Tuesday, 25 July 2023 00:00

The Mark of Miss Scarlet! (Part 3)

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A Whateley Universe Story

The Mark of Miss Scarlet!


Bek D Corbin


Part Three


“Look, all I’m trying to do is return it to you in good faith!” Helen Smart insisted.

“Then why don’t you just hand it over?” Prof. Havoc asked.

“Because I signed a lot of documents when you entrusted it to me, and I’d like to see those same documents signed off on, when I hand it back!”

“Just hand it over, and there’ll be no problems, we promise,” Grant assured her.

“That’s what Dr. Ridgeway said when I recovered the Brisengamen Device for him, and I spent 9 months in court to keep from having my ship repossessed!” Dr. Smart snarled. Of course, it hadn’t helped when Helen broke Dr. Ridgeway’s nose after he turned around and sued her for noncompliance, claiming that she’d never recovered the device.

“WE have our reputation to think of!” Neal said sturdily.

“So did Ridgeway, before it came out that he had a gambling problem, and he’d been skimming off his research grants for years,” Helen pointed out. While Miles, Grant and Neal were encircling her, it was Linda who really worried Helen. She knew that she could take out the father or the brothers, no problem. But she had massive problems with kicking the ass of an adorable 6-year-old. And the little brat knew it.

“Is that any reason to keep their property from them?” Krystal Doam gloated from the sidelines.

“NOT THEIR PROPERTY!” Helen snapped. “Their Trust, laid upon them by the Indonesian Government, which they passed on to me! Which means that all I have to do is get this to the nearest Indonesian Consulate. OR, are you willfully trying to place me in a position as to meretriciously prosecute me for your financial advantage, Miles?”

Prof. Havoc locked on that one, unsure of the legal implications of answering. As to emphasize that, Dennis Hawkings spoke up, “That’s right, Prof! Are you willing to insure that Dr. Smart will be free of all legal obligations if she relinquishes custody of the Eye of Lemuria? Or are you more interested in pursuing profitable litigation against her? Keep in mind that this IS being recorded.” With a triumphant grin, Dennis held up his smart phone.

“That has video capture?” Grant asked.

“Fifteen minutes worth,” Dennis said smugly. “Electronic Image Recording. It IS the wave of the future.” Grant turned as he squared his footing. “Go ahead Alphabet Boy,” Dennis said coldly. “TRY and take my legal property away from me and destroy evidence with Malice Aforethought. You might even wake up with some of your teeth still in your mouth.”

“Now, now, now,” purred a deep, smooth mellifluous voice, “is that that any way for Men and Women of Science to act?” they turned at the sound of the voice to see a tall, classically handsome, classically athletic man in his mid-thirties wearing what might be called an ‘Adventuring Suit’, a long tan leather overcoat with a plethora of pockets, racks and straps, over an armored utility vest, a utility belt that Batman would have envied, trousers, and high boots with yet more caches. He held a walking stick in his hand that probably had more tricks in it than ‘an Evening with David Copperfield’. “May I offer a reasonable compromise? Why don’t you hand it over to ME, and I’ll make sure that everyone is treated equally?” He finished with a big grin that somehow made Dennis (and Neal and Linda Havoc) feel that, yes they could trust this man. BUT-

“Cambion!” snarled Prof. Havoc.

“Cambion!” yelled Grant Havoc

“Cambion!” scorned Dr. Helen Smart.

“Cambion!” growled Krystal Doam.

“Cambion!” roared Doc Magnum.

“You were greeted onto the Intrepid as a guest, and not only STOLE years of research, but mutilated it to fit your Pop-Sci theories!” snarled Prof. Havoc.

“You not only stole my girlfriend Gina, but you took her out into the interior of Venezuela and left her there to DIE!” yelled Grant Havoc.

“You led Violet Hardesty down the garden path and set her up to go to JAIL!” scorned Dr. Helen Smart.

“You sold me on that bullshit ‘brain optimization’ gadget, and almost drove me insane!” shrieked Krystal Doam.

“You ‘borrowed’ my car and totaled it!” roared Doc Magnum. The others stopped and stared at Magnum. “What? It was a totally cherry ’63 Chevy Corvette!” The guys winced and nodded, but Krystal Doam launched herself at Cambion as Helen Smart tried to get the Eye of Lemuria away from him (oh, and the Havocs as well).

Either Krystal was too angry to use her Analysis technique on Cambion, or he was simply a much better combatant than she was. Spinning around deftly, Cambion managed to keep each and every one of Krystal’s punches or kicks from landing.

But then Cambion was caught completely off-guard, and thrown to the ground. Looking down, Cambion saw Doc Atlas standing there, snarling at him. “CAMBION!” Atlas roared at him. The normally horrific effect was made ridiculous by the fact that at the moment, Atlas stood a lordly 10 inches tall, and his ‘roar’ was more of an angry squeak.

“Atlas?” Cambion chortled in boggled glee as he started to get up, “You’re a wee little doll man!”

“Well, I’m getting BIGGER!” mini-Atlas gave a crescent kick to one of Cambion’s hands, making the latter renegade fall on his face.

“And what do you think you’re going to accompl-YEEARRGGH!” Cambion screamed as Atlas kicked the inside of his arm, setting off an electric shocker that hadn’t been properly extended. As Cambion reeled from the shock, Atlas targeted yet another of Cambion’s patented hidden tricks. It’s not like Atlas didn’t have a wide selection; Cambion was always on the lookout for new and exciting places to secrete something nasty and unexpected. After a few tricks with extreme heat, Atlas was over a full foot high, and took control of Cambion’s trick-stick, before ‘The Man of Brass’ recovered his wits.

Viewing this, Grant Havoc commented, “It’s… strangely watchable, in a Fellini-esque surreal way.”

“It’ll get really interesting, once Atlas gets over the 3 foot mark,” Magnus mused.

“But… isn’t Atlas a wanted felon?” Neal Havoc asked.

“Atlas never doctored his submitted findings,” Krystal said. “He’s done a lot of things that the Scientific Community can’t condone, but his dissertations are impeccable.” Then Krystal stopped short and looked around frantically. “HEY! What happened to the Eye of Lemuria?”

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Dennis Hawkins hefted the Eye of Lemuria and tried to figure out where he could hide it where it wouldn’t be lifted by the Havocs or someone else looking to lean on Dr. Smart. Jeannie Yes managed to tear her eyes away from the sight of Dennis with his suit jacket off and his shirt literally torn off, with only a muscle shirt and a utility harness on his manly chest, with a deep breath and a will to put adolescent hormones in check. Up to this point, her problem had been that the action was so fast and close that she couldn’t blast any bad guy without risking hitting some revered Adventuring Scientist who, with her luck, would hold a grudge and remember it when he was reviewing her Master’s thesis.

BUT Doc Atlas was a wanted criminal with a string of felony charges pending, and Doc Cambion was on the shit list of everyone on both sides of the Scientific Community, legit and criminal. She could blast one without being worried about the other. If anything, taking them both out would look great on her college application. Jeannie hastily reassembled and prepped her Pulse Vibration carbine with her own (patent pending) Domino Cascade Impetus delivery system, aimed and-

-and the carbine was yanked out of her hands by Dennis Hawkins. With the Eye of Lemuria still under one arm, Dennis pulled up the carbine and shot into the air, destroying three of a line of airborne drones that followed a bald middle-age man in an old-fashioned lab coat, flying a tricked out jetpack.

With a snarl that someone so perfect could so crassly betray her (it was that sleazeball Bobby Kobucheski, all over again!), Jeannie scrambled around for another of her projects, as she kept one eye on Atlas and Cambion. Okay, she might have scrambled around more efficiently if she hadn’t been watching two huge, beefy, droolable hunks go at it hammer and tongs. But her scrambling around took so much time that someone else jumped on the opportunity. Cambion and Atlas were pounding on each other, when suddenly they were encased in globes of transparent iridescence.

At least Cambion was encased, frozen in mid-swing. Atlas on the other hand, popped up to his full size and exited the freezing globe as though it was a soap bubble. Both Jeannie and Atlas (and most likely every other observer), followed the power trail to the Sensational Seven’s booth, where one display was jacked up on risers, and Mr. Fixit was firing the projector that created the globe that still imprisoned Cambion. Mr. Fixit goggled at Atlas’ liberty. “HAH!” Atlas exulted, “What’s the matter, Fitzhugh? Didn’t it ever occur to you that I’d have a defense against MY OWN INVENTION?”

With the look of a fisherman who realizes that he’s just hooked a Jaws-level Great White Shark, Fitzhugh turned the Gravitic Paralysis projector on Atlas. Atlas just laughed and plowed through the barrage with an air of marching to a bloody victory. Or at least a massive ass-kicking.

“Atlas!” the bald man with the jetpack yelled, “Fitzhugh is MINE!”

“Photon?” Atlas paused. “What beef do YOU have with Mister ‘Copyrights are for sissies’? He ripped off my Gravitic Paralysis projector, which he’s trying to exhibit as his own ‘breakthrough’. You?”

“His other exhibit on the agenda is my D-form Lightwave-Mesh Stabilizer,” the ‘Mad Scientist’, who was apparently called ‘Photon’ answered.

“Yeah, that sounds like Mister ‘Never met an idea he didn’t want to STEAL’,” Atlas said. He paused for a moment- as long a moment as the chaos would allow him- knocked together the heads of two high school age over-achievers, and calmly offered, “Tell you what: You cover my back as I get my projector back, and I’ll cover you as to get your stabilizer back. Then I’ll put Fitzhugh in a headlock, and I’ll hold him for you while you… laser lobotomize him, or whatever.”

‘Photon’ looked at Atlas askance. “You’ll settle for letting me have the coup de grace?”

“Look, I’d love to feel his spine snap in two in my hands,” Atlas said. “But I’m not petty enough to fight for the honors, when we’re already in the middle of hostile territory with his stooges getting their acts together.”

“Stooges?” Dr. Photon echoed, “Speaking of his stooges, where ARE they? It’s not like Fitzhugh to be all by himself in harm’s way, when his lackeys could be shielding him. At the very least, where’s Guiding Light, who was giving that pervert Cobb such trouble?”

Atlas, seeing Photon’s point, looked around, trying to spot any of the Sensational Seven. Despite himself, Mr. Fixit aborted targeting Dr. Photon with the Gravitic Paralysis Projector, and tried to see where his damn backup had gotten to?

Then, as the realization that he was way out in the open with no cover registered with Fitzhugh, a beam of light latched onto him and snatched him off his platform. Drs Atlas and Photon immediately claimed the platform. Photon scanned the area that Fitzhugh had been pulled into, on the principle that, no matter how immediately advantageous, in combat an unknown factor is a tacit threat. Photon picked up some anomalies, and blanketed that area with a spectrum- ranging array of light. He found a cloaking field and overloaded it with the fluid expertise of a master. There, bound hand and foot, and gagged, were six of the Sensational Seven- and one other.

The one other was a middle-aged man wearing chinos and a plaid shirt- and a fully concealing helmet, and a backpack that connected by a metal cable to a gauntlet on his left hand and forearm. The man stopped cold, looked around and squawked, “Don’t stop me! I am…” he locked for a second.

“You’re Dr. Roy Koestler, PhD,” Atlas said flatly.


“Roy, you’re still wearing your Symposium ID badge.”

“The sonuvabitch ripped off my prototypes!” Koestler insisted.”I had to salt my exhibit with cultured power gems, just to keep my investors from pressing Fraud charges against me!”

At this, the ‘Tek Raider’ guy zipped up to the booth where Fitzhugh’s exhibits were installed and said, “You mean, he’s got power gems in here, and he’s using them to juice up their power gimzos? KEWL!” With that, he picked up a telescoping antenna with a rotating projector at the top, breaking the 300-lb. chain securing it, and zoomed off with it.

NNNooo!!” roared Koestler and Fitzhugh at the same time.

“Punk didn’t even bother to remove the gems!” Koestler aimed at the Tek Raider with that gauntlet and let off a blast. But the Raider was way too fast, and all that Koestler managed to do was wreck a few exhibits, trying to catch up.

But Jeannie Yes had a better idea; snagging this ‘Tech Raider’ doofus looked like it was going to be THE big score of the Symposium. But he was too fast for everyone else. BUT, Jeannie had something that was absolutely perfect for using right in front of someone who was moving too fast to stop.

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‘And what do we learn from this, Class?’ Jessie asked herself as she blasted away at Dr. Macabre’s ‘witches’. ‘The lesson is: never play someone else’s game by their rules; always make sure that you know what the game really is, and be sure to make the rules so they favor YOU’. The idea had been that Jessie and Viv would mock-fight each other, keeping all the eggheads from interfering. Of course that had gone right off the rails when Dr. Atlas showed up, and it went even further off the rails with every uninvited guest who insisted on doing their own party piece. The Three Witches were the greatest danger to the plan, and Jessie had tried to get them to back off. But she over-succeeded; she’d blasted that bizarre triangular hollow stone and the three witches had changed. Before, they’d been reasonably good-looking teenage girls in slightly tattered RenFaire gowns with tacky gold jewelry. Now, they were scrawny, hag-visaged horrors with vulture-like face and talon hands. They let out a collective yowl of anger, shame and despair (that Jessie was girl enough to empathize with, strangely). To avenge their humiliation, the Hag-girls aimed that weird stone at ‘Miss Scarlet’ and let fly.

