by T Campbell and Comickook
Sixty minutes before the invasion, the signal alert had sounded, and Pig-Iron had grumbled into his quadruple-decker sandwich. Pig-Iron hated to leave a refrigerator unfinished.
Forty minutes before the invasion, Byrd Rentals had faked a tantrum, squawking and cursing in what he proudly decided was his best Donald Duck impersonation ever. No one would dare to follow him into his trailer and discover it empty.
Twenty minutes before the invasion, Chester Cheese had a difficult time pronouncing the word hoot.
Funny how much attention we pay to the trivial things. After the invasion began, Pig-Iron, Byrd, and Chester would spend a lot more brainpower wondering whether they’d live to see another day.
“Be warned, however,” the alternate Doctor Hoot said to the assembled Zoo Crew. “The Nasty Menagerie has also become aware of your existence and will stop at nothing to stop you before you stop them. And rather than ‘stop’ up the flow between universes (in the sense of ‘stopping’ up a drain), they will likely come here and ‘stop’ you all (in the sense of a boxing-ring knockout, as in Joe Frazorback stopped Marmoset Ali in the final round of–)”
Pig-Iron had his hands over his ears. “Stop! Stop!”
“Tell us what you know,” said Captain Carrot.
“It would take days for me to tell you all that I know,” Hoot replied.
“Well,” muttered Byrd, “he sounds like Doctor Hoot.”
“Doctor who?” asked Chester.
“Give us the Clifford’s Notes, then,” the Captain went on. “Evil counterparts of us — each of us — with all our powers.”
“I’m still thinking of you as the kinder, gentler counterparts of them, but yes.”
“Huh. Like the Crime Critters.”
“You know of them?”
“Oh, yeah. They were the villains in a number of old Just’a Lotta Animals comic-books I drew.”
“Your world has no comic-books? That is evil. Television? Movies?”
“Oh, the opiates of the masses. Yes.”
“No, Doctor Hoot,” Byrd replied to Chester.
“Hoot. Hooot. It’s kind of a rolling vowel, then a tuh at the end. You gotta ee-nun-ciate.”
Chester pursed his lips around his buck teeth and tried. A high-pitched whistle came out instead. Everyone turned to Chester.
“Nothing!” he said desperately. “I was just… admiring your… intelligence, sir…” Chester squatted with his arms around his knees and shrunk down to six inches tall, which wasn’t nearly as small as he wanted to be just now.
At the sight of the shrinking Chester, Hoot blinked owlishly. “That’s… that’s a very interesting variation. You can also grow, can’t you?”
Chester looked up and realized Hoot was speaking to him. “Oh. Uh… sure.” He expanded back to his usual four feet. “Big enough?”
The look on Hoot’s face told him it wasn’t. Hoot began to look more closely at the assembled Zoo Crew, and as he did so, he looked more and more alarmed. He turned to Yankee Poodle. “Where’s your ring?”
“You mean I’m married in your world?” laughed Yankee Poodle. “That’s rich! Who would I marry, anyway?”
“Th’ real stumper,” murmured Timmy Joe Terrapin, “is ‘zactly who would go an’ get hitched t’ her.” He was learning to say these things just loudly enough so that the others could hear he was saying something, but not loudly enough to hear what. Pig-Iron had set an excellent example.
“Hoot,” said the Captain, “tell us whatever it is you’re not telling us.”
Hoot told them.
And the Zoo Crew’s meeting room — which was usually filled with little whispers or grumblings despite Rodney Rabbit’s efforts to keep order — got very, very quiet.
“You’re telling us,” said Rodney, slowly, “that this Menagerie has all the powers we do, plus the powers of most of the Just’a Lotta Animals…”
“The only one of you who looks to be evenly matched with his double is the one they call their pet!” Hoot howled, pointing to Pig-Iron. He turned to Fastback. “Do you at least carry knives in that shell?”
Timmy Joe looked at his Captain like a rat caged in a sinking ship, and he got no reassurance from Rodney’s eyes. Rodney knew he was letting the group down by letting his own fear show. But he couldn’t help it. He also couldn’t help but wonder if this Hoot wasn’t evil, after all, and just softening them up for the slaughter. The real Hoot had never done half as much damage to their fighting spirit.
But no. Rodney believed him. Somehow, what Hoot was saying sounded familiar, like a forgotten dream.
“Everyone?” Alley-Kat-Abra said in a quiet voice that nevertheless commanded attention. “Something has crossed over. Something about the size and weight of the seven of us. Something… bestial.” Her words were punctuated by a thunderclap.
The Zoo-Viewer Crime-Puter alarm started whining. Somewhere in the world, a supercrime was starting. Probably, it was this Menagerie’s way of drawing the Crew out into the open. In other words, probably a trap. But they had to go anyway.
Rodney remembered something he’d thought an hour ago, about everything in this job being simple, and chuckled softly. It was good to laugh. It was good to know he still could.
As the Earth-Reverse-C Doctor Hoot flew to the crime scene alongside the Zoocruiser and Abra, courtesy of his armor’s built-in rocket pack, he had to admire the Zoo Crew’s courage. Even knowing they were heading into a trap and knowing they were out-powered, they still refused to allow innocent animals to come to harm. In that respect, he and they were very much alike.
