by T Campbell
Captain Carrot blinked his sore eyes. Everything in his body hurt. But others had it worse, and a hero was basically just someone who thought of others a little bit more than others thought of others.
The team had looked better. Alley-Kat-Abra had re-materialized all seven of them inside the Z-Building, then nearly collapsed from the effort. The Captain tended her, Rubberduck saw to Yankee Poodle, and Pig-Iron watched over Little Cheese. But there was only so much any of them could do.
The private lives of the Zoo Crew had prepared many of them for their lives as super-heroes in various ways. Chester Cheese was an athlete, Abra a martial artist, the Captain a super-hero expert. Byrd Rentals was known for doing his own stunts. But the only Crew member who’d really had extensive first-aid training was the one who never seemed able to hold onto a job for more than three weeks: Fastback. At this particular moment, he was Timmy Joe Terrapin, M.D. in Veterinary Science.
Heaven help us all.
Timmy Joe was running in with some ice, and Rubberduck, his body still wrapped around Rova Barkitt, was shouting, “Ice! Yeah, over here!”
“Naw, naw,” Fastback replied. “The ice is for Abra.”
“Because of course it is,” muttered Rova.
“Y’all can’t put ice on a serious burn like Rova’s got, less’n you wanna form blisters under her fur,” said Fastback, producing a roll of sterile bandages. “Rubberduck, let go of Miz Rova fer a second. I’ma put these on her.”
Rubberduck hesitated, then let go, and a blue blur surrounded Rova. She had just enough time to say, “Hands!” before Fastback was finished, and the bandages neatly wrapped up her exposed back. Rova looked relieved for a second, then felt at her top. The bandages had encircled her completely, and where necessary had gone under the top of her uniform. She looked back at Fastback, the suspicious question unspoken.
“Ah didn’t look, Miz Rova. Cub Scout’s honor.”
“Fastback,” called the Captain, in a voice that was half-command and half-anxiety.
Timmy Joe zipped over to Abra’s side to apply the ice. Abra inhaled and exhaled deeply, and her midsection started to glow faintly. “Th-thanks, T.J. The pain was keeping me from concentrating on… a healing spell. And I don’t have much magic to block pain itself–”
“Hocus pocus,” said Timmy Joe, producing a bottle of aspirin.
Abra took it and gave him a warm smile. “Your sorceries are mysterious and sublime, my friend. A little meditation, and my ribs should be good as new in about… six hours.”
“Shoot-a-mile, Miz Abra, even ah know we-all ain’t gonna have that kinda time,” said Fastback. Was it getting colder in here, or was it just his reptilian sensitivity to any slight chill? “There was more bad guys downtown than ah could count. So, y’know, at least nine–”
“Don’t do that,” said Rodney Rabbit. He was slipping back into comics-nerd-expert mode, which, in situations like this, was pretty close to military expertise. “Look past the numbers. It’s never just about numbers in the big team-ups. Think about motives. How does this get them what they want? Why would so many different villains band together this time? Just ‘to be evil together’ isn’t enough. We know some of those guys. All the Cheshire Cheetah wants is money–”
“And all Armordillo wants is one more fight with Pig-Iron, to prove the other two were flukes,” said Rubberduck. “The last two times we fought him, when Pig-Iron wasn’t around–”
“…Oh, he would not shut up about it,” said Yankee Poodle. “‘Whar’s ol’ Pig-Iron? Bring me Pig-Iron!’ Just ask him to be your Valentine already, ‘dillo! Send him a heart-shaped refrigerator magnet and see if he’ll start wearing it!”
Pig-Iron chuckled, good-naturedly; he knew Rova wasn’t really aiming that barb at him.
“Right,” said the Captain. “But he didn’t run right at Pig-Iron this time. Why not?”