Jessie managed to duck the blast, but the Haglets hadn’t been aiming at her. But rather, at the exhibit right behind her, which erupted in electric sparks and boiling liquids. Fortunately, ‘Miss Scarlet’s’ trademark hat and coat were treated against flame, acids, alkalis and electric shocks. Still, Jessie thought that it was time for Miss Scarlet to say ‘Curses! Foiled Again!’, and join her Redcoats, exiting stage left.

Still, that would be simpler, and Macabre’s Monsters would be less effective, if the Hag-girls didn’t have that hag-stone. Jessie shifted Miss Scarlet’s omni-gun to another setting (how DID Viv keep it all straight?) and peppered the Haggards with dazzling sparks. Then Jessie used her PK to shift Miss Scarlet’s obscuring cloud over the reeling Witch-hags. Then Jessie targeted the hagstone with another randomly picked gun-setting. The hagstone didn’t explode, but there was a very weird reaction with an aurora corona effect that seemed to play absolute hob with the hags’ powers.

And the Hags looked so surprised and woebegone that Jessie just had to-

-blast them all again with the same setting, grab the hagstone and snatch up the Atlantean relics that Macabre’s Monsters had gone to such pains to nab.

Tucking the stone and loot-roll under her arm, Jessie took to her heels. Okay, which exit was Stage Left?

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As Jeannie Yes watched on with broken-hearted dismay, Dr. Helen Smart and Dr. Krystal Doam squabbled over the Eye of Lemuria like a couple of Rochester, New York housewives at a White Sale at Bloomies.

“Gimme that!” Helen Smart yelled, trying to wrestle the Eye of Lemuria away from Krystal Doam.

“Get one of your own!”

“There’s only ONE!”

“And it’s MINE!”

“It’s mine until Havoc signs the papers affirming that I’ve returned it!”

“Oh, that is just like you, Smart-Ass! This is a priceless artifact that belongs to the people of Indonesia, and you’re hogging it all for yourself!”

“I’d hand it right over, if only Havoc would sign a few papers!”

“And that’s my problem HOW?”

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*How’s the main show coming along?* Jessie telepathically asked her big brother.

*I’m just about down to the Stavorite. A couple more minutes, and I’ll retract the penetrating bore and drop the Semtex*

*What? You’re still on the first stage of the operation?*

*Unexpected development. Like, operating a penetrating bore is a lot more complicated than you’d think, and Viv never bothered to find an instruction manual*

*Well, get ON with it! We’re up to our asses in Adventuring Scientists, and supervillains are popping out of the woodwork! The only reason Viv and I just don’t up and leave is that it might make things WORSE!*

JD just grumbled something semi-consciously about female backseat drivers. ‘What’s the lesson here, class?’ Jessie thought to herself. ‘The problem with Golden Boys was that they expect everything to go their way and when it doesn’t, they get all flustered.’

*I heard that!*

With a grump in her brother’s general direction, Jessie pulled Viv’s box over to her psychokinetically. She stripped off the ‘Miss Scarlet’ outfit, and tucked it and the swag box of ‘Atlantean Relics’ (or whatever TF they were) into the box. How it would get past the security guards was Viv’s problem. There wasn’t enough room in the box for the hagstone, so she crammed it into her ‘purse’. She was surprised that she managed to fit it in there- she hoped that it didn’t disrupt the ‘bag’. Then she boggled slightly at the thought of the repercussions if it did.

Then she pulled her white cape from its pouch, made sure that it furled properly with PK, secured it to Maxiwoman’s shoulder pads. Then she pulled her hair into a perky ponytail, fixed it with the white bow and secured the white domino mask. Pulling on the white gauntlet gloves, she cued the red cloud generators to begin slowing production. Then she found the proper place to stand and made her grand entrance. “I am the Champion of Decency and Honor! Disgrace to the Noble and Humane profession of Science, prepare to face JUSTICE!”

As everyone was reacting to her entrance, Jessie charged at Doc Cambion, gripped him by the back of his long coat, lifted him over her head, and began a 2,000 RPM airplane spin that would have left Nadia Comaneci dizzy.

And, for the record, being super-strong rocked.

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As the refugee from a Golden Age comic book (or maybe a Silver Age ‘Girl’s Adventure’ book) hogged all the glory for clobbering Doc Cambion, Jeannie Yes went for the gusto. Realizing that Dr. Smart needed to recover the… eye… of… whatever…, Jeannie ducked between her and the bald bitch with the snotty attitude, snagged the case with the crystal and hauled it out. Clutching the case, she made haste to her own booth, where she’d hide the case among her gear.

But the crystal, let alone the protective case, was a lot heavier than it looked. Jeannie had to devote so much of her attention to trying to balance the case that she blundered into someone. Looking up, she stared into the handsome face of the elder Havoc brother- Grant, was it? As she reacted to his athletic presence, Grant Havoc leaned down and said graciously, “Why THANK you! We’ve been trying to get this back for months!” And he gently but firmly removed it from Jeannie’s grasp.

“Hey Dad!” Grant held up the Eye. “Got it. And we don’t have to play Dr. ‘I can do anything’s games.”

“Excellent, Grant!” Prof. Havoc said with relief, “After all the posturing, I was certain that Smart was about to pull some-” the Professor stopped cold, gawping into the pupil of the Eye of Lemuria.

“Dad?” Neal asked, tapping his father on the shoulder. Then he recognized the effect. “Aw, CRAP.”

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Steaming at that Havoc creep for completely screwing up her chance of proving herself to Dr. Smart, Jeannie stomped her way through the chaos to her booth. She pulled out her ‘Goop Gun’ and started up the epoxifying process. Nailing the Tek-Raider was the big thing right at the moment. How do you catch someone who can move at 150 mph? You don’t. You wait until he’s committed to a specific track, and you detonate a goop bubble right in front of where he has to go. Given the banging around the Tek Raider was doing, he didn’t have that much experience with super-speed, so he’d be caught like a gnat on a flystrip.

But, just as the status indicator flashed green for ‘go’, and Jeannie cast about for a likely stretch that the Raider might take, a pair of hands wrestled the gun away from her. Jeannie was shoved aside and a sleek college-age blonde with her hair in a long braid, wearing a gizmo-laden bomber jacket, skin-tight jeans, and a pair of red high-tops that laced all the way up past her knees to her mid-thigh, climbed up on Jeannie’s table-top. “Hey Raider! Let’s see how you do against Persephone Hayes!”

With that, Hayes stole Jeannie’s plan, aimed the goop gun right where the Tek-Raider was headed and fired. The goop-ball exploded as it was designed to, creating a patch of extremely sticky white epoxy-

-which the Tek Raider zoomed through without even slowing down.

Hayes stood there, looking like Wyle E Coyote in Abercrombie & Fitch®, her mouth wide open, her jaw almost on the floor.

Jeannie, who’d just been about to loudly complain that Hayes had stolen her invention, inched away from the girl. She was perversely glad that it had happened that way.

Dr. Adam Baum D.Sc. sneered, “OR, you could do something useful, Persey! Like THIS!” He hit the trigger of his handset, and electricity blazed between eight shafts arranged in a circle. The Raider was dragged toward the array- along with a lot of other small unsecured ferrous objects. “HAH!” Baum exulted, “No overgrown Pro-Wrestler wannabe to save you from my electromorph THIS time!”

Someone tapped Baum on the shoulder, and he turned into the helmet-clad (and rather insulted) face of Kid Galahad, who grabbed him by the shirt.

The Tek-Raider managed to anchor himself, but Baum’s lack of attention to the control did something to the array. A weird pale off-white irregular spherical body with two grounding points that acted as ‘legs’ appeared. It let off an eerie howl like broadcast feedback. Then it forced its way out of the circle of poles and waded into the clutter of tables and high-end electronics, leaving a trail of slagged metal and melted plastic in its wake. The Tek Raider turned to Adam Baum and opened his arms in a wide ‘Well?’ shrug. Then Koestler tried to zap the Raider again from a distance, and the Raider zipped off.

‘Miss Champion’ had Doc Cambion good and dizzy, and she was about to slam him onto the carpet, when she was body-checked from the side. As Cambion reeled, there, standing over them was another girl in a very similar blue-and-white outfit, only she didn’t have ponytail but a pageboy ‘do, she had slippers where the first one had boots, her gloves were different, and she wore a white half-mask instead of a domino. Glaring down at the first one, she grated out, “NO, *I* am the Champion of Justice and Righteousness, you PHONY!”

‘WHERE are all these over-developed bimbos coming from?’ Jeannie wondered as the two ‘Miss Champions’ battered each other. Seeing her opportunity to make a major impression diminish by the second, Jeannie cobbled together a narrow-aperture vortex generator. She couldn’t get the Raider with it just yet, but those Monster kids looked like a good prospect. A photo of her next to the chained lot of them should be worth a bucket of brownie points when she applied to Princeton.

She was aiming her Vortex gun at the Monster Kids, when the younger Havoc kid jumped across her table, grappled the generator out of her hand and rushed back to his family cluster.

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As Neal trotted back to his family, Krystal Doam studied the Eye of Lemuria in Grant Havoc’s hands. She had to figure out how the Eye had put Prof. Havoc into that state of mindlock, and more importantly, how to snap him out of it. How was he supposed to disgrace Helen Smart, if he couldn’t think?

It would have been a lot easier, if Krystal didn’t have to snap herself out of it every ten seconds.

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Cursing to herself, despite the fact that Daddy was around to hear it, Jeannie Yes frantically cobbled together a tight-focus twin-crystal reinforcing sonic projector. It wouldn’t last that long, but if she could zap that crystal thing, it might give Dr. Smart an opening to go in and grab it. And she’d owe Jeannie a major solid.

But then there was a presence before and above her. Looking up, Jeannie saw the most perfect man she’d ever seen. His presence swept almost every thought she had out of her brain. Why was she stressing? Then the man smiled at her, and she almost creamed in her panties. “Do you mind if I borrow that?” he asked as he took the sonic weapon from her unresisting hands. Jeannie gave a wide-eyed squeak as the man walked away with her chance at fame and acceptance. Then one of the Havoc family yelled, “Cambion!” Havoc charged up to ‘Cambion’, whom Jeannie vaguely recalled had a bad reputation for some reason. They went at it like something out of a Yale production of a Hong Kong Wu Shu movie. But the fight was over when the little Havoc girl tripped up ‘Cambion’ as the younger Havoc brother smacked him across the back of the head with a length of scrap metal.

As the Havocs returned to their father with the sonic weapon, Jeannie gave out a muted snarl of realization, that she’d just handed over yet another piece of her dwindling pile of backup gear!

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Krystal Doam was trying to figure out the Eye of Lemuria- still- as the junior Havocs joined the Father. Krystal’s problem was that in order to study the Eye as to figure out how to use it as a weapon, she had to look closely at it, which set off yet another mindlock. It was getting very perturbing. She let out a snarl of frustration, “Dammit, how does thing this WORK?” She looked around for some inspiration, but instead became very aware of the fact that the Havocs were all looking at her-

-and not at their immediate surroundings. She’d distracted them so much that they were surrounded by the goblin-creeps- and the hypertrophied ‘trolls’- and the desiccated ‘hags’- and Dr. Macabre, who looked like he had a lot of grievances to take out- on anyone, anyone at all.

Macabre stepped forward, quivering in rage- or just quivering, it was hard to tell through that suit- and made a declaration. Exactly what that declaration was, was difficult to say. There were five different things coming out of his mouth, and it got garbled up. “You will give us/me/this collective the EYE! You are surrounded and-”

Without a pause, Neal Havoc snapped up the Vortex Gun he’d taken from Jeannie and used it on Macabre, sending the creep’s idea of a creep flying. His minions immediately reacted and-

-clutched their ears as Grant, the eldest turned on Jeannie’s sonic weapon. Wow, the tight-focus area of effect limiter didn’t work as well as she’d thought it would. Even from where she was, Jeannie was getting an earful. The Havocs made good use of that advantage for what good it was doing them. Then Professor Havoc pulled out a gadget that he actually hadn’t stolen from Jeannie’s table- -and turned it on his own daughter!

The gadget created a transparent bubble around little Linda Havoc. Jeannie realized that this was to protect Linda from the goblin-creeps- and probably from her own reckless antics. Linda plopped down in a fulminating pout.

Prof. Havoc then turned the sphere generator on one of the ‘trolls’, wrapping it in a secure (but air-permeable) globe. The ‘troll’ reacted by slamming the containment sphere with his (at least Jeannie assumed that the troll was male; if not… eeewww…) hammer repeatedly, eventually bursting the bubble. But as the troll was off-balance, Krystal abandoned the Eye of Lemuria, and jumped at the troll. Using the troll’s upset balance, she used the power hammer as a lever against it. She first threw the troll to the floor, freeing the hammer. Then she gave it a whack on the head that might have led to ‘Excessive use of Force’ charge- if anyone was taping that move.