Even so, knowing they were heading into a trap compelled Hoot and the Zoo Crew to take precautions, namely using the cloaking device in Hoot’s armor and some magnification of that cloaking device’s power (the latter courtesy of Alley-Kat-Abra) to render themselves invisible. This way, they could still have the element of surprise even though the Menagerie was expecting them.
Meanwhile, the Nasty Menagerie were busy hitting a train loaded with a fortune in gold bullion. Katastrophe conjured up a massive storm of mystic energy that severed the cars carrying the gold from the other cars, while Ultra-Rabbit was flying through the air carrying a train car in each paw and using his heat-vision to blast out six of the engine room’s wheels, and Slashback was using his super-speed to pick the pockets of everybody onboard the train, and Fantastidrake switched on a device that enveloped the entire area in an invisible dome.
Still under the cover of the stealth field, the Zoo Crew and Doctor Hoot arrived at the scene of the crime, and the emergency detection equipment in Hoot’s armor picked up the presence of the dome. Stopping the Crew just in time, Hoot fired a small but powerful energy disk at Fantastidrake’s machine and shorted it out.
“Only one guy knows us well enough to know how to take out my stealth-field removal dome,” Fantastidrake replied as Katastrophe fired a mystic energy bolt at what seemed to be nothing but air. “That no-good do-gooder Doctor Hoot must be in this universe, too.”
“My counterpart’s mystic energy is like a homing beacon to me,” Katastrophe cackled as Abra and Hoot both got nailed by the blast, causing all eight heroes to instantly appear before the Menagerie’s eyes.
Hoot’s armor allowed him to take the worst of the blast for Abra’s sake, but the fact remained that the Zoo Crew had lost the element of surprise.
“OK, obviously the element of surprise is out, so let’s just go out there and show these nasty knock-offs what the good guys are made of,” Captain Carrot said, sounding more confident than he really was. Unfortunately, a Katastrophe-created force-field instantly surrounded the Zoocruiser and started slowly constricting around it.
Swanky Poodle was about to nail the Zoocruiser with the combination of a stars-and-stripe blast and a giant energy-cannon created by her power ring, but a blast from Alley-Kat-Abra (who simultaneously fired a similar zap at Katastrophe thanks to having developed the concentration needed to fire two zaps in two separate directions at the same time) dissuaded that attack plan. Swanky Poodle got up from that zap and fired on Abra, only to find she not only teleported away, but also left a conjured-up device behind that rerouted Swanky’s attack so that it instead hit Katastrophe, who had just recovered from the zap she’d already been nailed with. Abra then appeared behind Swanky Poodle, levitated her power ring off of her, and nailed her with a cat-fu kick and flip, though Abra couldn’t capitalize on this any more due to a sneak heat-vision blast and super-breath gust, both from Ultra-Rabbit. The heat-vision blast knocked Magic Wanda out of Abra’s paws, and the super-breath gust froze the heroine solid.
As Katastrophe recovered from Swanky Poodle’s redirected triple zap (stars, stripes, and emerald energy), she started conjuring up a massive storm of pure mystic energy that sent the just-recovering Doctor Hoot and the entire Zoo Crew flying uncontrollably. This storm was made even stronger when Swanky Poodle got up from Abra’s kick and flip, recovered her ring, and used said ring to increase the power of Katastrophe’s magic whirlwind.
Confident that nobody could survive an assault that powerful, Ultra-Rabbit replied, “Excellent work, Bast-Felina. As always, you have served me well.” And he looked at Katastrophe in a manner that she (and the rest of the Nasty Menagerie) knew only too well.
“May I suggest that we return to our world so that I can once more accept your rewards for my loyalty in the privacy of your bed chambers, almighty Ra?” Katastrophe said as she bowed before Ultra-Rabbit.
“Indeed you shall, Bast-Felina, and indeed we will,” Ultra-Rabbit said with a huge grin. After all, he might not have trusted any of the Nasty Menagerie completely, but he still acknowledged that Katastrophe’s powers came in handy in more areas than just the battlefield, if you catch my drift.
“Well, when we get back, we’d better break out the card table,” Iron Pig said matter-of-factly. “After all, it never takes less than four hours for the boss rabbit to reward the spooky sorceress’s loyalty. Heck, it sometimes takes up to nine.” The rest of the Nasty Menagerie merely nodded in agreement.
After the Nasty Menagerie had left, the badly battered Zoo Crew just emerged from the totalled Zoocruiser (except for Abra, who was still trapped in a block of solid ice). After Fastback used super-speed friction to melt the ice trapping Abra, Captain Carrot said, “OK, the one advantage we have now is that, after a storm like that, our counterparts have to think we’re dead. My only question is, how come we’re not?”
“Well, when I came to, I was able to extend my force-field around all of us just at the last split-second, and it held up just enough to allow us to survive that storm,” Hoot answered.
“The trouble is, we’re going to need help against those villains,” Rubberduck suggested. “Five of our foes are male, so why not call in a former villainess? You know, one who vowed to clean up her act during her prison stay and after she gets out?”
“Wait a minute — are you proposing that we arrange the temporary release of — and restore the powers of — the Siren Belle, just so she can help us out against the Nasty Menagerie?” Yankee Poodle asked. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew: Times Past: Song of the Siren Belle.]
“Why not? It would go a long way toward helping her at her parole hearing next year,” Rubberduck responded. “She could put Ultra-Rabbit and the other males of that group under her spell after we lure away the females. At a distance out of the range of Samantha’s control, the eight of us could gang up on Swanky Poodle and Katastrophe.”