by Marc Drayer and Comickook
The first attempt to collect on Fat Kat’s offer had failed. The Hare-Abian Knight was safely locked away, thanks to the Mystery Mink. Only Stormwing, Fastback, and Rubberduck were in on the secret, and they weren’t telling… yet.
But on that same day there had been another new arrival in Follywood, Califurnia. The Shi-Poni was there to collect on the offer now, and he had recruited some help. In a flurry of flashing hooves, he had liberated J. Fenimore Frog. With some secret potion from his arsenal, he had made the amphibian into Frogzilla again, with one difference. He now had the temporary ability to emit a sonic blast that could devastate anything within a two-hundred-yard radius of his shout. He would set Frogzilla out as a distraction, allowing the Shi-Poni to pick off the Zoo Crewers with his ninja skills.
Stormwing, carrying Mandra Mynxbynd on his back, was flying back to the Z-Building to continue his monitor duty that afternoon when his comm-link buzzed. “Yes, Captain, what can I do for you?”
“We need you right away,” said Captain Carrot urgently. “Frogzilla is really blowing up a storm and heading for the Follywood Bowl, where a concert is going on. You know what will happen if he gets there. So many pancakes!”
“Right, Cap. I’ll see you there,” said Stormwing. He landed before the Z-Building and said, “I’ll meet you there, Mandra. I gotta get going.”
“Sure thing, lover-boy,” said Mandra. Stormwing winked and took off.
But Mandra watched in horror as four throwing stars suddenly ripped through the pterodactyl’s wings, sending him spiraling back down to the ground. She raced with her speed to try to catch him, but would she be in time?
Fortunately, Mandra — or rather Mystery Mink — managed to whip up with the cleverest use of her super-speed a wind strong enough to catch her boyfriend, but gentle enough to lower him safely to the ground while he shook off the shock from those super-charged throwing stars the Shi-Poni had shot out of his hooves. Thanks to Mandra’s being able to move fast enough to be invisible when she wasn’t close enough to any walls, trees, or big rocks for her super-camouflage power to do a lot of good, it looked to the Shi-Poni that Stormwing had used his weather powers to save himself, which surprised the super-ninja horse. Oh, well. There were still seven other Zoo Crewers, and he could always try for Stormwing again later.
Unfortunately, by the time he could get his next shot lined up, the Shi-Poni felt a powerful punch to the jaw come out of nowhere. However, though the punch was strong enough to through the super-assassin off his aim, his muscles were still tensed up enough to minimize any blow struck against him — a habit from always being on alert — and he teleported away for his next shot.
Mystery Mink knew from the Zoo Crew files that the Shi-Poni had an eight-mile teleportation limit, but there were so many hiding places within eight miles that it would take too many minutes to search all of them, even at super-speed. So it was time to employ some of that deductive reasoning that super-intelligence should make almost second nature.
Where within an eight-mile radius could the Shi-Poni be lined up for the best possible shot, but still be the hardest to spot? Bingo! she thought. The library tower over by the Follywood grassy knoll!
With a speed that was just ten percent slower than Fastback on his best day, and thus still incredibly fast, the Mystery Mink zipped over to the top of that library, tossed down a small rope, and shimmied down to the tower window where the Shi-Poni was lining up another shot. However, a well-aimed, super-fast, double-legged kick to the super-ninja horse’s gut nixed his attempt to nail Yankee Poodle while she was trying to push back one of Frogzilla’s sonic attacks. Before the Shi-Poni could fully recover from that half-surprise kick, Mandra fired a freeze beam that sealed the horse in a large block of solid ice.
Not far away, Alley-Kat-Abra managed to cook up a rather large ice patch herself that tripped up the Zoo Crew’s super-sized reptile enemy, Frogzilla. Meanwhile, Fastback and Yankee Poodle used their favorite modes of personal transportation to zoom Captain Carrot and Pig-Iron simultaneously toward Frogzilla, both super-animals striking the fifty-foot-tall frog with a double-fisted punch with all of their strength behind it.
