Suddenly, there was one of the ANTS in his hand, looking rather worse for the wear. The voice announced, “Contestant: OMAG is penalized for attacking a civilian.”
Then a pie came flying, and hit him square in the face. He charged with a scream in the direction that the pie came from, spotted Foxfire walking away and jumped her. Again the voice announced, “Contestant: OMAG is penalized for attacking a civilian.”
He looked down, and somehow, he was on top of another ANT. He looked around and suddenly, every ANT, both civilian and police, looked just like Foxfire, serenely milling around the cityscape.
Making like he was putting the trashed ANT out of the way, OMAG fished the ear bud out of his pocket. He heard Runestrong saying in a bored, repetitive tone, [Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you-]
“YES! Yes, I can bloody well hear you!” OMAG whisper/ shouted.
[Finally! Okay, it’s hard to tell exactly from where we are, but you have movement coming your way along the ‘shopping arcade’.]
“I can’t afford to waste any more time with that little bint! Where’s the real spindle?”
[Sorry, Sandy, but to be honest, we’ve lost track of it. It’s to the west of you, and maybe a block up or so, but that’s the best I can do. She’s got the place dotted with bogus spindles. My guess is that she’s trying to force you to try and take her out, rather than just go for the spindle, so she can trap you somewhere. She can’t trust that you won’t be able to find the real spindle if she goes for it, so she’s got to neutralize you, not just sneak around you.]
“Yeah,” OMAG grunted, “that sounds just like the giddy little bint… what can you tell me about her? How’s she able to pull this crap?”
[I know her slightly from Mystic Arts,] Runestrong answered. [Her specialty is ‘Wizardry’, which is the mastery of Glamour in its various forms, and she’s very good with illusions and chimeras.]
“Oh, crap, you mean she’s like that bitch Beltane, with her ectoplasm pranks?”
[Not as bad, Sandy. Foxfire’s stuff isn’t as solid as Beltane’s and it can’t do as much. Beltane’s ectoplasm can do stuff like make your body think that you’ve been drugged or electrically shocked, or stuff like that; Foxfire’s can’t. It can trip you up seven ways to Sunday, but it can’t really affect you. Look, Sandy, your best bet is to split up into as many units as you can, and check out each spindle individually. You’ll get battered up when the trap goes off, but you’ll figure it out, and you won’t be playing by her ru-]
[Screw that, Sandy] Horrorshow cut in, obviously taking the phone from Runestrong. [Foxfire does what I do, only wimpier. Just pop her a good one, and everything that she’s holding up should drop, and we’ll know which spindle’s the right one.]
“NOW yer talkin’,” OMAG grunted, “but where IS she?”
[You got something coming your way, just around the corner on the arcade, wait for it… NOW!]
“HAH!” OMAG jumped into the middle of the narrow street-
-only to be run over by a complete marching band of Foxfires, marching five across, playing ‘Seventy-Six Trombones’, and trampling all over OMAG with gusto. Even the Drum Majorette. And Slyboots the fox brought up the rear, finishing it off with a raspberry as she passed. *Nyeh!*
* * * * * *
“IIIeeeyyyeee- LOVE A PARAAADDDEEE…” Greasy and Peeper caroled together.
* * * * * *
“THAT…? Was an Illusion…?” OMAG groaned.
[Well, it didn’t help that you believed it so much,] Runestrong quibbled. [Most of the pain you’re feeling it because you think that you’ve been trampled over by a hundred plus girls.]
[Though, I hear that there are guys who will pay GOOD MONEY to have that done to them,] Horrorshow mused. [Hey, Sandy, Slide says that he’s spotted what he thinks is a power junction box.]
“Yeah,” OMAG grunted, getting up and dusting himself off. “AND?”
[So? Open it up with one of the tools in your utility belt, and fiddle around with the power. See if you can shut down the lights in various parts of the set.]
“Y’think it’ll actually work?”
[Why do you think that they put that thing in there in the first place? Think about it: what’s the first thing that Foxfailure’s gonna do, once the lights go out? She’s gonna strike up a light, right? We see that, we know where she is, we tell you.]
“Sounds like a plan! Where’s this junction box?”
* * * * * *
[Sandy, I don’t think that you should be doing that,] Runestrong warned OMAG as he fiddled around with the switches on the junction box that he’d pried open. [Heavy electrical wiring is dangerous, and-]
One particularly ill-advised combination shorted out the panel and badly shocked OMAG. But it also sent the entire arena into darkness.
* * * * * *
“Minion! Put on your low-light goggles! Okay, Campers, here’s where the Peep-man comes to the rescue! Anyway the One Man Special Education Class is looking around, and he’s actually prepared with a small flashlight. GEE, y’think that he goes around with a flashlight in his utility belt, hmmm? Anyway, he’s the only light on the board at the moment. Gee, conspicuous much?”