Seeing the Eye of Lemuria open, Jeannie bolted out of cover and went for it.

Only to the beaten to the punch by the overblown blonde who’d swiped her goop gun. “HAH! Let’s see them sneer THIS off!” Persephone Hayes exulted, hefting the Eye high.

Then one of the trolls grabbed her, placing her and the Eye between him and the Havocs. ‘Very Good, Lazlo!” Dr. Macabre, who’d just managed to recover from being thrown about by Miles’ Vortex gun. “A prize and a hostage in one move.” The he looked closer at the blonde. “Oh. It’s Persephone Hayes. At least she knows how to be a hostage well.” The voices agreed, *Hostages, hostages, hostages!* *Kill her now, right before their eyes!* *BURN EVERYTHING!*

Grant Havoc looked dyspeptically at Persephone and asked, “Have you considered going into being a hostage professionally?”

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Viv figured that the best way to make ‘Mister Fixit’ look really dorky- and cut down on the way the Sensational… how many of them where there at the moment? She was sure that Major Speed was out of the picture, and- Nevermind, back to the point at hand, even more than the rest of the Simple Seven, Fixit needed his widgets. Heck, if she used his junk to cobble together something big, like a mass vertigo gadget- the Green Gorgon helmet would do for that- she’d look big time, he’d look like small potatoes, and she might get a breather from all the ‘adventuring scientists’ who were tripping over each other trying to get her.

Viv pulled another ‘W Reverse’ and charged at Fixit, ripping the whatever it was he was trying to cobble together out of his hands. Then she reversed and took his right hip bundle. Then the left hip. Then the left biceps bundle. Then the right biceps bundle. And finally the main back unit with the control interface. Viv zoomed away with it, leaving Fitzhugh with only his boxers waving in the breeze. Metaphorically.

Using how she thought Uncle Luke used his ESP to figure out technology, Viv paused long enough to find the actual interface unit. Then some Big Damn Hero wannabe came up behind her trying to be sneaky. She zipped away just as he jumped, relocating to the other side of the auditorium. Then reflexively grabbing the interface unit-

-Vivian understood.

It was so eefing simple. Suddenly all of the Science, Computer and Technology classes, and the long-winded explanations that Uncle Luke and other Tech-heads had given, that Viv only listened to with one ear as she was massively bored, all came together and they MADE SENSE.

A whole world, one she’d ignored because it didn’t make sense to her, opened up, full of exciting possibilities.

She understood how the mental interface worked. She didn’t have Fitzhugh’s direct link, but she could manipulate the interface with her PK. She understood how the variable interface linkages worked. She understood how the reconfiguration system worked. It was clunky, but again, she could make it work. She hastily fixed a wider broadcast array to the vertigo inducer’s powerful but still limited projector, and patched in a couple of signal boosters.

It worked.

It was clumsy, and it would put unnecessary strain on her neck, but it worked!

She stopped still and swept her head in a near perfect circle, reveling in the reactions of the people in its range, even JJ.

Hell, especially JJ.

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While the Green Gorgon’s vertigo inducer did induce vertigo in almost everyone, Dr. Macabre’s Teen Terrors recovered a lot quicker. Seeing a narrow window of opportunity, the three ‘Hags’ marshaled their magical (or whatever) might and sent it at Neal Havoc, who was already fumbling with the vortex gun. He stumbled and pitched forward, reflexively grasping the vortex gun-

-exactly the wrong way. The vortex gun discharged in a short but powerful burst, throwing the Havocs every which way. Except for Linda, whose ball was thrown straight up. A troll grabbed one of the goblins and hefted it at the ball. The goblin grabbed the ball, wrapping itself around the sphere as Linda tried to batter down the walls of the globe/prison. Another troll caught the two on the fly. Then the three Hags strutted over to the troll and imperiously snatched the ball away. They peeled the goblin off the ball, and took control of Linda. The three Hags pulled out wicked looking daggers, and gloated over their helpless sacrifice. Linda cringed and let out a steam-whistle scream of terror.

Jessie was just getting her marbles back in order as Linda’s scream ripped through her. Reflexively, Jessie looked and took in Linda Havoc’s situation as the victim of the Three Hags. Though Linda was a Havoc, and a potential enemy of the Harrow clan, she was still just a 6-year-old girl. On the gut level where Jessie made her reality, Linda was Asha.

On sheer Big Sister reflex, Jessie launched herself at the Teen Terrors, taking out the trolls on sheer surprise. With sisterly rage, she used the troll to batter the other trolls. Dr. Macabre blasted her, giving the Manufactured Monsters an opening, and the goblins and trolls turned their wrath on Jessie. Jessie ignored them, taking the battering to wade through them to get the sphere containing Linda. She pulled two of the Hags away from the orb and mashed their faces together with bone-crunching force. She pulled the sphere away from the last Hag, who was reeling with fear. She grabbed the Hag by her gown with one hand and simply tossed her away, sending her flying a good 20 feet behind her to land in a heap.

Jessie protectively wrapped herself around Linda’s ball and waded through the goblins and remaining trolls. She took the beating as she made her way to the waiting Havocs. As Professor Havoc took his daughter back, Jessie let herself slump to the ground, fazed and dazed, but not quite unconscious. Then Neal Havoc turned his Vortex Gun on the Teen Terrors, sending them flying.

“EXCUSE ME?” Dr. Macabre thundered, “We have a hostage here, remember?”

“Yeah,” Grant said. “But that’s Persephone Hayes; she’s gotten out of worse fixes, haven’t you, Persey?”

“That mess in Villacruz was NOT MY FAULT!”

“It never is, Persey, it never is.”

Kid Galahad body-blocked Dr. Macabre, further upsetting the balance of power. “Well,” he said, taking in the situation, “at least we know who the real heroine is.” He looked at Jessie on the floor, and gave ‘Miss Champion’ a dirty look. The glare was shared by many of the Adventuring Scientists in the immediate area.

‘Miss Champion’ looked around and wilted at the animosity targeted at her.

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Jessie snapped to with Neal Havoc standing guard over her as Prof. Havoc cradled a de-sphered Linda in his arms. Then she spotted the heartening sight of the other ‘Miss Champion’ getting the snot kicked out of her by two lady adventuring scientists, one working a ‘Wonder Woman undercover as sexy (but not slutty) librarian’ look with a dyna-lasso and a pair of glowing bracers, and a perky petite powerhouse in a ponytail- operating a very nimble power loader. Kid Galahad, Grant Havoc, Adam Baum and a few other heroic science types looked on with approval. Apparently this satisfied their gentlemanly ‘Don’t hit women’ ethic, while dealing with the fact that there are women who need to have their teeth kicked in.


Where the heck was JD? This was taking WAY too long! What was he doing?

Why was the fracas still going on? JD had to have gotten to the vault by now!

Taking advantage of her recent pummeling to shut down and close out all the chaos, Jessie sought out JD’s mind, wherever it was. Which was a lot more easily said than done. Powerful, brilliant, focused, dynamic, disciplined minds were all over the place, screaming at the tops of their cerebral lungs. But Jessie wasn’t just a psychic, she was also a mystic. A beginning mystic. She used the familiar signature of JD’s dynamorph to find him. Well, at least the level of distraction and insanity was lower. *JD! What are you doing, Golden Boy? Viv and I are up to our asses in alligators! Why haven’t you sent the cores off? We gotta get out of here before… I dunno… Galactus shows up or something!*

*Two small problems, Little Brother* JD snarked back. *First, Viv forgot to tell me how to operate the penetrating bit. And by the time I figured that out, Exit Options One and Two were scotched, so the only way out is Uncle Luke’s Boom Tube*


*And according to Uncle Luke, there’s too much gravitic interference from all the grav-warping going on up there. He keeps trying to get a fix, and the second he thinks he’s got it, it slips out of synch*

*Fnark, that makes way too much sense* Jessie groaned *Well, when in doubt, dump it in the lap of the guy in charge. Or in this case, Viv*

*Go for it, Jess. It was her big idea in the first place*

Jessie broke contact and went scanning for Vivian. Unfortunately Viv was having way too much fun playing with some new toy. Jessie wasn’t sure exactly which techno-toy was occupying so much of Viv’s attention.

Jessie tried repeatedly to get Viv’s attention. Finally she was forced to resorting to broadcasting at the very top of her telepathic ‘lungs’ *HEY! CARROTS-FOR-BRAINS! We got a problem!* Jessie ‘shouted’ so loud that even mind-deaf combatants stopped and puzzled at why they were thinking ‘carrots for brains’.

*What? What?* Viv responded, flustered at being roused from her techno-gasm. In a more discreet level of contact, Jessie informed Viv of the situation down in the Secure Vaults. *I’m on it! Tell Jay-Dee that I’ll be there in a jiffy!* With that, Viv gave out one of Guiding Light’s dazzling light bursts and gravity hopped over a bunch of boggled boffins, to zip off at top speed. And doubled back and forth a couple of times.

*JD?* Jessie communicated in puzzlement. *Viv’s on her way. But she’s acting weird*

*Howso weird?*

*She used ‘jiffy’ in a sentence. Non-ironically*

*oooggg… it HAS gotten weird*

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With all the gleeful anticipation of a kid about to try out her first bicycle, Vivian made her circuitous way to the vault, deliberately confusing anyone trying to track her. Tracking a speedster is notoriously difficult, but the thing about mixing it up with ‘Adventuring’ Scientists was their famous ability to pull unexpected moves out of their individual and collective asses. Someone could have something that tracked fast-moving objects by their impact on overall atmospheric density. Which was an interesting idea; she’d have to remember to write that down and see if it was possible.

When she was reasonably sure that she couldn’t be tracked, Viv zipped past one of the ‘security guards’ at the open vault door. “Don’t shoot!” she burbled, “It’s Me!”

“Oh, no one would ever use a sophisticated infiltration gambit like THAT,” JD snarked.

“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing!”

“We’re doooommed,” JD groaned.

Vivian ripped apart the padded aluminum crates the A/G units were packed in. “Secure me a power conduit for at least 5,000 kilowatts!” Fortunately, one of Viv’s Redcoats, Eddie, had spotted a major power terminal. He thought that they could use that. It would cut off power to a major chunk of the Science Fair upstairs, but given the havoc that was being wrecked up there, was that really a bad thing?

“Good call, Eddie!” Viv cheered. “Definite bonus for you! Make it happen.” As Viv spoke, the weird contraption on her back unfolded and reassembled itself so that it sat on her shoulders.

“ah… Is that…”

“Not to worry!” Viv scoffed. “It’s a little clunky, but it’ll do the job. It’ll work a lot better after I clear up its operating system and get rid of all the procedural errors.” Then she went to work on the ends of the water heater sized and shaped devices.

With a gesture, JD signaled the Redcoats to go to the power terminal. He went with them (more hands and it didn’t look like Viv needed him for anything). As they jogged, he mentally contacted Jessie. *Jess? You know how you said that Viv was acting weird?*



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‘And JD thinks that he’s got it weird?’ Jessie thought to herself as she looked around the symposium. Her ‘carrots for brains’ yell had startled the collective uber-brains, and now they were actually thinking about what they were doing, instead of bouncing off each other. With Super-geniuses, that’s never a good idea. Jessie was looking for the *ahem!* ‘real’ Miss Champion (please! She stole the idea first!) when the Big Brains started reacting to something. They were all looking up, and they had a general ‘oh crap’ tinge to their body language.

Looking up, Jessie spotted five figures in color-coded hunchbacked power frames. She picked up from popcorn unspoken thoughts all around her that they were ‘instruments’ or something, and that they were serious bad news.

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Jeannie Yes gawped at the armored figures slack-featured and gulped loudly. The Instrumentality of Reason. Forget the ‘Tek Raider’, these were the serious technology thieves, making devastating strikes against R&D labs, making off with the most sophisticated prototypes- and they probably wouldn’t even look at her projects!

BUT, if she could bag one of the ‘Instruments’, even just ONE of them, then her reputation as an adventuring scientist was made. The reward alone would put her through MIT.

And she knew just the thing to do it. The Instruments were using rigid hardsuits, which meant they had the fatal flaw of all rigid constructs: vibration. Target one part of the unit’s suite and get it to vibrate with a certain frequency, then target another part, and the whole thing will tear itself apart. Carefully concealing her moves, Jeannie assembled the pieces of her Directional Vibration Inducer, powered it up, and lifted it to-

-to hand the thing right into the hands of that damn bald bitch again! Doam may be a respected scientist, but she had no right to rip Jeannie off Twice!

Jeannie frantically fiddled with the control and set her hologram ‘Genie’ to getting the Vibration Inducer back.

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Crap. Jessie realized that her pose as a superhero demanded that she do something about these clowns, even over the more rank-and-file Science Villains who were pretty thick on the ground. And the fact that she’d just gotten the cream cheese kicked out of her by Dr. Macabre’s Teen Monsters wouldn’t cut that much ice.

But then… One of the things Dad had drilled into all of the Harrow kids: ‘How do you do something impossible? You get someone else to do it.’

