Sunburst blasted away at the magical sphere that trapped her. She was chipping away at it, now that Lycarax wasn’t reinforcing it with that stupid staff of his. Though, what that girl was doing with Lycarax’s staff was even worse! The tree-thing had flattened most of Lycarax’s followers, and now that Big Dawg was out of the sod-thing, the tree-thing was giving him a hard time. The screechy blonde chick had blasted Skyrider with a cone of flame, something that didn’t do his magnetic powers a lick of good, and then she wrapped Nightfall in one of those ‘ice coffins’. Daybreak had to blast N-F out of the block before she suffocated, but Nighty wasn’t going to be good for much more in this fight. Macabre’s goons were mopping up the place with Lycarax’s dupes, and if she couldn’t get OUT of this stupid CAGE, they’d get away!
Then one of the Werecats hopped up on top of one of the heaps of Lycarax’s followers and yowled that ‘it was ready’. The three witches paused long enough to combine for one of those mega-blasts, and knocked Big Dawg into the middle of next week. Sunburst dug in deep and really whacked away at the cage surrounding her, but by the time that it faded into glittering vapors, the last of them was hopping over a hedge, with a real ‘making a getaway’ vibe to it. Sunny lit up the night as best she could on general principles, and burned ergs in their general direction. She had caught up with them as they were gathered around the three witches, who were touching the tips of their staves together and making this weird sonorous droning chant. Sunny yelled, “PLEASE! We’re trying to HELP you! Can’t you see that Mac-” but before she could even finish, there was that weird ‘ripple effect, the keening chant rose, and a wall of flickering mist appeared around the circle. It started to sparkle, and the chant rose to a screaming crescendo. And then-
-and then the mist drifted away, revealing an empty space where the collected teenagers had been.
“CRUD,” Sunny muttered to herself, disgusted. “KIDS.” Kids! You go a mile out of your way to try and help them, and they act like you’re going to sell them to the Cossacks! And then they run straight into the arms of the very people that they should run AWAY from! And, on that very subject… Sunburst pulled out her cell phone and called Katie. Who wasn’t answering. Katie always answered, even if it was with one of her snippy little quips. Hating herself for it, Sunny used her phone to check the whereabouts of Katie’s LoJack anklet. According to the LoJack, Katie was still within the compound… and not moving…
Her annoyance instantly turning into anxiety for Katie’s safety, Sunburst flew in the direction that the LoJack signal suggested. What she found scared the besnoogers out of her. Katie was wrapped up in a twisting vortex of primordial darkness. And she didn’t look like she was enjoying it in the slightest. Kate was curled up on the ground and twitching spasmodically. Sunny recognized the energy surrounding Katie, and had very BAD memories of it. Still, this is where the ‘guardian’ thing really comes in. She knew that her solar energy wouldn’t have that much effect on Katie’s darkness, but if she could get Katie off the ground, it should weaken the field’s power. She put as much power into her protective aura as she could and still fly and headed into swirl of darkness.
The Erebeal energy dug into Sunny like a thousand ice-cold fishhooks, but with a surge of power she managed to tough it out and get Katie out of the swirl, and up into the air. Looking down into her face, Sunny could see that Katie looked wan and ill, and despite her maternal distress, urgently hoped that Katie wouldn’t yark all over her.
* * * * *
“Whoo!” Brujah hooted as she took in the condition of the California Crusaders, most of whom were sporting major bruises and minor lacerations. “What did YOU guys run into?”
“It was either a eucalyptus-,” Daybreak said sourly.
“-or a Whomping Willow,” Nightfall finished.
“Just my luck,” Chiller groaned, “my first raid as a superhero, and I run into a supervillain who’s a Harry Potter fan.”
“Look at the bright side, Chill,” Skyrider advised. “This wasn’t on TV; if the Hollywood All-Stars or the WCL ever heard about this, we’d never live it down.”
“By the way,” Swashbuckler asked Sky as he touched out one of his cuts with mercurochrome, “why didn’t you use your magnetic powers to levitate yourself to the ground and spare yourself the hard landing?”
“I’m too dang used to the board,” Sky admitted. “’sides those two cutie-cats rang my bell for me. By the time that I realized that I was falling, I’d already hit the ground.” Then Sky looked over at Brujah inquiringly. “I don’t have to worry about that ‘being bitten by a werewolf’ thing, do I?”
“Sky,” Brujah assured him, “that’s pure Hollywood bilge. Hell, it’s 1940s Hollywood bilge. There were no pre-existing stories about werewolves passing the curse along with a bite; if it was true, we’d all be scratching and panting and wearing flea collars.” Brujah looked around her and asked, “HOW did a bunch of KIDS get so tough that they could do this to you?”
“We had them on the ropes,” Swash said through a grimace as he applied a binder to a gash. “Both Lycarax’s pigeons and the were-cats. Then the kids’ backup showed up with that stupid mirror. Then they went totally Universal Monster Movie, and started ripping us up. Why the HELL did she do that?”
“I don’t think that the girl did,” Sunny responded from where she was nursing Katie, trying to get the mulish little pill to take some chicken soup (well, it couldn’t hurt!). “She held up the mirror, and then Lycarax did something that he probably thought would only help his people, not Macabre’s were-whatevers as well.”
“Yeah,” Big Dawg grunted, “but how come those witch-chicks were so much meaner this time? I mean, those combo blasts of theirs didn’t exactly tickle last time, but this time? WHOO! I’ve been hit with RPGs that hurt less!”
“That’s Lycarax’s fault too,” Katie groaned from where she was laying down. She struggled to a sitting position and looked at them through a face that was still a tad green. “Lycarax must have had his people raiding the operations from minor league mages up and down the Pacific coast - and probably into Mexico, if that blood altar is any clue - ripping off their regalia and power items. That is, if that’s all they did to the poor schmucks.”
“In other words, ‘Black Magic Fun and Games 101’,” Brujah remarked in an ‘and your point IS?’ way.
“For some reason, he had all his really important loot tucked away in a warded secret room. Besides the lesser junk, he had a Dianiac High Priestesses’ parure and a Gardnerian altar insignia, all of which are probably power foci of some sort.”
“Hanh?” Chiller bleated in confusion.
“The jewelry and witch-stuff that they were waving around both amplified their magic power,” Brujah spelled it out for him.
“How do you know all that?” Chiller asked, looking at Katie askance. “I mean, you’re only, what? Fourteen?”
“SIXTEEN,” Katie glowered at him. “How do you know how to strip a car and package it right? I know all that because M, er, my mother, the Bell Witch, has been dragging me around from one occult dog-and-pony show to another since I was born. I helped my mother rip off more esoteric junk than Indiana Jones and Lara Croft combined. I only wish that she’d been able to hold ONTO any of it! I can spot a warding charm or a trapping glyph with a single look, and I can tell more about an item’s age, origins and properties with a lick than the Manhattan Metropolitan Museum of Anthropology can in a month with their entire lab. I can tell whether something’s blessed, cursed, infernal, enchanted or mundane just by the smell of it. And I learned all of that because I had to. If I hadn’t, I would have worse than died.”
“Worse? Than died?”
“You don’t want to know, Chiller,” Brujah said stolidly. “So, Macabre’s witches are running around now, even more powerful than before…”
“Besides, it’s nice to be able to Sherlock it up a little;” Kate continued, ducking Brujah’s rant, “usually at school, it’s a race to see who’s going to show off how incisive and observant they can be: Jadis, Ray, Romeo, Jobe, or, God help us all, Cheese.”
“You don’t wanna know.”
“And it’s not as bad as it might be,” Kate veered off that. “First of all, I sort of doubt that Macabre will let them keep it all. If he’s anything like the ‘mad scientists’ that I’ve met, Macabre will insist on ‘examining’ the items, and just keep ‘examining’ them until the Witches either forget about it, or get the idea that he’s not going to give it back.
“Second, the witches don’t really know what they’re doing; they’re just winging it, and relying on their powers to get them out of whatever scrape they’re in. Those foci they swiped could have all sorts of prices or obligations or taboos that they know nothing about; thinking that a magic wand is just like a gun is a classic magic newb mistake. Also, Icy, the one making all the ‘alpha bitch’ noises insisted on keeping all the Dianiac power jewelry for herself; those pieces are designed along a ‘Maiden- Queen- Crone’ division; they’d have been more powerful, and probably synched their energies more efficiently, if they’d divvied the pieces out among themselves. Also, trying to fill all those roles in one person could be… troublesome for Icy.
“Third, the Witches aren’t anything like disciplined.” Kate ran down how the Witches had squabbled among themselves, and how the Vampires had tried to undermine their already rather shaky authority. “I read Icy as a ‘Bitter Swan’-”
“’Bitter Swan’?” Chiller asked uncertainly.
“It’s something you see at the school I go to,” Kate explained with an annoyed sigh. “It’s the mutant version of when a gawky little wallflower blossoms over summer vacation and comes back to school a hottie with a body. Suddenly, she’s not the victim anymore, she’s got the power, and she’s going to be the biggest bitch the school has ever seen. Now, take that, and give the airhead in question actual power: super strength, telepathy, electric blasts, magic, whatever. The power goes to their heads, and they do unto others as they think was done unto them. I’ve heard that they grow out of it. I’m still waiting for it with the ones I know.
“Anyway, Icy puts way too much time and effort into showing off how big a bitch she can be and keeping the rest in line. She won’t turn on Macabre; she’s having too much fun being ‘evil’. Darcy, the one with the long dark hair, has some brains; she came up with a couple of good moves, but she’s pretty much a follower. Her first reflex seems to be to follow whoever has the initiative at the moment. She won’t turn on Macabre, as it’s too risky.
“But Stormy, the one with the short dark hair, she could be a problem. She showed some brains and skills, she wasn’t afraid to cross Icy when Icy was going to do something stupid, she knows something - not much, none of them do - about the occult, she spotted that Swashbuckler was stalling them, and worst of all, it looked like she actually has a nodding acquaintance with the basics of leadership, instead of just screaming at people, like Icy does. She made a clear effort to try and drum up some support among the Weres and Vampires, even as she made it clear that the Witches were still in charge. And her power seems to be particularly effective against Erebeal magics. One of her blasts got me but good; the second one almost knocked me out cold. Still, I’m not really sure about the second one; it might have been her power’s mystic attunement, or it might have been that vajra that she was channeling it through, or it might have been one of the other trinkets that they were using, or it might have been the fact that all three were synching their energies together.”
“OR, it might have been any combination of the above,” Brujah said, studying Kate carefully. “Was that mega-blast of theirs responsible for that Dark Magic mess that I had to clean up, instead of getting that mirror from those hoods before they gated out?”
“They didn’t get the mirror,” Kate said defensively. “I nailed the one they had holding the mirror and swapped it out for the fake that Lycarax had rigged up. Then I shadow-gated away before they could pick up on the switch. But something interrupted my transit and forced me off the path.”
“Oh? Who? How?”
Kate shrugged. “I never saw them. They threw a face full of powdered Moly into my face, and I was too busy not yarking up on myself to keep control of the Shadows.”
Brujah arched an eyebrow. “You have a reaction to Moly? Allergic or Mystic Aversion?”
“Six of one, half a dozen of the other,” Kate muttered, drawing back into herself.
“So?” Sunny peeped, “Who has the mirror-thingie?”
“I didn’t see who did it,” Kate groaned. “All I saw, before I passed out, was a pair of gloves.”
“WHY don’t I believe you?” Brujah said as she advanced menacingly in Kate’s direction.
“I wouldn’t get too close, Bru,” Sunny warned her. “She might be warming up for a Technicolor yawn.”
“PEOPLE, can we stay on track here?” Swashbuckler said without his trademark Ronald Coleman impression, “The thing is: do we have any ideas as to where Macabre’s going to strike next, and when and how?” He looked inquiringly at Kate, who just looked green around the gills. “Well then, what can you tell us about the other power items they found?”
Kate shook her head uneasily. “Not much. There was a silver statuette of a winged woman that might have been of the goddess Ishtar, given their Lunar biases. Hopefully, it’s just a silver knickknack; Ishtar had a nasty reputation.”
“You’re not sure about that?” Brujah asked.
“NO,” Kate said testily. “Look, I know a lot of different stuff, but I don’t know everything, okay? I didn’t study it; I was too busy watching Macabre’s goons to give any of that a good scrying.”
“And why didn’t you keep them from taking that stuff?”
