by T Campbell
The Iron Pig’s blows to Big Cheese’s throat had finally rendered the giant mouse unconscious and shrinking rapidly. As soon as he was small enough to carry, the Pig removed him from the Z-Building lawn. Toting Cheese over his shoulder, the Pig briefly looked up to the hangar, the highest and northernmost point in the Building. He couldn’t see Ultra-Rabbit. But he knew Ultra could see him.
Ultra saw everything. His x-ray vision and telescopic eyesight reached out of the hangar for miles in all directions to the Follywood sign, to the Specific Ocean, to the skyscrapers of downtown Los Antelopes. There were no threats anywhere on the horizon. But something was wrong.
He couldn’t hear Bast-Felina’s heartbeat.
He checked his timer. Still hours to go before snack time. His powers were at their peak. But he couldn’t hear it.
And Fantastidrake hadn’t checked in.
He was alone… alone, except for the flash-frozen rabbit statue in the corner.
Almost without realizing what he was doing, Ultra focused on Captain Carrot’s head. Ultra’s eyes glowed red. And just around the head, the ice began to melt.
“Well,” sighed Zap-Panda, “that went well.”
There had been way too much magical static for the daughter of the great Zabeara to follow the battle between Alley-Kat-Abra and Katastrophe after it had begun. She’d had better success following Captain Carrot’s battle, but the Captain had had no success at all.
If Abra and the Captain had waited before jumping in, Zap-Panda might have been able to explain to them that they were the doorways to this world, and so they should have been the last to leave Earth-Reverse-C, not the first. Now, of course, Zap-Panda, Stacked Canary, and Aquaduck were stranded all over again.
“I hate do-it-yourselfers.”
“I guess it comes from their upbringing,” said Stacked Canary. “There are so few super-heroes on their world. They’re not used to getting backup except from each other.”
Zap-Panda shrugged. “That might explain the office romance, too.”
Super-Squirrel’s voice came back into their minds then. “Good news, JLA. We’ve got a lead on a proven route to Earth-C. The lab of Doctor Hoot. Remember, Aquaduck, that’s this world’s Doctor Hoot, not the one who tried to take over our world…”
“Doctor Hoot tried to take over our world?” asked Canary. “I have got to start keeping up with current events.”
“…and we’re on our way to rendezvous with you now,” Super-Squirrel continued.
Seven specks were in the sky, and some of them were green.
“Aquaduck, we’ll need your help getting into the lab. It’s underwater.”
Aquaduck jumped up and pumped his fists into the air. “Yes! Yes! Ohhh, yes! Seventy-four percent right here, baby! Seventy-four percent!”
Canary and Zap-Panda sighed.
Sing Sing Prison, Earth-C:
The guard, named Hairy, looked around nervously.
“All of them?”
“Every last (censored) one,” said Swanky Poodle.
Hairy cantered up to her cell, close enough to talk, almost close enough to whisper. Rova Barkitt of Earth-Reverse-C just met his eyes, taking the measure of his will power and liking what she saw.
Slashback watched with interest. If Rova managed to pull off a deal with this dope, then maybe he could pull off a deal with Rova. Sure, he’d helped set her up, but right now they had a common enemy in Fantastidrake, and maybe the rest of the Nasty Menagerie.
“So,” Hairy finally said, “what do you want in exchange?”
“They do have plea bargains on this world, right?” Rova began a slow, almost imperceptible sway in her hips.
“I want one of those.”
“Oh. Well… I’m not a judge.”
“Oh, I disagree! I think you’re an excellent judge. An excellent judge of character…”
Slashback stifled a snort.
“…and an excellent judge of threats to your homeworld. You said it yourself: the Zoo Crew might change. Those (censored) ain’t that different from us already, you know. They run around dispensing justice to whoever they think (censored) well needs it… and your president turns a blind eye in the name of national security…”
The sway was getting wider. Her tail was wagging. She began to loop her panty strap around her finger.
“Give me a name,” said Hairy.
“A name. Give me one of their secret identities. Just so I know you’re on the up and up.”
“Hmmm,” pouted Rova. “I guess that’s fair. Free sample and all. Captain Carrot? He’s a Follywood storyboard artist named Roger Rabbit.”
Hairy looked at her. And then he laughed, a loud, whinnying laugh. “Boy, you really don’t know how to lie, do ya?”
Rova snapped. “I’m telling you the truth, you (censored) little (censored) (censored)!”
“Surrre you are. Roger Rabbit is an actor. Starred in a lot of 1940s dramatic shorts, married another bunny named Jessica. And nobody in show business uses the exact same name as somebody famous. Closest you get is that New Yak cartoonist, Rodney Rabbit. But he doesn’t do storyboards!”
“Fastback is Timmy Joe (censored) Terrapin!”
“Timmy Joe (censored) Terrapin? Whoo, what an unfortunate name. He must have had it rough in school.”
“Hey!” yelled Slashback. “That’s ’cause teachers graded on a curve!”
“No!” yelled Swanky Poodle. “Just Timmy Joe Terrapin!”
“Th’ world-famous serial slasher!” yelled Slashback.
“Never heard of him.”
“Rova Barkitt!” screamed Poodle. “Byrd Rentals! Felina Furr! Chester Cheese! Peter Porkchops!”
“Now you’re just throwing out names that sound good.”
“You would be dead by now, if Fantastidrake had his way.”
Rodney Rabbit struggled to focus his eyes. And his memory. He’d been lying on his bed… daydreaming… wait… Ultra-Rabbit. Ultra-Rabbit wasn’t a daydream. Ultra-Rabbit was in front of him.
