A Whateley Universe Story
The Mark of Miss Scarlet!
Bek D Corbin
While there are many downsides to being a Criminal Mastermind, one of the perks is being able to make your own hours. Nick Harrow casually went down the back stairs in his pajamas and green velvet dressing gown. In the kitchen, Mara was helping the housekeeper with the early morning scramble of getting the kids fed, dressed and ready for school. However, this morning there were two noteworthy oddities at the table. “Jessie?” he asked his newly minted daughter, who appeared to have reverted to JJ, the boy she had been, down to the school uniform. Thing was, Nick enjoyed his morning time with Jessie, as Mara was busy with other things. “What’s this?” Given the enthusiastic way that Jessie had embraced femininity, he would have expected wailing and tears, not stoic acceptance if she’d reverted.
“I gotta go to school and challenge my exams,” Jessie explained through a mouthful of scrambled eggs.
“Manners, dear,” Juliet, Nick’s mother and grandmother to the children, said sternly, reminding her that talking with your mouth full was rude.
Jessie acknowledged that, closed mouth and swallowed. “It’s a pain, and it’ll take hours, but I’ll ACE whatever they throw at me.”
Nick nodded approvingly. Positive thinking was crucial in the Harrow household. Nick and Mara had used the inevitable sibling rivalry to teach their offspring that victory was always possible; not certain, not easy, but possible, with preparation, hard work and daring. JJ had racked up enough near-victories against JD and Vivian that he’d kept at it, despite formidable opposition. Jessie might not come back with straight As but she’d come back with marks that would do them proud.
Doing any less would give her siblings too much ammunition.
“And what’s with you, Viv?” he asked his eldest daughter, who was furiously going over books, notebooks, notepads, a laptop and a cell phone. “Final exams aren’t for weeks! Why are you cramming so hard?”
“This isn’t for school, daddy,” Vivian answered, making sure to clear her mouth before she spoke. “I’m getting my research materials straight, so I can work on them at school, without anyone peeking over my shoulder and seeing anything they shouldn’t.” She shot an annoyed look at Asha, who was wearing her kindergarten best. Asha just stuck her tongue out back at her.
“Another heist for Miss Scarlet?”
“Yeah, but the important thing is that I’ve figured out where I was going wrong on getting Iron Ox’s power belt back to him.”
“Yeah, I got stuck on the idea that I, Vivian Harrow, would give it back to him and get all kinds of props for that. But if I’m going to Whatley next year… so what? If anything, it might give me a bad reputation among the other supervillain kids.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Viv,” ‘JJ’ said. “Your personality will do that, all on its own.”
Viv shot her ‘brother’ an icy glare. “Anyway, if this raid goes off as planned, not only will I pick up enough money to go to Whateley, AND pay for all my guys’ medical bills if they get run through a wood chipper- which I have no intention of letting happen- AND buy a Porsche, AND not only arrange for Iron Ox to get his power belt back in a way that makes him look like a big hero, BUT it will make the Simpleminded Seven look like total CHIMPS, so they’ll back off and let the M5 handle the superhero action in this area.”
“Oh?” JD asked, leaning over the table at the notes. “Wha’cha got planned, Viv?”
“LATER,” she said sternly, pulling her materials together and giving her big brother a nasty glare.
Later, that afternoon, Jessie- not ‘JJ’- strutted into the briefing room in the complex under the Harrow household. She held her arms high, a big grin on her face and trumpeted, “I came, I saw, I KICKED ASS!”
Mara followed her daughter with a smug look of maternal satisfaction on her face.
“Okay, now that the kiddie portion of our program is over,” Viv, who was standing at the podium wearing her Miss Scarlet costume with the scarf down, said with a dismissive sneer, “can we get to the reason I’ve called this meeting?”
“Why did you call all of us in on this?” Luke said from one of the seats in the second row. “You handled all of your projects strictly on your own before.”
“Yeah, that thing that I’m supposed to handle my big score on my own,” Viv said with an annoyed tone. “But the real thing is that I get the money to go to Whateley, and that I get Iron Ox’s strength girdle back to him, so the M5 can keep the Sensational Seven from shouldering them out of the area. And I’ve come up with a way of doing those two things, but there’s no way that I can pull it off all on my own. AND, there’s the fact that if certain parties insist on muscling in on my scores,” she shot JD and Jessie blistering glares, “then I can at least make sure that it’s according to MY plan and schedule.”
JD and Jessie just smirked back at her from their seats.
Getting down to business, Viv keyed in something at her podium, and the wide-screen monitor behind her displayed a modern-style split-level building. “This is the Gibraltar Event Pavilion. It’s used to house various public and private events where high security is an issue. In 10 days, it’s going to house the annual Havoc ‘Horizons in Science’ symposium.”
Nick let out a guffaw. “You’re going to raid Miles Havoc’s yearly science fair for lab rats with delusions of grandeur? HAH!” Nick had been playing games with Miles Havoc ever since their college days. Luke and Mara joined in the merry games of one-upmanship, and while JD and the other kids hadn’t gotten in on the fun yet, it was only a matter of time. “So, which baking soda volcano are you going to steal?”
“Well,” Viv said, “among the exhibits that are going to be on display for the first day public screening are:
- ‘Ancient Atlantean Relics’
- Dynamorph Technology
- Fragments of Slow Glass
- Nanotech boring equipment
- New Maglev technology
- Power gems
- Rare samples of exotic plant life
- Relics from the ‘Dolorous Garde’ dig
- The Skeleton of the ‘Theleme Giant’
And of course there will be other exhibits that won’t warrant one of the Gibraltar’s trademark ‘security kiosks’.”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Luke said. “That’s a nice juicy selection of targets; you should be able to confuse Security as to what you’re up to if your game is good. What’s your real target?”
“None of them,” Viv said with a smirk. “Figuring that I couldn’t go wrong targeting the Goodkinds, I asked Electric Eddie if he had anything good that involved them.” The adults in attendance immediately sobered up. While messing with the Havocs was good clean and frequently profitable fun, they regarded giving the notoriously anti-mutant Goodkinds grief as somewhere between a Duty to Mutant-kind and simple Self-Preservation. “Our favorite hacker has been tracking the activity of another outlaw hacker who he knows does black hat jobs for the Goodkinds, the kind of jobs they don’t want their regular computer people to handle. It turns out that this net-monkey hacked into the Gibraltar’s files and changed their records to show that the contents of one of the ultra-secure vaults had been removed, when it hadn’t. Curious, Eddy found out that the contents of that vault were 12 Cavorite Anti-Gravity cores. Anti-Gravity cores retail for 50 Million a pop. And didn’t I hear that the Syndicate is hurting for AG cores?” she finished with a foxy grin.
“Why would the Goodkinds leave 600 million worth of esoteric technology to gather dust in a third party vault?” Jessie asked, leaning forward, studying the schematic of the AG core displayed on the screen.
“I’m not sure,” Viv admitted.
“It’s a reasonable question,” Nick cut in, “but we’re talking about the Goodkinds. It could be anything from a very elevated version of the margarine tanker scam that Vesco used, to a birthday present from Bruce to his brother Herb. The real point is that when you talk about losing 600 million, even the Goodkinds go ‘ouch’.”
“What do the Gibraltar’s ultra-secure vaults have to do with the Havocs’ science fair?” JD asked. “And why does Gibraltar have ultra-secure vaults on the same premises as their secure events facility?”
“What the Symposium has to do with the ultra-secure vaults,” Viv said coyly, “is that the Symposium is being held right OVER the ultra-secure vaults. The vaults are Hamilton™ vaults, constructed of 8” of reinforced high-impact concrete with an interior sheath of 4” of tool steel, insulated with an anti-phase electrified mesh, clad with 3mm of Stavorite©, sitting on a foundation of TWENTY FEET of reinforced concrete, and capped with 10 feet of reinforced concrete. The General Activities Area, where the Symposium will be held, acts as a monitored ‘open’ area for the ultra-secure vault, and the vaults act as an anti-tunneling buffer for the General Activities Area. The main monitoring complex can keep tabs on both of them, and they don’t need a second Quick Response corridor for their Heavy Responders.
“My plan is for me to enter the Symposium in civilian clothes, along with JD, Jessie and my Redcoats, who will be dressed as Primateur Security™ guards hired for the occasion, all separately, being guided by text messages on our phones. JD, Jessie and I will all be carrying ‘samples’ of various projects that we’re supposed to show to Professor Havoc or Dr. Helen Smart or whatever double-dome they stick with the Kid Genius Science Fair. When we’re in the right place, Jessie and JD will hand me components of my red smoke generator, which I will assemble. Under the cover of the red smoke, my Redcoats will pull their overalls over their security guard togs, I’ll pull my ‘Miss Scarlet’ outfit over my clothes and Jessie will change into her ‘ALL-AMERICAN GIRL’ outfit, while keeping it on the down-low.
“Once we’re all ready, I announce myself to the assembled throng as the supervillain of the piece, and the Magnificent Five and the Senseless Seven react.”
“How do you know that the M5 and SS- dear god, there’s a superhero team called ‘the SS’; where did we go so wrong?- how do you know they’ll respond?” Juliet asked.
“Mr. Fixit is showing off two of his gadgets, probably to shore up the Seven’s profile a mite,” Viv answered. “And the M5 will show up because I’ll send them the usual ‘Riddler’ clue. I’ll handle the Seven without too much problem; I’ve added a function to my omni-gun that will disrupt their stopgap power harnesses. Then I’ll mix it up with the M5 a bit, let some of the more adventurous eggheads take their best shots, and let Gibraltar Security respond. Then I amp up the red cloud, and JJ switches into my Miss Scarlet outfit as I change into MY new secret identity- THE TEK RAIDER!” She put up a good-sized inset on the monitor, of a figure in clunky silver overalls with bits and pieces of high tech here and there, a different multi-weapon - and Iron Ox’s power talisman. “I’ll be wearing Iron Ox’s power girdle and all the Simpering Seven’s power dinguses, except for Captain Inept’s force field/ flight belt, and well, you got any new doodads you want tested under fire, Unk?” Luke just waved her on, in a ‘we’ll thrash out the details later’ way.
“Then JJ, posing as ‘Miss Scarlet’, and I mix it up a little, let the others think that Miss Scarlet and the Tek Raider are two separate people, do some serious damage to various security installations, and try to break into the armored kiosk housing the Dynamorph Dinguses. Then there’s the sound of the ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’; Miss Scarlet says ‘Curses, Foiled Again!’ blends into the smoke, just in time for ALL AMERICAN GIRL to make her entrance!”
“Why the switch?” JD asked.
“Because that’s the cue for my Redcoats to shuck their overalls, get back into their security goon duds,” Viv explained. “Their orders will be to go to the Emergency Responder and Catering areas, and take specific gurneys and catering carts to the ultra-secure vault area.”