“That wasn’t my job,” Kate said defensively. “I was told to slow them down and not hurt them. WHY that was such a good idea, I’m still not sure. So, I let them waste time bickering and trying to haul away too much loot. Besides, I figured if they weighed themselves down with too much stuff, they’d be that much easier to handle. I sure didn’t expect that stuff to be packing that kind of firepower!” Kate paused and considered. “Come to think of it, the only way that mages would let Lycarax walking away with stuff that potent is if they were dead. The DA better start checking that stuff against items listed as missing in the deaths of various suspected mystics in the past few years.”
“Oh, THANK you for your expert opinion!” Brujah drawled sarcastically. “Lycarax is going to have to face some serious charges, just for possessing that Chac Mool, which is a Guatemalan national cultural treasure; and he’ll have a lot more to answer for, when they test the blood in the altar’s bowl. And I’ll bet that there are a lot of other charges attached to his possession of a lot of the rest of that junk in that room. Still, I’d like to know exactly WHO took the Mirror of Tanith from you.” She glared accusingly at Kate.
“Chill, people, CHILL!” Sunny said soothingly.
“Why is it funny when she says it?” Chiller demanded.
“So, we got our butts handed to us on this one,” Sunny continued. “We bounce back and kick ass, now that we know Macabre’s mooks have these power-ups. Okay, so it’s a little more complicated than we thought - no big. It’s not that bad. If anything, it works in our favor. Most of the superbads that I’ve faced have been more interested in screwing over other superbads than they were in beating the Capes; hey, they’re more worried about the other black masks, ‘cause they know exactly how nasty they can be! We have two more dinguses to find before the whatevertheyrecalled’s Astrolabe is formed; Mr. X will play his card, and then we deal with the situation. Yes, we’re on the defensive, and that sucks. But so is Dr. Macabre, and that should throw him off his game enough that he’ll do something stupid.
“BUT! In the meantime, I’m detecting some serious hostility between you and Kate, Bru.”
“Amazing,” Brujah grumbled, glowering at Kate like a cat about to hiss, “how does she sense these things?”
“A real puzzler,” Kate glowered right back at her.
“So, you guys got some personality conflict going down. Obviously, what you need is a little ‘get to know each other’ time. Hey, Bru! Why don’t you take Katie along with you, when you do La Posada down Olivera Street?”
“La Posada,” Kate groaned. “Just what I’ve always wanted to do: walk slowly down a street, reenacting an event of dubious historical veracity, in the company of a woman who completely repudiates the Catholic credo that the event is supposed to celebrate.”
“Quetzalcoatl has no conflicts with Catholicism,” Brujah replied stiffly. “He is a reflection of the primordial Redeemer that is fulfilled by Guan Yin in the Chinese pantheons, Kwannon in the Japanese, and Christ within the Christian faith.”
“Right. He’s such a nice guy, not like the rest of the Azatlani gods; he only expected ONE human sacrifice a year.” Kate glacially raised one eyebrow. “And have you been keeping up with your obligations?”
“Quetzalcoatl expects no blood tithe from me,” Brujah maintained, head held high. “The Tithe of Hearts was another era, and the Plumed Serpent only demanded that so that the Aztecs would respect him. It’s not necessary now.”
“Yeah. That’s what you say NOW…”
“SEE?” Sunny beamed, “you’re getting along better already! So, we’ll pencil you two in for doing the Posey-mosey together?” Kate and Brujah both loudly disagreed with that, but Sunny merely clucked her tongue and said, “See? You’re agreeing with each other and everything, and you haven’t even gone on the Posada yet!”
* * * * *
“What’s the matter, Katie?”
Kate just looked around the Boxster, “Oh, have you ever had the feeling that you just rushed through this whole involved scene in a blur?”
“Oh Please!” Sunburst scoffed, “That only happens in movies, TV, and badly written Net Fiction.”
* * * * *
On the way back to Malibu, the conversation was a tad stilted. Then Katie had Sunny pull over to the shoulder, and she tossed a few cookies and hopefully purged some of that Moly poisoning. Katie got back in the car and leaned back in the seat, looking eve paler than usual, but considerably less green. “Feeling better?” Sunny asked supportively.
“Chocolate…” Kate groaned.
“I’ll take that as a ‘Yes’,” Sunny grinned as she gunned the motor and took off again.
* * * * *
Sunny gave Kate some Pepto-Bismol and put immediately her to bed, tucking a stuffed bunny in under the covers with her. Kate was so wrung out from the combination of the beating and Moly that she barely had the strength to throw the plushie across the room.
A few hours later, Kate was dragged from her slumber. “Maaawwmmm…” she groaned, “don’t wanna sacrifice innocents to dark unmentionable gods…” Then Kate realized that as annoying as her mother’s summons were, they weren’t made with a piano. Let alone with a piano that was slightly off-key. Kate was out of the bed and at the door of her room before it registered that she’d recovered from the Moly. And she’d also recovered (mostly) from the beating, without being buried alive. She hadn’t mentioned that to Sunny because, well, even she found that sort of creepy. She opened the door and stuck her head out.
Down at the end of the short hall, Sunny’s door was open and Sunny herself was curiously poking her head out as well. Sunny shot Kate a ‘not you?’ look. Kate shook her head; okay, it was obvious, but they needed to get on the same page, fast. “What kind of security does this house have?” Kate whispered.
“First Rate,” Sunny whispered back. “Whoever he is, he’s a much better housebreaker than he is a pianist. Let’s go see what he wants. If nothing else, to get him to stop; he’s absolutely murdering Gershwin!”
Belatedly, Kate recognized the tune playing as ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. She nodded and followed as Sunny sent down the stairs. Not that she was a huge admirer of George Gershwin, but they had to do something before he started doing Noel Coward. As they came cautiously down the stairs, Kate in her black ‘kitten face’ jersey nightie and Sunny in a LA Rams football jersey, they spotted the rather surreal sight of a masked man in evening clothes, complete with opera cape and a turban, sitting at the white grand piano. He spotted them coming down the stairs, and pausing and sounding out keys experimentally, he commented conversationally, “Forget being tuned lately, I don’t think that this thing has ever even been played.” He sounded out one particularly sour key, and gave up. “They even keep this near the window overlooking the ocean,” he said in suave despair. “If the nouveau riche MUST insist on having grand pianos in their houses, WHY don’t they just buy an old, used-up grand piano, gut it of strings and just use that as an overgrown coffee table?” He shut the key case with a sad air. “Why let a work of craftsmanship, like this, deteriorate?”
“Y’know, it’s not very professional to stop in the middle of a burglary and molest a poor defenseless Steinway,” Sunny said, arms folded across her chest.
“I wouldn’t do that, Sunny,” Kate said cautioning. “Serial Break-in Pianists can be vicious when provoked.”
“Please!” the pianist pleaded rising from his seat. “You wound me!”
“I’m not cleaning up the mess,” Kate stated flat-out.
“Please, lovely lady,” the man said suavely, giving Sunny a winning smile. “And-” his panache faltered badly at Kate’s frigid glare. “-and companion,” he continued as smoothly as he could. “Permit me to introduce myself-”
“Wow! Boris Badinov!” Kate smirked, “Man, you clean up good for a short Pottsylvanian guy.”
“Gracious lady,” he concentrated on Sunny, pointedly ignoring the mouthy pipsqueak. He reached over, took Sunny’s hand and gently kissed the back of it. “Had I known how lovely you’d look at this hour, I’d have broken in weeks ago.”
“Do you always break into the houses of beautiful women?” Sunny said with a sideways smile.
“No, sometimes they let me in. But they never kick me out. Well, at least not the wives, anyway.”
“Well, I’ll give you this,” Sunny riposted, “You’re a smooth talker…”
“Talk is the least of my talents,” he smirked and produced a bouquet of flowers from nowhere with a flourish.
“Wow,” Kate droned, “you’re also a florist… who knew?” she turned to Sunny. “Is it the latest thing in LA to bring flowers to the people that you’re burgling?”
The man gave Kate a ‘humph! Try to be charming!’ snub and said to Sunny, “As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted-”
“What? I wasn’t the one trying to do ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ without a clarinet, let alone a brass section!” Sunny gave Kate a poke with her elbow, as though to say ‘let the charming man in evening clothes talk’.
“As I was saying, my nom de crime is ‘Mister Magic’.” He gave a sweeping bow with a hand that scattered a silvery sparking as it passed.
“Mister Magic?” Sunny’s voice dropped to match the look of amusement that slipped off her face and bounced on the carpet. “You’re the guy who mixed it up with Swashbuckler? You work for Dr. Macabre?” She finished with a flash of light in both hands.
“Certainly NOT!” ‘Mister Magic’ snapped, oblivious to the potential photon barrage that might be headed his way. “Yes, I went to Macabre’s warehouse, but I don’t work for that piece of garbage! I may not be a paragon of virtue, but I DO have standards!” he gathered his cool, and continued with a touch more of his usual polish, “I went there, looking for something to tell me what Macabre’s done with MY SON!”
“Your son?” Sunny lightened up.
But Kate scowled, “Oh, gimme a break! If Macabre was holding your son, he’d have you under 24/7 observation, and he’d have you doing his dirty work just to keep the kid alive.”
“Macabre doesn’t know that he has my son,” Mr. Magic explained, but the false ring to it obviously rang in his own ears even as the words were coming out. “He knows that he has SOMEONE, but he doesn’t know that Artie’s MY son. Look, Artie sort of looks up to me, and he’s gotten it into his head that he wants to be a dashing gentleman rogue’,” he said with a lilt that underscored the fact that it was his shtick, even as he acknowledged how childish it was. “For the past few years, he’s been studying all the tricks of the trade and training in gymnastics, climbing, the martial arts, stealth and all that. And he’s been going out breaking into places, to get some real world experience. I was against it, but I knew that he’d try breaking in on his own, so I orchestrated a couple of nasty scrapes that we barely got out of, even though I’d planned them. But instead of getting scared off, he got off on the rush of the near escape. I tried it again, hoping that he’d get the message, but it didn’t work; if anything, he was keener on it than ever. I stopped taking him along until I could think of something to drum a little sense into his head, but he went out without me.
“Obviously, wherever he went, whatever he did, he got mixed up with Dr. Macabre somehow, and that’s the last I’ve seen of him. But not the last I’ve heard from him.”
“Keep talking,” Kate droned with her best stone face.
“Before I took Artie out on those *ahem!* ‘junkets’, we agreed on a set of contact protocols, in case things went sour, fill in a couple of hours of spy melodrama here, and like that. Then, three weeks ago, he disappeared. For the next two weeks, I tore the Southland apart, looking for him.”
“And even with your contacts, you couldn’t find Dr. Macabre?” Sunny asked.
“Contacts?” Mr. M bleated, “Do you honestly think that I talked to my associates about this? Confidentially, miss, my *ahem!* ‘friends’ are SCUM! I don’t want any of them knowing that I even HAVE a kid, let alone know that he’s been kidnapped! It would give them IDEAS!” Mr. Magic gathered his cool, and resumed, “After about two weeks of going NUTS trying to figure out what the hell happened to him, I finally remembered that when we were setting up those contact protocols, Artie insisted on setting up a Facebook page. I logged onto that, and found out that he’d been blogging, on and off, for about a week.”
“Okay, NOW I believe you,” Kate said a smidge less frigidly.
“His downloads were a little… cryptic…” Mr. M admitted. “Like he was trying to tell me things, but he couldn’t flat-out say things for some reason. Which doesn’t make sense; it sounds like he was being monitored, and didn’t want them to know that he was contacting me, but WHY would they let him get onto a computer in the first place?”
“Get on?” Kate smirked, actually breaking a smile. “A computer?”
Sunny gave Mr. Magic a wan supportive smile. “It’s a lot more likely that he’s blogging when he can, as he can from a cell phone that has net access.”
Mr. Magic buried his face in his hand. “They can do that now, can’t they?” he sighed. “GOD, I feel so old…” then something clicked. “But if he can go online, WHY doesn’t he just send me an e-mail? I mean, even I know how to read e-mail… or his mother? Or his friends? Or the Police? Or MTV? Why the sneaky messages that only make sense to ME?”
“I don’t know,” Sunny admitted. Kate only shrugged. “Are you sure that it’s Artie? Or that he’s been captured by Dr. Macabre?”