“I keep trying to explain to him,” Ultra went on, “there’s an art to this. You want to kill your enemies, sure. You don’t want to stick them in death-traps that don’t work, like that poor idiot Hoot does, just because he can’t bear to kill anything. But before you kill them, you should get everything you can out of them. Terror, pain, information. You have to stop and smell the roses.”
Rodney couldn’t feel anything. Even his whiskers still felt frozen, and for all he knew, he was disembodied from the neck down.
“We have about an hour before you freeze to death in there, and about half an hour where you’ll be able to hold a conversation. You’ll answer my questions, or your little porcine friend will wish you had.”
Ultra-Rabbit stood right in front of Rodney’s face, then, and Rodney nearly gagged. It was like looking into a mirror that showed you all the worst things you’ve ever done or thought about. Rodney blanched in revulsion and fear.
Ultra turned away in revulsion and contempt. “I want to know,” he demanded, “why. Why you’ve done these things. You could have ruled this planet as we ruled ours, at least until we conquered you. And yet all you seem to care about is stopping anyone else from ruling it. Are you using a feudal strategy? Protecting this world in exchange for its vassaldom?”
“You aren’t going to understand it in half an hour,” Rodney replied. Maybe it was because of courage, maybe it was because of the hypothermia, but for whatever reason, he was calm. “You might get it if we talked for a week. But I’ve got my doubts even about that.”
Ultra’s knuckles smashed Rod’s nose.
Doctor Hoot’s lab was small and spare. It was barely large enough to fit the Just’a Lotta Animals and the Earth-Reverse-C Siren Belle, but they managed. Green Lambkin was scanning the place for any potential boobytraps; he didn’t quite trust the Belle. There were a few traps, but she’d deactivated them on the way in. More interestingly, his power ring showed tiny measurers and calibrators embedded in every square inch of the wall, and view-screens showed various crimes taking place on Earth-C, including muggings, drug smuggling, and Ultra-Rabbit’s interrogation of Captain Carrot.
Wonder Wabbit looked at the screens and tried to stay professional.
Aquaduck was subdued, and kept glancing at the door back into the ocean. “The sea creatures are so lonely out here,” said Arthur Scurry. “They know the higher animals are doing all this environmental damage, and they were so shocked that I actually cared about that…”
“The higher animals,” said the Martian Anteater with authority, “feel much the same way about the Menagerie.”
Samantha Drake finished checking her machine. “He’s still got it set to enter the Menagerie Cage of Earth-C, or whatever it is they have over there.”
“Z-Building, isn’t it?” asked the Crash. “It looks like that’s where Ultra-Rabbit and the Captain are now.”
Super-Squirrel began, “Then that’s where we go–”
Batmouse interrupted. “These view-screens, Miss Drake. Can you rework them to show us more of the Menagerie?”
Samantha frowned. “Hmm. You’re right. The crime-puter’s set on crimes, not criminals. Let me see if I remember how to fix it.”
It was at that moment that Ultra hit the Captain so hard that it looked like the Captain’s head had almost come clean off. Wonder Wabbit let out a strangled gasp at the sight. Ultra’s knuckles had just smashed Rodney’s nose.
“We don’t have time for this!” shouted Diana Prance. “He needs a hospital! We have to attack now!”
“Where are the other six, Miss Drake?” said Batmouse a bit more insistently.
“Working…” Samantha struggled to remember what dear old Horton Hoot had shown her about how the system worked. They had been mutually distracted by one another at the time. “There.”
Screens came up, displaying the knotted Fantastidrake, Swanky Poodle and Slashback yelling at a laughing guard, the Big Cheese dumped onto the floor, out cold, and the Iron Pig polishing off all the food in the Z-Building kitchen. Katastrophe was nowhere to be seen.
“Abra said something about the fourth dimension before she vanished,” volunteered Zap-Panda. “Fifty-fifty chance Katastrophe is there.”
“And if she isn’t?” said Batmouse.
“Masking her presence.”
“We can take them easily,” Wabbit said, still a little too loudly. “Let’s go!”
Super-Squirrel had been about to say the same thing, but now he hesitated. Batmouse used that hesitation to interrupt again.
“With respect, old chums, I disagree. The Menagerie did have control of Earth-C for a very brief period, and control of this world for years. Ultra-Rabbit is even tougher than you are, Super-Squirrel…”
Super-Squirrel coughed. “Well, not by much…”
“…and I’d expect him to have an extra ace up his sleeve. We’d be fighting with a lack of information about the enemy. But we do have a source of information about the enemy… and a foolproof form of interrogation. Wonder Wabbit and I should go to this jail, lasso Swanky Poodle, and question her about the Menagerie’s weaknesses… and hidden strengths.”
“Are you insane?” asked Wonder Wabbit. “You’re asking me to leave him? He’s going to freeze!”
“Look more closely, Diana,” said Batmouse. He rarely used her first name, and this got her attention. “He’s not just torturing the Captain. He’s trying to get something out of him. He’s also used to the pitiful resistance this world has to offer — no offense, Miss Drake…”
“Oh, none taken,” said Samantha in a voice that could have frosted glass.
“–and he doesn’t expect the Captain to have a willpower to match his own. He’s wrong. But that will take him time to admit. I’d estimate twenty minutes before the situation turns deadly, and we can speak to Swanky Poodle and guarantee his safety in ten minutes, but only if we stop arguing and start doing, right now. What is it going to be?”