by T Campbell
“Fighting me, that’s gonna be a problem for you,” said Chester Cheese, shutting his eyes tight; they were useless against this opponent, anyway. “Alley-Kat-Abra’s been teaching me night-fighting moves. If you don’t know what those are, I’ll explain, using visual aids and tactile stimulation.”
“Nice bluff,” came Randall Boggs’ silky voice, echoing throughout the cockpit, over Yankee Poodle’s mumbling and into the ears of the fear-frozen Peter Porkchops. Chester didn’t turn his head even slightly, which told Peter he was still mostly deaf. “Almost no one could see through bravado like that. I think you’re even technically telling the truth, which helps. But you aren’t anywhere near Abra’s level yet, are you? And night-fighting works better when you can hear.” Chester started wrestling with empty air then, spinning around.
The nearly invisible chameleon’s body gripped some of Chester’s pressure points, and Chester found he couldn’t shrink, or breathe. This was bad. Chester was pretty sure the lack of air was making him change colors faster than the chameleon.
And then he felt, rather than heard, a metallic jolt, and opened his eyes to see the chameleon turn a lovely shade of sky-blue. Then another jolt, and the chameleon was a tacky puce with pink hearts. Another, and he was black with yellow stars and naked tweety-birds.
Peter had found the courage to hit Randall on the head with one of the metallic gloves he’d worn as Pig-Iron, over and over and over, and by the time Randall finally snatched it out of Peter’s grip, he was too visible to stop Chester elbowing him in the neck. Then Yankee Poodle shot out a series of stars and stripes that peeled Randall off Chester and then duct-taped Randall to a far wall. Randall was fast and slippery, but no Cheshire Cheetah, and was pinned in twenty seconds.
“Y-y-y-y-y-y…” was all Peter could get out.
“Stand down, Pete,” said Rova Barkitt. “I have this. It’s not going to be one of my trickier interviews. Jennifer Lop-earz was much more challenging.”
“Really?” said Randall, reflexively turning red and white as he struggled. “You ‘have’ me? You think you can smack me like a piñata, and all the secrets of the big bad-guy conspiracy will come tumbling out? I come from a world where terror is a science, you ridiculous, flag-wearing poser. And I’m a scarer. I don’t scare.”
Rova glanced meaningfully at the device Randall had used on Peter, now lying at her feet.
“That,” Randall said evenly, “is a scream extractor. Cobbled together and scaled down from the version on my home world. I don’t think you’re the sort who can use it.”
Rova bent over and picked up the extractor, but only hitched it to her belt. “The sort I am, dahling, is a pragmatist. Like you, I think. I’m a few dog years older than most names-to-know in Follywood, but somehow I’m still doing all right in showbiz, still swimming with the sharks. Pahtly because I can admit when I’ve lost, in time to cut my losses and staht something new.”
“And you’re the loser now, you… gosh-darn meanie!” shouted Peter. Rova let him have that moment, reflecting again on how differently Peter acted without his powers. Something for a therapist to address, maybe.
But that was for later. “Right now, you may as well be invisible to me, Invisi-Lizard. You’re not getting loose. There will be no round two of this fight. There’s no reason I should be afraid of you.”
Rova knew a diva when she saw one. Threatening this sleazeball would’ve gotten her nowhere; even just offering him a plea bargain would be inviting him to trick her. But let’s see what information he lets slip, now that I’ve pricked his pride as a “scarer.”
“You’ve been chased from your headquarters, deafened, de-powered, knocked out, and the guy who put a half-billion-dollar price on your heads is so hands-off, I don’t think you’re even his top priority anymore. Be afraid of what I represent, Poodle. This is your new normal. Can you hear that sound?” He paused with a thin grin. “It’s the winds… of change — change we can believe in.”
But all Rova heard was tapping on the Cruiser‘s front windshield. She looked out of it to see Fastback, using Rubberduck as a breathing apparatus and waving hello.
“Hello, pretender,” murmured Unisys. “We have finally found you.”
He waved his borrowed wand, and he and Xiao Liwu, her bright eyes full of youthful passion, gathered closer. Who would have thought shared hatred could inspire such love? The wand rained sparkling spheres on them, and they vanished in a flash.
King Kone saw the flash from the ground. “Did you see that light?”
