Sunday, July 28, 2013
So it came as no surprise when he was transferred from his cell to a new one. “Goudvuist!” shouted Murray, the guard. “You got a new roomie. Try to treat him a little better, OK?” The affable guard gently prodded Miribilis forward and signaled for the door to close.
“So, you're the Alchemist?” came a voice from the lower bunk. “ A loser put here by a super femme?”
“That's hardly fair. I had White Owl dead to rights. She was encased in gold but the Guild...”
“Yeah, the Guild stepped in because she alerted them, right? Story of my life.”
Miribilis narrowed his eyes. “Goudvuist? That's Dutch isn't it? For...”
“For Goldfist, yeah.” The figure on the cot rolled out and stood. Miribilis blinked. Goudvuist stood 6'3” to Miribilis' 5'9”. Additionally, the felon was well muscled and oozed contempt from every pore. Goudvuist stuck out a hand and smiled. “My friends call me Eric. I was able to arrange this transfer and needed to once I heard you were here.”
Miribilis was taken aback at that. “Wh..What do you mean?”
“Oh come on Miribilis! You're the Alchemist! You MAKE gold. I control gold. If you work with me, we'll get out and get our revenge!.”
“You can't be serious,” said Miribilis. “I was brought down by White Owl; but YOU—you went against Ultra Woman. That kind of trouble I don't need. I only have another three years. I plan to do the time and get out.”
“But would you get out now if you could?”
“Well sure. But how are we going to do this?”
Goudvuist motioned Miribilis closer, then looked up and down the corridor. “I need to know something. Can you make other things besides gold? Or different TYPES of gold?”
Miribilis nodded. “Twenty Four carats is what I prefer, but most gold in the jewelry industry is eighteen. And I can make platinum, tin...a whole host of metals but it takes a long time to compound it.”
Goudvuist nodded. “I figured as much. Would it go easier if you had a sample of the metal?”
“Hell yes! But I would need one of my philosopher's stones. White Owl destroyed mine. But...” Now Miribilis looked around in a conspiratorial manner. “I've been working on a new one.”
“The hell you say? Where is it?”
Miribilis opened his dop kit, and poured out the contents. In the shaving cream can he opened a false bottom and dropped a small pouch containing a yellowish dust.
“What's that?” asked Goudvuist.
“Well now, it's nothing but dust. But if I can mix it into paste with purified water, add some zinc and lead for affinity, and then bake it, it becomes hardened—my new stone. It won't be as powerful as the original, but it should do until I get to my real stone in Queen City.”
Goudvuist nodded. “And that's where I come in. I work in the kitchen—so baking isn't going to be hard, or the water. What about the rest?”
“There's someone in the press area, who owes me a favor. He'll be bringing me the rest of the ingredients on his next library day. Now do you care to fill me in?”
Goudvuist smiled and motioned for Miribilis to set up his bunk. While Miribilis did, Goudvuist began his story.
“The time before this one, I caught Ultra Woman dead to rights. She forgot I can control any and all gold, and that included her little toy lariat. Oh God was she shocked when the lasso wrapped up her wrists, then bit into her supple flesh. You know, that rope was a gold treasure, and it made whoever was tied up with it obey.
“So Ultra Woman was tied with her own rope, and had to obey whatever I told her. I let my Golden Boys take turns with her, keeping her weak and docile. Of course she couldn't complain much, every time she opened her mouth, something got shoved into it.”
Goudvuist laughed at the memory. He drew another breath, then resumed his narrative. “Anyhow, I knew that Ultra Woman was resourceful, and unless I took her completely out, she'd come back for me. So I melted down her lasso and coated her with it. My last command to her was to remain perfectly still. She would have had to obey until someone found her. Just my luck, Violet or one of them other heroines tracked her down quickly and got her free. I was caught in an hour.”
“You MELTED the lasso?” Miribilis' voice cracked under the strain. “How could you?”
“Well you have to admit, that it took a powerful tool away from her. She's never used one since.”
“But to destroy something THAT valuable. The potential!”
“I didn't destroy it all,” said Goudvuist. “I have about eighteen inches left. I needed a souvenir, a trophy.”
“And they didn't find it?”
Goudvuist shook his head. “No one knew I'd kept any or where I'd hidden it. It's still there.”
“Oh if I had a sample of THAT!” gushed Miribilis. “We could bring Queen City to its knees.”
“Or Megapolis,” replied Goudvuist.
“It makes no difference to me. All I want is my revenge on that avenging raptor! To make her suffer the humiliation she's foisted on me.”
“I knew you'd be willing to throw in with me.” said Goudvuist. “Partners?”
Miribilis took the proffered hand. “Partners.”
Three weeks later, the breakout at Crown Point was made. Steel doors were turned into brittle tin and burst through with no effort. Two guards were electrocuted when the live wires in the conduits were turned to gold, then jumped to life, wrapping the guards and killing them with high voltage. Twenty prisoners escaped, eighteen were recovered within 24 hours. All except two. Miribilis and Goudvuist. Or as they were now known, The Alchemist and Goldenfist.
“Are you sure you'll be all right?” asked Tiffany for the umpteenth time since we'd returned from lunch. Tiffany had picked the place, begging off from Gold Line.
“Positive,” I replied. “Look its been three weeks since they broke out. The FBI lost track of them near Cairo. The Guild said they hadn't heard anything either. And criminal activity here has been slow. If STAR wants you to attend the conference on nanotechnology and ethics, then GO!”
“I just don't like leaving you alone,” she pouted.
“Would you rather face a Queen City winter, or a weekend in sunny Miami?” I asked.
She sighed, but perked up. “If you put it that way, I suppose Miami can be fun.”
“Just remember to pack your sunscreen. Remember what the Amazons call you—'She who Burns' “
“Hey! I was there because of the injuries I'd sustained saving YOU!” she laughed. Her face reddened almost as dark as the sunburn she'd once worn. “It hit some areas I never KNEW could be sunburned.”
She headed for the door and I turned back to my cataloging for the Museum. A new arrival of ancient Thracian and Macedonian materials had arrived, and I was writing the catalog. Basically I was translating from the catalog Dr Leonidas Diomedes had sent. I let my mind wander back to the dig I had done with him and his now wife, Dr Mia Stephanopoulous. It seemed at the time that the fate of the world had rested on our find, but somehow the world had muddled on regardless.
I heard a knock on my office door. Looking up, I saw the door swing open and Ajay Chatterjee, the museum's curator lurched through. “You know, its generally polite to wait for a 'Come in' before barging in Dr Chatterjee,” I scolded.
“No time for that silliness Dr Nikos. We have a world class exhibit coming to the Queen City Museum. Finally! Now how is that catalog coming?”
I resented his tone. My own exhibits were always good draws for the museum, with at least two being exhibited in the British Museum and the Smithsonian. If that's not world class, nothing is. But Chatterjee is convinced nothing is good unless its from far away. I think its part of how he justifies the tight spending at the museum. So putting on a smiling face, I said, “I'm about halfway done, Ajay. I should be done by tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” he whined. “That's not soon enough. The exhibit opens in...”
“The exhibit opens in a month, Dr Chatterjee. Plenty of time to get the catalog done, printed and bound. And I not only have Dr Diomedes' catalog, but my own notes. I was on this dig too, remember?”
“How could I forget? You left me in the lurch for a whole summer. They're still taking the pistachio ice cream stains out of the mummy.” He shuddered, mopping his dark forehead with a pristine white handkerchief.
He harrumphed, “Anyway, if you spent less time socializing with your friends, or seeking out adventures after hours, you might get more work done. I saw your red headed friend sneaking out. And here I thought with Cassidy in France, I might have had more of your attention on the job. Can you finish it any sooner than tomorrow night?”
I smiled, knowing the fussy man HAD to have the final word. “I don't think so. There's a lot of material, though most of it is small. I'll do my best though.”
“See that you do.” And with that, he left. I settled into desk chair and turned a page in my notebook. This was an article that had been unknown to Leonidas at the time. A bronze helmet with several women and goddesses embossed on it. The helmet was too small for a normal sized man, so we considered it an oddity. Now I wasn't sure.
I picked up my phone and dialed out to my favorite antiquarian. “Mazona Antiquities,” I heard.
“Hi Tania! This is Athena Nikos? From Queen City?”
“Athena, how are you?” she answered with that unplaceable accent of hers. “Is this business or pleasure?”
“A bit of both I think,” I said. “I'm cataloging a new exhibit for the museum, and while everything is accurate on the age, I have a helmet that just isn't right. It's too small for a man and the style isn't exactly Thracian or Macedonian.” I nestled the phone receiver on my shoulder and attached several pictures to an email.
“Sending them now,” I said.
I waited a moment, then it got a bit longer. “Tania?”
“I haven't seen one of these except in the Archives. It's an ancient Amazon helmet. But we didn't have any wars near Salonika. I have no idea how it got there. But I was planning on coming to Queen City anyway. I don't suppose you could spare a look for an interested antiquarian?
“You're always welcome, you know that. The exhibit won't open for a month. And since I'm controlling the exhibit, well, I think I can spare a look for a second professional opinion. Just make sure you bill us, so Chatterjee doesn't fuss.
Her happy laughter made me smile and I realized how much I'd missed her over the previous year.
I got her flight information and told her I'd meet her when her plane arrived. After I hung up, I settled in at my desk and forced myself to work on the catalog for the upcoming show.
It was dark when I left the museum, and I worked my way cautiously through the now nearly empty parking garage. My jeep was parked on the staff level, so I crossed to it easily and started crosstown.
Tiffany's flight had left earlier in the day. I knew it would be a good thing for her to get away; though the stories she told me from her visits to Century City and Paragon left me concerned. Still I knew the work at STAR was important to her; and it was nice to see her recognized for it.
Daisy pounced when I entered the apartment, leading me to her empty dish in the kitchen. I apologized that it was half past cat feeding time, and opened a tin for her. She knelt down and took two bits, then sauntered off...apparently cat food has to breathe like a fine wine.