Viv turned her gaze to Nick and Mara. “Mom, Dad, you’ve always told us that we could tack on all the bells and whistles we want onto a plan, but the core plan has to be very simple. All this that I’ve shown you? Bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors. The REAL plan is that as soon as ‘Miss Scarlet’ shows her true colors, JD steps into- or, more likely phases through- the armored kiosk protecting GKI’s new nanotech ‘penetrating bore’ exhibit. Electric Eddie made sure that this kiosk was placed right over the vault containing the AG cores. JD will phase through the concrete and into the vault. He’ll open the Emergency Safety Release that all vaults have to have by Law, and let my guys in. They’ll load the cases containing the cores into the catering carts and gurneys, and they’ll be removed from the Event Pavilion in catering trucks and ambulances. All the rest is to keep Security, the Doctor Quest wannabes and any stray superheroes that might be there too busy handling ‘the crisis’ to go see what the alarm down in the vault is. How’s THAT for simple?”
“I wouldn’t start practicing my evil laughs just yet, Viv,” JD said. “There’s a material problem with your insidious scheme- two as a matter of fact. The Stavorite sheath that protects the vault? I can’t penetrate Stavorite, it’s too dense. That’s one of the reasons they use the crap. And, even if I could get past the Stavorite, there’s an electrified mesh on the other side of that. The Stavorite would stop me; the mesh would fry me.”
“Why Jay-Dee!” Viv jeered, “How did you ever get your Golden Boy reputation with a roll-over-and-die attitude like that? The reason that I had Electric Eddie reserve that specific spot for the GKI exhibit is that it’s right over one specific very thin plate of Stavorite that was placed there to cover an accident during the construction and never replaced. GKI has their penetrating bore punching holes in tool steel for the exhibit, but the extending piston has a 40 foot full extension. And, the piston can be redirected- like, straight DOWN.”
“You’re going to drill through reinforced concrete?” JD said incredulously. “Oh, that wouldn’t be conspicuous, not at ALL!”
“Not ‘drill’,” Viv corrected him, “’Penetrating bore’. It doesn’t work by brute force scraping concrete apart. It uses nanites to ‘erode’ the stuff apart, one molecule at a time. But it’s still doing this once every one-ten-thousandth of a second, across a surface that has literally hundreds of thousands of the ‘nites on a site the size of the point of a needle. That thing can cut through reinforced concrete like a hot knife through soft butter. It even has a built in system to extract the resulting dust and pipe it into a reservoir.”
“And what about the Stavorite?”
“ah, No. But I already thought of that! You send the bit down to the Stavorite, and then withdraw the piston. You drop a demo packet of 12 ounces of Semtex™ into the hole, and cover it with the piston. That should be enough to reduce the Stavorite to a fine dust AND destroy that mesh you were so worried about. You pull the piston up again, go down the hole, push aside what Stavorite is left, and phase through the ruined electrical mesh and concrete.”
“If you can, bring me back a sample of the penetrating bit,” Luke asked. “If I can reverse-engineer it, I could add a nasty new tool to my kit.”
“How loud will the penetrating bit be?” Nick asked.
“I’m not sure,” Viv admitted. “But given that the real action is at the molecular level, I’d say the noisiest element will be the pump drawing the dust to the reservoir.”
“How long will it take?” Jessie asked.
“Well, GKI’s been having it erode holes in an inch of tool steel within 15 seconds, so assuming that absolute hardness is the key, using that concrete is significantly softer than tool steel and taking it from there, I’d say roughly 10 minutes. The bore width they’ve been using is 5 inches, but it’s variable, and I doubt that the width will affect the cut time that much.”
“Ten minutes?” Jessie reeled, “That’s a long time to keep busy a bunch of people who pride themselves on being real quick on the uptake.”
“Jay-jay,” Viv said through an acidulous smile, “your take from this will be one of the AG cores. If Uncle Luke can get us the Syndicate 15%, instead of the usual 5% from the fences, your end will be seven and a half MILLION. I think that 7.5 Mil is good pay for 10 minutes work. JD, you’ll be getting the same.”
“Jessie and I are getting paid the same?” JD asked. “But I’m the one pulling off the crucial move. She’s just a distraction.” Jessie just responded by sticking out her tongue.
“She’s gonna be getting shot at, Jay-Dee. And so am I.”
“How much will you be taking?”
“Half. Six cores. It’s MY raid.”
Loudly clearing his throat to avoid it getting unpleasant, Nick asked, “The most important part of any raid is the getaway. Stirring up a hornet’s nest is all very good, but once you’ve got the cores out of the vault, how are you going to get them out securely?”
Viv nodded at her father. “I have three plans. Plan A is they go out in the catering carts, like I said. But if the Police have too tight a cordon for that, Plan B is to evacuate the cores hidden in ambulance gurneys. But that requires that there be casualties. And I’d really prefer to avoid that.” She suddenly went from cool confident trainee master criminal to all-too vulnerable teenage girl.
“Plan C is why I’m bringing you into this, Uncle Luke. One of the catering carts we’ll be taking in will be an anchor for your Boom Tube. JD will contact you, reconfigure the gurney into its anchoring form, and you’ll boom the cores, along with JD and my Redcoats, out of the pavilion. You’ll get two of the cores for doing it.”
“And what about the last two cores?” Nick asked.
“You get them,” Viv answered. In response to her father’s ‘why?’ arched eyebrow, she continued. “The rest of the Semi-competent Seven’s gear is pretty point-and-shoot. But as you told JJ, super-speed isn’t. You gotta train at it, or you’ll be more of a threat to yourself than your targets. And super-speed training requires specialized gear and like that. Super-speed is too da-dang useful, especially in concert with all the rest of the junk, to leave out. And if you don’t have that specialized gear and so on, I’m willing to bet that you can arrange for it- for 15 Mil.”
Jessie raised a hand. “Problem. I’ve built all my moves as All-American Girl around Moonbeam’s gravity fluxer. Well, at least the ones I developed since I got the fluxer. And between you, Blue Moon and Moonbeam all using gravity flux at some point, it could get very nasty. Also, All-American Girl’s outfit is way too obvious, with the Stetson, boots and lariat, for me to sneak it past the kind of security they’ll have. And having All-American Girl trip the S7 up three times out of three would be pushing my luck. The Green Beacon I could pull off, but a blaster in that kind of situation? That’s just asking for grief. And Lightbringer would be… WAY too suspicious.
“So what say I drag Miss Champion out of the mothballs, and borrow Maxiwoman’s power shoulder pads? Hey, flight, nigh-invulnerability and super-strength: simpler AND more useful. And since getting Iron Ox’s girdle back to him is a big part of all this, having Maxiwoman’s gear would be gilding the lily.”
Viv thought about it and nodded her agreement.
“Hey Viv!” JD cut in. “I’ve been trying to hire a crew of my own minions, but I’m having a hard time finding anyone worth the effort. If this comes off, you’ll be heading to Whateley, so… y’mind if I recruit a few of your Redcoats?”
“The Redcoats are MY team,” Viv said possessively, her lips pressed thin and her eyes narrow.
“And how will they pay their bills, when you’re off at school?” JD riposted.
“You don’t have to hand them over,” Nick cut in. “Just let JD sound them out, let them know that if they find themselves at loose ends, he’s willing to hire them.”
Viv didn’t like it. They were HER men, and she’d put a lot of time and effort into grooming them into an effective force. But she couldn’t ignore the fact that they weren’t a bunch of Barbie™ dolls that she could put up on a shelf and forget about. Clearly not happy about it, she nodded. “And, finally, Mom, Gram, there’s something vitally necessary that I need you two to handle.”
“What’s that, dear?” Juliet asked, surprised at being brought into the matter.
Viv brought out three tennis balls and threw them into the auditorium. The balls flew normally, until at the last second they jinked off in different directions. They flew into apparently empty areas, but you could hear a yip of surprise, a bark of pain and a squeak of shock. “I need you two to SIT on those three while this is going down! It’s going to be hairy enough as it is, without the Squirt Squad getting involved!”
“Ahhh….” Vivian sighed as she clipped along on her high heels in her miniskirt, “back to how it ought to be.” Behind her, her brothers JD and JJ were pushing two hand trucks loaded with crates of gear. While there were bits and pieces of sneakiness hidden among the high tech gear in the crates, the real ‘OMG what are you doing with THIS?’ gear- including Miss Scarlet’s trademark omni-gun- was cunningly built into the hand trucks.
“Feeling some changeling remorse, BRO?” JD jeered at JJ, who was disguised as a boy- again.
“If anything, I think that I should renegotiate for a bigger cut,” JJ said stoically. “I’m only doing this because I got a look at the ‘Featured Guest’ list. Besides a nasty list of two-fisted double-dome types, they’ve invited our old friend Dr. Helen Smart and that delectable Dennis Hawkins. If she sees me as Jessie, she may recognize me as the Girl Scout who made such a splash against Volsung, which might cause her to connect me with ‘Jane’, who helped get her Stinger back. It’s a long shot, but with Science Hero types, even longer shots have come in.”
“And how are you supposed to cover for Viv as Miss Scarlet like that?” JD asked.
“It’s an illusion, BRO,” JJ sneered back. “If anything, it works out better. Under this seeming, I’m wearing Miss Scarlet’s trademark hat and coat over my Miss Champion rig. No stripping off civvies, no suspicious discarded clothing to keep track of, no chance for some big brain to spot it and have it all suddenly come together to spell out the horrid twisted truth! No, I just hand Viv her stuff, and the curtain goes up. And there’s no awkward moment as I’m getting back into my civvies when it’s time for both Misses Champion and Scarlet to leave the stage; I just whistle up this mask again.” Jessie glared at her sister through the boy-mask, “But the thing is that I HAVE to do this, because someone hadda get all ‘Riddler’ and send a CLUE! Now, the joint is crawling with brainiacs all channeling their inner Sherlock Holmes, looking for more signs of the diabolical mastermind who challenged them. When I checked the symposium’s program online, it turned out that no less than FOUR big name scrambled eggheads signed on at the last minute, including Dr. Jack Wilde and Dr. Krystal Doam.”
“Krystal Doam?” JD echoed with a pained note.
“It’s not her real name,” Vivian explained. “It’s really ‘Kristen Dunn’, but after her hair fell out due to an intelligence enhancing experiment, it was either own the name or let people club her over the head with it. Besides, as for the clue, I hadda make sure that the M5 were here, so I could get Iron Ox’s belt back to him. And the best way to do that was to send them a challenge. Oh, and of course, the Seven Mental Dwarfs heard about it and just HAD to show up, so we can use them as obstacles if need be.”
“Is that her? The sexy Lex Luthor expy?” JD pointed at a sleek 30-ish woman who wore a tight fitting outfit, dramatic makeup and a completely bald head with a confident élan that suggested that anyone not so togged out simply didn’t have the right stuff to be so fashion forward.
“It might be,” Vivian admitted, “but the Science chat rooms are saying that one of the Wilde family has also gone skinhead.”
“It’s her,” Jessie sneered, “It’s the only reason she’d be wearing green and purple.” She gave her sister a curious look. “You cruise Science chat rooms?”
“Consider the people we’re going to be zooming,” Viv pointed out. “Lucky for me, for all their posturing about being too cool for school, most Science wonks gossip like mean girls. For instance, Krystal Doam is super competitive with Helen Smart, and she’s been busting her chops about losing the Eye of Lemuria after the Havocs entrusted her with it. But then, word is that Krystal has the hots for Dr. Smart’s assistant, Dennis Hawkins.”
