by Martin Maenza
Faced with these four rather serious-looking individuals that had them caught in the Quraci weapons depot, Blindside muttered under his breath, “I still say we should have risked it with the Joker…”
“Ixnay on the okerJay,” Throttle said through gritted teeth as he slowly raised his hands.
Rustam raised a curious eyebrow, having picked up the mutterings. “Did you say ‘Joker’?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you Americans are here about that.” From the reactions on the two’s faces, he got his answer. “The previous administration foolishly tried to ally itself with a westerner, and look where that led! Boom!” He began to bellow.
Ravan and Jaculi joined him in the laugh. Even the beast Manticore seemed to get the humor in that and roared in an odd, amused way.
Rustam’s mouth curled into a smile. “Perhaps you would like to ask Hussein himself about his folly, when we send you to join him in death!” He waved his flaming weapon before them.
Throttle pressed back against Blindside, feeling the scorching heat against his exposed face as the weapon passed before him. “Ah-hah… ah-hah,” the blonde man stammered nervously. “So the chemicals… uh… aren’t here?”
Rustam shook his head. “No, you picked the wrong building, I am afraid. All you will find here is a slow, painful death!” The flame of his scimitar surged.
Jaculi started to raise his weapon. Manticore was tense, poised to spring into action. Ravan was drawing his kris, a snake-shaped dagger, from the sheath on his belt. The time for discussion, it appeared, was over.
Throttle held his hands up, palms out and open. “Now, fellas, let’s not rush into things…” he started to say.
Suddenly, there was an uproarious crashing sound as the stone wall of the warehouse to the left and just behind them came crashing down.
All six heads turned at the sound.
From the dust-filled opening to the outside stepped two powerfully built figures. “Knock-knock!” Power Fist said as he and Giganta stood ready for battle. “Anybody home?”
Without word, the members of the Jihad sprang into action.
Manticore’s powerful hind leg muscles tensed and, with an effortless leap, propelled the rest of the body toward the damaged wall and the newcomers. The beast let out a loud roar that echoed across the room. It slashed forward with its front claws as it dropped toward Power Fist.
The black man blocked one hand with both of his own, clasping them about the wrist. But the other claw of the beast sliced through his shirt sleeve with a shredding sound. He winced in pain, too, as the claw put a slice in his upper arm, drawing blood.
“Owww! Bad kitty!” he scolded, giving the captured wrist a counter-twist with both hands. Manticore howled, its mouth wide open and its razor-sharp teeth bared.
Power Fist released the one wrist and brought that free arm about. He grabbed the orange-creature about the neck. “Down you go!” He threw all his weight into it, slamming the beast down hard to the stone floor. There was a crunch, a combination of nose cartilage and cracked stone.
Giganta was watching the exchange and hardly noticed that someone had set his sights on her.
Jaculi moved with a short burst of speed; the experiments done on him by scientists granted the youth this special ability. While each burst only lasted a few seconds apiece before needing to recharge, it was enough to get him closer to the woman, close enough for him to attack with one of his weapons with extreme accuracy. He cocked back his arm and let a short javelin fly.
Giganta’s ears picked up the whizzing of the weapon in the air and started to turn. Then she howled as the weapon struck the back of her left shoulder. She reached back, clawing feverishly to try to pull it out. As she did so, she spun about fully to see where the attack had come. Her eyes narrowed in fury as she saw the smug Jaculi standing there.
“Such a shame to bring a beauty down,” the Bedouin said.
Giganta pulled the weapon free from her back and howled as she sprang forward. She waved the metal pole like a club.
Jaculi’s eyes grew wide in surprise at the assault. He had not anticipated that the beauty would be able to take the attack, much less recover so quickly. He was quickly finding that, in fact, she could be such a beast.
Ravan and Rustam observed the battle from the corner of their eyes as they kept the first two cornered with their weapons of choice. “Ah,” the Thuggee smiled. “Now things shall become more interesting. It will be pleasure to take down that pair of powerhouses. Kali would be pleased with such an offering.”
“Keep sharp!” the leader warned. “We need not any more surprises.”
“Surprises?” Throttle said sheepishly. “Us?”