I ate a small salad, catching the news. A rare Raphael had been stolen from an alleged mob boss. I smiled, thinking M must be back in town, and wondering if this would be the time I would finally catch him with the goods.
After dinner I changed into my working clothes. A mild winter was currently in Queen City, so I decided to forgo my jacket and just wear my normal high necked leotard. By nine pm I was well into my patrol route, crisscrossing Queen City and finding all well.
Or almost. Rhenania is one of Queen City's oldest districts, founded by the German immigrants who had flooded the river town in the 1800's. Rhenania was a testament to sausage making and beer brewing, but the neighborhood had morphed into an old, run down area. Various groups were working with the idea to restore it, so Rhenania now was a hodge-podge of modern boutiques, upscale shops and closed and condemned buildings. It was working its way towards trendy, though and still a place for the adventurous.
I swept down Goethe, where a lot of the bars and nightclubs were already closed. But I heard a shriek of fear from a dark alley and sighed. When would people learn that the dark held the terrors?
I swooped into the alleyway and saw a woman struggling against two male attackers. One was holding her bay the waist, the other pulling her arm. I landed behind them and shouted , “HEY!”
I tossed a bop ball at high speed at the one pulling the woman's arm. He turned at the sound of my voice and the hard steel projectile caught him in the jaw. He folded like yesterday's newspaper. The other mugger thought better and tried to run. He threw the young woman forward and ran. I tossed a phosphorus grenade at him. As it exploded, he threw his arms into his face at the blinding light. But he also ran headlong into a streetlight. I reached down to help the young woman.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“She will be, but you aren't” I heard a gruff voice behind me. I turned to see a man covered head to toe in a golden armor approaching. “So you're White Owl? You don't look so tough.”
I got into a fighting crouch. “Goldenfist?”
“At your service—though you'll soon be in mine.”
“I doubt that, you...OOOFFF!!!” A fist made of solid gold slammed into my stomach.
The impact of the heavy fist caused me to reel backward and I saw Goldenfist pull his right arm back as another fist appeared. This one curved high and slammed into may jaw. Off balance I fell back into a stack of tires which were leaning next to a dumpster. I grabbed a tire, winging it at the golden villain and smirked as he toppled to one knee. I hastily dug a gas ball out of my pouch, then tossed it at Goldenfist's feet. The ball bounced twice rolling to a stop, then popped open, filling the area with sleeping gas.
Goldenfist put his hand to his head, fighting the narcotic fumes. He waved his left hand, in an uppercut motion, and I felt the solid fist strike between my thighs. I howled in pain, and both my hands flew to my tender nether regions. As I winced in pain, I felt a heavy rubber tire drop over my head and shoulders, pinning my arms to my sides. I flexed my muscles but felt the tire get heavier and brighter.
"Now Eric," I heard a familiar voice call. Looking out, I saw the tire had turned to gold. The weight was at the high end of my strength and I staggered to stay afoot. Then the tire began constricting, pinning me inside. I gasped for air, then staggered back as an enormous fist clipped my jaw once more. The second fist punched hard into my crotch and I dropped to my knees in pain. I looked up to see the Alchemist grinning, then spinning as his roundhouse kick ended any conscious thoughts I still had.
I woke in pain, but my body's healing factors had already begun to clear up the bruises and contusions my nocturnal occupation generally provides. I sat up, wary. I was apparently unbound, and though I'd been moved from the alley to some new place. I patted my waist and arched my eyebrows in surprise. They'd left my toolbelt. Remembering the Wiener Man's cruel joke though, I checked my pouches. Sure enough, everything had been emptied.
Still, unbound and recovered, I knew my strength would be enough to stop these two. I crossed from the cot to a closed door. The door was made of a solid wood, with heavy locks and hinged on the outside. It took me all of fifteen seconds to kick through the jambs and stride out onto the abandoned warehouse floor. I wasn't sure exactly where I was but it was on the riverfront, not too far from the stadiums. A light shone across from me, so I crossed, bold and confident toward the Alchemist and Goldenfist.
I stopped about 10 feet out, still cognizant of Goldenfist's powers. "All right, you've had your fun, gentlemen. Are you ready to return to Crown Point?" Neither one looked up.
"Cat got your tongues?" I asked, moving closer.
"That's close enough, White Owl," said the Alchemist. "I want you to stand perfectly still."
My body trembled in rebellion but I found myself standing perfectly still.
The Alchemist turned toward Goldenfist and said, "You see Eric? I duplicated it perfectly."
Goldenfist rubbed his jaw and said, "I'm not so sure, Sean. My I try something?"
"Absolutely," said the Alchemist.
"White Owl," he began. "I want you to take off your belt, and set it right here on the table."
I struggled again, but my hands moved smoothly and detached the buckle. Burning with shame, I set the belt on the table between the two men. "What have you done to me?" I demanded.
"You don't like it, do you, White Fowl?" laughed Goldenfist. "My new buddy was able to duplicate the last little bit of Ultra Woman's lasso. It's that collar you're wearing now. You have to do whatever anyone says."
My hand raced for the collar and both men shouted "STOP!" I froze once more.
The Alchemist ran a nervous hand through his dark hair. "White Owl, you are never to touch or attempt to remove your collar again, is that understood?" Tears welled in my eyes, understanding the power and control this gave them. Helplessly, I nodded in acquiescence.
Goldenfist stood up and strode close. "You will not resist me, White Owl," he commanded. His rough hand cupped my rear end, rubbing it with delight. "I've had Ultra Woman this close so many times," he continued. "I think it's time for someone fresh. But she IS your nemesis, Mirabilis?"
"No no, go ahead," the Alchemist gloated. There will be time for both of us, I think.
Goldenfist reached for the tab that would release my leotard's collar, then stopped. "Why should I do all the work?" he said lecherously. "White Owl, why don't you do a sexy little striptease for us. Get out of that suit, babe...."
As if some unseen musicians were playing a bump and grind in my head, I began a slow dance for my captors. My gloves came off, then I slowly unzipped my leotard, peeling it back and exposing my breasts.
"Well you're not Ultra Woman," laughed Goldenfist. "But 34c's are all right for me." My face was burning with shame as his hands played with my breasts. I turned my back on him, shaking my hips like I'd seen the woman do in Marrakesh, then peeled the entire leotard down past my boots. I turned back with nothing but a tight thong covering my womanhood.
"Lets see it all," he demanded, and again I was powerless to resist. Clad only in my mask and boots, with a collar of gold around my neck I was on display for the FBI's current most wanted. I could see Goldenfist's desire very plainly pressing against his jumpsuit.
"Kneel down, Owly. and let's see if you're as good as your friend," said Goldenfist. I knelt, tears in my eyes.
After what seemed like hours I rose from the floor dirty, sweaty and totally degraded. I trembled in fear and remembrance of the two criminals. But with the collar, i was powerless to resist their commands. Mirabilis had the idea first.
"Let's unmask her. Why should we hide here, when we can take over her other life too?"
"Great idea!" agreed Goldenfist. He reached for my mask, intending to peel it off.
"Hey, why won't it come off?" I stood mute. Furiously. Goldenfist slapped me. "Answer me White Bitch. Why won't your mask come off?"
"It requires a special solvent," I replied in an emotionless voice.
"And where is that kept?" he pressed.
I couldn't answer--but my finger pointed to the stash of my weapons on the table. The Alchemist shouted, "Found it!" and brought it to Goldenfist. The golden villain depressed the spray bottle in my face and my mask slipped into his eager hands.
"Here ya go, Sean. Something for your collection," he laughed. Goldenfist put his hand on my chin and tilted my head up. "You look familiar," he said. "Like someone from a magazine."
"Please, don't be vulgar Eric," said the Alchemist. "She's nothing like those centerfolds."
"I didn't read Chateau when I was in stir," said Goldenfist. "I read National Geographic and Modern Archaeology." He snapped his fingers. "Now I remember. She's an archaeologist. Athena something."
"Really?" said the Alchemist, looking closer at me. "You know, you're right. I think I've seen her in the museum center before. So what's your other name White Owl?"
"Nikos." I sobbed. "It's Athena Nikos."
"And can you tell us Ultra Woman's name?"
I struggled....I didn't want to but blurted out, "Tania Mazona."
Mirabilis smiled wolfishly. "Excellent. Then we can lay plans for her defeat as well. She'd never expect her good friend White Owl to betray her."
Goldenfist motioned toward a black SUV in the warehouse. "Please, Ms Nikos, get into the back. You're going to direct us to your home, and we're moving in." With heisitating steps, I couldn't do anything more than comply.
Tania walked through the concourse of the Queen City airport, thankful to be on the ground. "I don' t know HOW mortals do it!" she thought to herself. "All of them cooped up in that tight compartment. And for the most part they're polite!" She decided she would have to make better noted on her return flight, so that they might be entered into the Archives for her country's social scientists and philosophers to ponder.
She slipped up to the baggage claim carousel and found her weekend bag. She picked it up, pushed her glasses up her nose and ambled toward the door. A driver with a sign caught her eye..."MAZONA"
"I'm Tania Mazona," she said, introducing herself.
"Hi Ms Mazona," said the driver. I'm Sean Dee from the museum. Dr Nikos sent me to pick you up."
"Oh!" said Tania, taken aback. "Thank you, but I was going to rent a car."
"If you didn't pre book one, you won't get a good rate," said the man. "And I've been asked to take you straight to your hotel. Dr Nikos wants to see you for dinner, then will take you to the museum tomorrow, if that's all right."
Tania nodded. "I suppose its ok." She pressed her hands against her wrists, reassuring herself that her bracers were still in place. By touching them together, she could turn to Ultra Woman in a moment's time. Lost in her reverie, she didn't notice Sean tugging at her suitcase .
"I can take that," he repeated.
"NO!" said Tania quickly; almost too quickly. "It has some valuable equipment inside, and...well I'd just feel better if I can keep an eye on it myself."