Jessie struggled to her feet, assumed a defiant (if wobbly) pose and groggily grated out, “I… am… the Champion… of Decency… and Justice! I will… STOP… you…”

“Oh, no you don’t!” the real other ‘Miss Champion’ yelled, breaking away from the power loader, “I’ll show that I’m the REAL Ms. Champion!” With that, she leapt up and flew into the ‘Instruments’.

ssssUCK-errr…’ Jessie gloated silently to herself.

As the, ah, ‘second’ Miss Champion flew up, the Instruments showed off their teamwork. The power frame with green trim opened up with an ear-rattling sonic barrage. The frame with gold trim blasted ‘Miss Champion’ with a light salvo that was more about overloading her sense of sight than real damage. The frame with purple trim flew up, took advantage of the superheroine’s dazzled state to lay down a one-two-three smackdown that the fourth frame (the one with blue trim) finished by wrapping the croggled girl in a sphere of force.

One problem that super-geniuses, whether heroic, villainous or civilian, have is their reflex to step back and analyze things. The Instruments seemed to know this. Not giving the Brainiacs time to come up with any brilliant plans, all five units acted. The Red unit created a whirlwind that scattered the scientists, but lifted Persephone Hayes up off her feet and into his arms.

“What?” Neil Havoc yelped, adding (and joined by almost all the others) “AGAIN?”

The Green unit bombarded the assembled academics with sound that caused the assembled scientists’ senses of balance to be numbed. The Gold unit did something that created what appeared to be a swarm of maybe 50 Instrumentality units of all colors. The Purple unit dove straight into Kid Galahad, who by dint of not being a super-brain was a greater threat due to his inclination for quick and direct action. And the Red unit lifted Jessie up on a whirlwind and slammed her down into the floor. Which hurt, but was still better than some of the stuff they could have done to her. And it gave her a excuse to rest and get her wind back without looking bad.

Then the Gold unit did a wide-angle dazzle blast, and the Red unit swept up both Docs Atlas and Cambion together in a whirlwind cage. Whether that unit did those two together because they knew that Atlas and Cambion hated each other and would fight viciously despite the situation, or it was the random luck of the draw, who knows?

Doc Magnum tried to come to Atlas’ aid- after all, the Instrumentality was clearly the worse of the two evils- but the Purple unit whipped out a metallic ‘tape’ snare that wrapped around Magnum. Dr. Photon also tried to get his casual ally free, but the Green unit bombarded him with concentrated sonics. As he reeled, the Purple unit slammed into him directly and specifically damaged his flight rig, grounding the villain.

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‘Whatever else you might want to say about little Jeannie Yes, she makes a kickass Vibration Inducer’, Krystal Doam said to herself. Best of all, the design had a variable protection aperture, so you could narrow or widen the cone of effect as needed. She found the vibration that resonated with the fluid in the Semicircular tube of the inner ear, causing intense vertigo in Dr. Macabre and his house of horrors rejects. As they reeled, Krystal dashed in among them and snatched the Eye of Lemuria from Macabre’s hands. She gave Macabre a kick that sent him sprawling and dashed out of the cluster of monstrosity. As the Teen Terrors reacted to that, Krystal dashed through one of the trolls’ legs, not only avoiding the sole goblin stable enough to chase her, but finessing the standing troll into grabbing the goblin. Krystal rolled through the accumulation of adolescent abominations, spun out, resumed her stance and-

-lost the Eye to Helen Smart, who gave her a snide smile and slipped away.

“HEY!” Krystal demanded, “What do you think you’re doing??”

“Returning a precious cultural artifact- to the Indonesian consulate in Chicago,” Helen said smugly. “After all, they ARE the real owners of this object. AND they’ll sign off without any jiggery-pokery.”

“You… used ‘jiggery-pokery’… non-ironically.”

“You’re not gonna do your ‘French Literary Criticism’ thing on a quaint little idiom like ‘jiggery-pokery, are you?”

“It is NOT French Literary Criticism!” Krystal shrieked. “My practice is legitimate empirical rigor!”

“Your ‘practice’ is weaponized sneering!” Helen sneered back.

And that really threw the fat into the fire. Krystal and Dr. Smart started shrieking at each other with a venom that startled and stopped even the hand-to-hand combat around them. They threw vitriol and insults at each other that included, but wasn’t confined to past slights and slurs, aspersions as to each other’s honesty, their intentions toward Dennis, the value of their basic operating procedures and each other’s hair. The combatants on both sides of the fracas were grateful when the Instrumentality Blue unit sphered Drs. Smart and Doam together, not ending the screaming but at least dampening the earsplitting noise.

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Ignoring her idol’s ignominious lapse of decorum (besides, she was screaming at Baldy, which she was totally behind), Jeannie Yes, who was running out of backup gear, slapped together components, using some diagrams that she’s sleazed off a super-science discussion board. If her calculations were correct, the tight-beam electromagnetic pulse (NOT maser) would induce a mild state of hypnotic suggestion. Three staggered pulses should result in a deep hypnotic sleep. It wouldn’t damage anyone, but it should put down anyone hit by it, as long as she got a good head shot. And from the way that people were blowing things up left and right, having a weapon that provably didn’t do any collateral damage was a very good idea.

But just as she was about to peg the Tech Raider- no wait, where WAS the Tech Raider? It wasn’t like a loud braggy douche like him to lay low- a guy wearing chinos and a plaid shirt- while wearing a fully-covering metal helmet with a high tech gauntlet on his arm- jumped over the table and grabbed the hypno-gun. Barely pausing to put it to his eye- he had that zap gauntlet, why wasn’t he using it?- the guy spun around and fired it at a bunch of very Ivy Tower looking guys who were chasing after him. He hit three of them, but it shouldn’t have done anything, since he hit them center mass. Instead of going all blank and ‘what do you wish, master?’ the three started giggling, and then laughing, and then roaring. They fell to the floor laughing their heads off. Helmet guy paused, absorbed that, and then shot his two remaining pursuers, putting them on the floor as well. Then he turned to face Jeannie Yes. Jeannie had an icy cold moment as she was faced with a dangerous violent person, face to face, for real. Even if he was just holding a tickle ray.

But then there was a blur of blue from out of left field. One of the ‘Miss Champions’ tackled Helmet Guy. She grabbed the tickle ray out of his hands, and threw him into a booth three places over. Then she flew over that booth to finish the job. Jeannie picked up the project. Her discomfit with owing Miss Champion one warred with the frustration at figuring out how to make a big impression in all this mess with a tickle ray.

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Jessie made sure that Dr. Koestler was unconscious. He was indeed out cold from the fall. Indeed, if she were a better person, Jessie might worry that she’d given him a concussion. But she was a supervillainess (in training) and had better things to worry about. Figuring that in order to make that zap-thing work, Dr. Koestler had put the few of the synthetic power gems that Mr. Fixit hadn’t managed to rip off, and had installed them in the backpack (more like fannypack) unit. Sure enough there were six such stones arranged in a sort of double ring. Jessie carefully removed the power stones and replaced them with the decoys that Koestler had in his bogus display. She gingerly placed the real (or at least viable) power gems into her ‘purse’, which was getting dangerous stuffed. She took the forearm unit and the fannypack unit off Koestler, and put them on. The unit was powerless now- except for providing an excuse for Jessie to use her protospirit.

With a fierce grin, Jessie powered up and looked around for the biggest source of trouble. Dr. Macabre had rounded up his Teen Terrors and looked like he was working desperately on some dingus they’d probably looted from one of the booths. That bode well for no one, so Jessie opened up a barrage, knocking out two trolls, a hag and several goblins. Then the Blue Instrumentality unit wrapped her in a sphere. She immediately blasted her way out of it, but the Instrumentality had just stepped up and proclaimed themselves as the premier threat. Or at least the greatest danger to her, which was pretty much the same thing to Jessie.

Heeding the extraordinarily pertinent Harrow family adage, ‘If you have to do something impossible, or at least very dangerous, get someone else to do it’, Jessie blasted the traps holding the other Miss Champion, Docs Atlas and Magnum, and Drs. Smart and Doam, releasing Doc Cambion as an unpleasant side effect. And what was with all the ‘Docs’ running around?

And, sure enough Doc Atlas reluctantly let Cambion out of the headlock he’d had the scumbag in, and scrambled for cover. While Atlas did so with the tacit understanding that he was preparing to take on the Instrumentality units, Cambion simply scuttled for what protection was available.

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Iron Ox looked around and said to Adler, “No sign of the Raider. Maybe he got while the getting was good. Is it time for us to inject a little sanity into his nuthouse?”

“Almost Ox, but not quite,” Adler said, skimming his eyes over the pandemonium. “It looks like Stan is trying to pull his team together for something. Since the Raider seems to have removed himself from the equation, Fixit’s best chance of coming out of this looking like anything other than a complete jackass is to take out the Instrumentality agents. So we kick back and let the Seven make fools of themselves. Then we step in. If nothing else the developments should be instructive.”

“Or amusing,” Silver Streak smirked.

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“All right crew, let’s get this together,” Stan ‘Mr. Fixit’ Fitzhugh told the rest of the Sensational Seven. “This is gonna be trickier than I thought it would be. The only way that Roy Koestler could have made that power gauntlet is that he made a few viable synthetic power gems that we didn’t manage to get. Getting the gauntlet away from Koestler would have been a snap, and we could have powered up our devices again. BUT that little blonde showboat-” he pointed at ‘Miss Champion’ as she strategically blasted imprisoned Adventuring Scientists and impeded the Instrumentality’s efforts with pin-point accuracy, “beat us to it. Getting the gauntlet away from her would be a chore, but doable. Problem: between freeing the Instrumentality’s prisoners, beating up Macabre’s Monsters, and her big show getting the Hazard kid back to her daddy, little miss ‘I’m the Champion of Copyright Infringement’ is pretty golden at the moment. But get me to Project #4, and I should be able to work around that angle.”

Looking Miss Champion over as she blasted, Maxiwoman asked, “Any idea why the gauntlet is blasting green at the moment?”

“Probably an interaction with her basic power-set, whatever it is,” Fitzhugh guessed.

The other members of the Seven surrounded Fitzhugh as they proceeded to the elevated platform where the Gravitic Paralyzer and the still-encased Project #4. Once he was secure on the platform, Fitzhugh tore the paneling away from Project #4 and engaged the power couplings. As the Hard Light Engine powered up, Mr. Fixit scanned the chaotic scene for dramatic opportunities. When the reservoirs were charged, Fitroy turned the projector and created a wall of white light between two groups of- whatever they were.

This quieted things down some, with the tech-heads pausing and cooing, “ooohhhh…. Solid Light!”

But Dr. Photon had a very different reaction. “WHAT? After all this, Fitzhugh, you’re still trying to push MY D-form Lightwave-Mesh Stabilizer as YOUR work? Lobotomize you? Fitzhugh, I’m going to incinerate you!”

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Jake Wilde spotted one of Doc Cambion’s latest ‘fabulous five’ chumps checking out a box that was tucked under one of the tables. Said chump, an extremely cute yet very fit looking twenty-something blonde who’d most likely really regret this later (as most of Cambion’s suckers did) rummaged through the box and her face lit up.

Normally, Jake would have left it at that, but the McKettrick Crystal started reacting. On a cascade of realization that was one part hard deductive logic, one part trained intuition and more SWAG than he was really comfortable with, Jake concluded that she’d found the Atlantean relics that were just one of the several extremely valuable lots that had been lost in the fog of action in the past 10 minutes or so. Jake didn’t know what line of bee-ess Cambion had fed to his latest crew of dupes, but the Atlantean Relics were right up Cambion’s alley.

“Alden, you go high,” he told his big, goofy-looking sidekick with the sideburns, “Carine, you go low,” he told the slight, fair-haired ‘damsel’. “Don’t hurt her; she’s one of Cambion’s flying monkeys. But that doesn’t mean that she’s harmless; Cambion’s got very high standards for his chumps. Set her up for the dazzle, and get that box away from her.” Alden and Carine nodded, and Jake did a countdown. On ‘One’ Carine let out a yip and did a barrel roll over to where the girl was gathering the box up in her arms. Sure enough, the blonde evaded Carine sharply enough, but Alden came charging in with a deliberately wide and slow haymaker.

The blonde avoided Carine by literally climbing up Alden like he was a cliff face. Which was not what Jake planned or even allowed for, but he was more than able to exploit. He let out a shrill whistle and shoved the McKettrick crystal up into the blonde’s face. There was something in the Atlantean relics that was empowering the McKettrick crystal, and Jake could have had it emit a nasty blast of energy. He was familiar enough with the crystal that he had other options. He created a dazzling pattern of light with the crystal that had a mind-numbing effect on a sizeable portion of the population. Apparently the blonde was one that that uncertain percentage that were mind-numbed by that light. She went slack-face and slumped. Jake caught her before she hit the floor, and Alden snagged the box. After making sure of her, Jake handed the blonde over to Carine. “Stash her some place where she won’t get trampled, Car. She’s gonna feel stupid enough as it is- eventually.”

Then Jake spotted the Eye of Lemuria on the ground as Helen Smart and Krystal Doam scrapped over… something. He wasn’t sure and didn’t really care. But an opening is an opening. Jake unfurled his cyber-whip, snapped it around the Eye and pulled it to him. “Well!” He huffed, “And they say Virtue is its own reward.”