Solar Bear, the world’s worst weatherbear, stared up at the sky. “Might have been a comet.”
“No, I think our ride just left us behind.” Kone heard a crash from the garage and saw Emoticat running toward it. “Stanley… I’m getting this feeling like we shouldn’t keep hanging around here. There are a lot of powerful personalities in this group, and getting restless could make them dangerous.”
“Like you said, why be greedy? Shield your eyes.”
King Kone did, and Solar Bear used his most useful power, a flash that temporarily blinded anyone in his line of sight. He had once even blinded an entire audience through a local television broadcast. At this point, his “audience” was the cordon of police animals, which was then helpless to stop the brotherly baddies as they fled to the bad part of town, somewhere they could hole up for a while until they could catch up with Doctor Hoot and demand payment. This was easily the best business plan Garrison Gorilla had ever conceived.
In the garage, Whirlybird had formed a small cyclone by standing on one leg and circling another. It struck Armordillo in the gut, staggering him, and the recoil made Marmadoge wobble as he held her. But the key word was small, as the cyclone wasn’t nearly as much as she could manage with her arms free, and Armordillo started to step forward again.
That was when the Squawker came in and gloated in a voice that wasn’t meant to be a sonic attack but still rattled the teeth of all three combatants.
“Hawww-ha-ha-ha-ha! Polly wants to be a hacker! Now I have command of Hoot’s army of killer robots! That’s enough power to take out half the Zoo Crew by myself, and I don’t feel like sharing, because Polly also wants two-hundred-and-ten-million smackers!”
Then she repeated, in Hoot’s voice, words she’d heard Hoot say a short while ago, but in a new order:
“Attack… my hirelings! Attack… my hirelings!”
The Salamandroids at her back responded predictably.
“Voiceprint identified. We serve you, master.”
Their first strike rendered the Squawker unconscious immediately. “No kills,” urged Salamandroid #3, always a bit more independent than the rest. “Our master may have need of them later. Restrain them, and gag this one.”
Armordillo counterattacked furiously, his claws rending two Salamandroids’ innards to ribbons. They collapsed, not quite nonfunctional, but no longer relevant to the fight. As the others gathered close, he curled into a ball and knocked them over like five tenpins.
One of them got up in time to attack Marmadoge, though, and as soon as Marmadoge released Whirlybird to fight it, Whirlybird was out of the garage and in the air, using her cyclones to lift herself off the ground. She passed Emoticat on his way in, and poured on the speed before he could affect her.
She had generally done her work without a costume, and only recently had started posing as a villain. She had never seen the wisdom of being a public hero like the Zoo Crewers, advertising all her strengths and weaknesses and… well… making herself a target for a gang of villains like this. On the other wing, if she couldn’t fool the likes of Marmadoge and Armordillo, maybe it was pointless to pretend to be anything else. In any case, she’d sabotaged the attacks on the Zoo Crew all she could. She’d have to hope it was enough.
Back in the garage, two Salamandroids overheated Marmadoge, who collapsed with a “s-so drowse, speechless, much very, ellipsis” while Armordillo’s tail speared a third and left it sparking, incapable of rising again. The other four Salamandroids surrounded Armordillo and stuck to him, heating themselves up, much as they’d done to Pig-Iron. But Armordillo, if not quite Pig-Iron’s equal in strength, had claws and a tail Pig-Iron did not, and his Teggsas upbringing and armor had left him even more heat-resistant. The outcome of the struggle was in doubt.
That was, until Emoticat arrived on the scene. He looked around at the wreckage of the androids that had always served the big boss faithfully and his own unconscious buddy, Marmadoge, and made his decision. “U CAN HAS ARMADILLOBURGER.” The face on his shirt closed its eyes and opened a circular mouth, and three Zs appeared over it. Armordillo found himself getting drowsy, unable to lift his tail, and like the Alamole (remember the Alamole!) finally went down.
As soon as he did, the Salamandroids turned back to Emoticat. The command “Attack… my hirelings” still echoed in their auditory circuits and through their logic processors. Those processors had no room for emotions, at least none that animals would recognize as such or that Emoticat could affect. So as they approached him and he realized his error, he had no defense. He had no escape. He had nothing to bargain with.
“ALL I HAS IS SADS.”