“I dunno if he’s deep enough for you to be analyzin’ him, Cappy,” said Pig-Iron. “He’s a dumb thug playin’ at bein’ smart. He tries to prove he’s tougher’n me, ’cause bein’ tough is the only thing he’s got. He’s got no real plans, no ambitions. ‘Swhy he’s always workin’ for some real mastermind, like Brother Hood, Alpha-Bull, or Doctor Hoot–” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew: The Signs of Spring.]
There was a brief moment of silence, wherein the name Doctor Hoot seemed to echo through the room, as the air seemed to grow colder. It fell to the Captain to say what most of them were thinking.
“…The Salamandroids. They’re Hoot’s creations. Maybe somebody else could’ve retro-engineer one of those ‘droids to throw us off, but three? And Hoot’s used Digger O’Doom and the others before, too. If it’s not Hoot, it’s somebody with access to all Hoot’s resources… but Occ-ham’s Razor suggests that’s an overly complicated explanation–”
Rubberduck, catching a flicker of movement, stretched his neck to peer out the window. “Think I just found some supporting evidence.”
Four Salamandroids, a massive, brutish Great Dane, and King Kone were standing at the foot of the Z-Building. Kone was aiming something into the sky that looked like Cold Turkey’s old gun. And it was definitely getting colder in the building now. Rubberduck thought he saw a snowflake fall. “Yeah,” he said, “we’ve got round two of this fight coming to our front door.”
Chester Cheese chose that moment to wake up. “Aowww… Did anybody get the license plate number of that alt-rock musician? I know I’m the baby of the group, and therefore my musical taste is strange and threatening to you old folks, but I don’t see… the appeal of…” He trailed off.
“Chester?” asked Pig-Iron. Chester watched Pig-Iron’s face, and particularly his moving lips, with mounting alarm.
“Why… why can’t I hear you? Why can’t I hear me? This… I can’t be deaf, I can’t! I still have 14,000 songs to listen to on my aPod!”
The Crime-Puter alarm sounded then, entirely unnecessarily, as the Salamandroids stepped onto the Z-Building’s grounds. A flat, mechanical voice came not from the Salamandroids but from the Z-Building, announcing the automatic defense systems were coming online.
An all-too-familiar yellow barbed circle materialized behind the Salamandroids, bringing in the villains from the theater (minus the Cheshire Cheetah and Digger O’Doom, for some reason).
The Crew gathered by the window. Pig-Iron, not sure what else to do, held Chester in front of the window so at least he could see what was happening. Honestly, none of the heroes were exactly sure what to do but watch at that moment.
The siege of the Z-Building had begun.
A while back, the Zoo Crew had themselves laid siege to a building captured by the extra-dimensional nudist Gorilla Grodd, with a force-field in flickering neon pink shrouding it from the roof down. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Naked Ape,” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #20 (November, 1983).]
The shield was virtually impenetrable, resistant to Magic Wanda, magno-blasts, and iron-sheathed fists alike. After Fastback had finally found a vibrational frequency to allow him to enter it, Rubberduck had removed it from the site before any military police could sweep in and confiscate it. The Pentagon and the White House were very, very interested in installing such a force-field into their buildings, but the Captain had convinced the president to let them keep the prototype until it could be duplicated. After all, they were in a better position than anyone to test its effectiveness.
The test began right now, as the force-field descended over the Z-Building. The chill vanished immediately: King Kone’s cold-gun was blocked. Solar Bear, the Squawker, Force Horse, and Whirlybird tested their powers against the field, but with no greater success.
Marmadoge threw a couple of rocks at it. They weren’t even big rocks, just gravel he’d found on the pavement, really. It was kind of embarrassing for all concerned.
“At least that’s working,” murmured Rubberduck. “The kind of day we’ve been having, I was afraid they’d have a plan to shut the field down.”
“They do,” replied Rodney. “You notice which of the bad guys we’ve seen before are not down in that crowd right now?”
“Well, it is hard to keep track of ’em all, but the only ones I’m not spotting are the Cheshire Cheetah and Digger Ohhhhhhhh crap.”