“And can you blame her?” Jessie asked, kiting an appreciative glance at Mr. Hawkins’ backside. “What’s her shtick? Dr. Smart’s is that ‘nexialism’ thing, and having a finger in every scientific pie.”
Viv made an unsettled noise. “Eh. It’s one of those ‘negative image’ things that’s too close to the original for comfort, but almost opposite. Her thing is Analysis, studying the dynamics and principles of Analysis itself. She can tear apart a theory or study just with a glance at an essay.”
“ew,” Jessie grunted, “That must make her real popular.”
“What about the other guy you mentioned?” JD asked, keeping an eye on the line to be cleared by Security- which was not completely manned by Miss Scarlet’s minions who’d infiltrated Primateur Security, but there were three Redcoats on that watch. “Jack Wilde? What’s his big thing?”
“Well, it’s kinda weird, even by Super-Science standards,” Viv said. “His big thing is ‘Anachronistic Sites’.”
JD and JJ looked at her blankly and honked in unison, “HAH?”
“Yeah, that was exactly what I said when I read about it,” Viv admitted. “Y’know how in cheap literature explorers are always going off into the jungle or remote mountains and finding these bizarre isolated civilizations, that no one can ever find again?”
“So what?” JD said. “That’s just Edgar Rice Burroughs working a formula he thrashed out for Tarzan, giving him yet another lost Atlantean city to find.”
“But that happened in real life!”
“Again, so what?” Jessie said. “That’s just the Age of Exploration version of the ‘Producers’ scam, where a con man raises a ton of cash to put on a play that closes on the first night. Only instead of a play, it’s a ship full of supplies that he sails to another country, where he changes its name, sells it off and gives the crew a voyage’s pay for a week’s sail. If anyone finds him, he sells them a big story about finding the lost city of Ooga-Booga, and tries to con them into financing another expedition.”
“Hey, I’m not saying that it wasn’t!” Viv defended herself. “But Wilde over there,” she pointed at an athletic, tanned man in his 30s, who was wearing a safari jacket over a black turtleneck and jeans, who was holding forth in conversation with a trio of underwhelmed academics, “says that while that did happen, there were a bunch unexplained disappearances that followed reports that sound bozo, but have several strangely consistent elements.”
“What does he say it is?”
“That’s the weird thing,” Viv said. “He doesn’t have a theory. He just says that he wants to find the sites of these reports, to see if there are some common aspects, underlying phenomena, possible Germelshausen effect, explanations for lost ships, isolated languages, stranded animals way off their range, blah, blah, blah…”
“Wasn’t his great-something grandfather, the great Professor Wilde, one of the explorers who claimed something just like that?” JD asked snidely. “Something about a lost mesa inhabited by a selection of Dinosaurs that we now think didn’t even existed in the same time periods?”
“Yeah, seeing as how the Prof was the grand patriarch who established the Wildes as ass-kicking Science superstars, it would probably be a real feather in his cap, family politics-wise, if he could prove that not-so-great grampaw wasn’t a raving loon,” JJ sneered.
“And that makes it a bad strategic move for him HOW?” Viv asked rhetorically.
“Why do you think a de facto Anthropologist is attending a turbocharged hard science fair?” JD asked.
JJ snickered. “Because as part of her ‘cryptic clue’, someone threw in a reference that even Paris Hilton could have figured out meant the Eye of Lemuria. That’s probably why Dr. Smart also showed up; any chance of getting that back would mean getting the Havocs off her back.”
“Not to worry,” Viv said primly. “The beauty of this is that JJ and I will give all these stalwart defenders of Truth and Justice something to- oh, crap.”
The Security Gate for the exhibitors, even the junior exhibitors, had been kicked up three levels from what Viv had researched. Everything brought through the gate was being scanned with professional grade scanners. Even broken up, the gear they were bringing in would be detected, and given the caliber of technological expertise at this expo, it was almost a given that the gear would be recognized for what it was. And none of the men on scanner duty was one of hers.
“Wow, that clue of yours was such a great idea, wasn’t it, Sis?” JD snarked sotto voce.
“Y’know, I have a card I could play here,” JJ said. “But it’s one I’d really rather not play for various reasons.”
“Just keep telling yourself ‘Seven and a half Million dollars’,” Viv said sternly.
“Yeah, there are kids in Beverly Hills who have to mow lawns, wash cars and walk dogs all summer to make seven and a half mil,” JD said wryly.
“Get some of your guys in position to receive, and tell them I’m winging it.” Viv nodded and texted her guys doing Security Mole duty. When she spotted them in position, she gave JJ a mental nudge. Looking around, JJ spotted her pigeon and put her plan into action. “Hey! Blue Moon!” he waved to the M5 member, who was there with her team, backing up Gordon Adler, aka Golden Eagle, who was there in civilian garb. While Adler, the founder and financial backer of the Magnificent Five, didn’t publically admit to being Golden Eagle, it was so generally known that it didn’t even merit the term ‘open secret’.
Blue Moon perked up at being addressed. It took her a moment, but she recognized ‘JJ’. “Oh, JJ! What are you doing here?”
“Yeah,” Iron Ox strolled over, wearing a strength-enhancing exoskeleton. “I thought you weren’t Bill Nye, the Science Guy.”
“I’m not!” JJ replied in the tones of sharing the joke. “My sister, Vivian here, is showing off her big design, and me and my brother,” JD sketched a salute at the heroes, “are here as grunt labor. Viv wanted to show off her project here, ‘cause she’s a huge Krystal Doam fangirl.”
*JJ!* Viv snapped mentally, *what do you think you’re doing?*
*Buying you cover,* JJ replied. *At our age, the old folks expect us to be fangirling over someone. If you fangirl over Helen Smart, then Krystal will go out of her way to trip you up. And with her skills at Analysis, she could rip up your cover BAD. But if you’re kissing up to her, she’ll be too busy congratulating herself on being popular to make the effort*
*Why would she care?*
*Just look at her!* JJ sniped as Adler called over the lady in question. *Being in Smart’s shadow is eating her up! And losing her hair probably took a sledgehammer to her pride. She needs some positive strokes, and she won’t be very picky about where she gets them*
Viv shot a ping of annoyance at JJ, but using the exact same acting chops as she’d used on Dr. Helen Smart (something that would have driven Krystal nuts if she’d known it) gave Dr. Doam the big starry-eyes of hero worship. And, to give Jessie her due, Krystal ate it up with a spoon.
“What are you showing here, Dr. Doam?” Viv asked with the proper not-quite gushing reverence.
“Not much,” Krystal said with an assertive snip. “Just a few gizmos. I’m really here to make sure that no one tries to slip any cold fusion under the radar.”
“There’s more to verifying esoteric advances in Science and Technology than applying French Literary Criticism,” a middle-aged but trim and muscular man in a Symposium uniform blazer with the logo on the breast said. “Empirical Rigor is not ripping things apart willy-nilly and thinking that you’ve disproven something by sneering at it.”
“Why HELLO, Miles!” Krystal breezed dismissively. “And I agree with you: my technique is light years beyond French Literary Criticism.” Then she took in the three young people backing up Dr. Miles Havoc, a muscular college age man, a trim athletic high school age boy, and a carrot-topped girl who might be in Kindergarten or First Grade. The boys were wearing tailored Symposium blazers; the girl was wearing a Symposium T-shirt over a print dress. Even as she gave the college boy an appreciative leer, Krystal said, “I see you’ve made another family outing of it. Where’s Gloria? Is she still tending your daughter, the one who was so badly mauled in Indonesia?”
Refusing to be baited, Dr. Havoc said, “Melody is in New York, where she’s healthy and doing wonderfully. Gloria is at International Crisis’ Pacific Staging area on Molokai. There’s been an underwater volcano eruption off the coast of Togo, and IC is on Yellow Alert, pending developments.”
Hoping to keep their party from getting dragged into a Scientific Bitch-fight, JJ asked, “And what are you exhibiting, Mr. Adler?”
Adler beamed, “Let me show you,” and waved, JJ, JD, Viv and their gear past Security. While she never took her eyes off Mr. Adler, JJ sent a silent telepathic *NYEH!* at Vivian.
Adler led Dr. Doam and the three Harrows to an exhibit that was surrounded by a very wide squat transparent plastic cylinder. Inside the tube was an arrangement of gear that looked like a cross between a vertical wind turbine and a washing machine agitator. “THIS is the ‘Pecos Bill Twister Buster’,” he said proudly.
“’Twister Buster’?” Krystal echoed skeptically.
“The idea is that the Buster could be towed into the path of an oncoming tornado, anchored and grounded, and it would use the power of the twister’s own winds to create-” from there, Adler launched into a techno-spiel that had all three Harrows, despite their telepathy, going ‘HAH?’ Adler finished with, “The crux of the concept is to induce pressure patterns to complete the cyclonic cycle on fast-forward, before the twister can do more damage.”
“Why not simply derail the cyclone’s pattern with the ionic-” Dr. Doam went off on another techno-spiel that at least suggested that Adler wasn’t talking out of his ass.
“Because the cyclone is just the tip of the iceberg,” Adler said in the tones of getting to his real point. “The twister is simply the obvious manifestation of massive pressure fronts covering a huge region. If you disrupt the tornado, the pressure is still there, and it will just cause another twister somewhere else, where people haven’t evacuated yet.”
Krystal stood, hands on hips, eyebrows high, eyes wide as she considered it. “So, by causing the tornado cycle to discharge in a single fixed location at an accelerated rate, you can reduce the property damage the tornado does drastically and the casualty rate will shrink even more, and the costs of housing the displaced will dwindle. And, theoretically, this will work without the byproduct effects on the greater weather system that other anti-storm measures have had.” Krystal blinked, looked at the barebones schematic on the protective cylinder, and said, “Well, there are three more ‘proprietary technology’ black boxes than I’m comfortable with, but the concept is sound, and the process I’m seeing makes sense. But I don’t see a patent number.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Adler owned up. “It works, but it’s… clunky, I’m not entirely happy with it. The main problem is coping with the secondary feedback energy from the vortex. I’m shunting it off into the ground, but I’m looking for something more elegant, hopefully some way of turning the vortex’s energy back on itself. I’m showing it, hoping that a few people will try to guess what the ‘black boxes’ are and come up with some serendipity.”
“A trifle hardball,” Krystal said, “but nothing compared to what some ‘heroic’ people get up to. Isn’t that RIGHT, Stanley?” she gave a leering grin in the direction of Stanley ‘Mr. Fixit’ Fitzhugh, the founder, leader and main backer of the ‘Sensational Seven’, who had a reputation for poaching other researchers’ developments, though he was hardly alone on that issue.
Fitzhugh, who was wearing his gray armored ‘Mr. Fixit’ jumpsuit, without his signature component rack, just gave Krystal a snide smile. “What’s to get excited about? It’s just a pile of bits and pieces that other engineers created, all jumbled together.”
“So was Bell’s first telephone,” Adler shot back. Fitzhugh just gave Adler another snide smile and strolled back to where the rest of the Sensational Seven were gathered, in costume around his own exhibit.