Mr. Magic nodded with a smirk. “Oh yeah. Whoever’s making those blog-things definitely has Artie’s sense of humor. Even IF Macabre was yanking my chain for some bizarre convoluted reason, there’s no way that he could copy the little digs that Artie’s throwing my way. And he’s been captured by Dr. Macabre, I’m sure of that. He included a link to Macabre’s page on the Supervillain Index. I almost threw up when I read the file.”
“That’s nice,” Kate droned, “And exactly WHAT does that have to do with you breaking in here in the middle of the night, and mangling a classic American original? If you know all this, why don’t you go get him yourself?”
“That’s what I was doing at that warehouse, when Swashbuckler jumped me. I was going to check one of the general hiding places that we’d agreed on in our contact protocols. I hoped that Artie had left something there; something that would tell me what was going on more effectively than his blogs could, for whatever reason. But Swashbuckler was there, and he wasn’t exactly what you’d call receptive when I tried to tell him why I was there.” Mr. Magic looked deeply into Sunny’s eyes. “I’m not afraid to face Cobb and his freaks by myself, but I’m not fool enough to cross the California Crusaders at the same time. Especially when they’re doing exactly what I want them to do: rescuing my son.
“The reason that I’m here is to let you know that Artie’s passed along some more information to me. Macabre’s shut down all his other efforts and is concentrating everything on finding something called ‘the Telchines’ Astrolabe’.” Sunny and Kate exchanged looks. “And he’s moving quickly. He just took possession of a professional security breakdown for some financial adviser in Brentwood, who also practices some serious magic under the craft name ‘Megalesius’. And, he’s arranged for some sort of assistance. Exactly what kind of assistance, Artie wasn’t sure.”
Mr. Magic drew himself up a bit. “Look, I’m not fool enough to get between superheroes and a mad scientist, Artie didn’t ask for any of this - like any of them did - I need to hear that when you bring Cobb down, that you’ll do whatever you can to help him.”
“Well, if what Macabre did to him sticks, I’ll pull what strings I can to get him into Whateley,” Sunny offered.
“Gee,” Mr. Magic scoffed, “and I was hoping to get him into Hogwarts!” He took in the looks on Sunny and Kate’s faces. “Jesus! You mean Whateley’s REAL? I thought that a superhero school for mutants was just an urban legend, a bullshit story that bottom-rung supervillains told each other, like Area 51, the Haunted Skull, Section 13, the MCO Death Camp or the Cursed Power Ring!”
“Nope,” Sunny said with a winning smile. “Katie here goes to Whateley during the school year!”
“They… really let the kids of… supervillains go there?”
“And they’re SAFE?”
“And superheroes’ kids go there too?”
“Yeah, that’s WHY they’re safe!” Sunny assured him. “Nobody wants to piss off both sides. Katie’s friends with the daughter of Dr. Diabolik, the son of Gizmatic-”
“Let’s just say that I KNOW the son of Gizmatic,” Kate hedged dryly. “With Jobe, it’s more a matter of not squishing him than being friends with him.”
“But won’t the fact that Artie isn’t a mutant be held against him?”
“Are you sure about that?” Kate asked clinically. “Maybe he inherited some of your powers.”
“I don’t actually have any super powers,” Mr. Magic assured him. “I get over with planning, practice, moves, SKILL, and a very LARGE bag of tricks. That is, unless panache counts as a super power,” he preened.
“Swashbuckler found one of the cards that you left behind at the warehouse,” Kate informed him. “He said that he did it to check it for evidence that he could use to track you, but I think that he also had in mind figuring out how that trick worked, so he could use it himself. You know that they say: plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. You can imagine how crushed he was when Brujah told him that the cards were charged with magic.”
“Okay, okay,” Mr. Magic admitted. “I was pulling a ‘Victor/ Victoria, trying to cover the fact that I use magic by hoking it up with the stage magic stuff. But do you have any IDEA how nasty the black magic crew is? They make the scumbags that I hang out with look like choirboys! If it got out that I have magic powers, one of the dark practitioners would have me stretched out on an altar, and the toughest part about it would be choosing which unspeakable thing he’d sacrifice me to! But still, I don’t think that I’m a mutant.” He gave Kate a quick glance. “Not that I have anything against mutants.”
“Some of your best friends are mutants?” Kate arched an eyebrow.
“As a matter of fact, NO,” he admitted. “But given the riffraff that I run with, being a friend of mine is hardly what you’d call a ringing recommendation. I just don’t think that I’m a mutant.”
“You don’t operate like a serious student of The Art,” Kate observed. “How did you get your powers?”
“To be honest, by accident,” Mr. Magic said. “I broke into the house of a collector of Pre-Columbian artifacts, cracked his safe, and found a gold idol the size of a grapefruit. But when I picked it up, I got a jolt like I’d been hit by lightning!”
“How badly were you hurt?” Sunny asked.
“Not a lot,” he admitted. “It scared the hell out of me, but it didn’t even stop me from making off with the idol.”
“What was the idol to?” Kate asked.
“A Mesoamerican rain god variously called Chaac, Cocijo, Tlaloc, or Nahaulpilli. Ugly sucker. Bloodthirsty, too.”
“It identified itself?”
“No, I researched it and figured out what it was from the descriptions.” Mr. Magic gave them a defensive look. “Well, wouldn’t YOU under the circumstances? But even after I sold the damned thing, I had the power.” He snapped his fingers, popping a spark from his fingertips.
“It doesn’t sound like Chac imbued you with his powers,” Kate said clinically. “It would have named itself and spelled out what it wanted from you. More likely, that jolt was a standard ‘back off, asshole’ that the associated deity gave as a warning to anyone who tried to steal his idol. Possibly a curse that didn’t quite work the way the godling intended. And it doesn’t sound traumatic enough to be a Batson Incident. Most likely, you’re a latent mystic mutant, you had built up a minor magical charge that kicked in a dormant charge within the idol, which backlashed on you. Your system protected itself by a late manifestation of your latent traits, and bingo: you got powers. Welcome to the club, bubbie.”
“I’m a mutant?” Mr. Magic mused, his puzzled expression clear even through the domino mask. “Who knew?” then his expression grew worried. “How will this affect Artie and what Macabre did to him? He’s not going to be… deformed is he? He’s not one of those ghouls or those Trolls that Macabre makes is he?”
Kate bit back a snipe about being more worried about Artie’s looks than wellbeing, but held it back; either way, the man was genuinely worried about his son, which put him several notches above some parents she could think of. “I overheard the Vampires talking among each other, and they called one of theirs ‘Artie’.”
“Fifteen going on sixteen, five-seven, slender, dark floppy hair that he really should have cut two weeks ago? Sensitive face that will probably become ruggedly handsome with a little seasoning? Moves like a cat, knows his way around electronics and security systems?”
“I’d say he was closer to five-five and scrawny, too much nose and too little chin, he moved like he’d had a growth spurt that he hadn’t gotten used to yet, and he almost gave his team away when he tried to take on a security system that was too sophisticated for him.”
“That’s my boy!” Mr. Magic said with a lopsided smile of affectionate paternal dismay. “He’s okay?”
“Well, if you call needing to drink blood and being mortally afraid of sunlight okay, yeah. Not that I regard the latter as that big a deal.”
Mr. Magic slumped with relief. “Thank GOD. At least I won’t have to explain to his mother why her son got turned into some walking lump of rotting meat. I’ve met cybernetically enhanced enforcers with kill-on-sight orders on them that I’d rather tangle with than his mother!”
“His mother?” Sunny visibly withdrew emotionally and her voice lost some warmth. “You’re married?”
“Oh No!” Mr. Magic assured her. “We never married! As a matter of fact, until four years ago, I didn’t even know that Artie existed!” Seeing that that wasn’t flying very well, he owned up. “Okay, I admit it, I slept around a lot when I was younger. Hey, it’s part of the act, and I got a lot of action, so sue me. Eighteen years ago, I ran into this great chick who worked PR on a job, and we clicked. We ran around together for a couple of years. I thought that I was taking precautions, she thought that she was taking precautions; it turns out that we were both wrong. Then, after about two years, she suddenly turns cold and starts talking about what a rackety, unpredictable life I led - like that had been a big issue before. She broke it off clean and moved to LA. Then, four years ago, I discovered WHY my rackety, unpredictable life was suddenly such an issue.
“Yeah, it was sticky at first. I mean, this kid looking up at you and saying ‘Dad?’ But… once I got to know him… Well, Artie’s a great kid! Smart, honest, gutsy, picks up like THAT. Okay… he tries a little too hard… he gives it everything he’s got, but he doesn’t have that…” Mr. Magic waved his hands futilely, searching for the words.
“He’s a screw-up?” Kate provided.
“He doesn’t have his ‘center’,” Mr. Magic remedied that. “He doesn’t have that fine touch of balance or finesse just yet,” he spun his baton by way of illustration. “He’ll get there… eventually.” He arched an eyebrow at Sunburst.
“Okay, Mr. Magic,” Sunny said, “We’ll do what we can for Artie. WON’T WE, Katie?”
“Okay, okay,” Kate tisked, “I’ll hold his hand and make sure that he doesn’t fall down go boom. But I’m not kissing his boo-boo.”
“Okay, there you are.” Sunny arched an eyebrow back at Mr. Magic.
“The name you want is Yavros Hravec, lawyer, fiscal manager, broker, real estate sales, and all-around financial wizard.” He handed them a card.
Sunny took the card. “Got anything bigger?” she asked squinting at the card. “The print is a mite fine on this.” Suddenly, the card sprang up in size from a normal card to something the size of a trophy check. “HEY!” Sunny yelped, but Mr. Magic was gone, without even an open window to explain his passing.
“Sunny, you DO know that with a sleazeball like him, this is more than likely some sort of convoluted setup,” Kate pointed out.
“Maybe,” Sunny admitted, “but it’s more than we have now. And even if it’s a setup, I’ve turned setups around before.”
“And the fact that you’re de facto between boyfriends doesn’t factor into this?”
“Hey, do you know how hard it is to find a good-looking, suave guy who can wear a tux who isn’t gay in Los Angeles? Let alone one who can pull off wearing a turban?”
* * * * *
LA County Sheriff’s Department Evidence Bunker
Sergeant Douglas ‘Doggie’ Kenelm looked up disinterestedly as someone entered the shabby office that overlooked the cavernous main storage area for the Evidence Bunker, but he quickly got interested. The three girls who came in with Lieutenant Pryor may be been young, almost textbook illustrations of ‘jailbait’, but when you’re too old to be interested in that, then time to retire and dedicate yourself to muttering bitterly about ‘the good old days’.
“So, ah, what brings you girls here?” Doggie asked, working hard to not lick his chops. “We don’t get a lot of pretty girls visiting here.” Then his higher brain functions kicked in. “As a matter of fact, we don’t get any visitors here, unless they’ve got a Security Clearance of-”
“It’s cool, Doggie,” Pryor said, “This one’s Sheriff Baca’s granddaughter. He gave his personal okay for her and her two friends to tour the facility for information for a report for their high school.” And Pryor believed that. Sheriff Baca was known for a ‘get the job done’ style that allowed for ‘bending the rules’ every now and again. As a matter of fact, Baca was getting a lot of grief about that, because of incidents involving the cushy treatments that actor Mel Gibson and heiress Paris Hilton had received in the LA county jails. Not as much grief as Mel Gibson was getting over drunken anti-Semitic remarks that he’d made on record while he was being booked, but still more than Baca liked. Of course, Pryor also believed that he had $200 in ten-dollar bills in his pocket that had gone a long way toward easing their way past the front office; Pryor would be very, VERY pissed to learn later that they were just twenty slips of green paper.
“Yeah!” Darcy piped up, beaming a smile at the homely little troll in khaki drab. “Grampa said that this was where you keep all the cool junk that you take supervillains when they get busted!”
“You’re not supposed to know that,” Doggie said uncertainly.
“Why not?” Icy said, looking far more wholesome and friendly than usual with her hair down. “It’s all over ‘Tombofevil.com’.”
“Tomb of evil?” Doggie asked, eyebrow raised.
“Sure! The website! Tombofevil.com, one long word?” Icy continued chipperly, despite wanting to scream at them to let her aside. “The supervillain web shrine?”