"Suit yourself," said Dee. He led the way through the concourse and out onto the parking deck. A cold breeze from the river caused Tania's skirt to flutter, giving a glimpse of her long, lithe legs to all the onlooking crowd. Tania remained focused on Sean, however and followed him to a black SUV with the logo of the museum emblazoned on the side.
They climbed into the SUV, and Sean asked Tania where she was staying. "The Mariott," she replied. "It has a nice view of the river and its within walking distance to the museum."
"Not a problem," said Sean. The fifteen mile drive took about a half hour though, as traffic was backed up along the interstate. Tania felt herself getting restless...eager for a chance to soar over Queen City again. The SUV stopped at the hotel and Tania gracefully removed herself from the vehicle.
"Thank you for picking me up," she said.
"Do you need me see you in?" asked Sean.
"No thank you, I've been here before." She waved to him, then swept through the revolving door. The attendant at the desk greeted Tania warmly, then handed her the key card that would allow her access. Tania rode the elevator to her floor and stepped into her room, smiling. she carefully unpacked her things, then checked the time. It was 3:30 and Athena wouldn't be finished at work for another hour or two. Tania rolled up the sleeves of her blouse , then touched the armored gauntlets on her wrists together. A bright flash filed the room and when it receded, Tania Mazona was gone--replaced by the instantly familiar livery of Ultra Woman.
Tania opened the balcony of her room and stepped out on the narrow porch. She kicked gently at the surface and felt herself gliding up on the warm air currents rising from Central Avenue. She moved gracefully, an elegant hawk moving gracefully on the thermals. Ultra Woman headed toward the river; being raised on an island, she loved the water and generally would start any patrols there. Queen City was smaller than her own Megopolis, but still teeming with life downtown at this hour. Tania swooped back toward the city when she spotted a flying figure in white ahead of her.
Smiling she angled toward her friend, eager to say hello and to see if she could help. It wasn't like White Owl to be active during daylight hours, so something special must be going on. "I'm sure two sets of super hands would be doubly helpful," thought Tania.
White Owl swept down toward the football stadium and once again, Tania grew puzzled. Then she spotted the gleam of gold in the end zone.
"Goldenfist!" thought Tania with alarm. She remembered how much a threat Goldenfist could be and determined to stop him. White Owl's descent was bringing the heroine in on a wrong tack, White Owl didn't see Goldenfist. But to her advantage, Goldenfist was focused on Queen City's protector and didn't see Ultra Woman.
She swept in behind the felon, using a hammer fist on the back of Goldenfist's head. The overconfident felon drooped to one knee, the pain almost unbearable. Tania stopped, ready to land a second blow, when Goldenfist yelled, "Stop Ultra Woman!"
Distracted, Tania glanced around, only to see White Owl coming to her aid. "I don't think your Goldmen can stop both of us, Goldenfist," she said with confidence in her voice.
But that swagger turned to pain when a heavy Bop Ball crashed into the back of Tania's skull. She turned in pain, stunned by White Owl's errant throw, then was caught off guard as Owl grabbed her wrist and with a tae kwon do twist, put Ultra Woman on the ground.
"White Owl! What are you doing?" said Ultra Woman, trying to get off the ground. White Owl landed on top of Tania and grappled the Amazon. Tania held back, not wanting to hurt her friend.
"Surprised Ultra Bitch?" growled Goldenfist.
"What have you done to her?!" demanded Tania, dodging another punch from White Owl.
"This..." said Goldenfist. Opening his palm, Tania could see a gold collar fly out of his hand and straight at her neck. Caught in White Owl's powerful grip, the Amazon Champion was powerless to prevent the collar from locking itself around her neck.
"Now stop, Ultra Woman!" came another voice from out of the shadows. Tania felt her body being held in thrall to the stranger's voice. She looked at the man emerging from the sidelines and with a shocked voice said, "Sean?"
The second man smiled. "My friends call me Sean. You must call me master."
Tania tossed her head and laughed. "An amazon calls no man...Master?
"Puzzled Ultra Woman? I'm not surprised, I doubt you were bound much with your own lasso."
"You don't have my lasso!" said Ultra Woman. "Goldenfist melted it down."
"He kept a portion of it as a souvenir. I was able to analyze and duplicate the properties, for I am the Alchemist." Sean bowed, then said, "You are now a slave, Ultra Woman. You will not attempt to touch or remove your collar. Do you understand?"
Tania struggled against the compulsion, until sweat broke on her forehead, but it was no use. "I understand," she said.
She felt a slap on her cheek. "You understand, WHAT?" demanded the Alchemist.
Shame burned through Tania's soul as she replied obediently, "I Understand, Master."
My back, shoulders, knees and certain delicate parts ached. I glanced to my left and saw Tania suffering the same pains. Sometime late on Thursday we had both been stripped of our costumes, then dressed in gold versions of a harem slave. Both the Alchemist and Goldenfist had taken turns with us; vengeful and angry, dominating us and constantly reminding us of our new status as slaves of the newly christened "Gold Rush." When they had finished their sport, Goldenfist commanded us to kneel in a submissive pose, then told us not to move or speak until released.
Tania's eyes had flashed in agitation, and I'm sure I opened my mouth, but the words stifled themselves in my throat. The restored golden lasso did its job, forcing us to total obedience. The escaped felons had slept for hours; it was late in the morning when Goldenfist finally emerged down the stairs from my loft bedroom.
"Good Morning ladies," he said with a huge grin on his face. "I think I am ready for a threesome this morning." My body tensed and Goldenfist stepped forward, circling us with a wolfish grin. "Now who do I want to do what?"" he pondered.
My office door opened and the Alchemist stepped out, a large frown on his face. "My God, Eric, is sex the only thing on your mind?"
"Is there anything else?" asked Goldenfist, genuinely surprised.
"I thought you were intelligent, cunning." said the Alchemist. He waved an open palm at Tania and me. "Look! We have two of the most powerful heroines in the world at our mercy, right?"
"Right.." said Goldenfist, with no understanding.
He held out his hand--a coil of golden rope in his hand, "And thanks to you keeping some of the golden lasso, and my own alchemical studies, we were able to duplicate Ultra Woman's lasso. Remember? Anyone bound by that has to answer truthfully and obey all commands."
"I know that, Sean. So what?"
"So...White Owl and Ultra Woman are not only powerful; they're connected! Think of the heroes and heroines they know. Who they know in their other lives! The access they have in so many places. Think Eric! They are the KEYS to the police files, the White House."
The Alchemist grabbed me, pulling me around to face Goldenfist. "Ultra Woman comes from an island of women who are just like her. Imagine an army of Ultra Women!! White Owl here, is ENGAGED to Captain Valiant! Wouldn't you like to control HIM? To ruin his life? What about Ultra Man? Captain Liberty? White Venus? Star Spangled Girl? The Crimson Dynamo? Lady Midnight?" The passion in his voice was growing. "And with a cadre of powerful heroes and heroines at our beck and call, the whole underworld would fall into line too. We could RULE the world--why settle for two little insignificant beings?" The Alchemist cast me aside and I landed hard on the floor.
Goldenfist rubbed his jaw frowning. "I guess I hadn't considered anything more than revenge. Glad to see one of us was planning ahead, partner. So what's the plan?"
"First, lets start by extracting all the information we can from these bitches, then I have an idea that will ruin their lily white reputations."
They started with Ultra Woman. "Where is your island? What are the defenses? What's the best way to attack? How do we keep the Amazons there subdued? What is Ultra Man's secret identity? His weaknesses...?" And on and on.
Tania's eyes filled with tears as the truths came tripping off her tongue. Even though she was compelled by the lasso embedded in her contol collar, she knew the hurt she would soon be putting her family, sisters and friends through.
They turned their attention to me. My willpower was no less than Tania's, and I felt the information ripped from my brain, pouring forth like a spring. Virgil's name--then Tiffany's, Dark Hunter, the secrets of the Guild, and more. I sobbed as each new tidbit fell from my mouth and as Goldenfist scribbled them furiously onto the notebook.
It was twilight when the Alchemist sat back in his chair, satisfied. Goldenfist nodded agreement and smiled. "Can we play with them now?" he asked lecherously.
The Alchemist shot him a wicked glare. "No! It won't be much longer before these two are missed. We'll need to strike now, to attract attention and catch these heroes unaware."
"What do you have in mind?"
The Alchemist leaned in conspiratorially. "I thnk its time the Gold Rush made itself known here in Queen City. With its two new members."
Goldenfist followed his outstretched hand and smiled as it lit on Tania's breast. "Terrific!" he said. "Should we suit them in their own outfits?"
"No leave them like this--half heroines, all slave! As for the target..." The Alchemist got up and circled to me again. He tilted my chin and gazed deep into my glassy grey eyes. "I think the new collection of Greek Artifacts at the Natural History Museum would be a good place to start. We have our all access code right here."
Tania tried to resist once more when the Alchemist gave us the command to stand up and come with us. The compelling force of the mystic gold which had once formed her lasso was too powerful though, and Ultra Woman staggered to her feet.
My body was already tuned to the obedience; at the Alchemist's word, I shot to my feet, then stumbled--still sore from the long captivity and the depravity of both the Alchemist and his partner Goldenfist. The Alchemist grumbled but saw our compliance and led the way out my front door and down the stairwell. Silently we followed.
I watched Ultra Woman's blond curls bobbing in front of me,occasionally catching a glimpse of the golden torc which kept her in thrall to the whims of our captors. Something about it nagged at the back of my head, but Athena's wisdom was also being held at bay somehow.
We climbed into the back of the van and sat quietly at the Alchemist's command. Goldenfist got into the driver's seat and we cruised through a dark Queen City Friday night. As we drove, the Alchemist lcame back to us and asked me, "How many guards are there at the Museum at night?"
My chin trembled..."Two" I blurted. "One patrolling, one at the desk."
"And what happens if you come in late..or early?"