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Dr. Venus glared around at the chaos and yelled, “HELLO? Killer Blonde showing off fantastic bod in skintight mirrored bodysuit over here? What AM I, chopped liver?”

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As Guiding Light and Moonbeam kept Dr. Photon from doing anything more than sputtering ineffectually, Mr. Fixit erected another wall of light, further containing the near-riot. “Okay Crew,” Fitzhugh said as he adjusted the Hard Light projector, “I’ll bring the target down there,” he projected a crosshair on the ground under ‘Miss Champion’. “Moonbeam, Cap, you immobilize the target- don’t hurt her, just immobilize her- and I’ll get the rig away from her. Silver, Max, GL-you keep any buttinskis off our back. Once I get the rig off her, Speed, you get me to our main projector. Cap, once I’m at the projector, analyze the Instrumentality tools, try to spot their most vulnerable unit. We don’t need to capture ALL of the units; just ONE will put us on top of the heap.”

“Yeah,” Moonbeam said cautiously. “The M-Five haven’t done shit…” she trailed off, as though wondering WHY they weren’t doing anything.

“LATER.” Fitzhugh targeted ‘Miss Champion’, and surrounded her in a sphere of hard light, followed by two reinforcing spheres. Then he forced the spheres down to where Moonbeam and Captain Intrepid were waiting. Miss Champion blasted her way through the third sphere just as she touched down. Moonbeam clamped two of her grav-disks onto Miss Champion’s back forcing 16Gs of force onto her, and Captain Intrepid slammed the girl down, holding her immobile. Major Speed hurried Mr. Fixit to the spot where he gingerly removed the gauntlet from the girl’s wrist. Maxiwoman, Guiding Light and the Silver Sorceress formed a protective circle around them.

“Done!” And Major Speed moved Mr. Fixit back over to their main projector, where there were enough components to recreate the containment module. The women of the team moved to cover Fitzhugh as he kludged that together, while Captain Intrepid held the position, studying one Instrumentality unit and then another.

Miss Champion picked herself up once Guiding Light recalled her two grav-disks. “WHY did you do that?” she groaned, “I was-”

“The Greater Good,” Cap grunted. “Good isn’t always NICE.”

‘Thank you, that will completely crush any thoughts I might have about becoming a superhero for real,’ Jessie snarked to herself. Then she spotted the other ‘Miss Champion’, mixing it up with the Instrumentality units. ‘Come to think of it, I’d better ditch this rig as soon as I can- she looks pissed.’

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Doc Cambion winced with pain. This raid wasn’t turning out the way he’d expected. He wasn’t used to getting beat up this badly. Usually he only had one or two legitimate threats to worry about, and anyone he couldn’t charm or simply slap down, he could razzle-dazzle with his array of holdouts. But here? He kept running into old enemies (most of whom had been friends), who were at least as tough as he was and very determined. And after Atlas, he was running out of tricks.

He’d need help getting out of this. Fortunately, he’d recruited yet another crew of competent, driven, accomplished young adventurers, eager to prove… oh, fukkit, they were chumps. But they were effective chumps, which he needed badly at the moment. He looked around for any of them-

-There! It was Lisa! Or was it Lucy? Lois? Whatever. She was laid out on the ground, stunned. He hurried over and snapped a phial of salts of ammonia under her nose. Las-whatever startled to waking and pushed the phial aside. “What?”

“That’s my question,” Cambion shot back. “Who did this to you, and why?” And please let there be a reason that I can use to dig myself out of the financing hole this debacle is burrowing under me.

Then the other four- what were their names again?- ran up in a crowd, against procedure. How were they supposed to cover each other- let alone HIM?- if they were all bunched together? The tall, athletic (though not as athletic as Cambion) one, Dan or something, cradled Lisa in his arms. “Lace?” Oh, right, Lace, that was it, Lace. “Lace, what happened?”

Lace coughed, shook her head and grated out, “I found the Atlantean Relics. Someone removed them from the kiosk, and had them in that box. Then a big guy with muttonchops, a girl and a guy with a fuckin’ whip jumped me.”

Jake Wilde…” Cambion snarled in a way that he knew would motivate this crew to commit Aggravated Assault and Armed Robbery. All for the Greater Good, of course.

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When Fitzhugh finally got his power broadcast array back- looted of the power gems, naturally, which was why he hadn’t recovered it before, he swapped over the power gems from the gauntlet’s generating backpack unit. He closed the lid and said, “Okay, it’s time to take control of this situation!”

The Sensational Seven struck their action poses and-

-“Yo, Stan, my power indicator says that I only got 25 minutes of charge left,” Major Speed said. “No sign of recharge or buff.”

“Ditto,” the Silver Sorceress said.

“Me too,” Guiding Light squeaked. “Heck, I only got FIFTEEN minutes!”

“Yeah, but you were blasting up the place a few minutes ago,” Maxiwoman pointed out.

“I got about 20 minutes,” Moonbeam said, “but these disks are a lot more efficient than my old array.”

“I got about 30 minutes on my charge,” Maxiwoman said. “But I don’t know if I can tough it out solo. I’m too used to fighting with a team. And Cap is busy holding down the front, so we can’t be sure how he’s holding up. He’s tough without his booster, but he’s too used to fighting with the force field and the boost- he might charge into a fight he can’t win.”

Fitzhugh listened to this with one ear as he opened the lid and tore out the power gem array. “FUCK! These gems aren’t reading any energy! How was that little bitch able to use these as a blaster, if they’re not channeling energy?”

“A trenchant question that we will have to investigate-LATER,” Maxiwoman snapped. “Right now, we need a techno-fix to this, or the Sensational Seven are worse than over- we’ll be a fucking laughingstock!

“That’s what the M5 are doing,” Moonbeam said, kiting a look over to where they were standing. “They’re waiting for us to make a big splash, falling on our collective faces. Then they come in and save the day, making us look like even bigger losers after you constantly ragging on them.”

Mr. Fixit locked up for a moment. This, on top of Adler and his goons, and Atlas and Photon teaming up against him-

- hold on, what were Atlas and Photon up to? They were right there, making noises about ripping his head off, so where were they?

Looking around, Fitzhugh spotted them. Photon was helping Atlas break into the Arrowsmith kiosk. “The Dynamorphs!” Fitzhugh yelped, the truth of the matter coming together for him. “Atlas is after the Arrowsmith Dynamorph technology prototypes.”

“So, we drive him off with what charge we have, hold off any other takers until SWAT gets here, and settle for not looking like total weenies?” the Silver Sorceress asked.

“NO,” Fitzhugh said with a wicked grin. “This may be just what we need.”

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Watching the developments with optical tactical aids (basically jumped up electronically enhanced binoculars), Red Frost reported, “Okay, Stan’s giving his crew some kind of pep talk. Must be a corker, ‘cause they’re revving up for action.”

“Most likely he told ‘em that he was gonna use their 401Ks to bail himself out of this, if they didn’t get their asses in gear,” Silver Streak sneered.

“They’re going after Atlas and Photon,” Blue Moon, who was peering through a monocular, said. “Looks like Stan took Photon’s talk of plagiarism serious.”

“If Stan Fitzhugh got his boxers in a bunch every time someone accused him of ripping them off, he’d never be able to go to the toilet,” Adler muttered.

“Okay… Guiding Light leads off with a dazzling burst,” Iron Ox said. “Dr. Photon and his guys aren’t that effected, but Atlas and his At-lettes are. Cap’n Intrepid takes out Photon, while Moonbeam and Maxiwoman double-team Atlas. Major Speed gets Fixit to the Arrowsmith kiosk, and the Silver Sorceress puts up a defensive wall. So, Gordo- any idea what they’re up to?”

Adler massaged his temples. “STAN, fer the luvva GAWD- don’t.”

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At the Arrowsmith kiosk, Fitzhugh said, “I’ve got the prototypes- the only way to keep Dr. Photon from stealing these is for us to integrate the prototypes with our power harnesses. Speed, you first. Then Maxiwoman, and then Guiding Light. Let’s see how tough Atlas is when his targets can fight back.”

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Dr. Photon glowered at Mr. Fixit, but leaned over to Atlas and grumbled, “Even in the middle of a minor riot, Fitzhugh manages to glom onto someone else’s work and look like a hero. If I didn’t loathe every fiber of his being, I’d admire the man.”

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“He’s kludging the Arrowsmith projects into their power harnesses,” Red Frost reported.

“Classic Fitzhugh,” Adler said as he shook his head. “Charge in without really thinking, try to muscle through on sheer initiative, and then double down on dumb.”

“Worse, he’s rushing through the interfacing,” Moonbeam said. “Atlas and Photon aren’t giving him the time to be sure of his connections.”

“Is he even checking to see what the projects DO?” Iron Ox asked.

“Wait for it…” Adler drawled.

“Fitzhugh’s finished on Major Speed, and he actually seems to be running faster,” Silver Streak reported. “He’s doing the ‘make a whirlwind around the baddies’ move and- WHOA! I didn’t think that he was moving that fast!”

“He started a real whirlwind!” Moonbeam gasped.

“And he can’t control it,” Silver Streak said with a smirk, as the Major was sent flying by his own vortex.

Then Fitzhugh finished up with Maxiwoman, sending her off with a shove and then waving Guiding Light over. Figuring that the Instrumentality was the group with the largest cachet for foiling, Maxiwoman charged in their direction, picked up an exhibit table-

-and threw it over her shoulder, a good hundred yards.

Maxiwoman stopped short, but the Instrumentality Tools didn’t attack. Indeed, they shifted their positions so the various parties opposing them were between them and Maxiwoman. Maxiwoman gingerly picked up another table, and only chucked it twenty yards or so. The various bystanders, who’d been standing around watching because, well, there was a 100-to-1 shot that they might be able to (noticeably) assist with their particular skills, carefully inched away from her. Maxiwoman froze and frantically tried to think of something that she could do that wouldn’t cause thousands of actionable damage. “Stan?” she mewled.

But Mr. Fixit was frantically kludging another Arrowsmith project into Guiding Light’s harness. He waved Cap’n Intrepid over and started working. He was so intent that he didn’t notice Guiding Light turn into silhouette of herself and flit around blindly. Or notice Cap’n Intrepid charging into the mass of Teen Terrors, only for his PFG pop out into a sphere with himself in the center, immune to harm but incapable of touching anything. The Silver Sorceress tapped Fitzhugh on the shoulder and pointed all that out as Mr. Fixit had his hands full. Fitzhugh started to react, but he stopped cold and looked around at the mess, completely incapable of doing anything to mediate the farce his team had become. Adler leaned over to Iron Ox and said smugly, “Admit it; that was worth the wait.”

Red Frost held up a digital camera with a wide smile. “Got it on Video.”

“Make sure the Press sees that. Better, post it on YouTube.”

Adler walked over to a large gold-tone construct that vaguely resembled an oversized coffin, taking off his suit coat as he walked. He flashed an ID at a scanner and the ‘coffin’ opened up. He stepped in, and a few moments later, he strode out in his Golden Eagle armor. “Okay, both the Instrumentality and the Tek-Raider- wherever he got to- are the focus of too much attention. Trying to bust them and be the Big Damn Heroes would get us caught in too much crossfire. Instead, we’ll focus on taking down the supervillains that are actual threats and damping down on the chaos.

“Dr. Macabre has over a hundred 1st Degree Murder warrants out for him. Target HIM. If his monsters get in the way, subdue them; but remember, while they look like monsters, they’re just kids. He’s got them buffaloed into thinking that he’s the only one who can cure him. Let’s see to it that they actually DO get cured.”

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“Jeannie, this has gotten WAY out of hand,” Mr. Yes urged his daughter. “The best thing is for us to just leave and clear the field for the professionals.”

“Sorry Dad,” Jeannie said as she frantically fiddled at one of her 3rd-tier projects. Jeannie was always finding some bit of electronics in her neighbors’ garbage and figuring out a new use for them. “But this is the kind of situation why ‘when the going gets tough, the Tough get going’ was coined for.”

Mr. Yes was about to inject an element of sanity to the chaos, when a figure ducked over the countertop into their booth. Jeannie reacted to repel yet another gear-snitcher, but “Dr. Smart! How did you get away from Dr. Doam?”

“With profound relief,” Dr. Smart huffed. “I heard that you had a copy of my Stinger in this booth?”

Stymied with disappointment, Jeannie answered, “I did. It was the first thing that ‘Lexa Luthor’,” she jerked a thumb in the direction of Krystal Doam, who was trying to wrestle a piece of SOTA… something away from a high school kid who was probably trying to beef up his college resume with a glowing mention at this show, “stole from me when I tried to help.”

“She would,” Dr. Smart grumped. “Crap.”

“But I’m not out of this, no sir!” Jeannie gushed as she scrambled to assemble her project. She let out a stream of techno-babble that Dr. Smart seemed to follow, but left Mr. Yes completely baffled. Jeannie finished by inserting a small bar of metal into the cylinder she’d been working on, saying, “-the result is the gravitic equivalent of a Dirac Spike, but if it’s a grenade, is that really a problem?”