Doggie asked Icy to show him this website that allegedly had information on a police facility that was supposed to be secret. Of course, the supervillain community knew about the place; the LASD simply didn’t want gawkers and groupies and conspiracy nuts and supervillain wannabes mobbing the place. Icy called up a website called, sure enough ‘Tomb of Evil’, which had ‘sexy’ pictures of supervillains like the Savage Six, Typhon, Madam Vicious, Al-Rascheed, the Last Brave and Wulfin the Purifier on the splash page. Icy nattered at them as she brought up a page. But instead of a forum or article about the evidence locker, an animated .gif of a naked girl appeared and did a shimmy. Doggie and Pryor reflexively goggled at the image, and then promptly zoned out by the subliminal hypnotic images being beamed into their brains by the CRT. Even so, Icy and Stormy still took what looked like trendy headphones from around their necks and set them on the Deputies’ heads. The headphones emitted an electromagnetic signal directly into their brains that triggered a ‘complete submission’ reflex in the two men.
“See?” Icy gloated, “I told you it would work!”
“You told?” Stormy started, objecting that the plan had been her idea. But Darcy stopped her, rolling her eyes as to say, ‘It’s not worth the aggravation’.
As per the plan, Icy shoved Kenelm aside and familiarized herself with the workstation. As Stormy watched over Icy’s shoulder, Darcy left for the entry point and took Pryor along with her. By the time that Darcy got back with Pryor, carrying a tote, Stormy and Icy were both hacking away at workstations with a will. “There’s good news, bad news, more bad news and more good news,” Icy reported without taking her eyes from the screen as she typed. “The good news is that everything that we lost at the warehouse is here. The bad news is that while we can simply order most of what we want taken out of storage and collected at the loading dock, the stuff that the Doc really wants, and ordered us to get no matter what, is all under lock and key, and we can’t just order it removed. The Officer on Duty has to break a seal, sign for it, and unlock the bay himself. Apparently, they don’t trust the deputies that much. Stuff keeps getting lost from the evidence locker, and they really don’t want this stuff walking away in someone’s pocket.”
“The Officer on Duty?” Darcy said, reaching over and pulling the keys on Pryor’s belt out significantly. “Y’mean, like HIM?”
“It means exposing ourselves and complicating things by a quantum shift,” Stormy pointed out. “The ‘more bad news’ is that this place was designed and built with the idea in mind that supervillains and other such weirdoes would try and break in and grab the goodies they got stocked here. This place is a fucking fortress! The exterior is made of three layers of some weird exotic super-science materials I never heard of before. You could set off a nuke in here, and nobody’d ever notice it! And, since they have to assume that even with that, someone would get in, they don’t keep stuff from one case all together in one bay; they keep it scattered all over the place, so that if anyone tries to get it all, they’ll have to run all over the place. AND, everything’s in bland uniform crates, so you actually have to understand the labeling terminology in order to know what’s inside any given crate. Which means that Plans A and B won’t fly. We’re gonna have to go with Plans C or D, and pray that we don’t have to have to fall back on Plan E.”
“Plan E?” Icy asked, “What’s Plan E?”
“That’s where we go back to Dr. Macabre and tell him that we couldn’t get back the junk that we lost.”
“Okay, and what’s the more bad news?”
“The Deputies they have here are first rate,” Stormy explained. “This is a cushy gig, and a lot of guys want it. Just to be considered for this, you gotta have at least twelve years on the beat, you gotta have been in at least five supervillain fights, and you gotta have at least three citations for merit and/or exemplary courage. They’re required to wear body armor and have a cell phone on them at all times. They have ‘in case of emergency’ caches of shotguns, flash-bang grenades, tear gas and other nasties all over the place. And they’ve got procedures in place, in case anyone gets into the place and overpowers the deputies. If any one of them pushes the alarm button on his cell phone, LASD will have SWAT, the Power Suit Squad, and whoever’s the nearest superhero team all arguing on the doorstep as to who’ll be the first one to go in.” Stormy paused. “By the way - who IS the nearest superhero team?”
Icy and Darcy mulled it over. “I think it’s the Hollywood All-Stars…”
“Suh-WEET!” Stormy said with a grin. “Nice to get a break for a change!”
“So, basically, you’re saying that we have to go with Plan E,” Darcy summed it up. “We’re screwed.”
“Nnnaaawwwt necessarily,” Icy drawled smugly. “While you were out, we were picking Puppydog’s here brain -”she poked Kenelm, prodding him to drool slightly, “what there is of it - for information, and he came up with three little bits that we can use. First, we have been smiled on by the supervillain’s best friend: politics and budgets. Y’see, while the design of this dump is first rate, the actual construction…? Not so much. It seems that somebody’s golfing buddy got the contract, and there are HYOOOGE gaps in the physical and electronic security here. You can just breeze in and out of here - IF you know where the gaps are.” Icy waved a triumphant hand at the workstation. “Here’s the report on all the gaps: physical, and electronic, and procedural gaps that are the result of the physical and electronic gaps. Stormy and I have been doing everything that we can using the computer system, but we’re gonna have to do more moving things around by hand than I think that we three can get away with.
“Second, the guys here have been hearing rumors that someone’s gonna try some kind of manufactured crisis to get the county to shore up the weak points. Like someone breaking in and getting away with something, despite the best efforts of the boys in brown. All the fault of those gaps that have been so clearly spelled out in that convenient report. Apparently, the Boys in Brown have pulled this kind of stunt before.
“And third, there are been a spate of brownouts lately-”
“Did you just use ‘spate’ in a sentence?”
“I’m literate, so sue me! Anyway, there have been a bunch of power failures lately, probably due to the crappy wiring in this place-”
“Three just last week-” Doggie groaned out.
“He can’t work up the will to fight us,” Darcy said with flat disgust, “but he can piss and moan without being prodded.”
“Welcome to Southern California, you can pick up your entitlement kit at any convenience store or gas station snack counter.” Icy got back on her track, “Anyway, most of the anti-exotic measure s- the teleport blocker, the desolid screen and like all that - mostly run on electricity,” she finished significantly.
“So, we CAN teleport out!”
“And, get this, the guys here have gotten used to the idea of having to move stuff around in here with minimal lighting. They don’t LIKE it, but they won’t think that a bunch of people wearing LASD outfits going around with flashlights and doing stuff is all that weird. Not if they’re in a hurry.”
“Short form,” Stormy said pointing to a monitor, which showed six crates arriving at the loading dock, “Plans C and D just showed up.”
* * * * *
Pryor opened one of the secure storage bays and had the six large crates moved in, same old business as usual. While the men were all first rate police officers, the actual work was basically warehousing; it was just more of the same, and they had that strange paradoxical craving for action mixed with the veteran’s deep appreciation of tedium. So, if anyone noticed that Pryor was wearing a pair of earphones, it was just to make a mental note that it was now tacitly permitted, and no one noticed that Pryor didn’t seal the bay. Stormy waited an eternal five minutes after the gate rolled down, and then opened the first of the crates. Top Dawg and five of his Weres, all wearing versions of the LASD BDUs that the deputies at the facility wore, popped out, aching to get out of the claustrophobic crate, with only the re-breathers and small bottles of oxygen between them and suffocation. Stormy let the Vampires, Ghouls and Were-cats, also wearing the overalls, out of the boxes and set them to assembling the teleport cage inside the bay. When the ‘cage’ was complete, Stormy said, “Listen in.” She called Dr. Macabre on her cell phone and spelled out the situation for him. “So, we’re going with Plan C, and setting up Plan D, in case the shit hits the fan. Is that cool, Doc?”
“Acceptable,” was Dr. Cobb’s terse reply. “Proceed.”
“Gee, there’s no need to gush,” Stormy growled into the cell phone. AFTER she’d shut it off. “We’re just putting our asses on the line for you - again.” She turned to the assembled crew. “Okay, we’re going with Plan C. Here goes: I call Icy, she’ll arrange another ‘brown-out’, so you guys can move around without being too fucking obvious. Vic, you and your Vampires find all the emergency caches, empty the shotguns, and remove the grenades and all that. Leave the boxes for the shotgun shells and grenades, so that it’ll look good. ESPECIALLY remove the gas masks. I wouldn’t be surprised if these little pigs didn’t have a few BFGs around, for when the real big bad wolves come knocking at the door. Find them and bag them; better in your hands than theirs. When you’re done with that, find Icy; she’s handling troubleshooting. Top Dawg, Tombstone, you and your guys find these lots,” she shot both leaders lists onto their cell phones, “and bring them here. Remember, guys: this is just another day at work, business as usual, the brownout is just an inconvenience.”
“Yeah, but what’s my MOTIVATION?” Cubby asked puckishly.
“To make it to happy hour,” Stormy said blandly. “Raja, you and your girls head up onto the catwalks and find places to hide. You only do anything if the shit hits the fan, capisce?” Raja and his girls all nodded. “The cop in charge of this place is under Darcy’s thumb, and she and Icy will be keeping the local yokels busy. They think that Darcy’s the sheriff’s granddaughter, and they’ll be too busy trying to get peeks at our cleavage to notice you. When you Vamps let me know that you’ve taken care of the emergency stashes, I’ll switch off with Icy, and she’ll join you. Okay, the primo outcome here is that we find everything, get it in here and teleport out, and nobody even knows that we were here. If that doesn’t happen, if any one of you find yourself in a corner that you can’t get out of without blowing the operation, hit the ‘Plan C/2’ option on the menu of your phone. That’ll start off a false alarm, and everyone else’ll be notified on their phone. If Plan C/2 goes off, if you set it off or someone else does, drop everything and haul ass back here. Help anyone who’s caught up with anything. We’ll teleport out, no matter how little we have. We’ve already got twenty percent of the stuff all lined up, and twenty percent of what we came for is a helluva lot better’n a hundred percent of jail time. So? Any questions?”
“Yeah,” Cubby panted, “any chance we can take off these stupid MASKS anytime soon?”
Stormy gave him a wry smile. “Sorry, Cubby, but you’ll just have to tough it out. We’re all taking a big enough risk slipping you guys past the cops in the dark, hoping that they’ll be too busy to notice that you’re no one they know. Hey, just ask Icy a stupid cold-based question, and I’m sure that she’ll be happy to answer you with a face full of snow. Hey, Tombstone, you ghouls won’t be taking it as bad as the Weres, but you two leaders make sure that the other team gets a chance to stop and pant, and cover for them. We can’t afford to lose any more of you guys. Especially you, Cutie,” she tweaked Cubby’s mask.
“Why is she being so nice to YOU?” Top Dawg growled at Cubby.
“Hey, Puppy-boy got GAME!” Shanga purred mockingly and scratched behind Cubby’s ears playfully. Cubby tried furiously to not blush, and then remembered that it wouldn’t have been an issue, even without the mask. Top Dawg growled, but at least he wasn’t dissing Cubby for being the newb.
Stormy texted Icy that they were ready. Two minutes later, she got a return text that the ‘brownout’ was a go, and the law-dogs were taking it in stride. Tombstone carefully opened the unsealed bay and Shanga, who had the sharpest eyes and ears (and nose) of them all, poked that nose out and checked for anyone. The coast was clear, and the four crews started to put Plan C (and D provisional) into effect. The Were-Cats nimbly clambered up to the highest points they could find and hid themselves among the shadows. The Vampires darted in among the sparse hiding places and did their best to disappear. Even Artie was almost invisible in the gloom. Tombstone took the ‘Graveyard Shift’ in one direction, Top Dawg took the ‘Junkyard Dogs’ in other, both of them ambling along like they had jobs to be about, but they weren’t in any particular hurry to get it over with, just like any working stiff. As a matter of fact, they were so casual about it, they almost blew it. Stormy had to catch up with Top Dawg, slap him upside the head and hand him a flashlight.
For the next twenty-five minutes, the plan went more or less according to plan. Both teams managed to move several of the crates under Stormy’s rather detached guidance, until the Vampires texted that they’d found and declawed all the emergency weapons caches. Stormy traded off with Icy, and joined Darcy in keeping the deputies off-balance and distracted. Thanks to Darcy’s mental fog - and the girls’ cleavage - the deputies never even noticed the switch.
Icy imperiously crooked a finger at the Vampires, urging them to follow her. She stalked over to an unmarked door with a keypad. “Cover me. The last thing I need is for a deputy to check this room while I’m in there. Artie, you come in and check out the situation; and for YOUR sake, don’t screw up this time!”
“This wasn’t in the briefing, Icy,” Victor complained. “What are we doing?”
“We’re taking care of business,” Icy said as she punched in a code. “Only it’s OUR business.”
“This is the toughest security evidence locker in Southern California,” Icy explained as the door swung open. “Besides all the supervillain weirdness, this is where they keep the CASH that’s going to be used as evidence, y’know, in drug cases and like that? And this vault is where they keep it.” She pointed at a bank of hefty filing cabinets which were secured by a padlock. “Okay, Artie- open it.”