“Yeah. Our foundation is pretty solid bedrock and concrete, and Cheshire can only help O’Doom so much with the digging, so I’d ballpark it at seven minutes before they bust through a floor somewhere in the building. And the second they do, Cheshire will be zipping around here looking for the off-switch to the force-field, while some of the bad guys start working their way in through O’Doom’s tunnel.”
“Well, dears, this is what we refer to in the business as a fustercluck,” added Rova helpfully. “I know you want to give the inspiring speech, Rodney, but I don’t think even Don King Peacock could fix these odds in our favor.”
“No, I agree. The plan is the same as before: run away until we can change the game. They know running’s our only chance, too. ‘Swhy they tried to ice us in.”
“I can take ’em, ya nerdy cosplayer,” Pig-Iron grumbled. “Gimme half a chance, you’ll see.”
“Run to where?” asked Rubberduck.
The Captain mused. “If our own house is off-limits, we might have to crash with friends. Abra, I hate to ask…”
“Then don’t. Captain, I’m still ten minutes away from being able to do my breathing exercises. And Wanda’s in the hooves of that static-strewing, starstuff-stealing stallion. I could maybe manage one more homing spell, just for me, but that only transports me to the things and animals most important to me… and all of those things and animals are here. I’m out.”
“Ah can git one of us outta here,” chimed in Fastback. “Two if one of ’em is Chester. Or… none, if one of ’em is Pig-Iron.”
“Ya sayin’ ya can’t carry this much concentrated ham, li’l buddy?” Pig-Iron grinned. “I keep tryin’a get ya ta the gym! Ya can’t just do cardio!”
The Captain was getting a couple of germs of ideas, and as a pounding became audible from below, it was clear that germs were as evolved as they were going to get. He gave the Crew his plan as best he could think it through. They gave him no backtalk or snark, just nods and short, agreeable phrases.
He knew that was because they were scared, not because he’d instantly become a better leader. Gosh, he couldn’t help thinking. If only these guys could be afraid for their lives all the time! That’s a super-villain thought, I know, but life would be so much quieter–
An explosion sounded from the elevator shaft.
A few minutes earlier, Digger O’Doom had finished his tunnel under the Z-Building, even earlier than the Captain had anticipated with the Cheshire Cheetah helping clear the debris away. Because ol’ Digger was just that good at diggin’.
He’d always been a hard worker. As Melvin McMole, nebbish janitor, he’d cleaned every mess diligently, channeling allllll his frustrations into his mop, right up to the day he couldn’t anymore. Right up to the day his blustering, idiot bosses let him go for something that could happen to anybody after decades of never learning his name. (*) Today, he was still clearing stuff away, but today, he was the mess-maker. Today, he was a weapon of mess destruction.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Captain Carrot Faces the Tunneling Terror, Digger O’Doom!” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #6 (August, 1982).]
The money was a nice bonus, but the real thrill was that after he brought the Z-Building’s upper floors down around the Zoo Crew’s ears, no one would ever, ever ignore him again. And after he was done with them, he’d go back and finish off the Slime-Wombat properties. And why stop there? He could hold the world hostage. Any major city that didn’t want its buildings demolished — New Yak, Baboon Dhabi, Benjing — would have to pay him a fee.
Of course, keeping up with who had paid what would be a lot of work. He’d need to get himself an office somewhere, with a secretary who was good at geography and Marmoset Excel. And a janitor. Yes, his place would have to have a janitor. And ohhh, how that janitor would suffer.
He came up through the kitchen, scattering the floor tiles like Scrabble pieces. The Cheshire Cheetah raced back to inform the others that the tunnel was ready, while Digger walked to the door. It was sealed and a foot of solid steel. It took maybe a dozen good swipes before he had made a hole big enough to peel his way through.
Out in the hall, he got about ten feet before flamethrower jets surged down from the ceiling and set him on fire.