“Was that such a bright idea, just letting him go like that?” JJ asked. “I mean even a junior high school kid like me could figure out a way of hiding a video camera in the rig he’s wearing.”
“I hope he is,” Adler smirked through a smug smile. “That plastic barrier has an infrared filter on it, and the overhead lights have a secondary system of strobing IR projectors, all pulsing at 16,000 flashes per second. It doesn’t matter what imaging system he’s using, he’ll have to put in hours just to make out the silhouette, scr- forget about any details.”
Krystal gave Adler a sour lopsided ‘boys being boys’ smile. “Well, Vivian, what say we get you to your exhibit set up- while you still have some youthful idealism left.” Krystal led the three loaded siblings (without offering to carry anything), to the proper table at the ‘Young Scientists’ section of the Symposium. JD silently made a telepathic crack about the tragic lack of baking soda volcanoes. Looking around, Krystal said, “Wow. Are these kids taking double majors with Marketing?”
Indeed, the other junior exhibitors were going well out of their way to provide as much visual punch to their displays as they could. And amply demonstrating that God has a nasty sense of humor, the teenage girl whose table was right next to the one assigned to Viv practically had ‘future Science Heroine’ up in neon over her stall. As well as the hard light projector that was the centerpiece of her display, she had multiple widgets on stands with expository plaques for each of them. She also had pictures of herself rock climbing, competing in Gymnastics, and fighting in a martial arts tournament, with certificates and ribbons for most of them.
Despite themselves, both Viv and Jessie paused and did silent ‘antagonist growls’ at her. The fact that she’d taken up half of Viv’s table with the less photogenic components of her display didn’t help. Dr. Doam leaned over to say something to the girl, but the benign softness of her features hardened when she saw a picture of the girl with Dr. Helen Smart. Then her gaze settled on an attempt to replicate Dr. Smart’s trademark ‘Stinger’. “I’m sorry, dear,” Krystal said in her snottiest-yet-strictly-polite tones, “But it’s against Symposium rules for minors to have weapons, Miss…”
“Good, you understand, Miss…?”
“Yes. That’s my name, Jeannie Yes.”
“Does that mean that you’re a girl who can’t say No?” JD asked puckishly, giving Jeannie one of his patented ‘you are going crush on me major’ smiles.
As Jeannie simpered back at JD, Dr. Doam said, “That’s NICE, dear. But you still have to take that weapon down and take it apart. And if you also remove that, that, that and that,” she pointed at the more offending exhibits (especially the PR shot with Helen Smart), “you might even be able to find space for the gear that you stowed on Miss Harrow’s table.” Krystal finished with a glare that said ‘move it or lose it’.
Krystal watched as Viv set up her own display, and glowed with patroness’ pride as Viv squabbled with Jeannie Yes over access to the power sockets. “You’ve got the chops, honey,” she cooed to Viv. Then, checking out Jeannie Yes’ primary display, she said, “Well. Another hard light project. Well, I suppose that it was inevitable. But please, dear, tell me that you’re doing something original, and not another lame attempt at ‘3D TV’.”
“Or a ‘virtual keyboard’,” Viv said with a snook at Jessie.
“Oh, this is far more involved than ‘3D TV’,” Jeannie insisted. She keyed an initiation sequence into her keyboard, and the projector flared, creating a wire-cage image of a humanoid figure (except for the bottom half, that tapered to a point), which then resolved into an image of the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin cartoon.
“Oh, it’s far more involved than 3D TV,” Krystal snarked. “It’s Copyright Infringement.”
“It’s Fair Use,” Jeannie insisted. “The distinctive image merely sets a context, it isn’t the selling point. This figure provides a physical context for the interplay of hard light fields, allowing it to manipulate physical objects.” Jeannie activated a program with her cell phone, and the grinning blue ‘genie’ started moving small objects around one at a time. “My pattern scheme has enough structural strength to actually move objects. Small objects, but the point is that the fields have enough cohesion to kinetically affect solid objects.” A middle aged couple, clearly her doting father and patient mother, backed her up with parental glows of pride.
“And what are you bringing to the show, miss?” Mr. Yes asked with a note of dismissive challenge. He beckoned a TV reporter covering the show over, no doubt to show off the humiliating disparity between the two projects.
The reporter, seeing a chance to make a little airtime with a spat between two girl geniuses, made sure of her makeup and then had Jeannie give her explanation and demonstration for the camera. “And your exhibit, Miss Harrow?” the reporter asked, hoping for something dramatic.
Viv placed a sphere the size of an orange over a stand. The ball floated a good four inches over the stand.
“What?” Jeannie sneered, “Magnetic Levitation? You brought a magnetic levitation gimmick to this exhibition?”
Dr. Doam looked a little stressed, but Viv simply said, “NO, not magnetic levitation.” She waved a clear plastic compass under the ball, and the needle barely reacted. “Anti-Gravity.”
“That’s impossible!” Jeannie snapped. “Anti-Grav takes thousands of Megawatts to achieve!”
“The ball is also made out of a ceramic, not metal,” Krystal said taking the sphere from its place, making sure of it, and then gingerly replacing it.
“This is an application of the Norman Dean model of vibratory gravity distortion,” Viv explained. “This stand is a directional speaker beaming 3500 megahertz up at the target sphere, simultaneously reducing the sphere’s weight by 87.4% and providing upward impetus. And it’s doing it at a fraction, a percentile of the energy cost of Cavorite cores.”
“So… we’re talking mass market Anti-Gravity?” the reporter asked, agog at the idea of having first report on a massive, industry-changing technological advance.
“Ah, No,” Viv admitted. “While this is feasible, it’s not practical- yet. This is simply to demonstrate the potentials in the Dean model, which was sadly thrown out entirely when Cavorite came along. But as Miss…” Viv seemed to lock and snapped her fingers, as though to kick along the memory. “…whatever here pointed out, Cavorite AG costs thousands of megawatts to achieve; THIS, while it merely reduces the weight by a fraction, does so at the energy cost of a vacuum cleaner. If we can crack the Dean transfer tensor, we could have anti-gravity units that might only reduce the weight of an object by 5%- but so what? Railroad cars haul cargo weighing in the tens of TONS; if each car was rigged with a Dean drive reducing its weight by 5%, then you’re still lightening the load by thousands of kilos, which would more than pay for the electricity in the fuel consumption and stress on the engine, cars and rails. And the same would apply for marine and air freight. Norman Dean believed that he could increase the gravity displacement to a point where a reactionless drive could be achieved. We don’t really need a reactionless drive to make Anti-Gravity worthwhile; every percentile displaced makes transporting goods cheaper, safer and greener. For the energy cost of a vacuum cleaner.”
Viv was very glad that they’d gotten that on camera. It would make it that much easier to show Uncle Luke that she’d remembered his whole spiel.
“Well, that’s a nice circus trick,” sneered a deep, slightly gravely voice, “but over here we have something really groundbreaking!”
“Well, well,” Krystal sneered back, “Adam Baum, the Nuclear Dud. Are you still trying to pitch that ‘shrink ray’? Baum, if it had any chance of being a commercially viable process, you’d have it locked away in the Ultra-Secure vaults here, surrounded by three ranks of rabid attack-trained lawyers.”
Blithely ignoring Krystal, Dr. Adam Baum all but dragged the reporter’s attention to a table where a pair of beaming 12-year olds were presenting an odd contraption, the focus of which was a one-foot square, 4-inch thick sheet of steel. “This is Jack and Jill Hilliard, my newest protégés’-”
“I wonder how long this pair will last,” Krystal drawled. “Big Bang always has to have one or two worshipful acolytes hanging around to make him look like the Big Hero. Even for kids, it doesn’t take long for anyone smart enough to be worth his while to catch on.”
Krystal strolled over to watch Dr. Baum overbear the twin geniuses, ‘helping them’ make their demonstration, an admittedly impressive synthetic intangibility device that allowed a steel rod to penetrate a ceramic-metal amalgamate plate. If only Baum let them do it themselves.
“Okay, now’s as good a time as any to install these around the area,” Viv said, largely for Jeannie and her parent’s sake. She opened up one of the footlockers, revealing several tall ‘pillar’ type components.
On cue, Jeannie peered over Viv’s shoulder and asked, “What are those?”
“Counter-frequency generators,” Viv said taking them from the locker and setting them up. “My exhibit is vibratory biased; random sounds of the wrong frequency could disrupt it. Murphy’s Law says that it would be at the most embarrassing time. So, these will create areas of a counter-frequency that will prevent that.”
“Do you need that many, just to cover your project?” Mr. Yes asked.
“Oh, these aren’t going around my table,” Viv said, “They’re going there, there, there, there, there, there, there, there, there, there, and there.” She pointed at various spots in a rough circle about 20 yards around her table. “Make sure you explain to the other exhibitors what they’re for, and get their permission,” she told her ‘brothers’.
“Won’t that interfere with conversation and like that?” Jeannie asked, looking at the columns.
“The frequency is a narrow 15 Hz band that is well out of the range of human hearing,” Viv explained. “As for interfering with other exhibitor’s projects, that’s why I’m having them explain and ask permission first.”
As JD and ‘JJ’ picked up the columns, JD asked telepathically, *Okay, what are these things really for?*
*This is a legit Norman Dean mode Anti-Gravity project that Uncle Luke is letting me use,* Viv explained silently. *Besides making the ball float, the central stand is also reducing the gravity of everything around it by 9.7 ounces. That is not enough for people to notice, but is just enough to throw off the high-trained, finely-honed combat reflexes of all the two-fisted double-domes that are infesting the place. Ironically, my guys’ lesser training will adapt to it faster because their reflexes aren’t as sharp as the big shot Black Belts. Also, we have Blue Moon, a gravity warper, and Moonbeam, who no doubt has some form of gravity warping weapon she’ll be using, and there are definitely a bunch of other, unregistered gravity warping doodads around. The destructive and constructive interference of Gravity around here is gonna be KILLER*
*Okay, and the question as to what these things do goes unaddressed,* Jessie snarked.
*the columns widen the field of the effect,* Viv said telepathically. *It goes from a 10 meter radius to a 45 meter radius. If you need the tactical advantage of that explained, I’m sending you home in a diaper. Oh, and you’ll find packets tucked into the undersides of the bases. Stick those nearby but not on the columns. They’re boosters for my red smoke*
Viv kept Jeannie Yes from examining her AG setup too closely as JD and JJ worked the area around her table, getting permission and setting up the counter-frequency columns- and planting the red smokescreen packets in various places. Viv took advantage of Jeannie’s snoopiness to plant a smokescreen packet under Jeannie’s table. Then she got telepathic messages from JD that he was in position near the GKI kiosk, and Jessie that she was in position well away from Viv’s table but in a clear line of flight. Viv sent her men a text message that they had to a count of 20 to be ready when the curtain (of red mist) went up.
At the count of 17, Viv psychokinetically caused Jeannie’s hard light project to glitch. As Jeannie frantically tried to get her project running properly again, Viv psychokinetically pulled the carton with her ‘Tek-Raider’ outfit in it to her. She’d designed the jumped-up jumpsuit with a heavy kinetic cloth that was baggy, both so that it would conceal her gender and be easy to put on. Then she went through her gear check.
