Of Masks and Marvels (Part 28)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
edited by Steve Zink
Chapter Twenty Eight
This is NOT a revenge thing.
That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Yes, I KNOW that it's my fault, that I let my guard down with Kismet, and let the sneaky, underhanded, shit-talking little bitch blindside me. And I'm gonna track the devious witch down, and chuck her smart-ass behind in jail, you betchum.
But it's not a revenge thing.
I had to wait until my coffee break the next morning - I hadda help the local PD with the paperwork - to phone out to AEGIS HQ. Of course, when I got there, the only people there were Twist and Bernice. The AEGIS bylaws say that there has to be a full-time member on base at all times; one of the reasons that I'm still not a full-time member. "Hey, L.L.!" Twist greeted me through a mouth full of barbecue style potato chips. Her metabolism must be enhanced by The Power - I swear, I never see that woman eat anything but junk! "What brings you down by the old Salt Mine this early?"
"Follow-through on that debacle, last night at Clarke's party."
"What follow-through?" Twist asked. "I heard that you kicked ass! AND, you made sure that none of the sparklers got swiped." She barely paused long enough to swallow. "Ritzy party, high-flying crowd, case full of diamonds, big-time bust on THREE major villains... Howcum *I* never get in on busts like that?"
"Maybe it would happen," I offered, "if you ever ate anything green and leafy." Then it hit me. "What do you mean, 'none of the sparklers got swiped'?"
"It was on the Police Update. The Museum of Sciences double-checked all the pieces, and they're all present and accounted for. Score one for AEGIS!" <Woo! Woo!>
"But that doesn't make any sense... Kismet GOT what she was looking for..." I filed that under 'maybe it'll make sense when I get more information'. "ANYWAY! That sneaky little bitch Kismet made off with something from the display case. Nasty little bit of business that seemed to amplify her powers somehow. But, I have an angle with that. But, before I go find her and pummel her smart-alecky ass-"
"Oh?" Twist raised her eyebrows, "This is a revenge thing? She sandbag you, or something?"
"This is NOT a revenge thing. It's just that she could be dangerous with that thing. Anyway, this is the first time that I've run into this little wise-ass, and I need some background on her."
"Okay, Sherman, I'll warm up the Wayback machine, and see what we can see."
The AEGIS computer is on an Ultra-Secure, you can't hack in, no matter how slick you are, because it requires a physical link-up, computer network with a set of other superhero groups and a bunch of Police and Intelligence Services. I needed Twist, because it required a full-time member to log on. 'Affiliates' like me need someone to hold their hand when we used it, for security reasons. Y'know, when I thought up this 'affiliate' business, I didn't think that they'd attach so many freaking strings to it.
Anyway, the compilation file that the FBI's Supervillain Division had on her all descended from a larger, more detailed file on someone called 'The Necromancer'. It seemed that they were very interested in getting their hands on this guy. The most recent listing that they had for him was 'MPD', or 'Missing, Presumed Dead'. MPD is how they stamp a file after a supervillain goes dramatically missing, but they don't find an actual body. Basically, it means, 'he's probably laying low, cooking up something really nasty'.
The Necromancer, it turns out, started out as one of those 'Angst-Ridden Avenger' types, who was pissed off at polluters, especially over toxic waste dumping. Of course, looking at his picture from the archives, I could see why. He was scarred and disfigured, a real 'Toxic Avenger' type. He apparently gained some sort of ability to absorb energy, and use it to keep himself from falling apart. He could also hyper-charge his body to become super-strong, and he could 'charge' dead bodies with this energy and animate them with it. Now, here comes the really icky part - the energy that was best for this, was human vital energy.
The best guess was that some corporate type had really given him the shaft, shoved him in a toxic waste dump or something like that, and he felt that he was owed some payback. At first, he went around attacking the higher-ups at the Chemical division at Howell Industries, and a nasty toxic-waste dumping scam came to light. Then he went around, picking on various kinds of high-level Corporate and Government corruption. He wasn't very nice about the way that he went about it, though. People got hurt. Not to mention a lot of Civil Rights and procedural violations. Still, for someone who defined himself as one of the Walking Dead, he had a pretty good record for not hurting innocent bystanders, and not taking hostages.
As he went on, the Necromancer got more powerful, in terms of his superhuman abilities, and a lot slicker in his methodology. But his body just kept wasting away. He developed 'golems', some sort of organic material 'robots' that he started to use, instead of dead bodies. He started wearing a suit of power armor, which either amplified his powers or just kept him going, they're still not sure. His strikes became more and more sophisticated and precise. And, somewhere along the line, he picked up Kismet.