"It gets recorded in the computer. My access pass lets me in at any hour. No guard visits, they just check me on the intercom."
The Alchemist laughed. "It's just like I thought--Security is pathetic!" I flinched, realizing all the times I'd fought with Ajay to increase security measures. I knew about the interior security--especially tight in the special exhibits halls, but the Alchemist hadn't asked about them.
"All right then ladies. Here are your orders." The Alchemist rubbed his hands in glee. "Ultra Woman, you will find the roaming guard as quickly as possible and put him to sleep. Then you will meet us in the Greek Exhibit. White Owl, you will take care of the desk guard..." My heart leapt at the vague wording but fell as quickly as he added, " by putting him to sleep with a gas ball, then you will join us as well."
We arrived at the MuseumCenter and the plan went as expected. I frowned as I thought of Foster's face when the gas ball exploded next to him. I silenced all the alarms and special security measures, then left the hall.
Within minutes Tania and I were once again standing with our captors, obedient little lap pets. I raised my hands toward my neck and was told once more, "You will NOT attempt to remove your collar, White Owl."
I think Goldenfist was feeling left out, because he repeated the order to Ultra Woman. Goldenfist scowled at the Alchemist, then growled, "Don't hog them all to yourself."
Goldenfist looked us both in the eye and said, "You ladies know what's valuable and what's not. Grab teh valuable stuff--the stuff we can sell, and take it to the van. Make it quick."
I stumbled off with a jerk, then headed into the exhibit hall. The valuable relics and the time I'd spent preparing the room were both swept aside as we gathered golden statues, priceless bronzes and pots and more. I followed Tania obediently to the van and loaded the treasures of the Hellenic age into the rear. Tania stepped up behind me and bent to place her load in the van as well.
Then it clicked. The orders! They had been given to keep us from taking off our own collars. I moved swiftly, placing my hands around Tania's neck. My nimble fingers found the release latch and I popped the collar free from Ultra Woman's neck.
Tania shook her head, her tawny mane shaking free and falling gracefully into place. "Thank you," she said. She reached up and quickly pulled my collar free as well.
I smiled in relief as my thoughts became fully mine again. In the meantime, Tania touched her bracers together and became Tania Mazona again. She smiled, then touched them together once more. I shielded my eyes from the glare, and where once a slave, then Tania Mazona stood, Ultra Woman now appeared.
"You're not completely dressed," I said, pulling the renewed lasso from the passenger seat. "You really should be the only one to wield this." Tania took the lasso and held it gingerly.
"You've seen the trouble this thing can cause, Athena. I wonder if I should use it at all."
"Well this isn't the time to worry about it NOW Tania," I smiled. Let's take care of the bad guys first."
"Are you going to fight dressed like that?" she giggled.
I looked at my outfit and smiled sheepishly. "I have another in my office. Give me just a minute. Not all of us have magic bracers." Two minutes later we were racing down the hallway to the Greek exhibit--and found it empty.
"Where did they go?" Tania asked in a whisper. I listened then pointed.
In the Egyptian area of the museum the Alchemist was roaring with delight. "I've found it--I've found it!"
"Not so loud Sean! You'll bring the cops," said Goldenfist.
"Stop worrying! We have some high powered backup, remember?" He waved at an ancient parchment, framed on the wall.
"Do you know what this is?" He asked Goldenfist. Without waiting for an answer, he continued, "This is a treatise by Hermes...HERMES TRISMEGISTUS himself!"
Goldenfist shrugged his shoulders and said, "So what?"
"YOU FOOL!" shrieked the Alchemist! "Trismegistus is the FATHER of Alchemy! The very foundations of understanding the world are here! Why with this, taking the world would be child's play."
He looked around. "Where are those bitches? They can help us take this off the wall."
The Alchemist was answered by a powerful bracer bound arm. He staggered back, holding his nose and reaching in his tunic for the Philosopher's stone. Tania grabbed his hand, and the Alchemist dropped the stone. Tania brought her spiked heel onto the stone, shattering it into so many fragments.
"The only transformation YOU'LL be doing is breaking big rocks into small ones," said Ultra Woman, grabbing the Alchemist and preparing an airplane spin into the wall.
Behind her, Goldenfist saw the gleam of Ultra Woman's belt, tiara and her newly restored lasso. Smiling, he cracked his knuckles and prepared to make Ultra Woman his hostage again. But from the ceiling, I dropped down on top of him, breaking his concentration.
"You!" he glowered, scrambling back to his feet. He pointed his fists at the huge gleaming statue of Ra, then at me, I rewarded him with a savage blow on his jaw, sending Goldenfist reeling.
The fight was over quickly. "How..how come my powers didn't work on that gold statue?" asked Goldenfist.
"Because the museum has a gilded plaster statue." I replied grimly. I agreed to guard the prisoners while Ultra Woman saw to the security team and called Captain Winslow. She was back in a few minutes.
By then, both prisoners were less woozy and feeling their oats. "You may have caught us, but we know all your secrets, Athena and Tania!" taunted the Alchemist.
"And you can bet by the time we hit Crown Point again, the entire prison's gonna know." I shared a look with Ultra Woman.
"They have a point, Ultra Woman," I said. "And those we love will be in danger too."
Tania's hand went to her side. "I want to do the right thing. But to deprive people of their memories?"
I drew a deep breath. "I agree; its a tough call. But Athena's wisdom would allow for it."
"How about this," said Tania, dropping the lasso over the shoulder's of our two former captors...
"You will remember everything from the time of your escape until the time of your capture, with the exception of any identities you learned." I watched in astonishment as their faces went slack, then glazed and back to normal.
"I think I need to give this back to the Queen," said Tania, recoiling the lasso. "There is so much power in the lasso and I don't want to think of it falling into evil hands again."
Captain Winslow arrived a few moments later and smiled broadly at Ultra Woman. "Always nice to have you visit our city ma'am," he said politely. "Giving White Owl some pointers?"
"It is she who is teaching me, I am afraid," said Tania.
Winslow looked at me with an arched eyebrow, then nodded. He and Duffy took the prisoners into custody and I flew home, exhausted.
Ajay Chatterjee was beside himself as he ushered Tania Mazona to my office. "I am well aware of your work in dating ancient artifacts Ms Mazona. I am so glad Dr Nikos decided to call in an expert on this matter." He glared at me.
"Ajay," I reminded him, pointing at the wall clock. "Don't you have a meeting with Mrs Pogue? As in the society register? As in the museum's biggest financial donor?"
Chatterjee blanched, then hastily excused himself.
"I apologize for him Tania, but..." I began
Tania held up her hand, her silver bracelets jingling. "Its all right Athena, I get it a lot!" She laughed and then said, "Now what about this helmet?"
I pointed to it, sitting on my workbench. Tania got close and leaned in. "Its definitely Amazon," she said.
Then she gasped. "Look here, where the headbad would have been."
I pulled my own magnifier out and stared where she was pointing. A faint greek inscription appeared.
"NIKE?" I read.
"Its a treaty helmet, Athena," said Tania. "The Amazons would use them when they established a peaceful envoy or an alliance with another city state. The full inscription would be 'Stayn Iraynay kai stay Nikay'--Through Peace and through Victory."
I crossed my arms in wonderment. "That certainly would be a good definition of a lasting friendship," I said.
"That old man Drake sure rakes it in on these early weekends," muttered Duane. "When people can afford to buy back their stuff. And with this holiday on Monday, I know its just sittin' in the safe until the bank opens...." Duane finished his work on the two security boxes, having disabled both the load and silent alarms, and shutting down the video feed. He turned his attention to the task of opening the locks.
A dark shadow loomed over the door. "Aw Hell, no!" said Duane, throwing his tools into the satchel. He turned to run but a slender arm swathed in a long white glove apprehended him.
"Going somewhere?" I asked in a cheerful voice. For once, someone had the good sense not to struggle. I handcuffed him to the dumpster then pulled my cell phone to call in the collar. While I was speaking to the dispatcher, I felt a sharp jab in the back of my shoulder, almost like a mosquito bite. It was too late in the year for that, so I managed to pull out a minidart. I pulled a small vial of a general antitoxin.
I waited nervously for five minutes until the squadcar pulled in, then handed over my collar. I told them I'd be in later to fill Captain Winslow in. I knew the paperwork was going to be rough, but I had the photos, and handed the cops the memory stick.
I flew home, still jittery, and headed downstairs to Crimson's lab. She wasn't home—Goldenfist was loose in Megapolis, and Tiffany had gone to assist Claire in stopping him. They'd taken him down easily enough, but she'd phoned earlier about spending another day before coming home.
I took the needle from the evidence bag, and set up the centerfuge. Any liquid on that dart was quickly spun out. I placed the residue into a chemical analyzer then slipped upstairs to bed. Whatever it was that had hit me, apparently wasn't affecting my mind, my reflexes or anything else. I figured I could at least get some sleep.
I slipped into bed and felt the THUMP of my rather large cat settling onto the bed for some Daisy time. I stoked her idly, and the trill of her purr soon relaxed me to the point of slumber. My mind calmed and my sleep was dreamless.
I heard the alarm going off, then got out of bed and dressed for church. After pouring my coffee into my travel mug, I slipped downstairs and checked the analyzer. The printout was sitting on the machine, but I didn't have time to stop.
I hopped into the Jeep and headed to St George's arriving in time to top off my coffee and grab a pastry before entering the sanctuary. I sat in the back, struggling to stay awake through Father Tim's homily, and remaining mostly successful. After the services, I stayed in the narthex to mingle and fellowship, but I was politely ignored for the most part.
As I drove home, confused, my watch beeped and I realized I was going to be late for a meeting I had with Josh. I pulled into the parking around back and White Owl launched from my balcony a few minutes later. I landed outside the Paparosa's Pizza a few minutes later, noticing my publicist had yet to arrive. I smiled as his Camry rounded the corner and eased into a spot. He spotted me and waved.