- Gadget-packed utility vest? Check!
- Green Gorgon-knockoff headset with built-in voice changer and ear protection? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Guiding Light’s bracers? Check!
- Iron Ox’s super-strength belt (over Major Speed’s belt)? Check!
- Left forearm mounted (over the bracers) chemical sprayer? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Left shoulder-mounted sonic weapon with vertigo sub-frequency? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Major Speed’s velocity belt? (under Iron Ox’s belt)Check!
- Miss Scarlet’s Multi-gun? Check!
- Moonbeam’s gravity fluxer? Check!
- Fixit’s overcomplicated auto-assembling component backpack? Check!
- Personal Force Field Generator? Because it’s a must-have? Check!
- Right forearm push-button power gauntlet? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Right shoulder mounted mini-missile launcher? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Silver Sorceress’ hard-light Illusion ‘amulet’? Check!
- ‘Tek-Raider’ multigun of a different configuration from Miss Scarlet’s? Check! But left in the box for later.
- Specially built impact absorbing running shoes? Check!
As she reeled off her checklist, it struck her that she was carrying around WAY too much extraneous gear. There was no way that she’d use all of this, and she was giving herself way too many options. She’d slow herself down trying to figure out which would be most effective. Fortunately, dropping the Iron Ox belt was her cue to skidoo, ‘cause without it, hauling that all that crap would be a herniator. But Uncle Luke said that any doink who called himself ‘Tek-Raider’ would lug around every bit of techno-crack he could lay his hands on. And, ‘dropping’ Iron Ox’s belt just when he could recover it was sort of the entire point of the whole outfit. Besides, no one had ever heard of ‘Tek-Raider’ before, so it would follow that he was new, and he’d make all sorts of rookie blunders, like going in alone, relying on his widgets.
Just as she put on her special compensating glasses, she got confirmations that all her guys were on their marks and ready, and JD and JJ also sent heads up mental impulses. With a smirk that Jeannie Yes was just getting her rig back under control, Viv hit the button on her smartphone.
Red smoke billowed out from various places of the exhibit hall (Viv had had her Redcoat moles plant ‘bombs’ as well), and there was the lovely sound of abject confusion. Ditching her jacket, which was the only part of her ensemble that wouldn’t fit into the ‘Tek-Raider’ boiler suit, Viv pulled on that boiler suit with her PK, using her hands to unfasten and refasten all the fasteners. She stepped into the overbuilt shoes and then piled on all the accessories, holding the doodads with PK as her hands did the fine work. She felt JJ leap through the red mist, taking off the Miss Scarlet coat and holding it for Viv. JJ helped her through the quick change artist bit, assisting her on with the overcoat, hat and scarf mask.
And almost immediately, Viv saw a flaw in her plan: namely, besides being heavy, the multiple layers were HOT.
JJ helped Viv get her multi-gun connected and then hustled her over to where the Redcoats were waiting for her. While letting her mist die down a little and doing the big ‘fill in the blank! I’m here for the fill in the blank! Don’t try to stop me or I’ll fill in the blank!’ spiel was the next logical step, given the stratospheric level of the average IQ in that place, doing that would be highly suspicious. Ironically trying to quietly sneak over to the target and stealthily break in was the surest way to get everyone’s attention.
Of course, she had the luxury of not really needing to take ‘Miss Scarlet’s’ target; it was really a decoy. But bringing home something extra that was nice would definitely be a boost to her standing in the family. Her top choices were the crystals that Koestler-Gottlieb R&D claimed were viable power gems, Arrowsmith Labs™ dynamorph technologies and Drs. Brockton & DeNoon’s exhibits from their breakthrough dig of the theorized ‘Dolorous Garde’. Mom and Gran’Pere were both real amped about some of the relics from what was alleged to have been the basis for Chrétien de Troyes’ Joyous Garde that he assigned to his fictional Sir Lancelot du Lac.
But Viv had no idea which of the many seemingly mundane bits and pieces of this and that from the dig in Brittany was important, so she put that one on the back burner.
The ‘power gems’ had the greater chance of being a trap, so Viv decided on the Arrowsmith kiosk, which was also pretty trappy, but didn’t quite have the big red ‘Sucker!’ ribbon on it. Having decided that, ‘Miss Scarlet’ gave her men the signal to advance and headed for the Arrowsmith exhibit.
Or at least they tried to advance. Their way was suddenly barred by an eerily similar group of men, though the newcomers were led by a massive 7-foot-plus mountain of muscle with long flowing hair and a full beard, who was wearing thick trousers, heavy boots, and a utility harness over his broad but bare chest. They briefly collided, though the other group was moving like they could see through the mist. Both sides reacted by going into combat positions, weapons drawn and aimed. Both Viv and the Man-Mountain gestured for their men to not fire.
Viv glared up at the giant, and he glowered back down at her. “You’re Doc Atlas, The Man of Granite™,” she said.
“And you’re Miss Scarlet, the rookie who got the Ivory Tower paladins all riled up with that idiotic ‘riddle clue’,” Doc Atlas rumbled back down at her.
“Back off, Gargantua,” Viv warned him. “This is MY Score!”
“Well, I’ll give you credit for being literate enough to know to make the ‘Gargantua’ crack,” Atlas sneered. “But that doesn’t give you seniority over an established operator.” As he spoke, he casually reached over, picked up a daring- though unknown to Vivian- adventuring academic, whipped him into the floor and then threw the stunned man over his shoulder.
“Established operator?” Viv jeered back. “Please! The closest thing you’ve had to a successful operation is not getting the guy’s nose to light up when you removed his breadbasket!” Without taking her eyes off Atlas, she shifted her omni-gun and let off a blast that stunned the leader of a trio of intrepid high-school age would-be heroes. The other two stopped dead in their tracks, aware that their leader was down, but having no idea of the tactical options.
“There are things going on here that a newbie couldn’t be aware of,” Atlas said condescendingly as he casually caught a metallic dyna-lariat with one hand and yanked the lariateer off his feet.
“YES!” bugled an annoyingly familiar voice from out of the red mist. “But then neither of you have spared a much-needed thought for the inevitable approach of JUSTICE!”
While his form was still obscured by the mist, his voice and demeanor was unmistakable. “KID GALAHAD?” Miss Scarlet snapped. “What did you do THIS time? Pay a Fourth Grader to figure out my clue for you?” She let fly with a maser blast that she was certain he couldn’t shrug off- or, worse, absorb.
Kid Galahad leapt over the maser blast, did spinning roll in a vaulting arch in Miss Scarlet’s direction, but he was caught by his cape by Doc Atlas. “You know this guy?” Atlas asked as he expertly handled Galahad by the back of his breastplate, avoiding a grappling match between bricks. When he had Galahad securely by the breastplate, Atlas threw him into the growing Electromorph that Dr. Adam Baum was warming up.
“Yes,” Viv shot back. “And you shouldn’t have thrown him into that glowing monster thing; he’s a power absorber.”
Dr. Helen Smart snarled as she adjusted her mist compensating goggles. Either Miss Scarlet was savvy enough to have some sort of constantly-shifting mechanism attached to whatever she used to control the placement of her trademark mist, or other people at the symposium were trying to affect the mist, which prevented her goggles from figuring out which frequency to use to see the two villains in the mist.
Her money was on glory-hogging idiots, by a full lap.
Finally she had rough silhouettes to work from. And only Miss Scarlet showed such poor taste as to wear that Carmen Sandiego knockoff outfit. She adjusted her Stinger, gave Dennis a gesture, and together they dashed to take her out. Of the two, she was more dangerous than Doc Atlas; not that Atlas wasn’t competent and effective. Rather, Miss Scarlet was newer and more likely to try to pull of some harebrained move. And she had a dangerous variable energy weapon. A rookie supervillain in a visibility-poor environment using an unpredictable energy weapon, among all that esoteric scientific gear was a recipe for disaster.
But Dr. Smart was unwilling to make the same mistake of firing at an uncertain target. Especially with yet more high-schoolers trying to be big damn heroes, and older scientists (who should know better) also trying to go for the big brass ring of heroism. They’d charge Miss Scarlet, get her into melee, have Dennis handle her, and then Helen would blast Doc Atlas from a direction that he thought was moderately safe.
But when Dr. Smart was in position to surprise Miss Scarlet and acted, the Crimson Coated Countess of Crime deflected her grapple. With a twist, Miss Scarlet used Dr. Smart’s own momentum to throw her into Doc Atlas. Then Miss Scarlet used Dennis’ shock at this turn of events to stun him with a blast.
Doc Atlas grappled with Helen Smart, but despite his ponderous advantage in size and strength, Dr. Smart wriggled out from his grasp. Miss Scarlet adjusted her own energy weapon to its narrowest aperture and carefully aimed at Dr. Smart. It wasn’t that she was worried about hitting Doc Atlas and hurting him; she was worried about hitting Atlas and pissing him off. But Vivian broke off and looked around as there was a rushing sound that filled the exhibit hall, and her red mist dispersed, exposing both her team and Atlas’ to the full view of the many, many Science Heroes (and their would-be emulators)
Jeannie Yes looked around frantically as the crimson smog disappeared in a rush up to an apparatus surrounded by a clear plastic cylindrical screen. Her first impression was that that snotwad Harrow bitch wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Probably cowering under a table. But the important thing was that her heroine, Dr. Smart, was caught up between some Carmen Sandiego cosplayer and a guy who looked like the Incredible Hulk trying to be a 1960s hippy. The guys in red had that heavenly Dennis Hawkins by his arms.
What a break! She had a chance to show Dr. Smart that she had the real chops to be an Adventuring Scientist! She might even get a recommendation to be on that new Diogenes Quest show!
She pulled her Stinger re-creation out of the box that that bald bitch Krystal Doam had made her stash it in. She had it all reconnected, the batteries primed and the cohesion chambers charged when-
- that very same bald bitch that made her put the weapon away dove over the edge of the table and wrestled the array out of her hands.
Gordon Adler looked up smugly as his ‘Twister Buster’, which was actually months away from any kind of peer review, fulfilled its adjusted purpose, gathering up the charged vapor that made up Miss Scarlet’s obfuscating cloud. “Okay crew,” he told the rest of the Magnificent Five, “let’s see if we can’t get Ox’s ace-in-the-hole back. Even if Miss Scarlet doesn’t still have it, she’ll know where it is.”
The Magnificent Five were about to perform one of their trademark close-teamwork maneuvers, which was already a little off as Adler wasn’t part of the formation, what with not having his Golden Eagle armor, when Krystal Doam let off a blast at Doc Atlas. Atlas did something with one of his wrist bracers, the blast deflected at the Sensational Seven, and Mr. Fixit did something that deflected it again- right into the Pecos Bill Twister Buster. “_oops_” Fitzhugh said completely non-contrite.
As the Twister Buster coughed and released the charged scarlet mist, Fitzhugh assumed a heroic pose of command and said, “Okay Team, let’s show that pack of wannabes what it takes to be SENSATIONAL!”
Fitzhugh stood in front of a console and stretched out his arms out from his sides. Servos clamped modules of multi-configuration gear to anchoring points on his back, hips and shoulders, and the control helmet came down and snapped around his head. Mr. Fixit glowed with red energy, especially the nametag that said ‘Mr. Fixit’. A group of dissimilar components assembled themselves into something was probably some sort of energy weapon.