“This wasn’t part of the Doc’s plan,” Vic objected.
“Hey, we NEED spending money!” Icy objected as Artie fiddled with the lock. “I only have so many outfits, and I NEED to get some new ones!” Artie twisted his lockpick in the padlock, but only succeeded in getting the pick stuck in the lock and breaking it off. Icy let out a sigh of disgust, froze the lock and said, “Break it, Fangs.” The lock had been made brittle by Icy’s intense cold, so Fangs was able to snap the lock off. “Okay, one more code to shut off the alarm on the cabinets,” she punched a code into a keypad on the wall, “and we’re IN!”
“How’d you know that code?” Belle asked.
“I sweated it out of Doggie, the geek in charge of the computers.” Icy pulled one of the drawers open, revealing thick canvas bags locked shut with padlocks, wired shut with seals, and identification tags on the handles. Icy’s smug triumph was short-lived, however. As soon as she opened it more than an inch, an ear-splitting alarm sounded, and a light over the door started flashing.
“Gee, y’think maybe this ‘Doggie’ guy pulled a fast one on you?” Vic sneered.
“Just GRAB as many bags as you can, and RUN!” Icy shrilled.
* * * * *
The alarm ripped through the warehouse, and the emergency lighting immediately kicked in, flooding the cavernous structure with light. The secondary light system was specially designed to illuminate those areas that were normally occluded, or could be used for cover against the defending deputies. The place was built with the presumption that some extraordinary forces would at some time try to either breach the defenses by force de main, or would try to gain access by stealth. The ‘Code Red’ features immediately kicked in when the alarm went off, and the entire tenor of the locker changed dramatically. Tombstone’s ghouls flinched as their dark-biased eyes reacted to the bright lights, and Top Dawg’s Weres cringed as their sensitive hearing reacted to the sirens. All of Icy’s clever maneuvers on the computer were suddenly shut off, and the system was now being remotely controlled from the LASD station in Wayside. Identification: Friend/Foe tags automatically eliminated the deputies and spotlights picked out the Weres, the Ghouls, the Vampires, the Witches, and three stray rats. “Ohhh… crud,” Stormy and Darcy said as one.
“Skip!” snapped one of the deputies as they all snapped to attention, drawing their pistols or nightsticks. “What’s the Code?” he waited a beat, and they all looked intently at Pryor, who was furiously trying to beat the submission impulse of the headset he was wearing. “Skip! What’s wrong?” he pulled the ‘headphones’ from Pryor’s head and Pryor sagged, getting his bearings as he finally overcame the submission impulse.
“Ohhh… fuck!” Stormy and Darcy said as one as they broke and ran as quickly as they could.
As they cleared one stack of crates, they heard Pryor thunder, “GET THEM! But take them alive, that smartass little bitch with the long hair is MINE! Look around everywhere, there are a lot more of them dressed in BDUs! Grade C intrusion! I say again, Grade C intrusion! But don’t let THAT stop you from busting heads! There’s a third one, with long blonde hair, GET her!”
The locker exploded into action as the deputies went after Stormy and Darcy like hounds after two foxes. The other deputies all dropped whatever they were doing and immediately moved to secure strategic points throughout the barn-like complex. The Were-cats dropped on them, but after a killer first effort, the cats found out it wasn’t going to be quite that easy. There were more deputies than cats, and they weren’t afraid to use their nightsticks, or pepper spray for that matter. The Weres had feline speed and strength, but the deputies actually knew how to fight, and expertise tends to outweigh poorly-used speed and strength. One by one, the deputies got the Were-cats down on the ground, surrounded them, and applied their truncheons with a verve that might have awkwardly reminded onlookers of the Rodney King incident. Once the overlooking catwalks were secure, the deputies opened up concealed emergency lockers, and pulled out ‘special ordinance’ weaponry.
As cold plasma bursts exploded around them, Stormy managed to erect a shield that provided cover for her and Darcy as they dove for cover with Icy and the vampires. “Where did those things come from?” Icy demanded. “I thought that you guys were supposed to take care of those things before we even got started!”
“We DID!” Vic insisted.
“They were DECOYS!” Stormy snapped. “They built this place, expecting it to be raided by supervillains! They’ve probably been hit dozens of times by supervillains wanting their power items - or some other supervil’s power items - or just getting the really GOOD stuff - dozens of times! They know all the tricks! But we planned this, expecting that! We had the guy that we needed, under our thumbs! So, what went wrong?”
“We were doing fine,” Vic snarled, “until someone got greedy,” he glared at Icy, “and raided the locker where they kept the CASH!”
“WHAT?” Darcy yelped, “You hit the one place that would be alarmed against the COPS?”
“We need the cash,” Icy grumbled mulishly.
“This is not the time for pointing fingers,” Stormy said with the tone of a reproving nanny. Icy flashed her a smile of gratitude. This withered, as Stormy added, “The time for that is when we have to explain to Dr. Macabre why this went tits up.” Icy sputtered, but Stormy overran her. “Okay Vic, you like making leader noises; any ideas?”
Victor thought intensely for a moment. “We gotta spring the others. The Doc would skin us alive if we lost any more of us, and the Weres are taking a beating out there.” He thought furiously for a second, and said, “Darkness. We need darkness. Those overhead lights are killing us. Tombstone’s ghouls are hiding in whatever shadows they can scare up, and us Vampires ain’t doing that well neither.”
“Good one, Vic,” Stormy assured him with a pat on the shoulder. “Darcy, make with the darkness. I’ll zotz the big overhead lights. Icy, you ice over those that I can’t break. Vic, as soon as the overhead lights are out, you and your vampires go, find everyone’s who’s been taken and free them. Belle, you find Tombstone, and tell him to have his ghouls move what they’ve got to the Exit Room. Don’t get anything new, just move what they’ve got on the pallets, and get there ASAP. Darcy, Icy and I will try to keep the deputies off balance as much as we can. Everyone got that?”
Vic, Belle and Darcy all nodded briskly, but Icy griped, “Why are you listening to HER?”
“’Cause we don’t wanna get CAUGHT?” Artie sniped.
“Okay, first Darcy makes with the shadows,” Stormy took charge. “Vic, Belle, you guys start moving the second that I let off with the zaps. Icy, you start by icing over all the stairs; guys, don’t use the stairs, pass that along to everyone you meet. Ice, by the time you’re finished with the stairs, I should have blasted every light that I can; you take it from there. Everybody clear?” There were nods all around. “Man, they’re expecting us to do something,” she groaned, “I just wish that we had something that they weren’t expecting…”
Almost in answer to Stormy’s wish came a bone-rattling explosion as one of the walls blew in. The deputies were thrown to the floor, and even before the dust settled, globular probes flew in and took positions. Eight figures strode majestically through the dust and struck poses. The figure on the flying ‘board’ addressed the deputies and minions alike in a stentorian voice, “Heads up Guys, this is your lucky day! You’re being raided by Golden Boy and the Radical Squad! Try and give us a good fight!”
* * * * *
“So, Swash - how reliable would you say this ‘Mister Magic’s’ information is?” Big Dawg asked Swashbuckler in the Situation Room at the CCs headquarters just before the ‘Radical Squad’ was making their big entrance at the Evidence Locker.
“Iffy at best,” Swash said. “On one hand, what he told Sunny tallies well with his reactions at the warehouse; on the other hand, he’s a sneaky, underhanded, twisty-”
“So, you two are buds?” Big Dawg asked with a snide grin.
“We’ve mixed it up on a couple of occasions,” Swash admitted. “My point is that while he’s not what you’d call vicious, he definitely put bonus points into ‘wiseass’. And that whole story about his being worried about a son that nobody ever heard of before is just a wee bit too ‘Damon Runyon’ for me to take on face value.”
“I agree with your personality assessment,” Kate put in. “But I think that he does have a son and he’s involved somehow. His reaction to hearing about Whateley was right on the money for a supervil of his level.”
“Really?” Sunny asked, “I got a really good feeling about him. I think that he’s genuinely worried about Artie.”
“I’d love to thrash this out, folks,” Skyrider cut in from the workstation that he was suddenly very interested in, “but we got an incoming alarm from LASD. An explosion has been registered at the Ultra-Max Evidence Locker attached to the County lockup at Wayside. There’s been no answer from the Locker’s topkick, and SWAT and the Power Suit squad have been activated.”
“Hey, Sky-” Daybreak said from another workstation.
“-There’s a weird webcast about it,” Nightfall finished for her, from a third workstation. Daybreak put it up on one of the major screens. The shot showed in the cavernous interior of the Evidence Locker, which was filled with figures engaged in furious combat. To the sound of jazzy dramatic music. A stylized logo with red lettering spun into pace in the center of the screen ‘THE RADICAL SQUAD!’ A classic narrator’s voice started extolling the ‘daring escapades of a reckless band of outlaws’.
The image zoomed onto the figure zipping around on the flying ‘surfboard’, showing off a buff athletic male physique in a gold-foil short-sleeved bodysuit. The camera zoomed in for a close-up, showing long, clean male model features with a wide grin and a prominent chin, only partially hidden by an overbuilt visor. He grinned for the camera, shot it a thumbs-up and said, “I’m Golden Boy!”
“WHAT?” Skyrider yelped, “Are you KIDDING ME?”
Then the camera shifted to follow a curvaceous young African American woman in a red armored legless bodysuit with thigh-high boots that had some manner of pistons that allowed her to make vaulting leaps. She skipped nimbly about for a bit and then turned an overbuilt ‘pistol’ with a cable that led to a boxy unit on her belt. The camera gave her a close-up. She smiled for the camera and said, “And I’m Bangin’!” She aimed her ‘gun’ at a few deputies and sent a spray of icy mist at them that covered them with rime.
The camera switched over to a lithe latina in a silver foil bodysuit tooling around on what looked like a hover-board from ‘Back to the Future II’, carving on the deputies with what looked like a Star Wars lightsaber. The camera gave her a closeup, revealing classic Aztec beauty features. She gave the requisite smile and said, “I’m JIGGY!” and zotzed a deputy with the ‘lightsaber’.
The next on the roll call was a strapping blonde girl in a strapless pink ‘bathing suit’ with long pink opera gloves and massively overbuilt inline skates that she was moving very quickly with. She winked into the camera and purred, “I’m ZENITH!” Then she bashed into one of the deputies; a circular ‘buckler’ flared on her left forearm, and sent the deputy flying into two of his comrades.
“Zenith?” Kate smirked. “Oh, someone’s going to have her perfect little nose ALL OUT of joint.”
The camera moved on to a massively built young African-American man wearing a form fitting sleeveless black-and-red bodysuit with a hood that revealed most of his lower face. “I’m Slammin’!” he exulted into the camera, using the massive technologically-augmented sledgehammer he was using to slapshot a crate into several deputies.
Then the camera shifted to a sleek young Asian woman wearing a black halter-top bodysuit with long gloves who was harassing a group of deputies with what looked like an electrified whip. She used the whip to swing to another spot and turned to the camera for her close up. “I’m Snaps,” she breathed and then swung away.
“And I’m TOP NOTCH!” said the young, incredibly good-looking Hispanic man in green as he sent a jolt of electricity from his metallic gauntlets, snagging their guns away from them.
“You can call me TRIPLE-A!” cheered the perky ponytailed blonde in the dark blue minidress with the matching white cowboy hat, boots, gauntlets, and belt with ‘AAA’ as a buckle. She let out a whoop and nimbly swung around on a metallic ‘rope’, and then used it as a lariat to lasso one deputy and use him against his own men.
“I’m not from California,” Kate said, “so bear with me. I’m confused: do I applaud that they’ve assembled a balanced, ethnically diverse team? Or do I deplore their obvious tokenism?”
* * * * *
“And you were giving ME grief about the ‘Winx Club’ idea,” Icy grumbled.
“Radical Squad'?” Artie hooted, wide-eyed with disbelief. “Who says ‘Radical’ anymore, except TV cartoon characters?”
“They gotta be from out of state,” Victor snarked. “Nobody who looks THAT ‘Southern California’ could possibly have grown up here.”
“I make them as being from Oklahoma,” Top Dawg growled. “They just got that ‘Okie’ stink.”
“Nah, Utah,” Tombstone sneered. “Anybody who looks THAT gay just HAS to be a lapsed Mormon.”
* * * * *
“Well, it looks like Cecil B. DeVour, the Mad Director is back in town,” Brujah said sourly. “Who else would be filming it, let alone podcasting it?”