He raced around, rolling on the floor to put out the flames, and a hail of bullets and laser beams started pelting the entire hallway.
Digger did the only thing he could think to do: he dug himself back into the floor and waited for the ammunition to run dry, rubbing the last of the flames from his body as he did so. Armordillo and Solar Bear marched through on top of him, Armordillo all but impervious to the barrage, Solar Bear protecting himself with flames and then melting the gun barrels and laser cannons.
And yet, no sooner had they done so than both of them staggered and collapsed.
Digger kept low to the floor and crawled over them, not really understanding why they’d fallen. Behind him, he heard a thump as Marmadoge collapsed, too. “snore,” Marmadoge murmured. “much tired, very sleep, so unconscious. doze.”
The villains were succumbing to an odorless, colorless, tasteless zzz-gas pumped in through the vents, and like a mole in a burning building, Digger was avoiding the fumes by sticking below them. Rex Imperium and Whirlybird were next to enter, Rex wearing a mask connected to an air tank in his armor, and Whirlybird blowing the fumes away. But Digger was far enough ahead of them that he could enter the elevator, and the blast-sealed doors shut behind him.
“Biometric scan: inconclusive,” announced the elevator. “Please identify passenger.”
“Heh-heh-heh! I’m Digger O’Doom, little robot! I’m the guy ‘sgonna bring this whole place down!”
“Rejected. Digger O’Doom is not a Zoo Crew member. Z-Building is under attack. Elevators are for member use only during attack.”
“Oh! Uh… I’m… I’m Pig-Iron. Yeah. So take me to thuh top floor before I… eat all thuh elevator buttons. Yeah.”
“This elevator will self-destruct.”
“Wait, whut? No! I’m… I’m Captain Carrot! I just got, uh, magically transformed! Override, override! Thuh password is… uh, uh, uhhh… cosmiccarrot2!”
There was a pause. “Password is correct.”
Digger breathed a sigh of relief.
“Please answer security question. Who were the two villains in Just’a Lotta Animals, Volume 1, #237?”
“…Um… um… Lex Lemur… and… um… um… um… global poverty?”
Long minutes passed. Slowly, slowly, Digger dug his way out of the smoking wreckage. The Zoo Crew would pay for this. Captain Carrot in particular would pay for everyth–
There was a clanging coming from above, rapidly getting louder. Captain Carrot was bounding and rebounding down the elevator shaft. Then he just dropped the remaining four stories, planted his feet on Digger’s face as he landed, and bounced up two stories and through a hidden passage. Digger wasn’t sure he had even noticed him down there.
Bellowing in fury, Digger dug handholds into the shaft and started climbing. He was dimly aware that the outdoor hum had died down; someone had dropped or disrupted the force-field. Climbing, climbing, he reached the second level and kept going.
And then the entire side of the elevator shaft flipped around above him like a trick door, and a massive shape loomed in front of him. It was the Zoo Crew’s carrot-shaped starship, the Starhopper. And its rocket engines were directly over Digger’s head.
He yelped, frantically climbed back down the shaft, and made it to the wreckage of the elevator car just in time for three thousand tons of rocket fuel to flare into life and for the jet of flame to shower down on him like a sudden change in April weather. The Starhopper blasted up almost instantly and was gone.
And so was Digger O’Doom. The one who emerged, even more slowly and painfully from the wreckage, was Melvin McMole. Having Doctor Hoot recharge his powers again was out of the question; his body couldn’t take any more shocks after all that. And he didn’t really… feel like being Digger O’Doom anymore, maybe not ever again.
“J-j-jeepers,” he stammered. “This elevator shaft sure is a m-m-mess. Someone… someone should really clean it up.”
He took a moderately sized piece of debris back out into the hallway as Whirlybird, Rex Imperium, and the Cheshire Cheetah cautiously approached the shaft. If they wanted to keep going up, that was no business of Melvin’s. He looked around the hallway.
There had to be some kind of trash can on this floor, somewhere.