Dr. Smart reacted with horror, but wasn’t able to stop Jeannie as she ‘pulled the pin’ and threw the grenade where Dr. Macabre and his monsters were gathering for some purpose.

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“Okay Bill, keep the tension on that line, I’m almost done,” Viv said as she finished the weld. “Okay, and now for the battery-” she inserted the 8-faceted column of power gems that Mr. Fixit had used to power the Sensational Seven’s power harnesses into the ‘ball’ of AG engines they’d secured into a decahedron, “-and the capper.” She inserted Dr. Nye’s device, basically a chip that was 4 mms on each side, and made sure of the connections. “Dr. Lucifer? The package is ready, are you set to receive? Good. On ‘One’- 10- 9- 8- 7- 6- 5- 4- 3- 2- ONE!”

Viv hit the trigger. There was a split second moment as the ‘ball’ seemed to grow by a factor of at least 10, and then shrank into nothingness.

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By the sort of bizarre coincidence that seems to confirm the perversity of the Universe, Viv triggered her ‘boom tube’ turbo-charge at the exact same instant that Jeannie Yes chucked her Gravity Grenade at Dr. Macabre. The entire exposition center was seized by a brief moment of Absolute Zero Gravity. While the inanimate objects only floated for that brief moment, every person was thrown up into the air by the force of their legs resisting their own normal weight.

Jessie, who was under powered flight, reacted by flying toward a person who was thrown much higher. Then she recognized him as Captain Intrepid, and silently said ‘fuck him’. ‘Good is not nice’ her ASS. Instead, she snagged Doc Magnus, who was a lot more reasonable and more fun to grab a hold of.

Dr. Smart landed nimbly, and managed to catch Mr. Yes before he hit. Still, she gawped at Jeannie and demanded, “What did you PUT in that thing?”

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JD gave a similar gawp at Viv and asked, *When did YOU get so tech savvy?*

*Hey, JJ isn’t the only one who can level up*

*I heard that!*

Viv pulled up her henchmen and called her Uncle Luke. “It arrived as planned,” she informed her team. “Priority C has been accomplished. Now we proceed to Priority B.” It was understood that Priority A was ‘don’t get killed’, and Priority B was ‘don’t get caught’. “Your jobs are?” she pointed at JD.

“Fly up, fill in the hole, use Exit Strategy 3.”

“And you?” she pointed at Danny, who while not stupid, was the one who needed to be reminded the most.

“Go upstairs, ditch the redsuits, mingle with the Primateur guards, make noises like we were there all along, and fill out the Incident Reports with the template you made us memorize.”

“Perfect! Make it happen.” And with that, Viv sped down the hallway and back up to the main exposition area. When she’d left, the Exhibit area had been a near-riot; now it was a Jonny Quest version of a battlefield. Looking around, Viv figured that it might be a while before JJ could disentangle herself from the mess. And when you’re dressed as a supervillain that everyone wants to beat up, a few minutes was a long time.

Then she spotted the ‘Sensational Seven’ milling around the Arrowsmith kiosk, looking like a bunch of circus clowns. She wasn’t sure what they were up to, but helping them look like fools would definitely help her agenda. She zipped over to see how she could help them with that. looking like clowns. They were frantically trying to remove some chunky OED dictionary sized gizmos from the smalls of their backs. So she whizzed over to Moonbeam, who was floating a foot off the ground and ripped the gizmo off her harness. Moonbeam landed like a sack of cement. Looking at the gizmo, Viv spotted an Arrowsmith Labs® logo. Arrowsmith Labs? Sneaking a look at the nearby kiosk, it registered that Arrowswmith was displaying those dynamorph-based technologies that were supposed to be so groundbreaking- once they figured out what dynamorphs really were and how to make the damn things.

Spurred by her first fit of Techno-Lust (SO MUCH about Uncle Luke finally made SENSE!), Viv went over to Maxiwoman, then Guiding Light, and then-

-then she ran right into Doc Atlas. Smiling sheepishly through the Green Gargoyle mask, Viv handed the modules over to Atlas. Hey, he had dibs.

Atlas gave a satisfied smile and broke off with his backup. Viv took a relieved sigh, but then it registered that she wasn’t out of the woods yet. She turned around and bumped her nose into another massive chest. Only this one was Captain Intrepid, and he wasn’t as easy to placate. In fact, as soon as Doc Atlas had cleared out, the Sensational Seven, freed from the tactical prisons that Mr. Fixit had unwittingly made for them, surrounded her. Not that they were going to thank her for that. “He’s got our original devices!” Mr. Fixit expounded the flippin’ obvious.

Moonbeam sent a flight of her grav-disks to surround ‘the Tek-Raider’. But Viv was now tech-savvy enough to turn a tactical disadvantage to an advantage. She kicked in Moonbeam’s gravity fluxer. The resultant gravity-spike thrust the S7 away from Viv, and threw her and a bunch of theme exhibits up in the air. The exhibits was ‘comic book science’. Viv reached out with her telekinesis and pulled a ‘Captain America’ shield (actually a surfaced force field projector), and ‘Captain Cold’ gun, a ‘Green Lantern’ and a ‘Spiderman’ webshooter (much larger and klunkier than the sleek units Peter Parker had strapped to his wrists) over to her. She used the webshooter to swing away from the Sensational Seven as she blocked incoming attacks with the shield (which ripped the shield apart). As she landed well away from the Seven, it registered with her that with all the gimmicks she had on her, she could just as easily flown away. Damn overwhelming number of options, it almost bit her in the ass. Indeed, even as she absorbed that, she kicked in her superspeed-

-just as a cyber-lariat looped around her. “HAH!” Jeannie Yes exulted, “Let’s see you get out of THAT!” Jeannie fervently hoped that Dr. Smart was seeing this.

Viv accommodated Jeannie by kicking in her superspeed and dragging the other girl behind her at over 150 MPH. Jeannie forgot to include a grounding function. She circled the exhibit area twice until she finally managed to spot JJ trying to avoid the other ‘Miss Champion’. As Jeannie finally let go of her lariat, Viv found the perfect place to pull a fake-out-

-just as Cambion’s minions rolled him inside the capture sphere right into her path, knocking her on the ground again, even as it disrupted the energy sphere. Cambion was right on the job and pulled Iron Ox’s belt right off Viv. And Viv was suddenly very aware that this whole rig was very heavy.

Major Speed body blocked Cambion, knocking him to the ground. Not bothering to recover Iron Ox’s belt, he quickly removed his own speed belt, shucked the replacement, and copped a pose as the rest of the Seven gathered around them. Viv had just enough time and presence of mind to hit her PFG as the booby-trapped speed belt exploded, scattering the Seven and knocking the Major unconscious. Viv hauled ass, all-too aware that she was thick in the middle of hostile territory and two of her major assets were in unfriendly hands.

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After they restored power at the terminal, JD sent the Redcoats off to get back into their Security Guard uniforms, trash the red coats (aerosol cans with a catalyst to trigger the acidic self-destruct built in to the jumpsuits), and secure their exit cover. Their part of the job was over, and they’d done their jobs well. He also passed around contact cards ‘in case they found themselves needing work’. Then he went back into the vault, closing the door behind him. When the vault door was re-secured and all traces of the entry had been erased, JD walked to one very particular spot and spent a few minutes breathing deeply. He’d remotely cued the penetrating bore to reverse the excavation and pump the almost molecularly fine concrete dust back into the hole the second that Viv had left to return upstairs. By his calculation, the hole was probably one-quarter filled, and the concrete dust, primed by the penetrating bore, should be re-setting into good solid concrete, leaving only maybe an odd 2-foot diameter circle in the kiosk floor as a sign that anything had happened. But he still had to pass through 2 and a half feet of reset concrete, and then another 2 feet of unset concrete dust. And one thing that most people didn’t realize about desolid passage- you could pass through most things- but you couldn’t breathe.

JD telepathically notified both Viv and JJ that he was beginning his passage up, and that if he didn’t make it through, he wanted a nice simple memorial ceremony- with all of his old girlfriends in attendance. *Yeah, ‘cause you won’t be there to deal with the catfight,* JJ snarked back.

The passage up was one of those ‘crawling through swamp muck’ moments that was made longer- and therefore worse- by keeping his protospirit running to keep concrete particles out. Finally he managed to crawl out of the tunnel and get a clear breath of air. Then he telepathically told his sisters that Stage Three was done and that Exit Strategy #3 was Go.

*Does that mean we have to cancel the party?*

JD shut off the contact with a grump and looked around for the box that Viv had stashed her ‘Miss Scarlet’ outfit and the Atlantean relics in, which should have been nearby. It took some scouting around with ESP as he stripped out of his stealth blacks, but he found the box and carefully dragged it over to the kiosk. The ‘Miss Scarlet’ rig and multi-gun was in the box- but the Atlantean relics weren’t. ‘Crap,’ JD thought to himself. ‘Well, they were a side quest anyway, and getting the hell out of here is the big thing.’ He put on the ‘Miss Scarlet’ coat, hat and scarf, and figured that no one would notice if ‘she’ was taller in all the commotion. As he snapped on the voice changer, it occurred to JD that he’d better not let JJ see him like this; she’d never let him live it down.

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“This nonsense has gone on WAY too long!” Adam Baum grated out. Largely because this was shaping up to be a prime media exposure opportunity with hundreds of downloads to YouTube and other sources- there were probably people live streaming this- and HE wasn’t getting any Big Damn Hero moments! Well, if being the Big Damn Hero would get him the grants he needed- “Jack! Jillian! Reverse the Scale Definition Matrix and secure a large enough charge for five hours!”

“Five Hours?” they responded in that chorus that was interesting at first but got real annoying after a while.

“It will cost five times as much power, but only last for about an hour,” Baum said sturdily. “More than enough time to do what I have to.” And get in lots of photo ops where he’ll literally dwarf everyone else in the picture.

Jack and Jillian worked feverishly in that odd tandem that would make them very effective in the field- if the effect survived puberty- and shot Baum near simultaneous thumbs-up. Baum made sure of his ‘expedition pack’ and said, “Set it to 1500.”

“Are you sure?”

“If that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.” Baum looked, and sure enough, his position tracking camera was following it and his microphone was on. That one was going onto his site. “Charge Me!”

Jack and Jillian shared ‘he’s a big time scientist; he must know what he’s doing’ look. The made sure that the projector was squarely trained on the receiver on the backpack. Jack turned the safety and Jillian pressed the button. Adam Baum struck a dramatic pose, glowed and started to grow. And, even in a setting as wild as the Symposium in full riot, a man growing to 50 feet tall tends to grab people’s attention. Baum reveled in the spotlight, struck a pose, opened his mouth to make a victorious announcement-

-and went red the face.

A look of panic seized him and he clutched his throat. And then his knee gave way, and he fell to one side, crushing several exhibit tables. He also shattered his kneecap and thigh, broke his collarbone, crushed the ball joint on his shoulder and gave himself whiplash.

Jack and Jillian gave horrified *yeeps* and cowered behind the console.

“What happened to him?”

“Damn Fool forgot about the Inverse Square Law,” someone said. “As applied here, when you grow, you don’t just get taller, you get wider and thicker. He’s so heavy that, even with thicker bones, he’s too heavy for his feet, knees and hips to keep him up. When he hit the table, over a ton of weight hit every part.”

“Why is he wheezing?”

“Look, I know your degree is in Physics, but would it kill you to read a Biology book?” the ‘’Wonder Woman undercover as sexy (but not slutty) librarian’ snapped. “His body’s need for oxygen is way beyond his lungs’ ability to supply it. The Inverse Square Law again. Hey, lungs take up about a third of a whale’s body mass. They’re also a lot more efficient about absorbing and containing oxygen.”

“But there are a bunch of superhero and supervillain giants, and they don’t have these problems,” one of the high school exhibitors objected.

“And they all have some dodge around them,” ‘Wonder Librarian’ said. “The rationales are all over the place, but mister ‘I’m doing it MY WAY’ never bothered to research them. Now, everyone, we gotta flip him over on his back, so he doesn’t collapse one of his lungs.”

“OR, we could just take that backpack OFF,” someone pointed out.

“Easier said than done,” Miles Havoc said as he examined the harness. “Whatever you want to say about A-Baum, he builds a very tight harness securing system. Being trapped at 2 inches tall must be a nightmare for him. And he must really hate the idea of anyone else removing these. This is gonna take some precision tools.”

“OR, we could just have THEM reverse the effect,” that someone pointed out.

Jack and Jillian rose up from behind the console just enough to shake their heads ‘No Go’ and sank back to the relative safety of the booth.

Baum was cold, but everyone knew that it was only a matter of time before the Inverse Square Law bit him in the ass again. While his skin surface area had increased by a factor of 10, his body area had increased by a factor of 1000; not only would his body heat re-grow, it would grow until it broiled his brain inside his skull. Someone ordered that someone (else) go and find oxygen. Another, more helpful, person replied that one exhibit not only had a tank of oxygen, but a supply of liquid oxygen, which (slightly heated) would solve both problems.