While Frogzilla was reeling from that attack, Alley-Kat-Abra used a shrinking spell the Zoo Crew’s wondrous whiskered witch had been working on that reduced Frogzilla down to the more manageable size of six inches, with his proportionate physical abilities decreased accordingly. After that, Little Cheese, who could become twice as strong in shrunken form as at normal size due to improved control over the compaction of his atoms, nailed Frogzilla with a superb uppercut.
Sure enough, after the Zoo Crew had finished defeating Frogzilla, who turned back into J. Fenimore Frog when he was knocked out, the Mystery Mink zipped forward with the frozen Shi-Poni in tow. Before the Zoo Crew could ask her any questions, however, Mystery Mink used her super-speed to zip away.
“Sorry I’m late, Captain, but I was bushwhacked by the Shi-Poni and was very lucky to escape with my life,” Stormwing said truthfully. “If not for Mystery Mink, that super-ninja horse would have had me for certain!”
“That’s two super-assassins who have been subdued and captured in the same day by this Mystery Mink,” said Captain Carrot. “The big question is, who has put a high-enough price on our heads to set two of the world’s best assassins after us? Brother Hood, perhaps? We know he’s got that kind of money, a major grudge against us for foiling his schemes, and it’s been a few years since we found out his true identity of ‘Feathers’ Fillmore, President Fillmore’s brother. Could Brother Hood have intended to throw us off?”
“Perhaps, but it’s also been over a year since Fat Kat was paroled,” Little Cheese pointed out. “That flabby tabby also has that kind of money and a good reason to hate us.”
“That’s true,” said Alley-Kat-Abra. “Especially after I helped stop his plan to have a witness killed in New Yak by Feline Faust late last year.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Matt Mouser, Ala-Kat-Zam: Wand and Wanda.]
“Or perhaps Fat Kat put up the prize through a cleverly prepared series of dummy corporations, and Brother Hood supplied the hit-animals, so they’re in on it together,” Stormwing speculated. “After all, Fat Kat has a grudge against the Crew, but he would want to do this deal in a manner where, even if he failed, it couldn’t be connected to him in any way.”
But the Zoo Crew would not find any answers this day.
That evening, the nightly newscast was going according to schedule when a bulletin was handed to the anchor-beast. “Breaking news!” he said. “Fastback, the reptilian rocket of the Zoo Crew, has run amuck! Footage of him making hay of a local bank follows!”
Timmy-Joe Terrapin’s ears perked up. It couldn’t be him. Even he couldn’t be two places at once, and right now he was still acting as a security guard at the station. The same thought occurred to weather-beast Terry Dactyl, as well as his girlfriend, Mandra Mynxbynd, who was the executive assistant of the manager and executive producer at the TV station. Something fishy was going on here.
At the Z-Building, Captain Carrot and Alley-Kat Abra were thinking the same thing as they watched the news. The guards at the bank were fumbling around and tripped over their holsters. Evidently, somebody had wanted to get their attention.
As the newscast ended, Terry left and changed into Stormwing, while Mandra left from another exit as the Mystery Mink, after telling Timmy-Joe to stay put until they called him.
Meanwhile, atop a building, the image of Fastback shimmered, and a vixen stood in his place. Hexen snickered. Soon, all the Zoo Crew would be in her exquisite trap. What a nice present for Fat Kat, and a rich one for her — the Zoo Crew on a platter from the most powerful assassin yet.
As each of the Zoo Crewers except for Fastback hurried off to investigate the robbery, Hexen waited for her deliberately planted clues, specially prepared to lead the Zoo Crew in four separate directions. This way, she’d only have to take the heroes down one or two at a time rather than all at once, which she figured was the mistake her only two serious competitors had made. She reasoned that they had been so eager to collect the bounty on all eight Zoo Crewers that they had neglected to separate the heroes and instead created a single diversion for the entire team. Sure, it would take the villainous vixen a bit longer to nail all the heroes by forcing them to split up, but with her only two serious competitors out of the way, she could spare the time.