We walked to the restaurant, and Josh held the door open, but gave me an odd look doing so. We sat in a corner booth in the back, ordered and Josh pulled out the spreadsheets.
"What's the bad news, Mr Bailey?" I said, smiling at him through my mask.
"Frankly White Owl, you're a bit of a mystery to the public," he said. "Some of them are scared of you frankly; about 35 % of the public views you as a menace or something really scary."
"What about the rest?" I asked. "Well another 35% or so thinks of you in a positive way; you're a needed figure and good for Queen City. Your fan base is getting smaller though; you aren't seen as 'dark' by the Hero Collectors, but you aren't 'light' enough to be marketed as a kid's role model. Mainly because of your predilection for getting into trouble."
"But I manage to overcome those things," I said.
"I know," said Josh. "But your friend Captain Valiant manages to win without all the captures and defeats. Even the Crimson Dynamo has a higher rating than you." Josh shuddered.
"Is something wrong?" I asked.
"Are you wearing a new perfume or something?" asked Josh. "I'm suddenly not feeling well."
"No," I said. At that moment my cell phone rang. "White Owl," I said.
"I need you at Police Plaza ASAP," said the gravelly voice of Captain Winslow. Years of tobacco abuse had damaged his vocal cords, but he hadn't lost any of his sense of justice.
I apologized to Josh, and asked if it was my turn to pay.
"No no," he said, his face blanching. "I'll expense this, the foundation will cover it. You better go."
This last was said with a strong sense of dismissal, and I headed for the door.
I covered the distance to police headquarters quickly, and landed on the rooftop where Captain Winslow waited with my cup of coffee. "Glad you could make it White Owl," he said. "Its not like you to hang out during the daytime."
"Occasionally, I like to see the world in a bright light, " I smiled. "What can I do for you?" He held a thick manila folder out to me. I took it and saw the tortured face of Effigy staring back at me.
"Effigy?" I said. "I stopped him two years ago at Culver's farm, remember? He was on death row for four murders and..."
"And because of his triple joints, he broke out of the state reformatory two weeks ago," said Winslow. "And worse. He used the time in there to become an expert on fear. He devoured every book in the library, took online courses from Zenith University and proved an apt student in chemistry, biology and psychology. Do you remember what he said at the trial here?"
"Something about having revenge. They all say that."
"No. Specifically, he said that the world would see you as the terror you are. I had the SCU take a look around that pawn shop this morning White Owl."
"You didn't have to do that Captain," I started, but he stopped me.
"On the rooftop of Antonelli Transport, we found these." Winslow held up three pieces of barley straw.
"Oh come on now, you can't believe...I mean I would have seen him or..."
"They were tied together on the rooftop overlooking Drake's back door. And he's triple jointed, remember? How did you know about the break in?"
"I saw a flash of metal in the streetlight," I said.
"That's great," said Winslow. "But Jefferson had matte painted tools. No reflections. You were lured White Owl. Did anything happen?"
I hesitated. Finally I nodded. "I was hit with a dart. I don't think there was anything on it, since I'm fine. But there's a tox report waiting for me when I get home."
"Fax me a copy—I need to know what we're dealing with." He started to back away.
"What's wrong Captain?"
"I...I don't know. But right now I've got a big case of the willies. I'm ashamed to say it...but you scare me Owl. Could you go please?" I could tell it took every bit of his courage to stand up to me. I nodded and said, "I'll be in touch," then flew home.
Daisy heard me landing on the rooftop terrace and was sitting by the door waiting for me. I opened the door and smiled, then reached down to pet her. Suddenly the hackles on her back raised and she hissed, followed by a keening growl.
"Daisy?" I asked. She hissed again and raced to the kitchen, hiding under the table. She hunkered down and raised a menacing paw at me anytime I tried to reach out to her. I decided that I would feed her, but I could feel her eyes glaring at me, sensing I was a threat. I put her canned cat food into her dish, set it down, and added water to her other dish.
"All right, your highness," I said. "I'm going out, so get over whatever, and come eat." I shut the front door and glided down to Crimson's lab. The paperwork was strewn across three tables and I spotted a Taco Mission bag, a large soda and a bright shock of reddish hair just behind the analyzer.
"Tiffany?" I asked.
"Oh my GOSH Athena! Don't startle me like that!" Tiffany whirled and gave me a hug. But almost as quickly she backed off, her eyes full of questions and fear.
"Ow..Owl? What's going on with you?" she asked.
I took a step toward her, without thinking. "I don't know—I was hoping you could tell..."
"KEEP BACK!" The panic in her voice was noticeable but controlled. "You...you're terrifying!"
A visible shudder passed through her trim form.
"So much for improving my fan quotient," I joked grimly. As quickly and with as little embellishment as possible, I filled her in on the dart and what it might have meant to me. To my gratitude, she didn't flinch and she stayed focused on the details.
"So do you have any idea what happened?" I asked.
"Well, you weren't poisoned," she said. "Your metabolism would have shaken that right out. So I'm guessing this is something that's USING your healing to make you so scary. The analysis indicated a compound that would increase your pheromones. I'm just not sure WHICH pheromones." Tiffany made a face, then swallowed hard. "Though its just a guess that it's the ones that make people afraid of you."
"Trust Effigy to make it that," I said. "Look even you're too scared to be within fifteen feet of me. I can't work like this. And I definitely can't handle a group of sixth graders at the museum tomorrow!"
"Th...then we need to get this handled." Tiffany managed a brave face.
"I'll get this report faxed to the lab at Police Central. Then what?" she asked.
"Depends. How fast can you get to Decatur County?"
"Why there?" she asked.
"It has the nearest barely fields to Queen City. I'm guessing Effigy is holed up there. At least Sheriff Custis doesn't have it in for me like Sheriff Lynch does." Tiffany nodded.
"I'll be in touch—cheer up White Owl! We'll have this licked in no time."
I turned to go back upstairs and heard an audible thud as Tiffany sank to the floor in relief.
Tiffany allowed herself to sink to the floor, shuddering. Five minutes later, she had pulled herself together enough to stand, and made her way on watery legs to her closet. "I thought I was tough," she thought, "but Theena scared the living daylights out of me. Tiffany swallowed hard, then pulled out the almost delicate bodysuit she wore as the Crimson Dynamo.
She stripped out of her white blouse and miniskirt, carefully putting them into the hamper, then stood in the cool room, allowing the air to caress her like a lover. The nanites that gave the Dynamo her abilities also enhanced her sensuality, so that at one point, even the slightest touch could send Tiffany into the throes of passion. Time and experience had tempered that though, so as the sexy young scientist stripped away her bra and panties, she could feel her heart racing; eager for the comfortable touch of her bodysuit.
Tiffany slid the suit up her legs, reveling in the seductive touch of the silky material. The fabric melded with her body, holding her like a lover's embrace. She zipped the bodysuit into place, then stepped into her crimson skirt and boots.
Before she put her mask into place, though, Tiffany called Terri Allen at the Crime Lab.
"Terri? This is the Crimson Dynamo. Yes I'm back and I've got the full report. My own machines did a lot of the analysis, but I need someone to interpret the data. Would you be willing?" Tiffany's fingers flew across the keyboard as she attached the results to the secure e-mail. Her finger hovered over the send key until she heard Terri agree.
Pressing send, Tiffany added, "Thanks Terri, This means so much."
"Well we can't have White Owl out of commission, now can we?" asked Terri.
Crimson shot a look up at her ceiling and replied. "No...not for very long."
"I'll have that report for you in a flash," said Terri.
"OK," said Tiffany. "Send copies to Winslow and to White Owl too. I may be incommunicado for a while." She set the cell phone back into her belt pouch, and set the mask on her face. She felt the magnetic adhesion as the nanites in the mask linked with her internal ones.
The Crimson Dynamo then stood, and went to her basement lab. She pressed a lever behind the huge oil furnace and watched as the door into the furnace swung open. The furnace was non functioning; Athena had converted to a more efficient system when renovating the building. But the old furnace hid a secret passage leading to a statue of President Taft in Victory Park. Tiffany emerged in a copse close to the statue and saw no one around. She kicked her jet boots into action and flew north, toward the town of Nuxhall in Decatur County.
At one point Nuxhall had been a thriving town, a railroad hub and grain mill had seen in prosperous until the 1940's. but the wars, the promises of better jobs in nearby Zenith and Queen City, and the loss of the QCWR Railroads had ensured the doom of the small town. Nuxhall was now almost abandoned, with several boarded up buildings and an aging population of farmers, who refused to let their legacy die.
"Just the sort of place to hole up if you don't want to be found," thought Crimson, as she settled gently into a parking lot at the old grain elevator. She stepped around warily, uncertain where to begin.
"Now there's a sight you don't see every day, Chauncy."
"What's that Edgar?"
"A pretty young woman come a'droppin' outta the sky."
The Crimson Dynamo whirled, alarmed. On a wooden porch sat two old men with an ancient radio on a cooler between them. Each had a brown bottle in hand and at least three more empties lay nearby.
"Hello there gentlemen," said Tiffany, a warm smile on her face. "I'm the Crimson Dynamo, from Queen City."
"Well paint me yeller an' call me a lemon," said Edgar. "I'm Edgar; an' this here's Chauncy. What brings a big time heroine like you to a nowhere like Nuxhall?"
"I'm working on a case right now," said Crimson. "Have you boys been here long?"
"Nigh onto eighty years," said Chauncy. "'N' Edgar here has been here 'bout seventy."
"So you'd notice a stranger?"
"We noticed you didn't we?" The two old men shared a laugh but cut it short when they saw the serious expression on the Crimson Dynamo's face.
Edgar continued. "Yeah, matter of fact, there's some strange doin's at the old Crockett farm. Place has been abandoned for twenty years. But I seen lights up there off an' on for the last month or so. Think that might be what you're lookin' for?"
Crimson crossed her arms and thought. "What did they grow?"
"Oh Crockett was a pig man. But the last few years people been plantin' corn and barley up there."