“Wait a minute, Peeper… there are lights moving around… several lights… I can’t make it out…”
* * * * * *
[Sandy!] Runestrong yelled, [Do you still have that talisman that I made for you?]
“Yeah, but so what, it didn’t help me pick up that bird for shit!”
[Not THAT talisman, the iron one!]
“Yeah, but-” OMAG’s complaint was cut off by a spine-chilling wail. Figures out of Sandy’s childhood nightmares, the ‘wake up and hide under the covers shivering’ kind, came floating out of the darkness, dimly glowing purplish skeletal figures wrapped up in cloaks of mist. “Oh, give me a break!” Sandy said in a voice that wasn’t as strong and sure as he was obviously hoping that it would be. The skeletal figures danced around him and then OMAG felt a prickly tickling sensation all over him, and suddenly he was covered in spiders.
“Aaaauuuggghhh!!!” OMAG screamed as he danced around scraping the spiders off of him. Unnerved, he looked around horror-struck at the ghastly figures as they gathered around him and…
The lights came back on. Now, he could see that the horrific things were just wispy nothings that Foxfire and her familiar were moving, while making ‘wwooo…’ noises. Foxfire suddenly realized that OMAG could see her. “Woo?” she said weakly.
“You… sneaky… smartass… little…”
Foxfire didn’t wait for him to finish his insult. She hit him right in the face with a pie and lit out at a full run. With a snarling roar, OMAG wiped the pie off his face and ran after her. Then he was seeing that somehow Foxfire had managed to find a tricked out Harley-Davidson motorcycle and was driving away, her fox blowing him a raspberry as they did so. *brrrffftth!!*
[Sandy! She’s only got a bicycle! She’s using her magic to make it move faster, but the whole ‘motorcycle’ thing is just to psyche you out,] Runestrong started.
[Sandy!] Horrorshow cut in, [That Ant-Kid has a bike! Crack the whip!]
[Crack the whip? On a BIKE?]
[SO? It’s the last thing that she’d expect!]
[So is the Spanish Inquisition, and you don’t hear me telling him to break out the Comfy Chair!]
OMAG grabbed the bike, pushing the child-sized ANT to the ground, and performed the human ladder again, leaving himself at the bottom. This time, his ‘clones’ dropped to the ground in the direction of Foxfire’s exit, linking hands as they did so, forming a human whip. When the topmost ‘OMAG’ hit the ground, they ‘cracked the whip’, sending the bicycle zipping along at nearly 40 mph.
OMAG wobbled a bit, but he managed to keep the bicycle upright and aimed it at Foxfire’s back without losing too much momentum.
He had her dead in his sights.
He grinned a vicious ‘I’m coming to get you’ grin at Foxfire, who looked back, saw him as he was coming up on her-
-and split off in two different directions.
This took OMAG so much by surprise that he continued on straight ahead, right onto the ramp that Foxfire had created in front of him. His bicycle leapt into the air, through a hoop that appeared out of nowhere, and landed in the ornamental fountain. As he crawled out of the fountain, sopping wet, Horrorshow said, [She’s heading east, you can still catch her if you use the Human Slingshot!]
[Human Slingshot? How is that going to be any better than that ‘crack the whip’ bit?] Runestrong objected.
OMAG split into as many copies as he could. They formed a ‘vee’ on either side of him, and they did another ‘crack the whip’ that was much shorter but just as effective. OMAG managed to get control of his bike before he recalled his units, and went zooming along in search of Foxfire before she could put any more of her stupid tricks into action. Then he spotted her, kneeling by the side of the road paying too much attention to something on the sidewalk. He veered towards her, only regretting that he was still coasting too fast to add speed by pedaling.
Then the sidewalk rose up into a ramp over Foxfire’s head, and OMAG whizzed up the ramp doing at least 25 mph. He vaulted across the street and up through a second story window.
[Sandy! She’s heading south now! Go to the roof and do the Human Trapeze to take her by surprise!]
[The Human Trapeze? But the unit at the top won’t have enough strength to hold-]
[He’ll be FINE!]
OMAG rushed up to the roof and performed the Human Ladder again.
[Sandy! Don’t do it!]
OMAG’s ladder leaned over, spanned the distance between the buildings and the top man grabbed onto an awning.
[Aaauugghh!] Runestrong screamed in frustration, [WHY do I hang out with you guys?]