Captain Intrepid went into a fighter’s crouch as a royal blue energy flared around him, especially around the metallic gauntlets that had been added to his outfit.
Guiding Light spread her wings and lifted off as her halo shown with a golden light, and ‘cocked’ an energy ‘arrow’ in her ‘bow’.
Maxiwoman also lifted off, a matrix of dark orange hexagons forming around her.
Moonbeam stepped onto a disk and glowed pale green as she lifted into the air, a swarm of similar disks whirling around her.
Major Speed lowered his full-face visor and glowed a shade of indigo, and lines of silver lit up around his legs, especially his feet.
The Silver Sorceress didn’t go aloft, but stood behind Captain Intrepid, spreading her silvery cloak out wide as her new staff flared with complex patterns of violet light.
“Oh, got some new toys, Fitzhugh?” Atlas sneered. “Who’d you steal this crap from?”
“You know each other?” Viv asked, subtly shifting her aim from Atlas to a neutral position between the two parties.
“Mister ‘Put more effort into PR than R&D’ has been copping onto the gear I drop, filing off the serial numbers, and patenting it.”
“HEY FITZHUGH! Y’got my Gravitic Paralyzer somewhere in there?” Atlas jeered. “Maybe you were gonna unveil it at this symposium as a ‘great new breakthrough, hah?”
“Sensational Seven, Attack!” Mr. Fixit barked as he fired his energy weapon in a way that exploded with little physical force, but reacted with the red mist as to disperse it effectively.
And it occurred to Viv that she had challenged an entire symposium of scientists to come up with a way to counter her big advantage.
“I’ll take that as a ‘Yes’.” Atlas said simply as he took a cartridge from his harness.
At the sight of the cartridge, Major Speed accelerated at top speed toward them. Miss Scarlet reflexively hit the ‘wide angle dazzle’ setting. Major Speed tried to perform a high-speed stop, which is a lot harder to do when everything is 9.7 ounces lighter than you’d expect. He hit the outside crest of his foot the wrong way- only slightly the wrong way, but at 130 KPH, slightly wrong is still WRONG- and he was extremely lucky to simply go tumbling painfully, instead of tearing several ligaments.
At the same time, Moonbeam snatched one of the disks whirling around her and chucked it at Atlas. Atlas simply plucked the disk out of the air, used it to scoop Major Speed up, and hung him in the middle of the air.
The Silver Sorceress created an elaborate whirling ‘mandala’ effect. Viv picked up a hint that it was some sort of visual-mindstate effecting pattern, rather like the bright flashing lights in some anime that set off seizures- no, better, it was a pattern that would affect people wearing vision-filtering devices, that would cause the filters to create those visual-mindstate effecting patterns. Which only works if Fitzhugh had found some constant in designs, but then, no matter his grabby inclinations, ‘Mr. Fixit’ was a very savvy engineer. One of Daddy’s maxims was ‘never assume that your opponent is an idiot’. So Viv used her PK to move a concentration of red mist into the ‘mandala’. She waited a moment for the Silver Sorceress to disperse the mist, and blasted her, right through the mandala.
Captain Intrepid leapt in front of the Silver Sorceress, protecting her from any further blasts. Miss Scarlet stepped up, changing her weapon’s rate of fire, and the Captain waded through the fire, his gauntlets before him. Then Miss Scarlet shifted setting again and dazzled him with a concentrated blast of light. Captain Intrepid leapt at Miss Scarlet, only to be caught by his cape by Doc Atlas. Atlas let Intrepid dangle there for a moment, and then slammed Intrepid into the ground, slinging him back and forth. When Intrepid was groggy, Atlas slung him smack into Kid Galahad.
Maxiwoman tried to come to Cap’n Intrepid’s aid, but Miss Scarlet used that as an opening to blast her. The charge did strange things to the hexagons that surrounded Maxiwoman, who fiddled frantically with her bracer trying to get them under control. Two of Viv’s Redcoats snagged Maxiwoman with their electroshock polearms. Her hexagon-field kept the polearms from hitting her, but they locked well enough that Doc Atlas was able to get a good grip on her, and chucked her into Mr. Fixit.
Then Viv and JJ simultaneously received a telepathic message from JD *I’ve pulled in the Game Changer, it’s set to be delivered to either the power gem or the dynamorph kiosk. I’m in position next to the GKI kiosk. My part is ready to go. I could use a little more cover.*
Miss Scarlet sent another thick wave of her mist to enshroud Guiding Light. The mist was thick enough to disperse Guiding Light’s light-bolts. Turning to Atlas, Viv said, “You have a rep as a reasonable sort. What’s your target? If it’s not the same as mine, what’s the point crossing each other? And if they are the same, I’m willing to buy a little cooperation by going for another target.”
Atlas stopped and thought about it for a moment. Warily, he said, “My target is the Arrowsmith dynamorphs kiosk.”
“Fine. That was going to be my secondary stop if the Koestler-Gottlieb R&D power gems were bogus,” Miss Scarlet said clinically. “But I think I can find a buyer for the Dolorous Garde relics if push comes to shove.”
“The Dynamorphs!” Dr. Smart yelled out from where she’d been laying low. “They’re going after the Dynamorphs and the Power Gems!”
“Oooh, what an incisive burst of deductive insight,” Miss Scarlet sneered. With a flourish, she threw a handful of disk-shaped explosive packets at the Koestler-Gottlieb R&D kiosk. They went off, not really damaging the sealed-up kiosk that much, but scattering the various would-be heroes around it. She sent another flight of disk-grenades at the Arrowsmith kiosk, to pretty much the same effect. Then she sent a text message to her Redcoats, telling them that their time getting shot at was over, to ditch their costumes, dispose of them the right way, and get down to the Security Corridor.
Given that the various scientists were amping up their firepower, the Redcoats were all-too glad to follow this order. Several of them remembered to plant the decoy sound generators as they split the scene.
Kicking in those backup red mist packets, Viv gave JD a telepathic prod to start his part of the plan, and for Jessie to join her by the Koestler-Gottlieb R&D kiosk. JD, who was by the GKI kiosk, used his PK to pull some of Viv’s red mist around him. He didn’t tell her that; she’d probably begrudge him some of her mist. God knows, she begrudged him everything else. When he was certain that no one was watching him, either by distraction or obstruction, JD used his PK to pull a box from behind the Security Cordon over to the GKI kiosk. He managed to trip three people running around being either heroic or cowardly with the box. In the box was a set of stealth blacks, a set of nasty tricks, and his Phantom Highwayman breastplate, which allowed him to pass through solid objects. Quickly strapping into the breastplate, he also pulled on a black balaclava ski mask and prepped a modified can of spray paint. He passed through the thick steel wall of the kiosk into the demonstration booth proper, looked around, spotted the security camera and blinded it with spray paint.
That done, JD fired up his smartphone and contacted Uncle Luke. He’d just run into the first hitch in Viv’s plan: to wit, he had no idea as to how to run a penetrating bore.
When Viv was sure that JD was inside the GKI kiosk and her Recoats had safely departed for their real contribution to the mission, she detonated the disk grenades on the Arrowsmith kiosk. When that was clear, she and JJ ran to the Arrowsmith kiosk. As Viv concentrated her mist around the kiosk and shrugged off the Miss Scarlet coat, JJ pulled Viv’s box of additional gear to them. Again, she tripped up a series of stalwart scientists looking to buck up their profiles by bagging the notorious supervillainess.
After pulling on the Miss Scarlet coat, hat and scarf, JJ helped Viv attach the remaining pieces of her ‘Tek Raider’ gear to their anchoring points and finished by settling the Green Gorgon helmet on Viv’s head. JJ made sure of the voice changer, picked up Miss Scarlet’s multi-gun and started issuing orders to Redcoats- who weren’t there. Then she ran pell-mell to the Koestler-Gottlieb R&D kiosk and split her time between laying an acidic bypass cut around the kiosk’s lock, taking potshots at any hotshot who tried to interfere, and shouting out cryptic orders to non-present minions.
While she hated giving up control of her mist to JJ, it was Viv’s own plan. She hurried to a space well away from the Arrowsmith kiosk, and then went into the next part of her plan. As silly as it was. She used a combination of Guiding Light’s light-bracers and the Green Gorgon’s mask to grab the attention of everyone in the very large chamber. “Okay Brainiacs!” Viv yelped, trying to channel the kind of overcompensating loser who’d pull this kind of self-glorifying, self-sabotaging crap, “Turn on your cameras, ‘cause yer gonna want to record the mind-bending dee-boot of the newest plague upon the Arr & Dee community: THE TEK-RAIDER!” And the only consolation that Viv was feeling was that there was no way that anyone who knew her would believe that it was her inside the clown suit. To punctuate that, ‘Tek Raider’ set off the sonic screecher mounted on ‘his’ shoulder.
But there’s always something. Viv had to remind herself of what she’d decided ‘Tek Raider’ was going to get. There was a temptation to go after Jeannie Yes’ half-assed solid light project, but that would only encourage the little bitch. Oh, right, Dr. Thad Nye’s whatever-it-was project. Uncle Luke said that it had a lot of promise, but Nye was having problems getting funding, which was one reason he was there in the first place. Uncle Luke said that if ‘Tek Raider’ made a big effort to rip off Nye’s prototype, the publicity might help him. What, Uncle Luke couldn’t just write him a check? Well, Uncle Luke said that whatever it was, it was compact and easy to haul off, so Viv decided to go for it.
But JJ just had to have her drama fix. “WHAT?” Miss Scarlet yipped. “You? It’s one thing for the Man-Mountain to come here, cribbing my action! He’s an established operator! But You? I STOLE all of that for you! And you haven’t PAID me for it yet!”
“What do you think I’m doing here?”
“Paying me with money you kept me from stealing isn’t paying a debt!”
“Excuse me…” Doc Atlas prompted.
“Oh, don’t mind us,” ‘Miss Scarlet’ said reasonably. “Go right ahead with your raid. You’ve been very professional about this, and it’s bad enough that I have to cope with this, there’s no reason you to have to be bothered.”
Doc Atlas gave her a respectful nod and gestured for his men to proceed to the Arrowsmith kiosk. The Sensational Seven were regrouping, and it looked like they might make another run at Atlas. But Fitzhugh had enough on the ball to know where his priorities lay. “Get him! The Raider! He’s got our GEAR!”
Viv got her head into the superspeedster mindset and kicked in Major Speed’s belt.
And yes, that superspeed training was worth every penny of the 14 mil she was going to pay Dad for it.
Predictably, Major Speed was hot on her heels. That wasn’t the first time that Viv had been chased by a guy; just not at those speeds. Of course, Viv had the advantage that they were moving at the same speed. The Major had the advantage that he had a lot more experience. So, weaving around the exhibits madly, Viv waited until she’d just rounded a sharp corner, stopped short and activated Iron Ox’s belt. Major Speed plowed straight into her with a juicy crunch. She waited for him to slip off her, and then hit the afterburners again.