When the two men turned their focus back, Blindside let loose a glaring burst from the focal sphere on his chest harness.
“Aaa-aah!” the two exclaimed as the flash caught them off-guard and blinded them.
Throttle reached out to shove Ravan. As he did so, he kicked in his own powers to speed things up, adding some velocity to the shove against the man. The Thuggee lost his balance because of it, causing him to slam into Rustam.
“Come on, Ricky, let’s move it!” Throttle said. The two took off running.
As they moved across the warehouse toward the opening in the wall, a shimmering circle appeared. Out from it peered a beautiful woman with reddish black hair dressed in dark pants and a shirt.
“Out of the way, lady!” Throttle warned. “We’ve got a plane out of here to catch!”
The woman said nothing, frowned, and slipped back into the portal. It faded from sight as quickly as it appeared.
The two men made it to the opening and started climbing over the rubble. Blindside looked back and could see that the two men were starting to recover from the effects of his power. “Chad! We got trouble!”
Throttle glanced back. “Power Fist, Giganta, let’s go!” he called out. “The mission’s a scrub! The chemicals weren’t here!”
Giganta roared as she hoisted the body of Jaculi over her head and tossed him across the floor. The youth hit the floor hard and slid into one of the walls. She then turned, saw that Power Fist was still wrestling with the beast called Manticore, and gave him assistance. Taking it by its tail, the mighty woman pulled hard and yanked the beast free of the man.
Manticore howled and struggled, trying to pull its tail free of the woman’s grasp.
“I owe you one, Gee,” Power Fist said as he hauled back his right fist and let it fly. It connected squarely to Manticore’s jaw with a loud crunch, knocking its head back and drawing more blood. “Let’s go!”
There was a roar of activity in the open area between the buildings as something rumbled in the night skies. It sounded at first like thunder, but it grew louder and constant. A dark, sleet jet dropped down vertically. As it started to land, a hatch in the side slid open.
As the others appeared in the yard, out of the shadows from one of the buildings appeared Copperhead and Chronos. Under each arm were small canisters. “We’ve got the ssstuff!” hissed the serpentine villain as the two ran toward the plane.
Throttle frowned. “What? We were the diversion?”
“Just luck of the draw,” Chronos said. “There’ll be time to sort it out later.”
“Speaking of time, we’ve run out!” Blindside called. “Look!” All eyes averted to where he pointed. Indeed, the whole camp was on to them now, and troops armed with rifles were starting to round the far corner. The men yelled out in their native tongue. Some began to fire wildly. Bullets ricocheted about the air.
“Let’sss roll!” Copperhead hissed as he made for the jet.
Giganta tapped Power Fist on the shoulder. He looked around to the warehouse opening where she pointed. He saw three of the members of the Jihad emerging from it, and the looks on their faces were not pleasant ones. “Great! These guys don’t quit!” he cursed.
Inside the jet’s cockpit, Trident sat at the pilot controls, while Gizmo worked some of the switches. “Got the hatch open,” the dwarf announced.
Trident frowned as he glanced out the front viewport, seeing the soldiers approaching. “Better tell them to hurry, Giz,” he said, holding onto the controls nervously and watching as his teammates on the ground engaged the troops and a few others. “It appears they’ve got some special folks of their own. I don’t know how much time we’ll have to get away.”
“Right,” Gizmo said as he turned. Suddenly, he noticed a shimmering portal appear in the main cabin of the jet. “What the–?!”
A red-haired woman appeared in the portal. “Djinn,” she called out as she tossed a small box-like device to the jet’s floor, “destroy the infidels!”
From the box shimmered a spark of golden red energy. It grew instantly, taking the outlined form of a hairless man. “With pleasure, Chimera!” the creation said in a voice that sounded as though it were created by some electronic synthesizer. The electronic genie clapped its hands together, bringing forth a ball of electricity.
Chimera recessed into her portal and was gone.
Gizmo dived out of the way of the shot and fidgeted through the pockets of his uniform. “Trident, hold it steady!” the dwarf commanded. “Not sure what this guy is, but his little box intrigues me!”
Another blast of electricity hit above the cockpit. The discharge caused a brief disruption on the jet’s control panel, but the trouble faded out as quickly as the energy did. “Giz, we don’t have time for curiosity! Remember what happened to the cat?”