The OMAG chain started to swing down, coming up behind Foxfire from above, where she’d never see it coming. Unfortunately, instead of holding onto the ledge because there was no clearance, or a fire escape (because there wasn’t one), OMAG had latched onto a high awning. Awnings aren’t particularly well-known for their holding strength. The cloth tore, dumping the entire OMAG chain in a heap on the sidewalk. Only the fact that OMAG-Prime landed on top of a bunch of copies kept him from crippling himself.
* * * * * *
“Y’know, Grease-o, that’s either the coolest thing or the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. And it worries me that I’m not sure which.”
“Actually, Peeper, I’m pretty impressed by some of the moves that OMAG’s throwing out. I mean, if he had any tactical understanding or discipline or ability to work with information, he’d be pretty dangerous. As it is-”
“As it is, he’s a living testament to my personal mantra for the Combat Finals:”
Together, Peeper and Greasy intoned, “At least it’s not US this time.”
“As it is, he looks like one of those p! ads, where the mutant is as much a danger to himself as he is to everyone else.”
“Oh. My. GAWD.”
“The video link to Las Vegas!”
“Hotchkiss, cut the feed, cut the feed! For the Love of Russ Meyer, cut the feed!”
* * * * * *
[Sandy, the Eskimo Trampoline!]
[‘The Eskimo Trampoline’? Horrorshow, are you even TRYING to help Sandy win this thing, or are you just trying to see what you can sucker him into doing?]
[Why Runeski-toonski, I’m hurt! I swear on my sainted Irish grandmother’s grave-]
[Horrorshow, both your grandmothers are alive, Russian, and meaner than snakes with athlete’s foot!]
[Look, we can’t see Foxfire from where we are, but if he bounces one of his units up in the air, he might be able to spot her without going up on one of the roofs, AND, if he needs to get to the top of a building he can just jump there on his next bounce! Besides, it’ll look AWESOME!]
The OMAG swarm ripped an awning off the front of a building, and used it to throw one of their units high into the air. In a reproduction of a trick used by Inuit and other North American tribes to see over the horizon, the OMAG units threw their lookout progressively higher and higher into the air. OMAG-Prime watched from the sidelines keeping an eye on their coordination. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder. OMAG turned around on reflex, right into a pie in the face. *Splorch!*
As OMAG wiped the pie from his face and the units gathered around her, Foxfire said calmly, “Aren’t you guys forgetting something?”
Then the unit that they’d thrown up in the air landed, hard. This affected OMAG-Prime like a haymaker to the jaw, and the other OMAG-units popped like soap bubbles. Slyboots blew OMAG another raspberry *brrrffftth!!* And they were gone again.
* * * * * *
Once OMAG got his senses back, he tried to make up for lost time by doing a ‘human ladder’ laterally in shifts to get his Prime-unit going faster. He managed to get within fifty feet of the galloping little git and her freaky fox, when Foxfire ducked into one of the spindles, and the overhead voice declared, [First Question: Answered]
Foxfire was in the middle of answering the second question when OMAG reached in, grabbed her, dragged her out, and handed her over to two of his units to hold. He climbed in and looked at the monitor. He carefully started up the computer.
Which didn’t even have the good grace to do a countdown as the hatch slammed shut and the spindle turned into a rocket. It rumbled, shook, roared and took off, with the back-blast from the takeoff taking out the OMAG units standing around. “Have a nice landing- OUTSIDE the arena! SUCKER!” Foxfire yelled at the departing rocket, waving a handful of spell slips like a handkerchief.
Then a hand reached over her shoulder from behind her and grabbed the spell slips from out of her hand. “You didn’t think that I’d fall for that trick a second time, now did you? You forgot to make the chime ring,” OMAG chided her. “THESE are how you’ve been able to pull these big stunts, aren’t you?” he shook them at her as she shrank before him. “You prepared them before, so’s you could stuff that would be way too much.” He tore up the stack of spell slips and threw them in her face. “Well, let’s see you do something NOW!”
Then something tapped at the back of his head, OMAG turned around and looked into the maw of a huge Fenris Wolf-sized canid. The huge beast opened its cavernous maw and OMAG flinched for an earth-shaking roar or screech. Instead, Slyboots stuck her head out of the illusion and gave him a huge raspberry, *Brrrpphhhtthh!* and then scampering off. OMAG turned around, and Foxfire was gone as well.
[Sandy! She’s heading south again! If you-]
[Use the Fire Hydrant Wave!]
[Why do I even bother?]
A bit shaky on their pins, one of the OMAG swarm gathered up a stiff board, while a bunch of them opened up a fire hydrant, sending a geyser of water onto the street. OMAG-Prime used the power of the water to send him shooting down the street after Foxfire. Of course, OMAG had never actually been surfing before, and the arrangement was unstable at best, and he wiped out just as he hit the intersection.