“Nah,” Swash said dismissively, “Ceece popped up in Trieste last week ‘doing an art film’. The Italian Police still have him and his cast and crew ‘in the can’. Besides, you know DeVour - he’s such a diva that he’d insist on appearing ‘on film’ himself. And not in a cameo, either.”
“Okay,” Brujah allowed, “But I’ve never heard of these pendejosbefore. “They’re obviously Oggs-”
“That means ‘Augmented’,” Nightfall explained to Chiller.
“-like your buddy Dr. Venus,” Daybreak finished to Kate.
“They’re obvious Oggs,” Brujah resumed, “and they’re using way obsolete over-the-hill supervillain gadgets. That ‘Golden Boy’ clown is using a vertigo-inducing visor that I’ve see three or four supervillains use.”
“Yeah!” Skyrider grumped, “And one of MY boards that he got somehow!”
“I think that he’s using one of the boards that you put up for auction for charity a couple of years ago,” Miz Biz suggested.
“But the guy who first designed that visor has upgraded it a couple of times,” Brujah resumed again. She was used to being interrupted with this crew. “And what he’s got now is a lot more kickass.”
“Maybe they’re raiding the Toybox for upgrades,” Big Dawg guessed. “The ‘Toybox’ is what we call the max security evidence locker,” he explained to Chiller. “Every few months or so, some costumed yahoos get it into their head to try and raid the place, if only to steal the evidence that might be used against them, maybe score a free power upgrade or somethin’. But the deputies there are hella tough, and the poor dickheads usually wind up in jail again.” BD paused, “Though, I gotta admit - these ‘Radical Squad’ clowns are doing pretty well against the Deputies.”
“Well, they’re obviously playing to the cameras,” Sky observed. “Maybe whoever’s controlling the cameras is feeding them Tac / Ops. Besides, according to the download, the locker was already on Red Alert. The Deputies were already mixing it up with someone, and these ‘Radical Squad’ doofuses busted in and happened to catch the Boys in Brown off balance, and probably pretty dinged up already, Yeeup! See? Baca’s Bad Boys are starting to regroup. Hey… that group there looks a little young to be working at the Toybox…” Skyrider magnified the image a few times.
“Well, this just got a lot more interesting,” Kate said as ‘Darcy and Stormy’ came into clear view.
* * * * *
“Who are these guys?” Stormy demanded, looking at them aghast.
“NOT the point,” Icy said, taking charge. “The point is, Tombstone, tell the Graveyard shift that we’re going for the gusto. How many of the lots that we were sent to get have we got at the Exit Room?”
“All but three,” Tombstone (who had been looking for them, hoping to get a decent idea of what to do) said. “Unfortunately, from what I can tell, the big one is right THERE.” He pointed at a stack of crates which was being used as a rallying point by the Deputies.
“FUCK!” Icy snarled.
“Hey, we could just leave that one, get the others, and get the fuck OUT of here,” Belle said very reasonably.
“No,” Stormy sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose like she was trying to get rid of a tension headache, “as much as I hate it, I gotta agree with Icy on this one. This thing is rapidly turning into a cluster fuck, but Dr. Macabre will skin us all and roll us in rock salt unless we come back with EVERY SINGLE THING on his shopping list.”
Top Dawg let out an annoyed whine. “She’s right; he would. Still, the plan we had works. Tombstone, get everything else to the Exit Room, and let us know when you’re ready. Me’n the boys will lend a helping paw. Vic, go find the ones who’ve been taken by the Fuzz and cut ‘em loose. But have them hang loose until the Witchy Trio here do their thing; no need to spell it out, it should be pretty damn obvious when they do it. Everyone cool with that?”
“When did YOU become the leader, Alpo Breath?” Icy demanded.
“Iceee…” Darcy droned, “It’s a good idea. We’re gonna go with it. Guys, do it.”
The ‘Radical Squad’ was doing a great job of keeping the Sheriff’s men busy and the situation confused, so the ghouls and werewolves were able to use their superior strength to its best use, and they got their last two lots to the Exit Room in less than two minutes.
Then Darcy got the text message that the two lots were stowed, the prisoners were free, and it was ready to go.
* * * * *
“Okay, the Boys in Brown are regrouping,” Swashbuckler said. “The *snicker* ‘Radical Squad’ had them off-balance, but they’re getting their game on.”
“Ah, guys?” Chiller cut in hesitantly, “I never thought that I say this about the County Brownies, but… aren’t we supposed to go HELP them?”
“Not our call,” Big Dawg answered equitably. “They put out a call, but not to US. You think that cops get nasty when gatecrashers show up to their party? We had something like that go down last year, and the WCL and the All-Stars are STILL giving us shit over it. Hey, Day! Who’s answering the squeal?”
“The All-Stars?” Sunny echoed, eyes popping open wide. She got up and skittered out of the room at top speed.
“What’s with her?”
“Don’t know,” Swash admitted. “So, Katrina, have you been keeping tabs on your merry little darkling chums?”
“They’ve been moving around a bit, but I’ve lost most of them,” Kate reported, watching the mayhem on the screen closely. “I saw them have what I think was a leadership huddle, and then they broke up. Icy, Darcy and Stormy are right there - no, there - no, there - STOP THAT!” Kate snapped as the director kept switching cameras. “THERE! Thank you!”
Brujah peered at the screen. “I think that I’ve got them made; I think that Doctor Idol’s back in town.”
“Sure! Check out the rack on ‘Triple A’ - or should that be ‘Double-D’? And the nose on Bangin’. And just look at the cheesy collagen injections on Jiggy’s lips! And that chin on ‘Golden Boy’? Okay, maybe Top Notch’s pecs are just his body armor, but I’m willing to bet good money that ‘Zenith’ has had her entire face redone.”
“Mmm… maybe,” Swash allowed with a nod. “But you could go to any Mega-Mall Plastic Surgery outlet and get that done. Dr. Idol is into show biz, but podcast and photo ops? That sounds a lot more like Swifty Laser, Superagent to the Supervillains.”
“Maybe it’s Major Broadcast,” Daybreak suggested. “He used to be huge in Southern Cal, before Al Gore invented the Internet,” Nightfall added.
“Suddenly, I’m worried about supervillainy going all Hollywood,” Kate snipped.
“Too late,” the entire room said in unison.
“Did I miss anything?” Sunny breathed as she hurried in with a big bowl of popcorn.”
“Nah, we’re just putting down bets on who’s running these chumps.”
“What’s with the popcorn?” Swash asked.
“The All-Stars should be showing up anytime soon, and with two groups of rookie supervillains, one of which is all kitted up with surplus superbadtech? Win, lose or draw, this is gonna be ‘Must-See TV’!”
The Crusaders all looked at each other. Big Dawg said, “So, Chill, any chance you could run to the lounge and snag me a beer?”
But it was too late. [The struggling figures suddenly began to bow down, as though pressed down by an invisible hand. Golden Boy’s board sagged to the ground, and Bangin’ badly mistook a leap, landing hard. The cameras clustered together to get a collective shot of the gaping opening in the side of the wall. Hovering in mid-air, framed dramatically by the shattered concrete, was an athletic man in a matte-black hooded body with a large mirrored star on his chest, with matching silver cape, gauntlets, belt and boots.]
“I see they made Major Gravity change his outfit again,” Skyrider said sourly. “What is that, the fifth one this year?”
“They had to,” Miz Biz said clinically. “They’re planning on coming out with another line of action figures, so they’re going to cycle the All-Stars through another wardrobe change.”
“Maybe they’ll get Superstar something that actually suits her!” Sunny said with a smirk.
[After a moment to let the impact of his presence sink in (and for a subtitle saying ‘Major Gravity™’ to display) the Major announced in the clear, precise tones of a man reading off a legally required statement, “Lay down your arms and surrender yourselves to the Sheriff’s men immediately! If you do so immediately, you will NOT be harmed, and you will be shown all legal consideration. But if you do not surrender, then you will face-” he paused dramatically, “THE HOLLYWOOD ALL-STARS™!”]
“Tonight’s special guest stars,” Kate declared in a TV announcer voice, “PEACHES AND HERB!”
As the ‘Hollywood All-Stars’ logo and theme music cycled, Skyrider sighed and said, “You can just tell that he hates that. Y’gotta feel for the poor noid. I mean, he’s the only one of that entire team who knows his ass from his elbow.”
“I hear that he wants off the All-Stars, but he doesn’t want to go solo, and joining one of the other teams in the area would be… problematic…” Daybreak said.
“And it’s not like there are a lot of teams in other parts of the country advertising for superheroes,” Nightfall finished.
“Why does he have that stupid STAR on his chest?” Chiller asked, “I mean, it’s like ‘shoot me with a laser, I have a target on my chest!’”
“Contractual obligations,” Big Dawg said. “You should have seen the get-up they wanted me to wear, back when they were trying to recruit me last year.”
[After the Hollywood All-Stars indicia cycled, the other members of the All-Stars made their entrances, one at a time to take up tactically effective positions (and strike dramatic poses). There was a colored blur that made a tumbling entrance to take a semi-squat pose with one leg stretched forward, one hand cocked over his head as to throw any one or all of a fan of stick grenades. His outfit was a riot of different neon colors, and was heavy on body armor and pouches. Seeing the cameras, he smiled broadly into one and gave a thumbs-up with his free hand. ‘STUNT MAVEN’ declared the subscript.]
“How’d he know the camera was there?” Chiller asked.
“It’s the All-Stars,” Big Dawg said wearily. “They can smell a photo op a mile away.”
“Sunny?” Kate asked disingenuously, “Are these those ‘colors’ you want me to try?”
“Stunt maven?” Chiller asked.
“’Stuntmaster’ is copyrighted to Marvel©,” Miz Biz explained.
“You’d be amazed at how many killer names they and DC are sitting on,” Skyrider commented. “Usually connected to these piddlysquit characters that they haven’t used in YEARS. But they’ll never let go of any one of ‘em.”
[As soon as Stuntmaven’s position was secure, a polychrome vortex of coruscating light that took another position and rezzed into focus as a trim yet stacked athletic woman with neon blue hair in a pageboy in a ‘zip-up’ one-piece legless and sleeveless gunmetal metallic bodysuit with iridescent opera gloves and high boots and tricked-out belt, and a mirrored visor. Then her image split into three versions of herself, with nimbuses of energy whirling around her. All three versions of this woman dramatically crossed her wrists before her as energy played about her hands. The subscript announced, ‘SPFX’.]
“Oh PLEASE,” Brujah groaned, “The most special effect she’s got are those phony tits!”
[Then a massive mountain of a man in a heavily armored sleeveless blue suit with a ‘v’of stars bounded in to the area and landed with a crash. He crouched and gave the ‘Radical Squad’ a classic ‘I’m ready to kick ASS!’ growl. The subscript called him ‘THE HERO FORMERLY KNOWN AS BLOCKBUSTER’.]
“I see that Cease and Desist order from DC stuck,” Big Dawg noted with a smirk.
[Then a gold-and-blue power frame jetted into position, landed, drew a long, lethal-looking energy weapon from its holster and aimed to begin firing, all in one fluid motion. The subscript said: ‘TECH-STAR’.]
“That’s right,” Skyrider growled, “get that GoodKind Munitions® logo where everyone can see it, you product placement whore.”
[As the wrapper, a curvy blonde woman in a dark blue strapless ‘bathing’ suit outfit with a ‘starburst within a circle’ logo and white opera gloves and high boots, zoomed in and struck a pose in midair, her hands gesturing dramatically as energy pulsated from them. But before the subscript could display, ‘Zenith’ the ‘Radical Squad’ member in pink perked up and squealed, “OOOHHHH! You’re SUPERSTAR! I used to LOVE you when I was a little girl!”.]
Through a lopsided grin, eyes sparkling, Sunny asked, “Please, please tell me that you’re taping this…”
[Golden Boy turned his visor on the All-Stars and there was a wavering as the vertigo-inducing wave played over the heroes. Stuntmaven, SPFX, and THFKA-Blockbuster stumbled a bit, but Superstar shrugged it off and sent a power bolt at her ‘biggest fan’, which Zenith easily blocked with her shield. The others of the Radical Squad started to move, trying to get out of Major Gravity’s field, but he zipped up into the middle of them, and with flicks of his hand, sent them flying up into the air, as their powerful legs reacted to the suddenly zero gravity before their far-less powerful brains could.]