“Killed it,” Gizmo said as he fitted some various parts together into a single weapon. “Got it!” He took aim and fired at the Djinn.
The digitized man swerved and avoided the shot. “Ha-ha-ha-ha!” it laughed.
Just then, some of the others started to pour into the opening of the jet.
“Ah, more to destroy!” the Djinn smiled gleefully. It clapped its hands together and sent a surge of energy at the door.
“Copperhead, look out!” Gizmo called.
The serpentine villain was hit squarely by the shot. He shook his head for a moment, then continued to move into the jet. “No worriesss,” he hissed. “Thisss sssuit of mine hasss plenty of insssulation.”
The Djinn frowned. “We shall see, snake man!” He started to prepare another volley.
“No, we won’t!” Gizmo retorted. This time, he was close enough that his shot wouldn’t miss. He blasted at the device from which the Djinn was originating. “Back in your bottle, buddy!”
“No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” the Djinn cried as it found itself sucked back into the mechanized containment unit. The box sparked and shook for a moment, and then it was still.
Chronos handed his canister to Copperhead, who stored them in a compartment. “What the hell is going on in here?” He moved aside so the others could climb safely aboard.
“Just neutralizing a threat,” Gizmo said, snatching up the box. He studied it for a second, then slapped a number of small disks onto the outside of it. Immediately, they covered the device with a web of energy.
Chronos looked at him with interest.
“That’s just in case,” Gizmo said. He stashed the Djinn’s box into one of his pockets and returned to the cockpit.
Throttle and Blindside scrambled into the jet. Giganta was next, with Power Fist bringing up the rear. “That’s all!” the black man announced. “Let’s move!”
As the villains scrambled for seats, bullets ricocheted off the jet’s outer hull. “Get us out of here!” Throttle called as he buckled in.
“I’m working on it!” Trident yelled from the cockpit as the plane lifted vertically off the ground.
“Aw, spit!” cursed Blindside. “We’re done for!”
“Not yet!” said Chronos, still standing, as he reached into one of the compartments and pulled out a sphere-like device.
“What’sss that?” Copperhead hissed.
Chronos carried it toward the open hatch. “A time-bomb.”
“A time-bomb?” Throttle asked.
“Watch and learn!” Chronos said. He quickly entered in a sequence on the keypad on the front of the device and tossed it out the open hatch of the plane.
Bullets ricocheted off the outer metal casing as the sphere neared the ground. Then, mere feet before impact, there was a surge of purple energy from it that shot out in a horizontal plane.
“Go! Go!” Chronos yelled to Trident. The pilot nodded and kicked in the engines.
“Gunners, take–” President Hurrambi Marlo was shouting into a small handheld radio. He never got out the rest of the words. The energy wave washed over him and everyone else.
Everything and everyone on the ground just stopped, frozen like statues.
For nearly sixty seconds, there was no movement or sound as the rippling wave covered a five-hundred-foot radius out from the device.
Then, as quickly as it started, the paralyzing effects faded. The circuitry and the wiring within the time-bomb burned out and fused, destroying the weapon beyond recognition.
“–down that plane!” Marlo finished his call to the gunners. He then blinked and realized that the jet that had been right in his sights was now gone. “Damn it!” He threw the radio down on the ground in disgust and walked away. One of the soldiers picked the radio up after him.
Marlo glared as he approached Rustam and his team. “I want all of you back at the Jotunheim!” he snapped. “This first outing was a disaster — an utter disaster! It will not be repeated! Is that understood?”
“Yes, Mr. President,” Rustam said with a bow of his head.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Chimera said in a low voice. “I thought that the Djinn could…”
Marlo slapped her across the face, shutting her up. “No excuses! Now go!”
Chimera’s face stung, yet she dared not raise a hand to touch it. She bowed her head and left with the others silently.
The look on their leader’s face was solemn, yet determined. Rustam knew this meant further, more extensive training for the group. Jaculi would need to recover from the beating he received. Manticore would no doubt undergo further enhancements. And a new Djinn would need to be created to replace the one that was lost.
Still, he knew this was hardly the last that would be seen of the Jihad.