They're not sure exactly where Kismet came from, or why she hooked up with the Necromancer. At first, she was just sort of a 'magician's assistant', and there was some talk that she might have been just one of the Necromancer's golems, just tricked out with a nice set of curves. But, as she went along, she became more of an active part of the Necromancer's schemes, even as the man himself sort of 'phased out', and started directing things from the rear echelon. She became sort of a 'Shego' to the Necromancer's 'Dr. Drakken' (if you follow Kim Possible), his good right hand and enforcer. The Necromancer seemed to be in a downward spiral, and required more and more life support equipment to keep going. As he shut down, Kismet took over more and more of his operations. When the Necromancer seems to die a couple of times, Kismet operates on what appears to be her own initiative. But, when the Necromancer reappears, there doesn't seem to be any repercussions for her taking over.
Finally, the Necromancer died in one particularly splashy strike against a Chemical Warfare plant, he appeared to go up in flames. From what those people in his organization (who were picked up in other matters) said, Kismet pretty much said, 'That's all, folks. The Boss is dead, and I'm moving on.' It's been five years since the Necromancer appeared to go up in smoke, so maybe she knew something that she wasn't letting anyone else in on. Like, maybe the Necromancer knew that he was as good as dead, and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, or something.
Anyway, since then, Kismet has sort of dropped out of the 'super-terrorism' business, and become a (comparatively) run-of-the-mill professional thief. She has a nasty bag of tricks, stuff that she sort of 'inherited' from the Necromancer. Apparently, she has some sort of steady rivalry with heroes called 'Nightwolf' and 'Wrangler Jane' (hey, don't blame me; blame the News media, they're the ones that come up with these stupid names. Wait a minute - I AM one of the News media!). I left messages with Nightwolf and Wrangler Jane's teams, asking them to get in touch with me. Hopefully, Kiz would be in custody before they had a chance to answer, but never turn your nose up at someone who might know things that you need to know.
"Okay," Twist summed up, "according to various Intelligence sources, Kismet's doing the 'Catwoman' number, and taking odd jobs every so often. What are the odds that she pulled that heist, working for someone else?"
I leaned back and worried my lip. "Dunno. But I'm pretty sure of one thing - there was a lot more going on there last night, than was let on."
"What makes you say that?" Twist asked.
I pointed up at Kismet's picture on the screen. "Her. Kismet. She's all into the whole 'stage magic' bit, right? Lots of flash and glitter and 'watch this hand, while I pick your pocket with the other'." I leaned forward. "She's a wiseass. She's pulling something, if not several somethings. I dunno what she's pulling, or on whom, but I do know one thing - she's pulling something. She could have been in and out of there, no problem. Instead, she calls all sorts of attention to herself, before she tries to rip off the jewelry case. Why?"
Twist shrugged. "Maybe her Daddy didn't pay enough attention to her, when she was little?"
I paid Joyce for her joke with a smile. "Maybe. But I can't help but think that maybe she had another reason for being there last night. What it is, I don't know. Maybe I'll ask her."
"Oh? She left a convenient clue as to her next daring robbery, maybe?"
I smiled at Twist, a bit more sincerely, this time. "As a matter of fact, she did! She just doesn't realize it! Thanks for the update, Twist. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to consult an expert about it." Bernice was, as always in her workshop - does that woman even have a home?
Bernice was in her natural element - namely, the guts of an electronic panel. I carefully nudged her foot, to get her attention. "Dammit, Eli, what do you want now?" she snarled.
"'Eli'?" I echoed. "You're on first name terms with Tech Support?"
"Oh! It's you." Bernice carefully pulled herself out of the tangle of wires and connections, and adjusted her glasses. "Nice to see someone at least semi-competent." Hey folks, this is Bernice in a good mood.
I patted her cheek. "Not to worry, Eli will drop by just as soon as he can, and you two can flirt all you want." Bernice sputtered, but before she could launch into a flurry of denial, I got down to brass tacks. "Is the Teleportation System's location acquisition function up and running?"
"You're here, aren't you?"
"And you're up to your waist in electronic guts, so it's a valid question. Will it function as a wide-area signature triangulation system?"