At 'barley' Crimson's eyes lit up. "Sounds like where I need to be looking. Where is this place?"
"Oh you can't miss it," said Chauncy. "Follow this road 'bout two mile. Crockett's house sits on the left."
"Thanks," said Crimson. "Have a nice night." She kicked on the jet boots and followed the road to the west.
"OK she's gone," said Chauncy. Edgar sprung into action and pulled a microphone from the back of the old radio.
"Boss, you're gonna have costumed company." he said, into the mike.
A minute later, Crimson pulled to a stop outside the Crockett house. The name on the mailbox was faded but legible under her finger light. The house was dark and behind it a large field stretched out for several acres. A large barn was to the side of the house, and Crimson could make out several gleams of light from the cracks in the walls.
"They aren't doing a very good job of hiding themselves," she thought. She slipped to the dark side of the house, away from the barn, intending to scout out the perimeter. But as she entered the side yard Crimson saw something stretched on a post. White Owl?
Cautiously, she approached the figure on the gibbet, with each step her knees wavered more. At twenty feet out, her IR lenses slipped into place and Crimson saw the figure was cold.
"Someone has a sick sense of humor," she thought. "Making a scarecrow of White Owl." Crimson felt her heart racing, though as her flight or fight reflex rose. She whirled in time to stop the first goon, throwing him into the hideous scarecrow. He landed with a thud.
Alert to the attack, Crimson crouched into a fighter's stance. A deft and accurate high kick brought another goon down and he lay writhing on the soft earth.
Someone grabbed her from behind, but Crimson planted her feet and flipped forward. The goon flew forward and knocked the fourth assailant to the ground. Crimson stood, smiling, her scarf flapping in the breeze. "Is that all you have?" she mocked.
But suddenly, a chill crept up her spine. For no reason, her body trembled, her hands began shaking uncontrollably. Crimson felt her heart racing in terror and turned to look at the scarecrow once more.
It no longer hung on the gibbet. Instead another scarecrow was walking toward the young heroine. His steps were deliberate. He was approximately 5 and a half feet tall, and had dark eyes. Tiffany finally saw it wasn't a scarecrow, but a man with a horrific skin condition. His skin looked like flaps of burlap. His face was painted to resemble a scarecrow's. He was wearing ragged jeans, a tan leather vest and a top hat. As he drew near to the Crimson Dynamo, she felt her body seize up and the fear drew her into a small ball.
The scarecrow loomed over the now helpless woman. With a heavy cane, he bashed Crimson in the skull , toppling the mighty heroine.
As she struggled to maintain consciousness, a second clout caught her in the head. The Crimson Dynamo slumped to the ground unconscious.
"Get her to the barn," said Effigy to his recovering henchmen. "Take her belt, search her well and chain her to a pillar. I have plans for her..."
Crimson shook her head slowly from side to side, trying to clear the cobwebs. Her knees still shuddered in a declining fear and with a half open eye, she carefully reconnoitered her surroundings. She was handcuffed around a thick wooden beam, one which held up the center support beam of a large barn.
"It's no use pretending, Crimson Dynamo," came a rasping voice. "I c'n see you're awake."
Crimson shrugged and raised her head. She saw her belt, scarf and skirt laying across the barn, draped over a cow stall. Crimson shuddered when she saw her remaining costume had been unzipped all the way down, and her ample bosom placed on display for Effigy and his henchmen.
"I assume knocking women out is the only way you get some action," sniffed Crimson, trying to regain some confidence and dignity. Effigy stepped out of the shadows and just laughed.
"Oh you're so right, smart ass. Ain't a woman alive that' ud come to me willin'ly." He stepped closer to Crimson, grabbed the lapel of her costume with one hand, and took a full grasp of her breast in the other. "I heard you got a short trigger when it comes to stimulus," he said.
Crimson gasped as the villain teased the nipple on the tip of her engorged breast. Her back arched and despite herself, Crimson let out a throaty moan.
"That's real nice," said Effigy. "I think I c'n conjure me up another pheromone that'll leave you perpetually wantin' me."
"You...you bastard," gasped Crimson. "I'll never want you. And I'll put a stop to you."
"I don't think so, l'il lady," said Effigy. "I used your high power handcuffs to lock you to that post. White Owl cain't break 'em, I'm bettin' you cain't neither." He rubbed his hand across Crimson's exposed belly, then teased the button of her exposed breast once more. Crimson gasped again, but managed to control herself.
Effigy moved back, then picked up a small vial from the table he'd been standing by. "You know what this is?" he asked Crimson. Without waiting for an answer, he said, "This is the stuff that will bring White Owl down. Its a catalyst. I know she has this crazy metabolism that helps her heal fast. All I did was inject her with a l'il somethin' that'll help her put the fear o' God inta everyone. An' in the end, EVERYONE will be afraid of her--she'll go insane!"
He paused for a minute, then picked up another bottle. "I know it works, because I tried it out. An' I have an antidote, cuz I was the test subject. But your l'il friend won't get this.
Crimson watched closely as Effigy slipped the bottle into his vest pocket. Then he picked up a big needle and a bottle of alcohol, bringing it close to the sexy, bound crimefighter.
"This here ain't the phereomone stuff. That's too slow. What this is," he said as he swabbed Crimson's swollen breast with a cotton ball. "What THIS is, is concentrated fear. Adrenaline. I'm gonna pump you with so much, your heart'll just plumb stop from exertion. An' there's nothin' you can do about it.
Crimson gasped as Effigy grabbed her breast then shoved the needle deep inside. He depressed the plunger and Crimson felt a warmth running into her system. She also felt her heart beginning to pump faster and her limbs get cold and watery. A scream died in her throat, as Crimson swallowed and tried to stir her confidence and spirit. She felt the cold sweat breaking on her body and felt herself trembling.
"Boo!" laughed Effigy, and Crimson flinched, ashamed.
"Who wants to taunt her some more?" Effigy asked his men. One large fellow stood up.
"C'mon an' get her then," said Effigy.
"It isn't that, boss. We got company--most likely from Queen City."
"What? How?" Effigy crossed the room and Crimson felt herself almost relax. But the jitters started right back up.
Effigy's dark eyes scanned an electric board. "You fools! They were here before you could tell me! Where is she?"
"Last we knew was Chauncy and Edgar said somethin' fast an' white tore through main steet. We lost tracking about the farmhouse."
"White Owl's no idiot--even if she is losing her mind. Get out there and find her. Work in pairs, she can't sneak up on you then. And you've all got the counter drug in your system--she won't be able to scare you."
The four men broke from the barn and with shotguns in hand approached the family garden where Crimson had been captured. Two of them headed for the highway first, to come up on White Owl from behind. The other two approached stealthily from the barn.
"Where do you think she is, Len?" asked Jasper.
"I don't know. But she's bound to be around here." A heavy thud sounded in the shadow of the farmhouse.
"I'm gonna check it out," said Len. He pumped a shell and Jasper stood back to cover him. A minute passed, then Jasper saw a shadowy figure waving from the door. Smiling, Jasper headed for the door and was hit with a heavy thud on the jaw. He caught a steel sphere in his hand, looking dumbly at it before dropping unconscious to the ground. The shadowy figure dragged him into the farmhouse.
Fargo and Jon trotted up the far side of the farmhouse, warily. Though they hadn't seen anything, they both had the feeling of being watched. A silver orb landed between them and the two men jumped. They looked at the globe for just a second, then the phosphorus ignited, filling the dark night with the blaze of brightest sunshine. Fargo dropped his shotgun and took off running, slamming headfirst into an old oak tree. He dropped, stunned. Jon stood his ground and blinked furiously, trying to clear his vision. A moment or three later, he could see well enough to pick a path around the house.
He entered the large field where the corn stalks still rustled in the soft wind. The White Owl scarecrow still hung on her gibbet. Jon sighed in relief, then tripped over something at his feet. "Damn you Fargo," he said, picking himself from the ground. As he did, he noticed that he had tripped on the scarecrow's prone form.
"But if the scarecrow is here, then.." A Steel Fist in a silken glove clipped Jon on the jaw, with enough force to stun the man into unconsciousness.
I dragged the four men back into the farm house; securing them in different rooms and using the duct tape I'd found to insure the silence. My total time in taking them down had been less than five minutes--a total of fifteen after restraining them. "Effigy should be getting justifiably nervous," I thought. I looked down at the glowing red tracer Tiffany had installed in both our costumes. I knew she was alive--at least I prayed it; but in either case Effigy was going down.
One advantage to being White Owl is silent flight. I soared high above the farmhouse, then spotted the lights in the barn. I wasn't sure if Effigy had kept a reserve of men or not, so I carefully picked my way around. I saw the Hay door open on the far side and I glided in, landing in the upper barn without a sound. Effigy's back was to me, he was looking for his men.
"Where are those idiots?" he muttered. I could see Crimson in the middle of the barn, the High Strength cuffs on her wrists and ankles. Her costume was in a huge disarray, but aside from a nervous shudder, she seemed all right.
Effigy turned back toward Crimson and stopped. "I'll give them three more minutes," he said. He reached into his hat's band and pulled out a pack of Laramies. As he flicked his lighter, I threw a paint ball. Normally I'll use them for windshields, but it was about all I had left. The ball hit Effigy's hand, shattering on his wrist and spewing yellow green paint on his arm and vest. The lighter whirled out of his hand and hit the floor. As Effigy followed the trajectory back toward the upper level, I flew in, landing a haymaker (what else) to his skeleton like jaw.
Effigy hit the floor and looked back. A crooked smile crossed his face. "Been expectin' you," he rasped. "Feelin' a little LONELY? Look what you're doin' to your partner there." He pointed over my shoulder and I spared a glance at Crimson. Her eyes were wide with terror and the sweat on her body told me she was heading for shock if I didn't help her soon. Still I couldn't allow Effigy to get away. He was nearly back on his feet when I leg tackled him.