As they gathered to rock Baum onto his back, one of the scientists sighed, “Even unconscious, crippled, helpless and gasping for air, Baum manages to make it all about HIM.”

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There was a squad of very eager to rise out of obscurity lab rats on one side of Viv, and the Sensational Seven (or whatever they were at the moment) on the other. Moonbeam was doing things with her grav-disks that looked like a repeat of Viv’s earlier grav-spasm tactic would be very painful. The Tek Raider found herself surrounded. Like superstrength, superspeed was one of those things that was ridiculously easy to take for granted. Viv was clearly running into one of the intrinsic flaws in the whole ‘Tek-Raider’ idea: overabundance of options. The obvious thing was to use the sonic screamer/ vertigo induce dingus, but Viv hadn’t gotten around to that yet.

So JD bit the bullet, came up behind the Seven and opened fire with a volley of low-temperature but high amperage (owchie, owchie) bursts of plasma. And while this gave Viv her opening, it set JD up for his own problems. His telepathic guard warned him of Doc Magnum’s sneak attack, but even then he barely managed to avoid the super-brain’s lightning barrage of attacks. JD fired the multi-gun for a spray of laser fire. Magnum easily evaded it with a somersaulting backflip, but that gave JD the chance to break and run. One of Dad’s maxims: ‘Amateurs fight to win; Professionals fight to get away.’

Not that it was that easy. Magnum might not be a super-speedster, but the only reason he couldn’t qualify for the 500 yard dash in the Olympics was their bars on ‘exotic training techniques’. So JD pulled up to the ‘Tek Raider’, snagged the ‘Captain Cold freeze ray’ and iced up the floor behind them.

Realizing that they rather resembled the chase scene in an old Silent movie, JD prodded Viv to split. Viv lifted off, leaving the train of pursuers- those who weren’t slipping on the ice- to JD. JD hopped on top of Adam Baum’s body, dropped to the other side and started icing the reluctant giant over with the freeze gun. The ice immediately started melting, allowing Doc Magnum to catch up to JD. “Here!” JD pressed the freeze gun on Magnum.

“You have to keep icing him up!” Wonder Librarian yelled. “He was almost at 1050 Fahrenheit! He NEEDS to cool down!”

Magnum ground his teeth as ‘Miss Scarlet’ escaped, but he started icing over the huge body of a man who was a huge pain in the ass, even at his normal height. Worse, all the available scientists were too busy to take over with the freeze ray, so ‘Miss Scarlet’ vanished into the near-riot.

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Telepathically, Jessie guided first Viv and then JD to the pavilion. Not needing telepathy to realize that the big masquerade was over, and it was time to change clothing and go home, JD and Viv shucked out of their outfits. Jessie pulled the ‘Miss Scarlet’ coat over her ‘Miss Champion’ outfit, and breaking down the multi-gun into unrecognizable components. Viv took off the ‘Tek Raider’ jumpsuit, shifted a few choice units to the Miss Scarlet coat and handed the jumpsuit to Jessie. Jessie glowered at her and grated out “NO” with the finality of a Supreme Court decision. Then she waved her hands, and she was ‘JJ’ in a T-shirt, windbreaker and jeans, settling the matter. Viv grumped but didn’t argue the point. All they needed for a perfect caper was to get away, so why tempt fate. She grabbed the box and- “Hey, where are the Atlantean dingbobs I almost got killed snagging?”

JD shrugged. “Fog of War,” he summed it up simply.

Viv grumped again, but it was simpler this way. She took an aerosol can from the Tek Raider rig and sprayed down the jumpsuit, unused gimmicks and Miss Scarlet’s hat. Then she clipped a thermite chip to the inside of the box. Casting about with her ESP, Viv found the perfect destruction site. Pulling up the side of the pavilion, Viv scooted the box to the very edge of the circle where the Sensational Seven were confabbing on how to do something, anything, to look like heroes. When it settled, Viv triggered the thermite chip, detonating the spray, and the box went up, knocking the Seven down- yet again.

JD gave his sisters a wicked grin. “Let’s go see what trouble we can make.” *****

Jake Wilde mind-snared the big tow-headed guy and the fey-faced weasel with the Eye of Lemuria, but he also paralyzed Alden, which was a loss for their side. Carine and the blonde were going at it like a pair of crazed wildcats. Woman vs. woman is always nastier than man-on-man. That left the martial arts runt and the schmoo- who was a lot tougher than he looked. The McKettrick Crystal hadn’t stopped them the last time he used it, so Jake unfurled his cyber-whip. Which caught on something. Jake looked around and spotted a very pissed-off Cambion holding onto the striking tip of his whip without even straining. Then Jake remembered that he was already facing off against two guys.

He spun around just in time for a fist to break his nose. The schmoo tackled him, and from there, let’s just say it got nasty.

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‘Fuck, Cambion’s got Iron Ox’s harness,’ Viv said to herself with calm annoyance. ‘I don’t really need to get the stupid thing back to Iron Ox, but Daddy would just whine about the Magnificent Five not having their brick.’

Besides, they couldn’t just up and leave. They had to shut down this nonsense; the whole thing was a mess, and they couldn’t leave until this was resolved. The prime targets were Doc Cambion, Dr. Macabre and the Instrumentality units. But how to take them down in a way that this mess of double-domed halfwits wouldn’t mess all up?

Then she spotted Jeannie Yes trying desperately, despite being visibly banged up, to get one of her gadgets, ANY one of her gadgets to do anything. Jeannie looked so lost and forlorn.

She just had to rub some salt in that wound.

Then she spotted Jeannie’s ‘Genie’ hard light project, mindlessly moving small objects around, oblivious to the havoc being wrecked around it. With a prod to her sibs, Viv raided the various hard light exhibits, starting with Fitzhugh’s, through the ‘Green Lantern’ and ending with Jeannie’s. As the Yeses quibbled at her, Viv seamlessly compiled the better aspect of six different projects. “And what is THAT supposed to accomplish?” Jeannie demanded.

“Something more effective than ‘Oops’,” Viv snarked back. Really! The social dynamics of this symposium were so similar to her private school that Viv practically expected a class bell to ring. Once JD had the prime power conduit connected, Viv fired up her composite project. A ball of grinning blue copyright infringement wrapped around Doc Cambion. And then Dr. Macabre. And then, one by one, the Instrumentality agents.

Viv relished the sight of Jeannie Yes wilting as she effortlessly stole the spotlight. Then she remembered that they were in the middle of something. “Iron Ox’s belt!” she snapped at her sibs. The Harrows have firm religious objections to being slow on the uptake, so JD and JJ were right on it. Rather, JD was right there, but JJ stopped to snag a magnetic grappler from one of the booths. As JD kept Cambion’s stooges at bay, JJ used the grappler to penetrate the bubble around Doc Cambion. He wasn’t happy about it, so JJ used the grappler to set off some of the holdouts that the Ungood Doctor still had on him. As Cambion reeled, JJ snatched the Iron Ox belt from his grasp. Of course, while the ‘Eye of Lemuria’ was a forgery, it was still tactically useful in the immediate. She could always let someone steal it. So she handed the belt over to JD-

- who was dealing with the fact that while he was both a psychic mutant and an exquisitely trained covert operative, he was still a 18 year-old GUY. A fact that Dr. Venus took full advantage of. “Why THANK you,” she purred as her enhanced pheromones synched with her enhanced physique to turn the kid’s brain to enhanced gray jelly.

As Viv was processing that, Dr. Photon dropped down and took control of her composite Hard Light projector. “Interesting configuration,” he said approvingly as he attached leads to the arrangement. “I’ll be sure to mention you in my notes.” Then a translucent pearly ball of light formed around him. “I have to leave off gelding Fitzhugh, but at least I’m getting my own property back- with a bonus.” Then, in a perverse recapitulation of Glinda the Good from the ‘Wizard of Oz’, the ball of light lifted off and floated through one of the major holes in the exposition hall’s windows.

Not that ‘JJ’ was just hanging around. Seeing that the Instrumentality units were starting to break out of the capture spheres, ‘he’ looked around for something to keep them from stealing anything. WHY she was so intent? Because as far as Jessie was concerned, this was a Harrow family score, and too many people had poached off their plate as it was. Then she spotted one particular exhibit that hadn’t gotten as much attention as it merited. Jessie looked around, and YES, there were the ingredients she needed. She grabbed a big jug of one chemical, poured it into the vat of the exhibit, then another one, and then another. Then she hit the ‘super-heat’ function, and when the mess turned off-white, she added a pint of another. As the concoction fizzed furiously (and the exhibitor fumed even more furiously) ‘JJ’ turned the kiln, targeted the Instrumentality units, and added a cup of the final ingredient.

The kiln gave a loud *splurch!* and lobbed a large soppy wet mass at the Instrumentality units. The mass exploded, covering the units in a sticky goo. “Well, it’s not a baking soda volcano, but…” JJ quipped.

“Way to get your Billy Nye on!” Iron Ox cheered him.

While the goop didn’t incapacitate the Instrumentality units altogether, it slowed them down and blocked their sensors and normal vision. Viv quickly cobbled Uncle Luke’s Dean Drive emulator with Jeannie Yes’ vibration projector (over Jeannie’s screamed objections), and cause a 35 G bubble around the units that smashed them into the ground. JD and JJ hurried over. JD used one of the Instrumentality dorks’ being stunned to get them to look into the Eye of Lemuria. JD passed the Eye over to JJ, who used it to the same effect. As they were doing this, Viv swaggered over, snagged a solenoid power spreader, and came up behind one of the Instrumentality units. She inserted the spreader under the hatch of the unit’s back compartment, pressed the button, and after a few moments of sounds of metal distress, there was a crack, and the hatch swung open.

JD reached in and extracted a dull gold metal disk maybe 35 cm diameter by 4 cm thickness, studded around the rim by 8 large variously colored crystals.

JD and JJ pried the crystals from the disk as Viv moved onto the next unit. After removing the crystals, JJ tossed the crystals to various Adventuring Scientists like they were mardi gras beads, and JD threw the disk to one of the eager scientists. Viv, JD and JJ quickly formed an efficient routine, with Viv cracking open the pack hatches, JD removing the disks, and JJ disassembling the disks and distributing the goods. The purple unit- the one that displayed super-strength was the last one in the rotation, and JD just barely managed to get the disk out before he broke free of the gravity snare. With this one, Viv pulled the disk out of JD’s hands and pried out the prominent purple gem.

With a triumphant grin Viv tucked the disk under her arm and palmed the purple gem. Then she charged at Dr. Venus, who was mixing it up with Helen Smart and Krystal Doam. Dr. Venus’ backup crew of Super-Studs was fighting with a crew of college-age wannabes- and getting the worst of it. Then in a rare moment of cooperation, Drs. Smart and Doam got Dr. Venus into matching Half-Nelson holds, one arm per doctor, putting their captor into a full-on hold without any leverage. Unfortunately for the two heroines, it put them in a perfect position for one of Dr. V’s bio-electric blasts, stunning both of them.

Dr. Venus was aware enough to see Viv coming at her, but wasn’t aware that the girl had the power gem that fueled the Purple unit’s super-strength. Casually, she sent a blast of bio-electricity at Viv, which Viv deflected with the golden disk. As Dr. Venus reacted to that Viv came in and pelted the supervillainess with a foot-stomp/ gut-punch/ downward-head-smash combination that would have killed a normal person. Viv took the belt from Dr. Venus’ shoulder, turned and shouted, “Iron Ox!”

JD and JJ broke from the scientists who were pushing to get a better close look at the Unstrumentality units. *If she’s hurt, Mom’ll never let us hear the end of it!*

*Wrong spin, Bro: if we save Viv, WE never let HER hear the end of it.*

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Seeing a great advantage coming within reach, Doc Cambion couldn’t resist grabbing it. While he wasn’t 100% sure how the McKettrick Crystal worked, just blasting with a raw bolt of energy was simple. Before the girl’s brothers could insert themselves, he lashed out with just such a bolt, bringing the girl to the floor. With the (this season’s) Fab Five covering his flank, Cambion sprinted over to the girl to get the harness- and power gem- and platen, which rumor guessed to be the work of Deicide, as the Wondersmith was known to work with the Instrumentality. As his chumps surrounded him, Cambion flipped the girl over to get at the harness-

-and she grabbed his wrist with a grip that compared well with tool steel. It says something about his willpower and ability to deal with pain that Cambion only suffered a torsion crack in his right ulna bone. The girl threw him away from her, but Cambion was able to roll with the throw and get away with only a shooting pain in his forearm.

As Cambion, less the Iron Ox belt and McKetterick Crystal, sprinted for cover, Viv kipped up to her feet. Smacking that asshole around would be very gratifying, but she had a plan to complete. And Daddy always said that leaving a plan incomplete was hanging yourself with loose threads. She trotted up to Iron Ox and handed him his belt, not even caring if she got the credit, just glad to have it over. Iron Ox took the belt with an expression like she was returning his baby.

But Golden Eagle asked, “How did you handle Dr. Venus and Cambion so easily? You didn’t have the belt on.”

With a winsome smile Viv held up the purple crystal. “This is the purple Instrumentality goon’s main crystal, the one that gave him superstrength. I don’t know what the rest was about, but this is that unit’s prime motivator.”