"Okay, I don't have a lot of time; I'm on a coffee break, and people are already probably asking questions. I need you to kludge together something that will read a magnetic resonance that I'll produce for you, and feed it into the location acquisition function, so that it'll find that resonance if it's inside the teleporter's range. Think you can handle that, all by yourself?" I smiled puckishly, "Or, shall I tell ELI to come in, and help you?"
Bernice bristled, but gave it a second thought. "Well, I suppose, in a few hours, I could use someone to do some grunt work..." Ah, young love, geek love!
Reyes was putting her foot down. "Look, Maxham-"
"Fitzgerald. If I gotta get used to it, you gotta get used to it."
"What-EVER! Look, MAXINE, you held out on me last night, with that big shindig-"
"What hold out? I thought it was gonna be a boring night, helping some rich goon shave a couple of thou off his income tax, by donating stuff to AEGIS. Who knew that I'd run into a smart-mouthed little-" I buried my face in my hand. "Oh, God - I meet a gorgeous young woman who wears spandex and thigh-high boots, and all I wanna do is beat the crap out of her. Where did my life go so completely wrong?"
"I think it was about the time that you started wearing falsies." Reyes smirked, reached over and gave me a poke.
"Those aren't falsies."
"woops." Reyes tried to recover, "ANYWAY, if your little brother is goofing off on company time, to help you find this 'Kismet' broad - by the way, how WILL what Eli's doing help find her? And, is this some sort of revenge thing?"
"This is NOT a revenge thing! The dingus which Kismet stole wasn't a part of the jewelry display. How it got in there, I dunno. What it really is, I think, is some sort of energy cohesion crystal-"
"Like a ruby in a laser?" Reyes asked, trying to keep up.
"Well, technically, they haven't used rubies in lasers for decades, but, yeah, that's the basic idea. You run energy through it, and it coheres into a more potent form."
"Okay, the nerd-moment for the day is over, and exactly WHAT does that have to DO with anything?"
"The crystal has a very specific energy signature. The system that AEGIS' teleporter system uses to determine where it's sending people, can use that signature to find the crystal."
"But what if Kismet doesn't use the crystal?"
"She won't have to. The crystal reacts to electromagnetic energy of all kinds - radio waves, TV broadcast waves, cell-phone transmissions, the whole magillah. As long as she's anywhere within AEGIS' teleporter's range, we should be able to find her."
"And when you DO," Reyes got back to her original point, "I expect to be there for every electro-blast and haymaker! Say, is there any way that you could, y'know... sort of... arrange for Kismet to have an 'equipment failure'? Y'know, the kind that Janet Jackson had, at the Superbowl?"
Ilena Reyes, Pioneer News-Pornographer.
Some time later, Reyes and I were still arguing over the ethics of exposing a career criminal on TV; errr... that is, indecently exposing a career criminal on TV. It's not so much that I have any real worries about Kismet's feelings, it's that I don't like the idea of giving Reyes the precedent.
Then Eli pinged in from AEGIS HQ. "LL, we have a hit."
"Yes! Where is it?" Eli named a yuppie jungle just off the Financial District - hopefully Kismet wasn't planning to stick me with her double-latte bill at her favorite Starbucks. And, yes, Kismet IS evil enough to run up a tab at the Devil's Samovar. I read out the approximate location to Reyes, and warped out to the Newslemon.
I blipped back into reality a few feet above a fifth story roof. And then I found myself in one of those 'what was I thinking?' moments. Looking down at the street, I realized that I had absolutely NO WAY of figuring out which one of the people on the street was Kismet. I had a vague general sense that the crystal was somewhere near, but past that? Nada.
I felt like an idiot, just hanging out on a stupid roof, looking down at the darkening street. How DOES Batman manage to make the 'brooding hero gazing down on the city' thing look so cool?
Okay, if I were The Bat, I'd probably figure out a way of deducing which one of the little yuppettes milling around in the street below was Miss Magic. Still, ol' Bruce is a trained detective, and I'm just a Union Electrician. Not to mention, he has the writers on his side, giving him all the clues. I wish *I* had a writer scripting out everything, whispering all the right things in my ear, and making sure that I won all my battles! I'm not really all that big on ferreting out Evil. I just wait for Evil to pop up and show itself.
Maybe that's a weakness. Lord knows, Kraken and his crew of Symbiont Sycophants are pulling some serious moves behind the scenes, and we may not be able to slap them down when they make their Big Move. Okay, so maybe it's time to put the old gray matter to work. What DO I know about Kismet? I know she's got some serious energy powers, and she's interacting with that crystal, big time. And that crystal hasn't moved.