"Damn you Owl! Leave me BE!" he spat. "Why aren't you scared? I put a ton o' that pheremone on me!" I could feel him trembling under my arms though. "You shouldn't be able to think, much less walk an' fight."
"Don't worry," I said. "You won't have to think about it much longer." I slammed a fist into his jaw and felt his body go limp in my arms. I turned back to Crimson, and slowly approached. Crimson's eyes grew wider with fear at each step.
"N..n..no!" she said. "K..Keep away!"
"Steady Crimson," I said. "Its me, White Owl. I'm your friend, your best friend, remember?" My voice was steady, calm and soft, just like I'd learned in my riding classes. Crimson bucked, but I could see her fighting to keep her sanity and to master her fear. I took that tack.
"You're the Crimson Dynamo," I said. "You've worked with me several times. I'm not scary--you've defeated Dr Kotetsu, and Hypnota, remember? You're a heroine! You've saved lives, because you were brave! Be brave now."
I reached out, and touched the keypad for the HD Cuffs. There was a beep, then they fell free from Crimson's hands and feet. Crimson hugged me, trembling.
"Shhhhh! It's ok," I said.
"No its not," she answered. "Effigy has your antidote--and he's slipping out." I turned to see Effigy waving from the front of the barn. A five gallon can sat beside him.
"So long ladies! I'll see you in hell!" He touched the lighter to the ground and ran. A fire blazed up and the acrid smell of burning Kerosene filled the room. I grabbed Crimson and flew us straight out of the barn. Then I gave her my phone. "Call Sheriff Custis, I'll get Effigy" She nodded and took off to complete the call.
Effigy ran, but badly. The disease that marred his skin so much had also affected his gait, and I caught up with him in 200 yards. He fussed when I brought him down, but was smug as the sheriff and his deputies arrived. Crimson stayed with the collar while I saw to putting out the barn, for obvious reasons. When Crimson came up to me though, there was a scowl on her face.
"I'm afraid Effigy broke the bottle with the cure," she said.
"You mean I'm doomed to go crazy? To never again have my cat or friends speak to me?"
She nodded grimly. Behind her, a corpulent man in County Brown and Gray strode up. "White Owl?" he asked.
"Sheriff Wil Custis," he said, stepping close and holding out a large beefy hand. "Thanks for the tips that brought us here. You're quite an inspiration to a lot of my deputies. And to me, but don't let my wife hear that." I took his hand and shook it as we both enjoyed a hearty laugh.
The next day, Tiffany was comparing the charts of my blood test with previous one. She shook her pretty auburn hair and frowned. "I don't get it." We were sitting in the sunny living room of my upper floor apartment.
"What?" I asked.
"There's no trace of the hyper pheremones," she said. "Its almost like you shorted them out."
"Maybe my healing factor?" I asked. "Or perhaps a counter pheremone?"
She nodded. "Still I won't feel good until Alyssa can check this out. She's coming tomorrow."
It was my turn to be surprised. "What? How did you..."
"I invited her. She needed some time off with the both of us. By seeing YOU she can expense it."
"You win," I said. "I'll see her tomorrow then." I heard a gentle "mreow" and with that word of warning, 2 pounds of furry white cat landed in my lap. "But I really doubt she'll find anything either."
“Sixty four cubed is 262,144” said the comely redhead. Her copper tresses shone in the single spotlight as she hit her mark time and again on the wooden platform that served as a stage. “Come on people, this is easy, give me something difficult.”
Her audience, mostly polite, though slightly intoxicated festival goers laughed. One man called out, “All right Sister Brain. What's the seventh commandment?”
Marcie Braun smiled. “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” She smiled and added, “And lusting after a woman is adultery too—Better watch those eyes sir.” The crowd laughed and the man turned red, then headed for the tent flap.
“What's the capital of Latvia?”
“Who held the highest all time batting average?”
“Tip O'Neill of the St Louis Browns hit .485 in 1887. In the Modern Era, it would be Rogers Hornsby batting .424 for the Cardinals in 1924.”
“When did Burgundy get absorbed into France?”
“With the death of Charles the Brash in 1477”
“Why is a Raven like a writing desk?”
“Because Poe wrote on both”
“What's the airspeed velocity of an unladen European Swallow?”
“Approximately 11 meters a second or 24 miles an hour.”
For the next hour, Marcie held the crowd spellbound with her witty repartee and encyclopedic knowledge. It was on the last question though, that she was stopped.
“Who's the smartest woman in the world? Sister Brain or White Owl?”
Marcie shot the questioner a withering glare. “White Owl has a limited knowledge, where mine covers all subjects. She may be cleverer than most, but I think I would win in the end.”
“Good to know Sister Brain. Aren't you going to Queen City soon?”
“Why yes, we'll be doing two festivals up there over the course of three weeks.” She held up a hand.
“Now no more questions. I need to turn the show over to my brother; the illustrious Dr Brawn.
She stepped to one side and a small man with a dark beard stepped up. Four and a half feet tall, yet Dr Brawn lived up to his name, breaking chains, lifting heavy objects and challenging all comers to any test of strength. His showstopping act though was when he bent a quarter between his two thumbs.
The crowd politely oohed and ahhed through the show, then just as politely left.
Dr Brawn took his bows, then headed across the St Veronica parking lot towards a deluxe Airstream trailer. Some teenage toughs stepped out from between the beer tent and the poker tent and blocked his path.
“You ain't so tough. What happened? Did you get the muscles an' your sister get the looks, brains and height?” His buddies cackled, this was funny stuff.
Michael Braun sighed. Ever since he learned in sixth grade that he wouldn't get taller than 4'8”
he had struggled with bullies of all stripes. His parents had wisely channeled him into martial arts for the discipline, and the self defense skills. Michael had begun weight lifting two years later, as a resident in the juvenile court systems. He took a calming breath and said, “You really don't want to make me angry. Please step aside.”
“You hear that guys? Little man thinks he's the Incredible Hulk or something. Tell you what short stuff. You give me a hundred bucks and maybe we'll let you past.” The punk stood with his arms crossed, expectantly.
Michael smiled. “You were warned,” he said, settling into a fighting crouch. A few moments later, all four boys were out cold on the ground. The deputy on duty came running, and asked what happened..
“I ...” began Michael.
“These boys were impeding his progress, and attacked him. He defended himself,” said Father Ross, the parish priest. “I saw it from the beer tent.”
Three other witnesses, including two of the boys' fathers agreed with Father Ross, and Michael was allowed to go on to his trailer. He frowned and looked at his sister, “When do we quit this racket, Marcie?”
“Very soon Michael. After Queen City. I want to show up a snooty little brainy heroine first.”
“Do you think its wise to take her on?”
Marcie stretched out on the sofa, her coppery hair sweeping across her elegant breasts, “Maybe not wise but necessary. We've been playing the cow towns too long. Queen City is our fist big city, and I don't think their cops are any smarter than the rubes we've been dealing with. But a superheroine?
And one who says she's really smart. I want this and need this. Besides, there's a wonderful supply of money coming into the treasury substation while we're at St George's. I want to get our hands on it. Then we can retire—no more shows, I promise.”
Martin harrumphed and after getting a beer, sat in a chair looking at the small television. Marcie came over and began massaging his shoulders. “Poor dear, you're so tight,” she said.
“I'm just worried,” he said.
“Well would this make you feel any better?” said Marcie. She reached into her silk robe's pocket and withdrew a small old looking book.
“What's that?” asked Michael.
“The Bay Psalter “ One of the rarest books in the world, worth a small fortune.”
“But how? Where?”
“While you were onstage, Michael, I took it from the house of Guillermo Fiorini.”
“Isn't he a gangster?” asked Michael, a little frightened.
“I believe he is. And he lives in Queen City. This is from his country estate—about four miles from here. And no one was home tonight. A clean job and he won't know he was robbed for at least three weeks. Now if I can pull this off, then White Owl should pose no problems.”
Michael nodded an agreement. But he still slept uneasily.
The festival board meeting lasted a lot longer than I had expected, But as we left the parish house Father Timothy stopped me. “How are you doing Athena,” he asked privately.
“I'm doing much better, Father,” I replied. “Thank you for recommending Rebecca Allen to me; she's been a wonderful counselor and become a good friend.” I brushed my hair back and frowned at my priest.
“I'm concerned about the carnival group we've engaged this year Father. I don't see why we didn't engage the Grandetti's like we have for the last ten years.”
“You were out of town when we discussed this, I believe. The Grandetti's are a fine organization, but Mr Grandetti was booked in all three of the weekends we had available for the festival. Besides, the Braun shows come highly recommended by Old Man Grandetti, himself. And they were offering the same terms. I can't tell you how much that means to the festival. We pay them one rate, and then the festival gets all the proceeds. And a lot of good can come from that.” Father Tim smiled and I caved in.
“All right. I'm convinced. I'm sure you've done the due diligence, Father. I'll put the suspicions behind me.”
He laughed. “In your line of business, Athena, I'd be surprised if you weren't suspicious. But if you're really WANTING to check them out, then I believe they have a show this week at St Clements in West Bend.”
As I drove home, my cell phone chirped—a special ring meaning White Owl was needed. I picked up the phone and said, “What can I do for you Captain?”
“How soon can you get here?” he asked. I stared at the clock on my dashboard.
“I can be there in 20 minutes,” I said.
“OK I'll have the usual ready. Meet me on the roof.”
I pulled into the parking slot, and raced up the stairs. I knew Tiffany was still in Megopolis with Ultra Woman; the two of them seemed quite taken with each other. But I decided I'd brief her when she returned tomorrow.
I petted Daisy, then slipped into my original leotard, as the heat was close to unbearable. At least this way my neck would be cooler as I flew. I stepped out onto the balcony and lifted of into the night sky. I banked south to the river, then with a quick wingover, I headed west to Police Headquarters.
Captain Winslow met me on the roof, handing me a steaming cup of coffee. I smiled and took a deep drink of the coffee. It was heavenly.
“Oh this is nice,” I said. “Definitely not Police Issue.”