Skyrider tisked, “Aw Man, Maje! Taking out the poor feebs before your teamies can play to the cameras! What ARE you thinking?”
“Putting tactical effectiveness before cheap theatrics?” Nightshade said reprovingly.
“What WILL the sponsors say?” Daybreak returned.
“Forget the sponsors,” Big Dawg correct them. “What are the Deputies going to say? I’m laying odds that they hired these geeks to come in and tear up the place, so they could lean on the county for repairs and upgrades. Now, how’s it gonna look if they let these bozos smack them around, only to have one guy in tights bounce them around like that?”
“Dawg?” Chiller asked askance, “We talking about the same Po-Po?”
“Chiller, when you have money, the police are your friends.”
[But then the cameras suddenly shifted as three lissome figures in trendy schoolgirl’s outfits popped out from behind crates. Energy coruscated from the hands of the blonde and the brunette with the long hair into the brunette with the sporty short cut. She let out a sparkling zap that caught Major Gravity flat-footed and sent him flying, and sent the All-Stars, the Radical Squad, and those deputies that were too close flying as well.]
“OWCH!” Big Dawg winced, remembering how much that combined blast of the witches hurt.
“Odd,” Kate murmured, “They had the lucky break distraction of the year. I wonder why they didn’t just sneak back to wherever they’d set up their teleport gate and get while the getting was good.”
[Golden Boy landed and rolled to his feet, but instead of going for his board, he stalked over to where Icy, Darcy and Stormy were standing. “HEY! Who the hell do you think you ARE? This is OUR gig!”
Icy was warming up one of her trademark bitchy comments, but Darcy cut her off. “Omigawd! You’re Golden Boy!” She gushed. “We are, like, absolutely yer BIGGEST FANS! You are, like, SO TOTALLY AWESOME! We just LOVE you!”
Stormy immediately got Darcy’s drift, and joined her on the other side of the beefcake as Darcy grabbed an arm and snuggled up to him. Golden Boy was torn, as his pure egotism was clearly digging on this, and it was quashing any and all attempts by his common sense to alert him to the fact that there was no way that he had fans yet.]
“He just has to be an actor,” Brujah grumped.
[When Golden Boy completely bought into it and he was phrasing whatever inanity was going to come out of his mouth, Darcy reached over and coyly plucked the Vertigo Visor from his face. Before he could react to that, Stormy gave him a double-handed jolt of electricity that staggered him. Darcy stepped away as Icy stepped up, and laid a hand on his face. “Idiot,” she snipped, and formed a cap of ice over his face.
As Icy did this, Stormy slipped off the sky board control unit that was strapped to his hand. “Agreed.”
Unlike Golden Boy, Slammin’ had had the presence of mind to take out an actual threat. He landed properly and charged at THFKA Blockbuster as the big man was still getting to his feet and made like Tiger Woods on his head with the Thunder-hammer. The blow would have crushed a concrete block like an egg, but Not-legally-Blockbuster was merely stunned. While he had the big guy set up, Slammin’ cocked his hammer way over the back of head for a headsman chop that would take the hero out for hours. So far, so good for his debut effort; unfortunately, Slammin’ made a rookie mistake: he didn’t watch his back. As he was off balance for the stroke, five guys in LASD BDUs crawled up all over him. They were just strong enough to restrain him. Then one of them lost his funky mask in the struggle. Slammin’ reacted with a panic spasm and shed the ghouls like a dog trying to get rid of fleas. Then he tried to squash them like roaches with his hammer. As the five bogus deputies groaned, Slammin’ caught his breath and collected his cool. Then he noticed another guy in BDUs walking up on him. Big Guy, who wasn’t particularly worried about the hammer. He was wearing one of those funky fuckin’-obvious-when-you-really-look-at-it masks like the others. Slammin’ swung his hammer, but the guy dodged it and tried to grapple the hammer out of Slammin’s hand. He was strong enough that Slammin’ had to work at keeping the hammer. Slammin’ pulled a really nice bit where he used the hammer as a bar to vault over the freak’s head to his back, and then used the freak’s own grip on the hammer’s haft to throw him to the ground.
MAN, he hoped the cameras got that!]
“Wow,” Kate commented with what was enthusiasm for her. “They got that from five different cameras.”
[Before the freak could get back up, Slammin’ gave him a good solid slam that should put him down. But, impossibly, all the freak said was, “FUCK! That HURT!” then he staggered to his feet, the mess that his legs were in fixed themselves, and the hammerhead-shaped cavity in his chest popped out right. Slammin’ went slightly white-mind at that, which was the absolute worst thing that he could have done, ‘cause right then the five other freaks, having healed up from their squishing, all got up and swarmed over him. Tombstone took the hammer from Slammin’s hands as he was fighting off the ghouls, and T-Stone put him down with a big double-handed smack to the side of the head.]
“High level regeneration for the ghouls,” Swashbuckler commented clinically. “Nasty. Still, that does mean that you lay a hurting on them without worrying that you’re really going to hurt them.”
“Yeah,” Kate responded, “but they’re gonna be hungry after that. At school, you can always tell the bricks, the energizers and the regenerators at the cafeteria; they’re the ones with the trays filled with enough chow to feed a Third World nation.”
[Tombstone hefted the hammer, figuring it out. When he figured that he had it pegged, he looked around for something to hammer with it. After all, he had a hammer; therefore he had to hammer something. That’s only logic. But, like Slammin’ before him, he’d made the mistake of not watching his flank. Zenith came zipping out of left field and body-checked him from the side. Her buckler flared and knocked him into the other ghouls before they could actually hurt Slammin’. Zenith got Slammin’ away from the ghouls just in time for Top Notch to open up with his electro-gauntlets. The ghouls twitched and screamed as they fried.]
“Well,” Sunburst said, with a huff. “It looks like someone took a teamwork seminar. The cheapie weekend in the Sierras seminar.”
[Zenith turned around to get an idea as to where the rest of the fight had gone, only to bump her (exquisitely or extensively?) crafted nose into the chest of someone wearing BDUs. She looked up into pale features of near-perfect masculine beauty. Despite her exposure to Top Notch, Golden Boy and Slammin’, Zenith adopted a submissive ‘take me, take me now’ pose. The alabaster Greek God pulled her to him and pressed cruel lips against her own. She melted into him, against all her better judgment. Really against her better judgment; her brain practically shut down, and she didn’t even flinch as Victor shifted his mouth to her neck. Hypodermic like fangs slipped into her veins, and blood flowed in a controlled manner from her. Vic managed to keep his feeding down to a pint or so. Enough to weaken her and possibly put her down, but not enough to trigger a feeding frenzy. He withdrew his fangs, and let his saliva heal over the puncture wounds. Zenith sagged in his arms.]
“Okay, I’ll ask,” Swashbuckler piped up. “Where are the cheesy violins? This screams out for at least violins.”
“Humphf,” Kate grumped, “How could you, Edward? There’s no way I’m buying your notebook or pencil case or backpack NOW.”
[Vic looked up from Zenith’s slumped over form to see his girl, Belle, pulling more or less the same number on Top Notch, who was also slumping in Belle’s arms. “WHAT? Belle? What do you think you’re DOING?” he demanded outraged. As he held a hawt blonde in a pink bathing suit in his arms.
“VIC?” Belle yelped at almost exactly the same. “What am I doing? What are YOU doing?” she dumped Top Notch and stomped over to Vic and started nattering at him. Vic dumped Zenith and returned fire.]
“Aaahhh…” Daybreak and Nightfall cooed as one, “Young Love…”
[Vic and Belle were going at it hammer and tongs, their bickering fuelled as much by the fact that fighting was almost as much fun as making love (and added a lot of spice to the make-up sex), as the fact that they’d both just fed. But their vocal flirtation was broken as a volley of low-impact explosive rounds ripped right below their feet. Vic and Belle reflexively broke, scattered and dove for cover. But before Belle could make it behind the crate she was cut off from cover by a flare grenade. As Belle reflexively reeled from the sudden light, the gaudy figure of Stuntmaven swung by, scooped her up, did a complex spinning flip, and used his own swingline to wrap up the curvy vampiress, all in one fluid move.]
“WHAT?” Swashbuckler sputtered, “That’s MY MOVE! That fucking HACK stole MY MOVE!”
[Vic picked up on this, and doubled back on his track, managing to slip TechStar’s train of fire in the process. He grabbed Zenith and used her as a shield as he slipped the gauntlet off her wrist in the process. Then, just as TechStar processed that Zenith was one of the enemy, Vic switched on the power buckler and made for Belle. For her part, Belle was making it as hard as she could for Stuntmaven to wrap her up properly. But Stunmaven knew what he was doing, and he had her well off-balance and under control.
Besides, there were pay sites that would shell out good money for footage of him doing this.
There would be more money if she was naked, but that would be pushing things.]
Brujah shot Skyrider a withering glare. “Are you recording that for your private files?”
[Vic used Zenith’s shield to get him closer to where Stuntmaven was trussing up Belle, but the shield only provided so much protection, and TechStar was turning up the firepower to include explosive plasma packets. “HEY!” Vic yelled, “A little HELP here?”
Stormy gave Icy a nudge, and then went back to blasting away at Superstar, who seemed to be better at ranged combat than Stormy was. Icy looked the situation over, nudged Darcy and said something in her ear. Then Icy sent a flurry of snow around TechStar that wrapped a layer of ice over his head. Or, at least, around his top-mounted primary sensor mode, which was effectively the same thing for what Icy had in mind. Then Darcy (making a wild-ass guess as to what TechStar targeting software looked like) sent a false image into his mind. TechStar, who was cussing his electronics furiously inside his power frame, jumped on the image (as wonky as it was) and opened fire!
“Ooohhh… that is NOT gonna make the Sponsors happy…”
[TechStar was using non-lethal rounds, so Stuntmaven wasn’t killed outright, but he was knocked into the middle of next week. Vic bolted for Belle and managed to carry the Fair No-way-a-Maiden to safety, and Jiggy and Snaps gathered over Stuntmaven’s stunned body to plunder his harness for weapons. SPFX shooed them off with a gout of illusory fire. Seeing that four of her five teammates needed a little time to get back in the game, SPFX stepped up by sending walls of illusory flame through the entire warehouse, turning it into a maze, constantly shifting the pattern of walls. It didn’t do the Sheriff’s deputies much good, but it gave the All-Stars that much-needed breathing space.]
“Whaddaya know? Actually a decent tactic!”
[Unfortunately, SPFX’s tactic still didn’t shift the emphasis of the battle from that one pile of gear that Macabre’s Minions needed to get at. Somehow, by some sheer instinctive perversity, the All-Stars had chosen THAT specific island of crates as their tactical base of defense. And the Weres, the Vampires and the Ghouls alike avoided the ‘flames’ out of nearly hardwired reflex.
“GOD, I hope that the fucking Holy Grail is in one of those boxes,” Darcy snarled. “That’s the only way that this will be worth it!” Concentrating furiously, she sent curtains of darkness out in sheets to try to block or counter or pre-empt SPFX’s sheets of flame.
And, to give her proper credit, Darcy did a very good job of countering SPFX’s moves, giving the ghouls and Weres openings to move. But she was a teenager, and SPFX was not only an adult, but a professional superhero who’d been doing this sort of thing for years; they were at it for a bit before Darcy realized that she was only helping the All-Stars recover, since she was helping SPFX confuse everyone. She let her curtains fall with a snarl of frustration conceding the match.
Then Top Dawg stepped forward, shoulder back. “Is that the best you got, BITCH?”
“It’s a lot better than you’ll ever be able to beat, Jack,” SPFX sneered.
“Oh yeah?” Top Dawg strolled forward. “How’s THAT?”
“Hah?” SPFX startled. “How?”
“They’re Illusions!” Top Dawg sneered as he walked forward. “Everybody knows that! They can’t really DO anything!”
“Yeah, they’re illusions,” SPFX “But they can do plenty!” With that, she changed her illusions to snakes, then to barbed wire, then to impenetrable mists then back to flames. Top Dawg casually strolled through them as though they weren’t there. Which, actually, they weren’t. Finally, he reached her, and lifted a lip in a growl.
“How?” SPFX peered at him intently. “Oh Crap. You’ve got your eyes closed…” Top Dawg just swung a fist, catching her on the chin. The other werewolves, who’d followed their leader as the barriers that he’d breached fell after he crossed them, followed suit and (forgive me) dog-piled on top of SPFX.]