That's right, it hasn't moved. So, that means Kismet is staying put for some reason. Either she's taken a room in the area, or she's hanging out, waiting for someone. Oh, lovely, now I have to find Kismet when she's out of uniform, among all these yuppie broads. And I didn't get all that good a look at her while she was in mufti. Good bod, dark hair, triangular face, and that's it.
Oh, yeah, and she really shouldn't have worn those shoes with that dress.
Then, as I was scanning the area, I noticed something on the roof of the next building, which was a couple of stories shorter than the one I was on.
Or, should I say, someone. Looking over the edge, I spotted a well put-together woman wearing a red miniskirt that looked painted on, who was checking out something on the street with binoculars. Before, I would have noticed her figure, which was still worth commenting on; but now, what really caught my attention was her hair. It was long, waving and flaming red-
-and it was moving. On its own. Not with the wind or anything, it was just moving.
Well, that explains the hackles raising on the back of my neck. I barely managed to resist the urge to jump on her and beat the crap out of her while I had the chance. No, ol' Sheila was on the job, and the chances of her just happening to be staking out an area where Kismet - a woman who had blown SD's partners' heist and helped send them to the pokey - was hanging out, were somewhere between unlikely and 'oh gimme a break!' I checked out where her binoculars where pointed. It was one of those sidewalk bistro places - don't ask me why someone would pay extra money to enjoy car exhaust with their vichyssoise. Seated at one of the tables was a trim yet buxom dark haired woman who just might be my old buddy Kismet, and a guy who looked like a male model.
For a second, it struck me that this whole thing might be a big super-villainess romantic thing, with the J. Crew kid down there being the third leg in a triangle.
Come to think of it, it might be safer for everyone concerned if it's just black market business as usual.
I sidled over along the edge of the building, to put a little distance between us, while still keeping an eye on Red. I quickly put in a call to AEGIS. "Twist? LL here. I got a situation here. I have She-Devil under observation. And get this: she has Kismet under observation. I haven't seen any sign of him, but I'd lay money that Berserker's around here somewhere, and probably Fireball's backup boy band as well. Call around, and see what sort of backup you can arrange for me. 'Scuze me, I gotta make another call before the fertilizer hits the air conditioning."
I cut off and made a quick call to Lt. Heszcheck downtown. I was using my AEGIS communicator, so their caller ID pegged me, and I didn't have to do the whole dosey-do convincing them that I was who I said I was. [Hey, your Ladyship! To what do I owe the pleasure?]
"I hope you still think it's a pleasure when you hear what I have to say." I filled him in on the situation.
[So, you went looking for this Kismet chick? Is this some kind of revenge thing?]
"This is NOT a revenge thing," I grated into the cell phone.
[Whatever you say, LL. So, what do you have planned?]
"I don't. First of all, I'm not 100% sure that the redhead down there is She-Devil. Ninety percent sure, but not 100%. Hey, there could be two redheads with killer bods, and animated hair out there. Not likely, but possible. And there's a possibility that such a woman, who doesn't happen to be She-Devil, could be covertly looking for a woman who looks a lot like Kismet, who doesn't happen to be Kismet."
[Yeah, possible. But not likely.]
"Heszcheck, you're talking to a woman who flies, throws lightning bolts around and has gone toe-to-toe repeatedly with a giant flying black egg. Weirder things have happened. Anyway, give SWAT, Fire & Rescue and the EMTs a heads up, but don't alert EMS just yet. She could just follow Kismet to wherever she's holed up, and-"
Suddenly, She-Devil tossed the binoculars down, and caused her red dress to morph into her red-and-black bodysuit, complete with wings and horns.
"-OR she could just jump Kismet in the middle of a busy street, endangering hundreds of civilians. Tell 'em Four Alarms, Heszcheck!" I clicked off and speed-dialed Reyes. I gave her the cross-streets. "GET HERE!"
In the time that it took me to stash away my communicator, She-Devil had spread her wings and done a classic swoop down at the bistro table. Now, you'd think that she'd try to take out the obvious threat, namely Kismet. Instead, she plowed into prettyboy, sending Kismet and the table flying. His briefcase popped open when it hit the ground, and scattered a couple of packets of green stuff. Dollar bills went flying, but instead of going to her boyfriend's assistance, Kismet started scrambling around in the money, looking for something.
She-Devil had the guy wrestled to the ground. I'll say one thing for him; he seemed to be taking it really well. Most people would be freaking, but he was as calm as a cucumber. Then She-Devil ripped one of his arms off, and started to beat him to death with it. Or, at least, she tried.