As he cleared his head, he looked up and saw Foxfire looking down at him. “Y’know,” she said in a disgruntled voice, “the way this is supposed to go down is, I get my Princess Projectra on, run you ragged and make you look like a maroon, with the pies and exploding bombs and impossible twists and all like that. But how am I supposed to do that, if you do it all to yourself? MAN, this has gotten boring. I’m just gonna go hit the spindle and get this over with, before you hurt yourself or something.” Then she just casually sauntered off. The little fox on her shoulder didn’t even bother with a raspberry, it just lifted its tail in complete dismissal.
OMAG struggled to his feet, staggered, and had a short but invigorating tantrum. He pulled the bud from his ear and stomped on it. NO more listening to Horrorshow! He was gonna do it HIS way! Then he set off after Foxfire. “Okay BITCH, you’re right, let’s just get this over with! Come out, and I’ll mash you into the pavement, that’ll get it over with right and proper!”
[Now, THAT’S more like it!] blared an amplified voice. From around a corner, a three-story tall anthropomorphic robot stepped out onto the street, looming over OMAG. In the fox-head module atop the giant robot was Foxfire, working the controls with manic glee. [THAT’S the spirit that led the charge at Gallipoli!] With mechanical inexorability, the giant mecha stepped forward, shaking the ground, crushing cars and smashing ANTs under its Mini-Cooper-sized treads. [NOW, who’s big and bad, huh?]
* * * * * *
“Okay… It’s not a suicide charge of topless go-go girls… but still… that’s just cool.”
* * * * * *
OMAG-Prime ran as his units were crushed by the juggernaut. The giant robot herded him with wide sweeping strikes of its huge arms. He found himself trapped in a blind alley. Foxfire raised both arms of the automaton, ready to crush OMAG. And then-
-a gong rang and a calm electronic voice overhead announced: [Simulation Complete. Victor: Foxfire. Will both contestants please leave the arena and receive their grades, so the arena can be repaired for the next simulation?]
[Suck-ER! *Brrrpphhhtthh!*] Foxfire jeered, and the raspberry lingered as the illusion faded.
OMAG looked around, utterly flabbergasted. There weren’t any crushed cars or ANTs. The giddy little bitch had suckered him into thinking that his units had been crushed, when it was only an illusion! “But! But I didn’t hear the gong when the spindle was activated! Aaarrrgghhh! She must have covered up the sound! Or I was so distracted that I didn’t HEAR it!” OMAG slumped, let out a sigh of despair and schlepped his way to the exit. The various aches and bruises that he’d earned started to make themselves known as the adrenaline started to fade. Oh well… maybe repeating the semester wouldn’t be THAT bad…
He spotted Horror Show, Runestrong and the others waiting for him at the exit. They appeared to want to say something to him, but for some reason they weren’t saying anything, and they were moving their hands in a way that suggested that they were trying to signal him somehow. He marched over and started to ask what the hell they were trying to say, when there was another gong and the overhead voice announced: [Violation! Contestant: OMAG has left the arena before the examination was completed. Contestant: OMAG automatically forfeits, and accepts a grade of Fail. Winner: Foxfire. Will both contestants please leave the arena and receive their grades, so the arena can be repaired for the next simulation?]
“What?” OMAG bleated. “But she… but the announcement…” he looked at Horrorshow and Runestrong. “Why didn’t you WARN me?”
Runestrong pointed off to the side, where the Grunts strutted into sight and lined up.
“GRUNTS!” Deadeye barked, “SAH-LOOT!” The Grunts all snapped to attention and made the ‘L’ sign on their foreheads. “Hey, OMAG”, Deadeye said with a smirk, “When you’re ready to stop farting around and learn a little discipline, we’ll talk. In the mean time, target practice is tomorrow.”
They stopped as an entire Roman victory procession, complete with maidens rapturously strewing flowers in her path and a litter bearing Foxfire, passed. The procession paused as Foxfire and Slyboots passed in front of OMAG. Boots blew him one last, especially juicy, raspberry, *Brrrpphhhtthh!* and the procession moved on.
* * * * * *
“So, what grade did they give you?” Lifeline asked.
“WHAT?” Loophole demanded, “But you got him to leave the arena before the test was over! That’s GOT to be ‘A’ material!”
“Yeah, but I suckered OMAG into trashing a couple of ANTs, so they dinged me for those as well as ol’ Rob Roy. And there was some talk about dragging outside quarrels into the Finals. Besides, I think that they thought that I went a little hard on the noid, foisting an automatic ‘F’ off on him.”
There was a tap on Foxfire’s shoulder. She turned. *Splorch!* A pie hit her right in the face. “OR, maybe they didn’t want to be party to Copyright Infringement!” Beltane snapped, just before she turned and flounced off.