“I’ve been wondering when someone was going to pick up on that,” Brujah smirked.
[The pile of werewolf suddenly turned into a mountain of ice as Bangin’, the Radical Squad member in red with the pogo-boots, covered them all with a frigid spray that encased them all. Major Gravity staggered to his feet and did his best to break them all free. But just as he was getting in his second, ice-shattering punch, a high sharp voice yelled, “ICE! COFFIN!” Suddenly a crystalline mass of ice formed around him, encasing him completely.
Bangin’ spun around to spot Icy standing there, gloating. “THAT’s how it’s done, sweetie,” Icy smirked.
“But… your own guys are in there!”
“They’re werewolves… they’re tough. They’ll survive… or not.” Then Major Gravity broke free from the ice coffin, lashed out, and shattered the icy mountain, freeing both SPFX and the werewolves, all of them groggy and chilled to the bone. But the effort of doing so made him pass out. “See? All better.”
Freaked at Icy’s ruthlessness, Bangin’ quickly aimed her ice gun at the teenage witch and set the gauge to ‘All Out’. The cryogenic spray lashed out at Icy, who simply raised a hand that stopped the spray in its tracks. “Please…” she sneered. She made a casual gesture, and the spray turned back on Bangin’, covering her and encasing her in not-quite an ice coffin. “Let’s see… where were we before the peanut gallery pitched in its two cents?” The Werewolves staggered away from SPFX, who was reeling from not only the cold and near-suffocation, but the pounding the Weres had given her. “Oh. Right.” Icy wrapped her up in bonds of ice, and then wrapped up Major Gravity. Absently, she reinforced the blinding ice shell on TechStar, who was staggering around, blind]
“You’re right,” Big Dawg said to Kate. “This Icy chick is having WAY too much fun being evil.”
[Stormy was gloating over the bound forms of Major Gravity and SPFX, when a lasso reached down, looped around her, binding her arms to her sides and yanked her up. AAA, the ‘cowgirl’ in blue-and-white let out a proper cowgirl ‘Yeee-HAW!’ and smashed Icy against Bangin’, freeing the lady in red. Bangin’ was still groggy and near-frozen, but Icy was reeling. This meant that she was a sitting duck as Jiggy, the Radical Squad member in silver, zipped past on her hoverboard, which further set her up for Snaps, who zapped her with her electricity whip. Jiggy went long to build up speed for another run, but before she was ready to turn, her hoverboard was yanked out from under her. Jiggy landed hard, but rolled to her feet, her lightsaber out and ready. But as ready as she was, she barely had time to even try to parry Stormy’s lighting as it came at her.]
“Use the Force, Bimbo, use the Force!” Kate urged her.
[Amazingly, Jiggy did manage to counter not one, or even two, but three of Stormy’s lightning blasts, and she was obviously feeling very Jedi. But she wasn’t Obi-Wan enough to notice Fangs sneaking up behind her. The Big Vampire grabbed her, got her up off her feet, and sank his fangs into Jiggy’s neck. He wasn’t as slick about it as Vic had been, but he got the job done. Jiggy struggled, but she lost control of her lightsaber doing so, and Stormy pulled it from her grasp.
Fangs was drinking deep, so Stormy gave him a tap with the lightsaber. “Watch it; the last thing we need is for a Murder rap, on top of everything else.”
“Hey! That hurt!” Still, Fangs dropped Jiggy. At Stormy’s prompting, he licked the wound on her neck to heal over the wound.
Even so, Stormy was giving the lightsaber an exasperated look. She swatted a nearby crate with it. “Nothin’! What a wussy lightsaber! It’s just a tricked-out shock prod!”
“Hey, you don’t want it…” Artie, who’d just come out of near-invisibility in the shadows, said with a ‘share the wealth’ note. Stormy shrugged, switched off the lightsaber and handed it to Artie. Artie gave a wicked grin and melted back into the shadows.
Then a long sparking lash came down from the top of one of the crates and wrapped itself around Fang’s neck, making him drop Jiggy. Snaps, the Asian chick in dominatrix gear, hauled Fangs up off his feet, making him dangle and refusing him any leverage to break free. At the same time, AAA lassoed Stormy, also by the neck and tried to snap the teen witch’s neck with a whip-crack.]
“Wow, the cowgirl’s pretty vicious for someone so perky,” Kate noted as she helped herself to some of Sunny’s popcorn.
[But Artie came out of the shadows just as Triple-A was making the crack with her lariat, and zotzed her across the small of her back. AAA flinched badly, and Stormy went flying with the lariat around her neck. She kipped up to her feet, lightning blazing in her hands and bloody retribution blazing in her eyes. She used her magic to coil the metallic cyber-lariat into her hands and took control of it. The cheesecake cowgirl was mixing it up with Artie who wasn’t doing as well with the lightsaber as he thought he would. Still, AAA had her back to Stormy, giving the witchette her opening. Stormy returned the favor, guiding the lariat with her magic so that she lassoed Triple-A by the neck and slammed her into Snaps, saving both Artie and Fangs at the same time. Snaps dropped her whip. Fangs got to his feet and uncoiled the whip from around his neck. Then he realized that he now had range; and the controls on the handle of the whip were just this side of Drooling-Moron-proof.]
“This is WAY too confusing,” Chiller groaned. “Too many people. Anyone got a scorecard, so I can figure out who to cheer for?”
“What cheer?” Daybreak asked.
“Just take notes,” Nightfall suggested. “We might have to use them against SOMEONE.”
[Superstar, the All-Star’s resident blaster was having the same problem as Chiller; she had far too many valid targets, most of whom were busily dealing with each other and keeping them straight was murder. Worse, most of her teammates were down and she had no real situational context to apply to the situation, which was changing faster than she could keep track of. Worst of all, she was just hanging there up in the air, looking ineffectual. On camera. That could not be doing her TVQ any good.
Wait! Blockbuster (or whatever they were going to change his handle to) was rousing. The not-cops in BDUs noticed that, and moved in smack him down again. Finally having something to do that she knew was useful, Superstar blasted at them with a will, and managed to bust the overgrown croquet mallet that one of them was carrying. “Hold on, Bee-Bee!” she yelled, hoping to get the big lummox to focus a little. Suddenly, she was aware that most of the cameras were now focusing on her.
Reflexively, she flared her energy field and started blasting everything that was moving on the ground. “How DARE you break in here?” she demanded in a loud voice. “You may think that you’ve got the HOLLYWOOD ALL-STARS™ on the ropes, but this is where REAL heroes show what they’re made of!”]
Sunburst stood up, picked up a bottle of Pepsi, and held it like it was an Academy Award. “And the award for ‘Best Performance by a Camera Slut’ goes to…”
[Superstar was really getting into it when there was a loud ‘Bang!’ and one of the flying camera globes burst apart. Superstar followed the sound of the shot to where Lt. Pryor of the LASD stood with a high-powered rifle. Pryor chambered in another round, aimed and took out another camera. “HEY!’ WHADDAYA THINK YOUR DOING?” Superstar demanded.
“I’m taking out their Tac-Ops capability! What do you THINK I’m doing?” *BLAM!* He left the ‘idiot’ at the end unspoken but universally understood. But before he could take out a fourth camera, Pryor was first disarmed by Stormy, then stunned by Fangs with the electro-whip, and then tackled by two of the Were-cats.]
“I’m torn,” Swash said with a sigh. “On one hand, he was doing the smart thing; on the other hand, if he took out all the cameras, we’d have to guess how this turns out.” He reached over and snagged some popcorn from Sunny’s bowl.
[Superstar realized that she’d let herself hang up there exposed for too long. “Hey, Bee-Bee!” she called out. How are you- HEY!” Her left foot was snared by Stormy’s lariat. “HEY!” Her right foot was snared by Fang’s whip. “BEE-BEE! I need an assist here!”
But before Not-Blockbuster, who was just wrapping his head around the situation, could act, Superstar’s plea was interrupted by, “ICE! COFFIN!” the geode of ice formed around Superstar, who dropped a good fifteen feet to the concrete. The ice coffin was shattered, but Superstar was knocked unconscious. “And you say the Ice Coffin trick never works,” Icy gloated woozily.
This left (not)Blockbuster the only man standing for the Hollywood All-Stars. Ironically, this was actually good for him. THFKA Blockbuster was better on his own, when he went all out and he didn’t have to worry about fouling his teammates. He charged with a roar, piling into the ghouls, concentrating on the big guy holding the smoldering remains of the power hammer that had done such a number on (not)Blockbuster. He picked up the pale freak by one arm and used the chump as a club on his friends. The ghoul’s friends made the mistake that smaller, faster enemies often made with THFKA Blockbuster: they surrounded him and tried to bear-bait him. But he knew how to use that against them. He ignored their puny energy weapons, absorbing the energy and adding it to his strength, and reacted against them, getting them to let him know they were in striking range. He was faster, at least in his reflexes, than his massive bulk suggested, and he’d fooled more enemies that he could count with that. In less time than it takes to tell it, (not)Blockbuster had taken out more of Macabre’s minions than the rest of the All-Stars put together.]
“Yeah!” Big Dawg exulted, “No offense, to y’all and your powers, but when it comes to plain, no-frills butt-kickin’, there’s just no substitute for good, old-fashioned BRICK!”
[When he figured that he’d put the punks squarely on the defensive, (not)Blockbuster carefully cracked the ice that was fouling TechStar. Once he was sure that TechStar was back online, he freed Major Gravity from the ice bonds. The Major was groggy and weak, but he had a habit of bouncing back quickly if you gave him half a chance. BB gestured for TechStar to watch the Major to give him that chance, and then listened to the movement among the crates. When he was certain, he slammed a fist into the stack of crates, making an effective earthquake for the nimble little villains above his head. Several of them fell to the ground, but one stood up and looked him straight in the face. BB started to smash the little punk into the ground, but stopped short as the image registered of a delicate oval face with huge blue eyes, more little girl than woman, just the sort of innocence that he’d become a hero to protect before all the craziness with spin doctors and PR campaigns.]
“NNOOO!!” Big Dawg yelled at the screen, “Don’t fall for it, Bee-Bee! Come ON! Pretty little girl in a warehouse full of vampires and werewolves? You KNOW this trick! She’s more dangerous than the rest of them put together!”
[(not)Blockbuster looked into those huge tragic eyes and he found himself falling into them, lost to all reason and memory.]
“Ah, maaannn,” Big Dawg muttered disgustedly, “And he was doing so well…”
[Major Gravity was just getting his focus back, when he looked up to see Blockbuster pick up TechStar and throw the power frame at him. And then it was ‘Goodnight, Irene’.
“Cool!” Vic yelled as Belle helped him keep his stance. “VERY cool, Darla! Raja, Top Dawg - have your guys gather up everyone who can’t walk. Darla, have big boy here take our lot to the car. Drac, you cover us.” Drac, who was wearing Golden Boy’s vertigo-inducing visor gave a thumbs-up and sprang up to the top of the crates, and turned it on Lt. Pryor and his deputies.
It was a little clumsy - they used Golden Boy’s skyboard as a gurney to get the wounded to the Exit Room - but with Darla riding THFKA Blockbuster like a pony, they got the bulky final crate to the exit point. As Artie and Drac came scampering to the room just ahead of the massed deputies, Darla got off BB’s back, gave him a peck on the cheek and chirped, “Good Pony!” With that she skipped into the room as well. (not)Blockbuster was shaking his head to clear it of the woofles, and absently wondered what that annoying droning dirge was all about when Lt. Pryor ran up and screamed at him as to what he thought he was doing. As the superhero tried to remember where he was and what he was doing, the Deputies surrounded the door and executed a classic forced entry-
-to an empty room.]
“Well, THAT was embarrassing,” Big Dawg sighed.
“For someone,” Swashbuckler smirked.
“Okay, let’s rewind and review-” Brujah said sternly.
“Cool, but before we go over it, could we overlay some jazzy music and add ‘Bam!’ ‘Pow!’ and ‘Ka-Splat!’ visual effects to the fight scenes?” Sunny said with a big grin.
“Very funny,” Brujah growled. “The first thing-”
“The first thing,” Kate cut her off, “is we establish a betting pool.” She held up a $10 bill. “I have ten on the ‘Radical Squad’ having been hired by the All-Stars’ handlers to provide them with a telegenic ongoing ‘threat’ to spice up the All-Stars’ rating.”
“Five on them being hired by the LASD!”
“Ten bucks! Dr. Idol!”
“Five on Swifty Laser!”
to be continued