Instead of blood bone and sinew, wires and sparks trailed from his shoulder. And the guy was still looking as placid as ever.
Okay, apparently, Dr. Daedalus is into the 'Dr. Doom's lookalike android' bit. And, unless I'm greatly mistaken, Zsa-Zsa Gazongas wasn't expecting that, and she has just opened up a big two-legged can of whoop-ass on herself. Fine by me. I have someone else who needs a big heaping spoonful of whoop-ass.
Kismet was scrambling around in the ruins of her purse that were scattered around on the ground. Then, I saw her spot what she was looking for - a CD in a paper sleeve. She reached for it, but I used static electricity to magno-snag it right out from under her fingers. "Hey there, Sunshine!" I grinned and waved the disk at her. "Looking for something?"
"You? What is this, some sort of revenge thing?"
"NO! It's a Justice thing!" That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
The android had exploded into a bunch of components, and cables were snaking out and wrapping around She-Devil. Hellbunny was giving it a pretty good fight, but I think Dr. D had seen her coming, 'cause Robby was packed with all the extras, fire-retardant foam included.
Which meant that it was just Kismet and me. Kiz reached for something, and then she seemed to realize that she wasn't wearing her fighting togs. "Aww..." I gloated, "what'sa matta? Leave your bag of tricks in your top hat?"
"Well, now that you mention it... yes. You wouldn't be so decent as to stay there, while I go find a telephone booth, would you?"
"In this town? Are you nuts? What, that instant change thing you had going last night expire or something?"
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"No, no - I'm just enjoying the sight of you in your lovely little Anne Taylor ensemble. Just the thing to make the right first impression, as you're being charged in front of the judge."
Kismet crossed her arms and glared at me. "I am shocked- shocked! -that a superheroine could be so petty, so selfish! I mean, over there is She-Devil, a real danger to the General Populace, and here you are, picking on a poor, defenseless-"
"Defenseless? YOU?" I hooted. "PLEASE! Besides, She-Who-Must-Be-A-Pain-In-The-Ass is safely restrained, courtesy of Dr. Daedalus-" And, wouldn't you know it? Just as I gesture at her, Hell-Bunny manages to tear something vital out of the center of the android's body and rip her way out of the cables. She stood there, glaring at both of us, managing to look very pissed, very dangerous and very sexy, all at the same time. "_oh_, _crud_."
"Well, She-Devil?!" Kizmet said in a bright, hearty voice, "What say we let bygones be bygones, business is business, and all that, and join forces to put this pushy busybody-"
Kiz was about to dish on me a little more, but She-Devil just spat out a curse and launched into her 'I am the Daughter of Hellfire and Perdition' speech, ending with her screeching, "NOW GIFF ME ZE CRYSTAL!" She punctuated the screech with a big dramatic flare of fire around her.
At first Kismet goggled, and for a moment, I thought she was buying into that whole 'Ohmigawd, she's so terrifying' thing that people seem to do with Miss Firepants. But then she screwed up her face and gave a muffled snicker. Then she burst out laughing. "WHAT- what was that? I feel like I've been threatened by Arnold Ziffle's mother!"
"Sorry, Kiz," I said in an aside, "but I've already done all the 'Green Acres' jokes."
"What? Um, well, what about Conrad Hilton jokes?"
"No, but there's a reason - it'd really be reaching for the joke."
"True, true - that's the problem with butting into these long-range superhero-supervillain relationships. All the easy material's gone. What about 'Queen of Outer Space'?"
"Oh, good one! Go for it!" She-Devil was standing there, listening to us with a 'what are you two talking about?' look on her face. But as Kismet was warming up her zinger, She-Devil let out a scream and sent a rippling bolt of fire at her. Kismet ducked behind a bistro table, and I mag-leved another table at She-Devil. S-D reduced the table to molten scraps, but what caught my attention was the spiral of glittering light that appeared behind the other table.
Kismet stepped out from the table, dressed in her powder blue and white fighting outfit, two fans of those cards of hers spread out in her hands. "Okay, now that we have something closer to an even playing field, what say we get down to business?" With that we all started moving counter-clockwise in a circle, trying to see who would jump which way first. "So, Sparky... It's obvious that the Butane Bimbo from Budapest here-" 'Butane Bimbo from Budapest'- gotta remember that one, "-is the clear and present greater danger. What say we let bygone be bygones, and combine our forces to-"
"Hey! Little Miss Stab-in-the- Back! We've already done that bit!"