Golden Eagle held out a hand. Viv gave him a ‘but it’s MINE!’ pout. Golden Eagle held firm. Viv held out for a moment, but finally handed over the crystal. Hey, she had Maxiwoman’s power rig and the broadcast effect generator, she could always use those if she wanted to be superstrong again.

But the second the purple crystal was in Golden Eagle’s hand, as if just a second too late to secure the crystal, a stream of electricity struck Viv and pulled her a good 35 feet into the arms of one of Macabre’s trolls. “THERE! NOW maybe you’ll take me seriously!” Dr. Macabre trumpeted.

‘Oh, so this is how Persephone Hayes feels,’ Viv mused.

‘Finally, it’s not ME,” Persephone Hayes mused.

‘OH CRAP, Mom’s gonna KILL me!’ both JD and JJ panicked. JD and JJ charged on the troll, ignoring Dr. Macabre (who really was NOT used to that)

JD ducked behind the troll’s knees as JJ performed a double-foot kick into his chest. Not that Viv really needed the assist. She twisted out of his grasp, grabbed his arm and twisted, looking for leverage. She was as surprised as anyone when there was the sound of his forearms breaking. As the troll screamed, Viv experimentally lifted the troll, who must have weighted at least 500 lbs. She lifted him like he was a plush stuffie.

Viv stopped and looked at Iron Ox, who had gotten out of his exoskeleton by the simple measure of busting out of it once he had his belt on. The Ox was a bit miffed that his big dramatic moment had gone, but he couldn’t argue with the results. They shared a look and then turned with grim smirks to look at Dr. Macabre.

Dr. Macabre and all of his voices said in unison, *oh. fuck.*

Macabre reflexively snapped his ‘punishment whip’ (basically an electric shocker attuned to the human nervous system for maximum pain), but in his panic targeted the larger and more intimidating Iron Ox. Who was very effectively armored. It slowed down the Ox, but Viv tore right into him. Macabre, who was used to insubordination from his teenage stooges, was able to handle her. But not both Viv and Iron Ox, the latter who came in just as Macabre had his hands full. It wasn’t pretty. Even Dr. Venus, who’d had less than pleasant experiences with Macabre in the past, was rather put off by it. She and several other supervillains, who’d managed to stay under the radar, decided that a quiet exit was called for.

Jeannie Yes was also appalled. That glory-hogging Harrow bitch not only got the Big Damn Hero moment, but she got super-strength on top of it!

JD was also having a troubling moment. Doc Cambion had jumped him for the ‘Eye of Lemuria’, and he was getting his ass handed to him for it. JD didn’t really want to keep the ‘Eye’, he knew that it was just a sort of decoy, but he had to make it look good. JJ got in on the act, which only brought in Cambion’s stooges. And that brought in Jeannie Yes and a few other wannabes, and by the time they got the whole mess got sorted out, Cambion- and the Eye- were nowhere to be found. Neither was the box with the Atlantean relics.

And even then, battered and bloody, Jeannie Yes couldn’t top the triumphant scene with Viv and Iron Ox holding Dr. Macabre secure for the Police.

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Back at the Harrow homestead, Nick and Mara were waiting anxiously along with Julia and Luke. They hadn’t had any direct telepathic communication with Viv, JD or Jessie since they left, aside from some ‘OMG!’ blurbs that were probably unintended. Vic, Bart and Asha were also hanging around, not needing telepathy to pick up that something was wrong.

Vic was about to ask what the matter was, when Nick got a call on his smartphone. “Oh yes, yes, come on in,” he said with the air of a man caught by surprise. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Uncle Luke startled and bustled into a closet. Nick opened the door. “Yes?”

“Mister Harrow!” Gordon Adler greeted him. “A pleasure to finally meet you face to face!” Behind Adler were Viv, JD and JJ, all beaming with pride. Nick numbly showed Adler in, introduced Mara and his mother and almost started to introduce his brother Luke, when he realized that Luke had made himself scarce (or at least invisible) and why that was a good idea. “While I’ve made clear that I regard your boy JJ as a remarkable young man, your other two children- no, Young Adults- have proven that they’re cut from the same outstanding cloth. Your son John showed the kind of bravery and mettle that HEROES are made of! And Vivian! Beyond the canny technical expertise and physical savvy that she showed at the Exhibition, she has gained extraordinary strength, in a manner that I… frankly don’t understand.”

Nick and Adler nattered away at each other for a good 20 minutes as Viv, JD and Jessie stood there, furiously trying to keep something in. Finally Nick managed to weasel-talk Adler out the door without committing to the nebulous point that Adler was trying to get a tacit agreement to. Nick shut the door and started to address his three eldest, but his mother held up a staying hand. A few minutes later she said, “Okay, they’re past the gate, so there’s no ‘One More Thing. Now, what were you three holding in so hard?”

Viv, JD and Jessie answered by breaking out in hysterical laughter. ‘JJ’ changed back to Jessie in the ‘Miss Scarlet’ overcoat over the ‘Miss Champion’ outfit- and a set of bruises that compared well with the set that JD was sporting. Viv put her back to one of the walls and fell into a squat with laughter. JD almost squashed Raffles, the family cat, as he fell into the couch. When they laughed themselves out, Julia asked dryly, “I take it that your raid went well this time.”

That triggered another storm of laughter. Finally JD gasped out, “IT! Went! Great!” JD, Jessie and Viv traded off- or more accurately bulldozed over each other- telling the story of their raid, with Jessie and JD competing to produce the most impressive prize, though JD did have to resort to pilfering Instrumentality plates from Jessie’s ‘Miss Scarlet’ coat. Luke (who’d put his emotive mask back on, with an overcoat and gloves) gasped with Mad Science Greed at the Instrumentality plates. “These! These are Instrumentality power plates! The Mad Science websites claim that the Instrumentality got these from Deicide himself! We have No Idea how these things work! It’s a totally unprecedented technology! These could be the basis for a whole new techno-industrial paradigm!”

For her part, Juliet looked at one of the plates that Vivian had brought out and asked, “How did you get these past Security? I mean, from what the News said, it was a complete madhouse, but you were the center of so much attention that it would have been almost impossible to pull any of the usual stunts to get it past the barrier. Even Jessie’s illusory mask couldn’t stop the metal detectors and such.”

“We didn’t,” JD explained. “Jessie passed the power stones and plates around to the various super-scientists. THEY got these past Security. And then we stopped the ones that Jessie fobbed them off on, and got them back. They were so busy patting themselves on the back that it didn’t register that we wasting valuable spotlight time chatting them up.”

JD waved that aside, “BUT, this time the First Place is all Viv’s. First her plan goes off with a few hitches, but nothing we can’t handle. Then she has a major power-up and becomes a Gadgeteer!”

“You realized your gadgeteer potential?” Luke asked, giving Viv a big hug.

“Yeah!” Viv gushed. “It was just, like. BOOM! Suddenly all the boring Science classes made sense!”

“AND, after that, after sending the AG cores to Uncle Luke, earning 300 MILLION,” JD said with a big grin on his face, draping an arm around Viv’s shoulder, “she manages to capture a supervillain and FIVE of the Instrumentality’s armored goons!”

“Which supervillain?” Nick asked warily.

“Doctor Macabre.”

Luke let out a dismissive farrup. “Cobb? That creep? Don’t worry about it; nobody gives a rat’s ass about that disgrace to Science. The Syndicate will get him out, but they’ll take their time. As for the Instrumentality Retrievers, they’re paid mercenaries. They get paid to take the risk.”

Jessie took over from JD, “And she goes on so she doesn’t NEED the money from the rewards to go to Whatley! She zoomed Gordon Adler and Dr. Helen Smart AND Krystal Doam so they’re ALL jockeying to mentor her and pay her way through Whateley!”

“It was a pleasure to watch her work,” JJ said with a tear in his eye.

Nick, Mara, Juliet and Luke all broke down in gales of laughter as Vic, Bart and Asha looked on in bewilderment. “If I work it right, I might still be able to deduct the costs of your tuition from my Income Tax!” Nick gasped through laughter.

“And I know how I’m gonna play Whateley,” Viv said. “Jessie will hook up with the Supervillain’s Kid’s club- or whatever they call it.”

“We called ourselves the ‘Legion of Evil’,” Nick said. “But that changes all the time. Don’t worry- just hook up with Mr. Magic’s girl, Gwen; she’ll get you connected.”

“I joined ‘Mad Scientists for a Better Tomorrow,” Luke put in.

“Right. And I’ll use Gordon Alder’s- or Helen Smart’s or Krystal Doam’s- connections to get into the Wannabe Superhero Club or the Adventuring Scientist of Tomorrow, whatever- as INTREPID, Girl Adventurer!” Viv tossed her head and copped a dramatic heroic pose.

“So you can give the Legion a heads up when the Wannabe Superheroes are gearing up to lay a smackdown on them?” Nick asked. “Hey, they do that, every so often, no matter what the Faculty says.”

“No, so I’ll know how they think!” Viv insisted. “Only an idiot just goes out, says ‘I’m a Master Criminal’, and tries to pull a complicated heist,” she continued, tactfully glossing over the fact that that was pretty much what she had been doing. “Heck, Dad, you got a Bachelors in Criminology as well as your Masters in Economics.”

“Best move I ever made,” Nick gloated. “That concentration was worth all the money and maneuvering to get me into Yale.”

“That, and skinning the children of the Old Guard at cards, and some spectacularly profitable Insider Trading,” Juliet mused.

“I call dibs on Jeannie Yes as a Nemesis,” Jessie called out. Viv shot Jessie a peeved glare.

aaawww…” JD whined, “I was hoping for some hot Batwoman/ Catman action with her.”

Viv waved that aside. “And I noticed something about the Scientific Community at the Symposium. For all their yap about the Noble Cause of Science, they were backstabbing and upstaging each other left and right.”

“We call it ‘the Law of Conservation of Funding’,” Luke explained. “There’s a finite amount of grant money out there, and Project Directors have their retirements to think of.”

“So, what the lab rats at Whateley will really need, more than just another eager young genius, is someone who can arrange funding, materials, various resources, and keep them focused, so a team guided by someone who understand the principles involved will be more effective than the same number of brains all going their own way. And, of course, as just such a leader, MY name will be the first one on any report or published paper.”

“Mother of God,” Luke croaked, “we’ve created an Evil R&D Director!”

“AND, after I’ve graduated from MIT or CalTech- or both- I’ll set up my own R&D firm, even as I make strategic strikes as DOCTOR SAVANT!

“NO!” Vic roared, yelling up on his tippy-toes at his eldest- and most annoying- sister. “I’M gonna be Doctor Savant!” Not that he wanted that nom de crime, but he’d rather be flayed alive and rolled in salt than let his dimbulb big sister crib his action as the family tech-head.

Viv responded by yelling back that SHE was going to be Dr. Savant, and HE wasn’t even out of Grade School!

Mara let them yap at each other for a bit, seeing potential in this new manifestation of Sibling Rivalry. “Now now, Vivian- Victor- there’s a very simple answer to this. Whoever graduates first with a Doctorate gets to be Dr. Savant. It has to be a real doctorate in some real science, from a real brick & mortar school. No diploma mills, no online courses, no fancy pieces of paper churned out with Photoshop. Of course, you’ll both be expected to pay for your schooling, and being kicked out before graduation doesn’t count.”

Viv and Vic locked gazes, and there was a sense of street racers waiting for the flag to drop.

Seeing that it was time to get off that volatile subject, Mara asked, “And what happened to the Joyous Garde and Atlantean Relics?”

“The Joyous Garde stuff was crap,” Jessie said. “More PR than substance. As for the Atlantean stuff, it looked promising, but with all the running around and ‘Pow!’ ‘Bam!’ ‘Whammo!’ going on, we lost track of it, aaannndd… I think that sleazebag Doc Cambion got away with it.”

“Yeah, he also snagged that ‘Eye of Lemuria’ gadget of yours, Mom,” JD said. “At least he’ll drive himself nuts trying to figure it out.”

“Really?” Mara considered that with a feline smirk. “If Cambion has the mock Eye, then finding it- and him- would be child’s play.”

Nick caught that and a wide smile crossed his face. Assuming an erect posture, his left arm behind his back, head thrown back, a stern look now on his face he said briskly, “I would be morally WRONG to let a scumbag like Cambion get those precious relics. Clearly,” his voice assumed a harsh English Midlands accent, “it’s time that ne’er-do-well met… Cap’n Ransack!”

Viv and Jessie gave Mara a look. “Now, now, your father was wearing himself out worrying about you three, especially after the first news reports about that riot came out. Let him have the fun, he needs to blow off some steam.”


Read 3823 times Last modified on Monday, 24 July 2023 01:49


4 months ago
Heh...I love it! Complicated plots within plots within plots, with a generous dash of fun stirred in for flavor.
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4 months ago
*Snickerfits* Seems that Jessie is not the only one who runs a "Hero" ID now.

BTW loved the Xanatos Pile Up!
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4 months ago
Additional, Ms R&D might already have competition in the form of He's Bat-Goodkind
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