Meanwhile, at the crime scene, the eight heroes (counting Mystery Mink, who was there in super-camouflage mode) carefully analyzed the clues.
“Listen, the bad luck those guards seemed to suffer is a clue, if I’m not mistaken,” Alley-Kat-Abra explained to the other six Zoo Crewers present.
“Good point, Abra,” said Captain Carrot. “As you know, I make it a point to keep detailed files on every super-powered criminal in the world. There happens to be one who can disguise herself as any other animal and has super-bad-luck powers.”
“Sheesh. Three villains targeting us in the same day!” Rubberduck said with a whistle. “Now I’m sure Brother Hood has something to do with this, wherever he is. He’s the only one I know who can gather up all three of the top super-hit-animals. That must be one huge price on our heads.”
“The trouble is, it’s been over a year since Fat Kat’s parole got through,” Little Cheese pointed out. “He’s not stupid enough to spend that much time preparing and then leave any clues that could connect him to the contract, which is why he might involve Brother Hood. That scheming rich cat knows Brother Hood is one of our cleverest and most elusive foes and has both the dough and grudge to do this on his own.”
“True enough, L.C., but the point is we’ll have to investigate all four possible origins of these clues simultaneously, because we can’t chance the trail getting too cold,” Captain Carrot said matter-of-factly. “However, I must advise all of you to be as careful as possible. Remember, after all, that our opponent can make herself look like any of us within a split-second and can seriously jinx us at a range of a hundred yards.”
“OK, Captain,” said Stormwing. “If I might suggest the team-ups, how about you and Abra take one area, Rubberduck and Yankee Poodle take another, Pig-Iron and Little Cheese handle the third stop, and I’ll volunteer to handle the last stop myself and radio Fastback to meet me there.”
With the rest of the Zoo Crew nodding and leaving on their assignments, the winged weather wizard was stopped in his tracks by Mystery Mink, who had waited for her chance to speak with him alone.
“Terry, I can use my super-camouflage power to maintain the element of surprise,” the mink said confidently. “Plus, my heat, cold, and electrical blasts give me good distance attacks that will allow me to attack outside the range of Hexen’s super-bad luck powers. Even she does get me, I can keep her busy while you and Fastback lower the boom on her.”
“Gotcha, Mandra,” Stormwing whispered with a smile.
Each of the Zoo Crew teams went in search of Hexen, but it was Stormwing, Fastback, and Mystery Mink who ultimately found her. As Mystery Mink started her assault on Hexen, Stormwing and Fastback spread out and waited for their chance. Mandra’s heat and cold powers were indeed taking their toll on Hexen, and at least for the moment, she was staying out of range of the vixen’s super-bad-luck powers.
It looked to the winged weather-beast that it was now time to move in. He threw a lightning bolt at Hexen, thinking to take her out immediately, but it was then that disaster struck. The bolt turned in mid-flight and struck Mandra. She had inadvertently stepped within the range and been hit by bad luck.
Stormwing looked to Fastback, who immediately sped off to the other side, sending a vortex of wind that blew Mystery Mink out of range and back toward Stormwing. She was alive, just dazed. But now she was out of the picture.
“Keep far out of the way, Fastback,” said Stormwing.
“Don’t fret over me, fella,” said the reptilian rocket. “I know better than ta git near her.” Fastback now moved so fast that Hexen was firing merely at the after-images that he left in his wake.
Stormwing decided that the time to end it was now, when that vixen was confused. He raised his wings, and a hailstorm formed right over Hexen, giving softball-sized hail that pummeled her senseless. Just as the mercurial vixen passed out under the assault, Mystery Mink awoke.
“Guess I came too close,” said Mandra.
“Looks that way,” said Stormwing with relief that she seemed to be all right. “But I’m always here to bail you out. Even her bad luck can’t cancel that out.”
As he spoke, the bad luck aura that was around Mandra faded, since Hexen was down for the count.
“Come on! Let’s get ‘er in the hoosegow before she wakes up!” said Fastback. The other two agreed that was a good idea. The terror on this very long day was over, but they had no idea if more was on its way.