"Vot iss it MIT yew two?" She-Devil asked snarkily, "Iss dis zum kind uff rrrevenche t'ing?"
"This is NOT a revenge thing!"
"Well, it's certainly not a fashion thing," Kismet snarked, "I mean, just LOOK at you two!"
"Vot's de matta mit de vay I looks?" She-Devil took that bait. Kismet let fly with a few of her cards at S-D. I was ready to jump her, when I felt something electromagnetic going on. I spun around and managed to snag Kismet's staff - big crystal doobob on the end and everything - on the fly as it was winging its way at the back of my personal favorite head.
I charged the staff with some juice, severing the connection that Kismet had with it. I turned to see Kismet looking at me, mouth wide open. "Really, Kiz! First rule of Stage Magic: Never pull the same trick the same way twice!"
Feeling around the staff, I noticed something that would function as a set of switches. "Hey!" S-D shouted, "Giff dat here!"
I pointed the staff at She-Devil, "Okay, Hot Stuff, but remember, you asked for it!" I triggered one of the switches, and a gush of something splattered her. From the way that it reacted with the wreckage of the bistro table, I'd say it was a powerful acid, but it rolled right off of her. Okay, not that switch...
She-Devil launched herself at me, so I decided to keep it simple. I ran a zap through the staff (and the crystal). The resulting enhanced zapperoo sent S-D flying back. I turned just in time to deflect one of Kismet's card tricks.
Then, we were back to the circling bit.
"So, She-Devil, what say we let bygones be-"
"Don' effen GO zere, Bee-yotch."
Kismet let fly with a barrage of trick cards, which I deflected at She-Devil. Okay, I need a little time to keep these two busy while my backup showed. I held up the CD. "So, Kiz, why you so interested in this? You a big fan of Barry Manilow or something? The Osmonds, maybe?"
"Y'know, what you're holding IS private property. You have no right to confiscate it."
"Oh, so it IS Barry Manilow!" I was keeping one eye on She-Devil as I pulled this, and it was a damn good thing, 'cause she sent one of her firebolts my way with extreme prejudice. "What? You're not into Manilow, Sheila?"
Yammering away in that continuous 'I will tear your soul away from your screaming flesh' yada yada that she does, She-Devil jumped at me and tried to pull the staff away from me. Thus effectively grounding her. Bad Idea. I really fried her exquisite ass.
As She-Devil fell, I turned to face Kismet. "Well, one wiseass with a bad marketing plan down, one to go."
"Not... kvite..." She-Devil groaned from the ground, "I haff... a card uf mine own... to play..." Then, as if on cue, the ground erupted upwards, and Berserker pushed his way up from the sewers.
"Yo, Sparky, any chance that you'd reconsider that 'let bygones be bygones' thing? Just give me back the disc, and you can keep the crystal."
Berserker didn't seem to be very hot on the idea of Kismet getting the crystal, 'cause he sent a spray of spikes from his big misshapen arm flying at her. Oh, freaking lovely - he's learned a new power.
Kismet did an acrobat flip out if the spikes' way. Oh right, she can't fly without the staff - or, given the high leaping jumps she's making, she can't make constant powered ascent. Still, she's pretty damn spry. But, why isn't she putting some distance between her and here?
I lifted off and ducked in between Big Red's spikes. He went for one of the bistro tables, and chucked it at me. Oh well, big bricks aren't exactly what you'd call famous for their brains. I magno-snagged the table, whipped it around and caught him square in the face with his own missile. So, shaking it off, he picked up a piece of broken cement, and caught me with THAT, while I was in the middle of trying to figure out the controls on Kismet's staff.
Wham, right into the side of a building. Man, I really wish I didn't spend so much time like this. Oh well, try and look on the bright side - I'm one massive body-covering bruise closer to completing my transformation. Only a thousand painful, humiliating concussions to go.
As I was reeling from the concussion, Kismet skipped over, grabbed her staff back, and created a cage of that pale blue fire around Big B. "Okay, where did she put that stupid disk?" She rummaged around my waist, until she found the disk. "HAH!" She produced the disk.
"Is that the latest Barry Manilow CD?" Twist asked as she appeared out of nowhere and snatched it out of Kismet's hand. "Kewl!" Then she twisted out of existence again.