Gordon Adler said in an aside to his comrades, “Let the Seven run themselves ragged and look like idiots; then, when we have an idea what this guy is capable of, we take him down.”
While she made a point of fussing with a device that was supposed to look like a computerized lock-picking gadget, Jessie psychokinetically ‘felt’ around in the lock. The lock, while very sophisticated in some ways, was also quite simple in others. She felt for the solenoid blocking pins, lifted them with her PK, and pulled back the main restraining bar. The ‘game changer’ wasn’t there. With a wicked grin, Jessie decided that it would look off if she didn’t at least TRY to get some of those power gems. She set Viv’s multi-gun to ‘oxidize’ and played complete hob on the large titanium hinges for the exhibit case. Her wicked grin widening into a Cheshire cat rictus of triumph, Jessie pulled one of the power gems from the case.
Jessie’s grin crumbled into a snarl. The crystal was a power gem: a cultured power gem. It had no real power of its own. It could focus, filter and refine whatever energy it was attuned to, but still, it had no real power of its own. Which was useful… but Jessie couldn’t escape the feeling that she’d been gypped. Why had the Koestler-Gottlieb R&D people billed these as real power gems, if they were just cultured power gems? If it was a trap, why bait it with even cultured power gems?
Then it occurred to her: Koestler-Gottlieb had raised financing for an attempt to create synthetic power gems, floated a bond, whatever, and these were the best they could do. Not only would their credibility in the Scientific Community be trashed, but they’d be liable for the monies raised. So, what’s a lab rat to do? You announce a major breakthrough in the understanding of how power crystals are formed, and offer to show them off at the Havoc’s ‘Horizons in Science’ exhibit- which has just been threatened by a supervillain. Hell, Koestler-Gottlieb probably insured these things for twice the costs of the original bond.
Jessie shrugged. Hey, it wasn’t like she was a big fan of insurance companies. She twiddled her fingers silently and opened a hole in the fabric of reality that led to her ‘dimensional purse’. It would hold whatever she put in it invisibly, and the hole would follow her anywhere. She had mass problems; it would only hold a little over a pound. But it was a first effort, and Mom assured Jessie that either that purse would grow, or she’d be able to construct larger, sturdier purses. At least it didn’t have to match her shoes. She placed the ‘power gems’ (humph!) in the purse and pulled it shut. Then there were sounds of the chaos going on outside the kiosk, and she wondered what was taking the ‘game changer’ so long. Yes, their way of getting it there was a little roundabout, but it was Viv’s game so…
Then a drone rolled into the kiosk. It was the Game Changer. Jessie opened the case of the delivery drone and smiled broadly. She had to give Viv her due; this was really going to throw the cat in among these pigeons.
‘Tek Raider’ zoomed around the aisles with the Stupefied Seven in hot pursuit. Ah! There was Nye’s booth and- YES! He was disconnecting it as to remove it from the exhibit and put it in a secure box! How considerate! If only more robbery victims were so thoughtful. Viv zoomed up to Nye and shoved him back. She caught the whatever-it-was on the fly and tucked it into the secure box. “Well!” ‘Tek Raider’ said, “These boobs may not recognize the value of your work, Dr. Nye, but make no mistake, there are people who’ll pay BIG TIME for it!”
“While the latter is no doubt true,” a deep golden baritone voice said just behind Viv, “I have to debate the former.” A pair of large powerful hands grabbed her and lifted her off her feet, effectively making both her super-strength and super-speed useless. But Viv had other cards to play, which factored neatly into her ‘Tek Raider’ scheme.
Viv kicked in Moonbeam’s antigravity and almost kicked herself when a near-explosive surge of anti-gravity threw everyone in the immediate vicinity into the air with the force of their own weight (or the force of their legs exerting enough force to hold up that weight, when they were weightless). Then there was a focused gravity that brought them all crashing back down. Fortunately, the ones who fell the furthest were the ones who could absorb the damage the best.
Almost immediately, the hands were busily picking at Viv, not getting fresh, but worse, picking at the various pieces of her gear. At first Viv just batted away his hand, but then she realized she had better options. She simply picked him up and threw Mr. Grabby without looking where she was throwing. She wound up tossing ‘Mr. Grabby’ on top of Doc Atlas.
But get this! ‘Mr. Grabby’ was gorgeous! He was big, well over 6 feet tall, able to look Doc Atlas in the eye (at least look UP in the eye), with the physique of a Greek God and the face of an old-school movie idol. He was wearing a shoulder harness over a blue T-shirt with a utility belt over jeans and… nnnrrrggg… she threw THAT away?
And… he knew Doc Atlas?
“Magnum!” Atlas greeted him with sounds of glad recognition. “What are you doing at THIS geek show?”- as he threw a haymaker at ‘Magnum’s’ chin.
“Oh, you know how it is-” Magnum said as he deftly evaded the punch, “-obnoxious newbie supervillain makes a blatant challenge with a really obvious riddle clue; you have to come, just to prove that you figured it out. Besides, it never hurts to promote the Magnum Self-Improvement system. What are you doing here, Atlas?”
“Well, ‘Mr. Fixit’ over there stole one of my developments- AGAIN- and it’s bad form to let mouthy third-raters pass your work off as theirs,” Atlas said as he performed a roundhouse leg sweep that Magnum evaded, but drastically changed the tactical situation, causing the 5 third-parties who were targeting him to avert their fire.
Magnum flipped into a perfect dismount landing and said, “And I’m supposed to take the word of an outlaw over that of a respected, law-abiding Adventuring Scientist?”
“Oh, Puh-leeze!” Atlas scoffed as he set off a barrage of short strikes, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“No,” Magnum admitted off-handedly as he swatted aside the blows, “but there are niceties to be observed.”
“And THAT’S why I went renegade,” Atlas said as he pulled off a handstand double-foot kick that caught Magnum by surprise. “Too many plagiarous putzes like Fitzhugh running around, hiding behind lawyers. At least if another supervillain rips off one of my projects, I can kick his teeth in for him.”
“Oh, THAT’S civilized,” Magnum sneered as he rolled back up to his feet. “Didn’t we prove how futile that sort of thing was, when Tycho Brahe got his nose lopped off?”
As Docs Atlas and Magnum mixed civilized discourse with savage combat, Viv was zipping around as ‘Tek Raider’, giving all the big brains a chance to show off how badass they were by failing to catch her. She wondered when one of them would notice that she was moving with complete surety through ‘Miss Scarlet’s’ fog. Then she felt something in the flow of her mist- not millions of voices crying out and then going still- something like a vast displacement of her mist. Viv pulled off a ‘M’ reverse to check out what it was. It was unlikely that it was one of the Super-Scientists. But more supervillains on the scene was hardly good news.
Viv came to an area where several exhibit tables had been shoved out of position, forming a rough circle. The lab rats were still trying to make out what it was through the thick red mist. What Viv saw was a group of maybe 20 (give or take a few) people all clustered together, all centered around three teenage girls in long dresses who were holding three staves together at their ends. Besides the three girls, there were five very BIG guys tricked out in hockey outfits complete with face-covering masks, a squad of much smaller guys, made smaller by being hunched over, also tricked out in hockey outfits, and one good-sized guy in high-tech chainmail, with a very nasty high-tech combat harness. There was a moment for getting their bearings, and the guy in chainmail pointed a hand at one of the kiosks and said, “There! Get it! You know what to do!” The thing was that he said it in the weirdest ‘chorus of one’ voice, like six or seven very different people were all saying it at the same time. And some of the voices weren’t on the same page. *take hostages* suggested one voice. *kill as many of them as you can*, suggested another, and *BURN EVERYTHING* demanded a third.
But the teams seemed to know what they were supposed to do. Three teams, consisting of three of the little ones and one of the big ones, skated in a wide circle, tripping up people with hockey sticks. A fourth team, consisting of the three girls and one of the big guys, moved toward the designated kiosk. And the fifth big guy stood at the leader’s back, as the leader kept an eye on the crowd.
As the trio of girls moved to the kiosk with the Atlantean Relics display, Viv gingerly probed the leader, but pulled back almost instantly. The last thing any telepath wants to do is touch the mind of a maniac, and this guy was a special limited-run psycho-flavored brand of Fruit Loops. *JJ?* she asked telepathically, *Who IS this guy?*
*I’m picking up from various people that he’s called ‘Doctor Macabre’.* Jessie answered. *But I’m not getting anything from his goons- wait a minute… ‘Dr. Macabre’? Right, right! I remember, Mom and Uncle Luke were bickering about him a while back*
*Gimme a break, I’m working on getting the Game Changer up and running.*
Figuring that she might as well put all the heroically-minded boffins surrounding her to good use- or at least direct all that heroism at someone else- Viv concentrated and diminished her scarlet mist around the newcomers, giving said *ahem!* ‘heroes’ a good look. The Sensational Seven, being the most PR minded of the bunch, immediately spotted the newcomers and focused on them. The three girls were moving toward one of the high-security kiosks, with their bodyguard covering their backs. They were handling an odd glossy black teardrop-shaped stone with a large hole in it. When they got to the kiosk, they held the odd stone up to the kiosk’s lock in unison, and made a joint ‘mmm…’ noise.
The lock on the kiosk popped open. “They’re going for the Atlantean Artifacts!” Jake Wilde yelled as his two associates, a large buffoonish looking chap with sideburns and a mullet and a delicate fair young woman who almost had ‘professional hostage, ask about my rates’ written on her, advanced on the three girls. The big guy with the sharp-edged steel-bladed hockey stick whirled in front of the three girls on his inline skates and charged for Wilde’s group. Body-checking the big buffoon, the Big Guy pulled the waif to him with his stick, putting her into a classic ‘meat shield’ hold.
But his hostage wasn’t playing ball. Instead of letting out the expected gasp of helplessness or scream of fear, she reached up and yanked at his goalie mask, pulling it askew. As the Big Guy reacted to this, she used him relaxing his hold on her to squeeze out of his grip and climbed around to his back. The ‘buffoon’ performed a vaulting kick to the Big Guy’s chest. The girl had gotten to behind the Big Guy’s knees. The buffoon’s kick, aided by the precarious footing of the inline skates, sent the Big Guy tumbling over the girl, falling in a heap. As the Big Guy tried to get up, Jake Wilde snatched the Big Guy’s hockey stick from him with a cybernetically enhanced whip. As the Big Guy reacted to that, the girl undid the buckles on one of the inline skates. The big lummox went in for a hail of brutal punches that shattered the Big Guy’s mask as Jake and the girl kept him off balance.
“They’re still getting away with the artifacts!” Maxiwoman yelled as she flew at the three young women, the additional ‘you idiots’ unspoken yet understood. But that just made her a target. The three young women hefted the hollow stone up high again, made gestures with their free hands and keened in a way that seemed to affect the stone. As their chant crescendoed, Maxiwoman suddenly lurched in mid-flight and careened bathetically into an exhibit of some sort of free-standing gelatin, purpose unclear.
As Captain Intrepid rushed to fish Maxiwoman out of the glop, Moonbeam and Guiding Light stepped in. Moonbeam went in low, riding one of her disks with a protective array of disks whirling around her, while Guiding Light went high, bow ready. The red mists had dispersed her lightbursts, but from up on high, she had an unobstructed-and unshielded- arc of fire.