His T-shirt changed again, for the last time today, into the simplest possible explanation of his predicament.
Captain Carrot frowned at the horizon as Magic Wanda’s radiance bathed it. “Here they come. Looks like… the horse and the panda. Let’s keep them focused on me as long as we can, so you can–”
“Awww, don’t worry so much, snugglebun. We got this.”
Now she was using Rova Barkitt’s pet names, Rodney Rabbit reflected. It was only a matter of time before she let out a “dahling.” But the horse was a more immediate priority. With enhanced and practiced eyes, Rodney tracked the horse’s flight path, waited for the right moment, and leaped.
At the same moment, Xiao Liwu dropped onto the level mountaintop. “Where are you, weakling? Face me.”
A powerful elbow smash caught the back of Liwu’s neck. She rolled with it and into a combat crouch, taking out a pair of nunchaku. She peered into the bright moonlight and saw nothing but shadows, strained her hearing and heard no sound, couldn’t even scent anything in the mountain air. “You are afraid to fight me honorably!”
The darkness chuckled. “You speak to me of honor with a weapon in your paws… cutie?”
“I am not cute! Not to you–“
An invisible heel slammed into Liwu’s gut like a truck. “You attack me from behind while I’m fighting others.”
The night’s fingers gripped Liwu’s wrist. “While I am trying to protect my friends from the army you brought with you!”
An unseeable judo flip put Liwu on her back and sent the nunchaku flying off a cliff. “How dare you presume you’re worthy to fight me fairly? You wouldn’t know a fair fight if it hit you in the face!”
Liwu brought up her paws to shield her face and got to her feet. Alley-Kat-Abra seemed to permit this, as if playing with her prey. And then, at last, Liwu saw something: a pair of green eyes, bright and unconquerable.
“So, just for future reference…” Abra moved in, using her two best punches, the surly cobra and the Miss Piggy Special, and punctuating every blow with an angry syllable.
“THIS! FIGHT! IS! NOT! MEANT! TO! BE! FAIR!”
Xiao Liwu staggered and fell, perilously close to the cliff’s edge. As she blacked out, she started sucking her thumb… d’awww so huggable. But Abra gazed at Liwu’s soul and saw no cuteness there. Nothing but rot and ruin. She would not learn from this defeat.
The cliff was high, Abra thought. A coyote could fall from it and take over ninety seconds to hit bottom. How much of a tragedy would it really be, if…?
“Abra?!” came Rodney Rabbit’s voice, shaking Felina Furr out of her reverie, a little. He and the insensate horse were now falling out of the sky, but Magic Wanda was in his paw. And as soon as Felina willed it, Wanda was in her paw instead, warm and beaming like a friend after long separation.
With a little more effort than she’d expected to need, Abra levitated the four of them up from the mountain, and teleported the two villains into a holding cell in Aridzona. The government had set such cells up for super-criminals some time ago, and it’d keep those two out of play until things got more settled. Wanda’s relief at being back with Abra seemed to be fading into apprehension, Abra noted as she completed the spell. Fickle stick. Why’d Wanda have to spoil the reunion like that?
“Just two of them coming after us. Let’s hope that’s good news,” said the Captain, trying not to think about how easily he could fall from the sky if Abra’s concentration broke. “Can you take us to the rest of the team?”
“Hmm… I could do that,” Abra purred. “Or we could stay here and celebrate our victory.” Her tail brushed his backside. “Have you ever thought about how much fun someone could have while levitating?”
Rodney thought fast and spoke slow. “A really big part of me wants to take you up on that–”
“Oo! How big is this part of yours?”
His voice cracked, but he kept talking. “We haven’t won the larger victory yet. Our friends, Felina. We need to check in with them. You know how I worry.”
The pause in Felina’s response was long enough to make Rodney worry a lot more. Then came a growling sigh. “Oh, fine — be like that.”
The two winked out, and reappeared above the surfaced Zoo-Cruiser and the USCGC Spar. The Captain’s eyes soon picked out the Zoo Crew on the latter vessel’s deck — Pig-Iron, it seemed, had been changed back to Peter Porkchops, and he was in borrowed military fatigues and looking shaky, but the rest of the guys seemed in good spirits. Maybe they were through the worst of this. He’d have to check in with the president.