Berserker broke out of Kismet's cage and came charging at her. "Oh, gimme a break, I don't have time for this nonsense!" she snarled. Just as Berserker reached her, she slapped one of those cards on his forehead, and he froze. Then she straddled her staff and flew up. "Okay, where did that little Nightcrawler wannabe get to?"
Then Twist popped out of nowhere again - she does that a lot - grabbed Kismet's staff, and winked out again - with the staff. Kismet dropped like a stone to the street. "HAH!" Twist exulted as she spun the staff like a baton. 'Nightcrawler wannabe' my ASS!"
"Vould yew like dat arse Mediyum, or vell-dun?" She-Devil sniped as she caught Twist with a fireball. Twist went sprawling, and S-D flew over to the staff-
-just in time for me to magno-snag it out from under her fingers. "Vat? Don'chew haff ze gudt zenze to shtay down ven?"
"Of course not!" I smirked as I pointed the staff at her and let fly with one of the other features. "First thing they teach you at Superhero School: Keep coming back!" A thick green mist spritzed over her, and then it blistered and bubbled up into an emerald green gelatin that completely encased She-Devil.
"Really?" Kismet jeered. "Waddya know? And here I thought it was 'stand there and be a sitting duck'!" She threw one of those snakes at me. It wrapped around me, but please! It's metallic! What, do I throw gasoline at She-Devil?
And speaking of She-Devil, what's my least favorite Eastern European Import up to? She was fluttering over Berserker - and burning that card of Kismet's off his brow. I threw that metal snake of Kismet's at Hellbunny, and caught her off-guard. "Yo, Kis, how sturdy do you make those cards of yours?"
"Apparently, not sturdy enough!" Berserker snapped out of the trance that the card had him in, and charged at us. Kismet grabbed the staff in my hand and she actually managed to ignore the jolt that I sent through it. She spun the staff around and squirted a blackish liquid at him. Berserker stumbled, and fell, but he didn't stop. No, if anything, he picked up speed as he plowed into me, sending both of us crashing into a shop. He tried to pull himself off of me, but he couldn't.
I ran a finger across his hide as we struggled. I recognized it; Fullerite, a 'dry' lubricant made from 'buckyballs'. Quite possibly the closest that we're ever going to get to a perfect lubricant. There was no way that Big B was going to get enough traction to get off of us. But I've dealt with this stuff before. I used a static charge to bond the fullerite to his dermis, and then I used a static electric charge to GET HIM THE HELL OFF OF ME!
Once I had Slippery Jim off of me, I saw that She-Devil and Kismet were wrestling mightily for the staff. Twist winked over next to me. "Man, wouldn't you know it, there's never a vat of Lemon Jello when you really need one!"
"Think we should break this up?" I asked.
"Nah, they're pretty tied up in wrasslin' right now, so they're not doing any property damage. I say, we let 'em wear each other down, and then slap the cuffs on 'em. What about the girder-bender?" Twist jerked a thumb at Berserker.
"He's got his hands full, just standing, right at the moment. So, let's- whoops! Technical foul!" She-Devil had pulled a nasty little number where she drew in her wings and added all that mass to her 'tail', turning it from a dainty little fashion statement to a weighty club that shot up between her legs, catching Kismet right on the chin. Kiz folded, and S-D pulled the staff away from her with a cry of victory.
It's bad form for superheroes to let supervillains have moments of victory, so Twist threw one of her weird twisty things that did all sorts of nastiness to Hellen DesTroy's equilibrium. As Horn-babe was trying to keep her lunch down, I magno-snagged the staff back.
I had it just in time for Berserker to blind-side me, and carry me through a plate glass window into a cutesy - er, I mean, absolutely adorable little knickknack boutique. I was reeling among all the bijouterie, and Big B was rearing back for the classic double-fist squish. Then, just as Berserker had his mark and was beginning the overhead slam, a hammer hooked on his fists, and used his own momentum to throw him out of shop. Iron John, the person who was using said providential hammer, looked in. "You okay, LL?"
"Gimme a sec. I think I lost a back molar, and it's around here, somewhere."
"Take Five. You look like you need it." Then he cocked his hammer and went back to join the fray." <Memo to Self: Computers aren't the only thing that should be backed up regularly. Backup is GOOD.>
Looking out among the havoc, I was really impressed. It looked like most of AEGIS had shown up. And, somehow, the rest of the Symbiont Syndicate was there. What IS this? I chucked most of those guys in JAIL, only last NIGHT! Who do these guys have as a bail bondsman, the Prince of Darkness? Even more impressively, Kismet was still there, weaving in and around all the ongoing mayhem. But why is she still here? Then I looked down at my hand. Oh, yeah.