Dr. Macabre unlimbered a sparking whip and stepped up to intercept Moonbeam. Moonbeam sent a few of her disks to latch onto him and hold him up off the ground, so he wouldn’t have the leverage to use that whip. But as she was skating past Macabre, the three girls hefted their stone in her direction and keened. Suddenly, Moonbeam had no control over her disks, sending her sprawling and freeing Macabre.
Guiding Light let off a few shots at the three girls. That sent them running for cover, but it didn’t do that much to them. So she altered her aim to the big goon who was Dr. Macabre’s guard, and who was helping the ungood doctor pry off the disks that were stubbornly sticking to his suit. Aiming carefully, she bagged the big guy right in the face. And the goon acted like she’d shoved his face in acid.
Making note of that, Guiding Light took a shot at one of the smaller quick-skaters and got a similar reaction. Suddenly, it looked like Guiding Light was the big gun in this fight.
Or at least this section of the overall brawl.
Picking her targets, she shot light-arrows at the big guys, but that only gave the smaller, faster goons a chance to dive for cover. Guiding Light swooped after them, but in her excitement, she’d forgotten the big gun. Dr. Macabre struck at her with his electro-lash, but between her armor, force field, and the simple fact that she wasn’t anything even like grounded, she shrugged it off. Still, that didn’t mean that he didn’t have anything nasty for using against fliers in that rig.
Guiding Light did an evasive loop and let fly with a light ‘arrow’, hitting Dr. Macabre right in the face. He reacted with five different distinct reactions, each with their own voice. None of them were happy.
Well! It looked like Guiding Light was going to get the props for bagging the infamous Dr. Macabre. That was sure to improve her profile in the Sensational Seven, and improve the Seven’s profile as well. While the Seven weren’t as ‘All for One, and One for All’ (at least not behind closed doors), as the M5, she had her priorities straight. It was better to be a team player on a winning team than the star of a local joke. She performed a loop that took full advantage of the Gibraltar’s high ceilings, adjusted her position and started taking shot on the little creeps on the skates. There were gratifying screams of pain from the creeps. Then GL gestured at Captain Intrepid over to Dr. Macabre.
Cap nodded and gave Major Speed, who was just getting his legs back under him, a gesture. The Major nodded back and zipped over to Intrepid. There was a brief pause, and then the Major carried Cap over to Dr. Macabre.
At least, that was the gambit: speedster moves brick into striking range. But then the three lovely girls hefted that hollow stone again, and Major Speed managed to trip on something, going into a painful tumble, and Cap didn’t fare much better. The Major recovered and tried to get Cap into place, but for some reason, once he got up to speed, he couldn’t slow down. Cap did a leaping dismount, and had to take another painful tumble to a stop. But by that time, he was way on the other side of the pavilion, and the Major was zipping around at top speed, looking for something to slow him down.
“Please, somebody tell me that you’re filming this,” Adler said smugly.
The Silver Sorceress waved her hands wildly, and created a silvery web of energy to stop the Major as he passed her. But the Three Witches aimed their odd stone at her before he could do that. The Silver Sorceress was drawn into her own web- just as Major Speed charged through it at 120 MPH.
“Got it,” Blue Moon said with snide satisfaction.
Guiding Light decided that the three ‘Witches’ needed to be taken out before they made the Sensational Seven into a laughingstock. If anything, she was surprised that Fitzhugh wasn’t screaming at her to ‘DO something!’ She pulled off another wide backwards loop and let fly with a light-bolt. But the ‘Witches’ somehow managed to parry the bolt with the stone, and deflected the bolt into the eyes of a portly salt-and-pepper haired- and- bearded professorial type who was shouldering something that had the signs of being some sort of prototype energy weapon. The energy weapon went off and fried another academic’s attempts to get his own pet project up and running.
From there, it developed into some very nasty back-and-forth action with Guiding Light trying to peg the three witches, and the witches making strange things happen in retaliation.
But just as that battle was becoming the focus of the overall brawl, ‘Miss Scarlet’ stepped forward and announced loudly, “You may have dimmed the Guiding Light, but you pseudo-mystical misfits are no match for… THE EYE OF LEMURIA!” She presented the gem, and the ‘pupil’ rolled around to lock gazes with the three ‘witches’. Apparently, they’d never heard of it, because they looked straight into the black dot, and froze in their tracks.
In fact, that crystal wasn’t the Eye of Lemuria; ‘Gran’Pere’ had graciously allowed the original to be copied. The copy was a focus for a magic spell that Mara cast through it, to approximate the effect of the original. Jessie looked around, and sure enough, the Havocs were eager to regain their ‘trust’, Dr. Smart was keen to get the Havocs off her back, Krystal Doam was raring to get one up on Helen Smart, and Jake Wilde was whetting his knife to cut off a piece of it as well.
Proof that there is only so much grant money in the world.
Krystal Doam beat the rest to it, tackling ‘Miss Scarlet’ and getting the ‘Eye’ away from her. But Jake Wilde showed off his trademark (bordering on copyright infringement) cyber-whip, snatching the crystal from Krystal’s hands. Dennis Hawkins immediately tackled Jake, Dr. Smart moved in to recover the Eye, and the Havocs surrounded her. “WHAT?” Dr. Smart asked, “I’m getting it BACK for you!”
“Gloria?” Mr. Fixit asked the Silver Sorceress, “Are you okay?”
“Ieeeeyyye’m Okay,” the Sorceress muttered as she shook the woofles out of her head. “What’s the Sit-Rep?”
“Well, Cap is still showing the colors and GL is putting on a good show, but Max is still pulling herself together, Speed is still zipping around, and I don’t know where Moonbeam got to. We gotta pull together and nab the Raider, hell, catch SOMEBODY, before the M5 grab the Raider and make us look like idiots.”
“Okay, okay, first we get Speed back under control,” the Sorceress said, prepping a snare that should do the job. “Where is he?”
Fixit looked around, “Hah? Where’d he go? How can someone who’s zipping around at 150 MPH get lost?”
Seeing that the Doc Magnus was coping with Dr. Macabre’s forces as the ‘witches’ were befuddled by the *ahem!* ‘Eye of Lemuria’ and the focus of the fracas had shifted away from him, Doc Atlas decided to take care of business. Fitzhugh’s clowns were busy trying to get a handle on the ‘Tek Raider’ (heaven preserve him from newbies) so he gestured for his crew to advance on the Arrowsmith kiosk again. But just as they were making some headway, there was a commotion behind him. When he turned around, three very competent optimized henchmen sprawled on the floor in obvious severe discomfort going on PAIN. Standing over them, wearing an embroidered blue denim dhoti over black glove leather jeans with matching black platform boots was a tall strapping blac- er, African American woman in a very fit early 30s with her hair in two ‘Afro-puffs’. Setting into a Southern style form, she glared into his face, “My name is Dr. CLEOPATRA FOX! And I have a PhD in KICKING ASS!” The way she said it suggested that she was trying to get it accepted as a catch phrase.
As Doc Atlas paused to make sense of that, Dr. Fox let fly with a flurry of snap kicks to his chest that sent the big man back several feet. She regained her stance and inched back and forth a bit, waiting for him to retaliate.
Instead, Atlas studied the woman. Her body was in great trim and her form was impeccable. But her moves were… off… slightly. Staccato and slightly off balance. And there was something about her… Before Atlas could put his finger on it, Dr. Fox let loose with a barrage of atemi strikes to Atlas’ face. But the angle was wrong, what with the solid foot of height that Atlas had on her. As the fourth strike slid off his face, Atlas surged forward, picked Dr. Fox up bodily, held her up high and threw her down hard onto the floor. Which was neither graceful nor gallant, but very effective.
As Dr. Fox pried herself up off the floor, the fit of her dhoti slipped and Atlas intently studied the metallic plates that were set up and down the length of her arms and down her back, and the matching unit set at the base of her skull, covering the foramen magnum. Then it clicked. “As I recall, there’s a Dr. Clarice P. Brown registered with the symposium,” Atlas said clinically. “Your panel piece is supposed to be on the use of electromagnetic induction in Physical Therapy and Paralysis Treatment.
“If you could do that, it would follow that you could record the nerve-to-muscle conditions of various physical disciplines, such as body building, ballet, yoga and… the Martial Arts. But in order to copy martial arts moves, you’d have to have a library of those combinations, and a method of coordinating them into effective martial arts arrays. The most logical place to secure that would be-”
Dr. Fox sprang on Atlas with a flurry of palm strikes to his face, anything to keep the big man from making the important connection. Atlas took several painful strikes to his nose letting Dr. Fox get too close. Then he grappled her again, using his superior height, weight and sheer brawn against her. He picked her up, pulled her to his chest in a crushing grip with one arm, and the other nimbly felt for the larger case set at the small of her back, just above her hips. He deftly popped the case open and simply disconnected the battery.
Dr. Fox’s body tension immediately slackened. Doc Atlas set her back on her feet and said, “An excellent concept, Dr. Brown. As an advocate of Human Optimization, I commend you. And I applaud your bravery in putting your theory into practical application. But as for the ‘PhD’? Thesis denied.”
Dr. Adam Baum, D.Sc. watched ‘Doc Atlas’ handle Clarice Brown with smug satisfaction. Better, Atlas hurried to try and pry the Arrowsmith canisters away from the hulking ‘trolls’ who’d ripped open the kiosk. Well, he’d show ‘Atlas’ who the real big man around there was! “Jack. Jill,” he said to his new protégés without taking his eyes off the situation. “Initiate the ‘Gulliver’ sequence.”
“Right!” the twin geniuses snapped out, all full of hero worship. A few hurried moments later, they said (again in unison; it was a thing with them, and it drove their mother crazy), “Gulliver is GO!”
“Excellent,” Baum purred as he picked up the projector. “Now get down, this could get dangerous.” As though the counter could offer any real protection from anything that might happen because of the projector he fired. “HEY! ATLAS!” Baum said as he tracked Doc Atlas, who was grappling successfully with two hulking ‘trolls’. “TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE!”
But just as he fired, the spandex-and-cape wearing superhero, Captain Intrepid, body-checked Atlas into the trolls-
-and was caught in the effect of the projection (you couldn’t really call it a blast). The four men (well, given Dr. Macabre’s operating procedure, the trolls probably didn’t count as adults, but they were adult sized; or had been) dwindled in size, losing maybe 7 or 8 inches of height per second. When the wavering effect faded, all four of them were… 7 or 8 inches tall. “Oh crap,” Baum bleated as he lowered the projector, “I shrank the superhero.”
“But look at the test results!” Jack and Jill showed him the readouts.
“Dammit, there goes Cap!” Mr. Fixit snarled. “Okay troops- we gotta retrieve him and keep him from getting trampled. Gambit: Beta Foxtrot Indigo-12! Go!”
The Sensational Seven- what there were of them, executed Gambit: BFI-12 perfectly. Or at least, as well they could when the pivot woman of the operation doesn’t do her job. Or even show up for it.
“Maxiwoman, what did you think you were-” Mr. Fixit stopped in mid-berating. “Max? Where’d Max get to?”