I staggered out of the knickknack shoppe and right off the bat, Kraken took the staff right out of my hand. And we played keep-away for a solid four minutes, with one side getting it and then another. Kismet was staying for the most part in the background, but she did lend a hand, after a fashion. Every so often, she'd stick another of those cards on one of the Syndicators. She managed to bag Nazghul, Berserker and Kraken that way.
When she nailed Kraken, he was holding the ball, and she took it from him. Then, as all eyes were on her, she played her final card. Or, should I say, cards. She pulled out five cards that flew into a whirling wheel that created a dazzling pinwheel of light. And when the dazzle went away, Kizmet was nowhere to be seen. Of course, neither were She-Devil or the Syndicators who hadn't gotten carded. Lord, I hope the jail has a frequent offenders program for these guys - maybe they'll be able to pick up a few points toward free flights to Leavenworth.
Reyes was so delighted with the footage she'd gotten that she didn't mind that I headed over to AEGIS HQ, instead of going back to the station with her. "Okay," Iron John asked as we debriefed, "what was all that about? Max, please don't tell me that we just did a good hundred grand in collateral damage, just for a revenge thing!"
"It was NOT a revenge thing! She-Devil - or more accurately, the Symbiont Syndicate, wanted this-" I held up the gaudy crystal doo-bob. "-the crystal they tried to swipe out of the jewelry case at Clarke's party last night."
"Wait a minute," Twist cut in, "isn't that the sparkly thing your buddy Kismet put on the end of her power-staff to make it all super powerful?"
"Yep," I grinned.
"But I saw Kismet ride off on that thing! How did...?"
Oh yes, boggling your buddies is one of life's great joys. "When Berserker knocked me into that shop, I spotted some old-timey cut-glass doorknobs among the inventory. I swapped out one of those for this on the end of Kismet's trick-stick. I figured that if I could confuse things enough, that I'd slow them down enough for you guys to show up. I wasn't expecting Kismet to split the second she got her hands on her ride."
"And what if someone noticed the switch?" Sapphire asked.
"I picked up a few other decoys. I, ah, sort of left them at the scene of the riot."
"Hold on," Twist said, "there's no WAY that Kismet wouldn't know that the crystal on the end of her staff wasn't kosher. If she went to all that trouble to get it, why would she just up and split, instead of jumping you to get it back?"
I paused. "You're right. She would know, and she would try to get it back. Come to think of it, she wasn't really all that interested in getting this crystal back. What she really wanted was... Twist, what did you do with that CD that you took from Kiz?"
"Well, it was kinda banged up, so I gave it to Bernice to see if she could fix it up?" Twist hit the intercom. "Yo, Bernice!"
[What IS it?] As charming as ever.
"What's the word on that CD that I gave you?"
[You wasted my time with THIS? You could'a taken it to any Walgreens and had that done!]
"Yeah, but we trust you, Bern. So, what was on the CD?"
[I ran it on an isolated laptop, just in case.]
"Don't leave us here, hanging in suspense, Bern. What was it?"
[No viruses or worms. What there was, was a bunch of files, a lot of blanked out paperwork, and a set of schematics.]
"Schematics for what?
[Let me shoot it over to you.]
A set of building blueprints appeared on the large screen in the debriefing room. It took a bit, but I finally recognized something. "Those are the specifications for a high-end, highly-automatic industrial plant - No, - Jesus Christ, those are the blueprints for a secret lair!"
"Are you sure about that, Max?" Titan asked.
"Since when do civilian factories have henchmen's barracks, death-traps and recessed hard points?"
"Hmmm..." Hex strummed her fingers on the table, "Where did Kismet GET these blueprints? And WHO was she selling them to?"
"Well," I said, "the Where, I dunno, but I'm pretty sure that she was selling them to Dr. Daedalus. The 'buyer' was an android that was suspiciously well-prepared to handle Hellbunny."
[Max! Are you still tracking that signature that you had me triangulate for you?]
"er, No, Bern, I have the crystal that I was tracking, right here."
[Max, you IDIOT! If We can track IT, then THEY can track US! IT'S A TRAP!]
Has Lady Lightning drawn all of AEGIS into a fiendish trap?
Is AEGIS doomed?
And when are Eli and Bernice going to stop snarling at each other and start up the whoopie machine?
Find out in our next episode of 'Of Masks and Marvels'!