“No its not,” said the captain. He nodded toward the street corner. “A new place called Bagels and Brew just opened. And they're making a killing on the police.” He smiled, then got down to business.
“I just had a call from Guillermo Fiorini,” he said.
“Isn't he a lieutenant in the Cafazzo mob?” I asked. “Seems strange he'd contact you.”
“Well we do protect and serve everyone. And he's never been implicated or convicted of anything more than a parking ticket.” Winslow was seething; the Cafazzos ran most of the organized crime in Queen City and the police were having a hard time driving them out of town.
“Anyhow, Fiorini came in claiming he was robbed. His house in Meadowbrook was broken into last week and some book of his was stolen. Though I have a hard time seeing Fiorini singing songs.”
“What are you talking about, Captain?” I asked.
“That book—he said it was some sort of psalm book. Anyhow, Meadowbrook is out of my jurisdiction, and I told Fiorini. He wasn't too happy. He said he didn't want the local cops out there—he didn't trust them. Then he suggested you. Said you were an honest dealer.”
I frowned, trying to conceal a smile. “Well I suppose I can look into it a bit. Is he still in Meadowbrook?”
“Not now; he said he'd be spending the night here. And he said he's expecting you.”
I finished my coffee and nodded. “All right then. His place is in West Bend isn't it?”
Winslow smiled. “Yep, big estate overlooking the river. Be careful Owl, between the Cafazzos and the Angel gang you've made a lot of enemies.”
“Well tonight I hope to make a few friends, Captain.” I thanked him for the coffee and flew west along the river.
“So what was it like?” Tiffany asked again for the eleventh time. She was curled comfortably on my couch, with Daisy rubbing against her legs. Tiffany was scratching the cat on the chin and Daisy was elated at the attention.
“Fiorini's house? It was nice; a mansion in the truest sense. Fiorini is a collector of rare art, you know. So I saw some Degas, some Renoirs and at least one Raphael; though I think it was a clever copy. Giorgio Fiorini is more or less retired now I guess.
“No guns? No evidence we could bust him on?” Tiffany was all eager for action.
“Not this time, chica. Just a nice upper class home in a gated community. I asked a few questions, then suggested to him he might keep his ear to the ground about someone selling his book. After all, its very rare and most reputable dealers won't touch it. But...”
“But Fiorini knows some less than reputable dealers,”finished Tiffany, with a smile. So when do we make our move?”
“We don't, not against Fiorini. At least not yet as we have no proof of anything he's done wrong. In fact, we're supposed to be helping him clear this up,”
“You are anyway. I say once a criminal, always...”
“What about Mr. M?” I asked with the hint of a smile.
“H..he..that's different!” she said with no further explanation. Hastily changing the subject, she asked, “So what's the plan for tonight?”
“For White Owl? A night off hopefully. Captain Winslow said the city has been pretty quiet of late. So I thought I'd drive back to the west side tonight.”
“Back to Fiorini's?” she asked.
“No, to St Clement's festival. I want to do some homework on the group St George has hired for its festival in two weeks. Want to come?”
Tiffany did her best not to pout, but disappointment was evident on her face. “I don't think so. I have some work at the lab that I've been putting off. It should be quiet tonight, so I'll put in a few hours there. Then maybe I'll patrol.”
“Let me know if you find anything you can't handle,” I said.
“When has that ever happened?” she laughed.
I arrived an hour or so after the festival started and began walking through the small midway. I could recognize which tents were run by the parish guild and which were part of Braun's shows. The church's tents were dark blue and plain, as they would often serve for outdoor weddings and funerals in addition to the festival. Braun's on the other hand were bright orange and white striped, and generally in worse repair. I wandered past the poker and bingo tents, and found the fish fry. I grabbed a sandwich and beer, then sat watching the crowds. People were walking away from the tents with prizes, and none of the games seemed rigged in favor of either the house or the patrons.
"Forgive my doubts, Father Timothy,” I said as I finished my sandwich. I was headed back to the bingo tables when I heard the pop pop sound of small caliber gunfire. Sensing I might be needed, I raced in that direction, only to find a small target shooting stand.
“Well this is something new,” I said. I wandered up to the counter. “What's the game?” I asked.
The bored young man taking the money held up an Ace of Diamonds. “For three dollars you get 5 bullets. If you shoot all the red out of the center of the card, you win a prize.” His hand indicated a sizable selection of large stuffed animals. I nodded and put a $5 bill on the counter. The young man scooped it up and offered me a short rifle.
“It's all loaded,” he said. “All you have to do is cock the handle like this between each shot.” He cocked the gun once then handed it to me.
I took it and sighted the Ace. The gun was small, almost like a child's toy; but I could feel the weight of it. I drew my bead and a deep breath then squeezed the trigger. The gun had no kick to it and I saw a mall hole appear to the upper left side of the diamond. I adjusted my stance and squeezed the last four in quick succession. When the card was pulled back though, I saw I had failed to shoot the diamond completely.
“Sorry ma'am, but that was some good shooting,” said the young man.
“Thank you,” I said, wondering where I would have put a giant stuffed lion anyhow. I was about to go back out when I saw one other thing that looked out of place in a church carnival...a sideshow. Granted it looked like it only had two acts, but I was intrigued.
I paid my admission and found a seat near the front. A moment later, and the lights dimmed. A woman in a skin tight blue costume stepped onto the low platform that served as a stage. “Welcome to an exhibition of strength-the strength of brain and brawn. I am Sister Brain, the most intelligent woman in the world if my press clippings are to be believed. Am I? You determine. Ask me anything. If I don't know it, then we'll pay you $50. That's fair isn't it? Who has a question for me?”
A young boy in the back of the room stood up before his mother could stop him, “What's the most stolen book from a library?” he shouted.
“No need to be so loud,” said Sister Brain. “And surprisingly, the answer is the Bible.” A smattering of applause followed.
“Who was the first woman in space?”
“Valentina Tereshkova, from the Soviet Union, in April 1963 .”
An elderly nun smiled, "And what's the chemical element with the shortest name, dear?"
Sister Brain smiled. "I paid attention to my teachers, sister. That would be Tin."
"Sister Brain, what's the largest freshwater lake in the world?"
Sister Brain scowled a moment. "That would be Lake Baikal in Russia."
I cleared my throat. "That's not correct," I said. "It's Lake Superior."
Sister Brain cocked an eyebrow at me. "Oh really? Lake Baikal is the world's deepest lake and contains 20% of the world's freshwater reserves. So by volume..."
"But not in area," I replied. "In that case Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Even Lake Victoria dwarfs Baikal in size. I'd say you owe the gentleman fifty dollars."
The audience stood in stunned silence as Sister Brain frowned. Then she pointed at the young man who asked the question. "Well sir, it appears I was wrong. See me backstage and I'll make certain you're paid." She shot me another hard glance.
"I don't know who you are, but you're good." she said.
"Athena Nikos, archeologist and world traveller," I said with a gentle smile. Sister Brain's nostrils flared.
"Athena? Greek I assume?"
I nodded. "We're hosting your show in two weeks at my parish. I wanted to get a preview."
"And what's your assesment?"
"I like it. I think you'll be a hit at St George." I waved goodbye, feeling her cold eyes burning into the back of my neck.
The fair wound down at midnight, and Monica grumbled at her brother Michael, as he sat in his chair in their trailer.
"She was so smug, so condescending. 'I'm an archeologist and world traveller'" she mimicked. "God, I HATE being upstaged. And after these last two hits, we never will be again."
"So remind me again why we need to pull this tonight?"
"Because its Friday Night. STAR is going to be practically empty. Those eggheads go home to family, or mistresses, or their boats or whatever. The experiments shut down, the labs are not heavily guarded. And it's the weekend guards, not the regulars. So they shouldn't be as diligent. And finally..." Monica pulled a large cannister from under her bed. "They're going to be awfully mellow."
"What's this?" aked Michael.
"Just hook it to the air intak valve here," Monica pointed on the schematic of STAR she had illegally uploaded from the building's website. "Wait ten minutes, then go in."
Tiffany stretched, feeling the kinks in her spine popping as she arched her back. The nanite research was tedious, but she was trying to be thorough. She was grateful that White Owl had used her pull with Virgil Coleman to get her this position, though she knew her own credentials stood up as well. She looked at the large digital clock on her wall...1:34.
Tiffany drew a deep breath and smiled. She shook her head, trying to focus her thoughts but wasn't having any luck with that. "Whoa, I'm fuzzier headed than I thought." She went to her small refrigerator and pulled a bottled water from the shelf. As she opened the bottle, she heard a soft boom from the other end of the floor.
Sensing trouble, Tiffany slipped into her catsuit and zipped the red skirt into place. She buckled on her belt, then affixed the mask to the magnetic nanite interface. In less than a minute, Tiffany Johnson was gone, and the Crimson Dynamo stood in her place. She hurtled down the hallway toward the sonics lab and skidded to a halt in the R and D section.
A door stood blasted off its hinges, remnants of some plastic explosive still hanging loose. Inside the room, Tiffany spotted a small figure. She stepped into the room and put her balled fists on her trip waist.
"I'm sorry sir, but this lab is off limits without a pass. Can I see yours?"
Michael turned to look at the interfering voice. "Jeepers, another costumed chick? Who are you supposed to be?"
Crimson giggled at the funny little man. "I'm your nightmare," She swept across the room, then swung a roundhouse kick at the man's head. He ducked under it, soming up with two fists and hitting the buxom crimefighter in the solar plexus.
"Whuff!" Tiffany staggered back , stunned by the force of the blow, but the armor of her catsuit absorbed most of the blow.
"You have a powerful punch for a little guy," she commented, As the man swung again, Crimson blocked the punch, then swung through, clipping the small man on the chin. He fell backward, grabbing at the lab table. Crimson grabbed a chair and flung it at the man, hitting him as he came to his feet.. He was thrown back again, hitting his head on a cabinet in the Sonics Lab. He slumped to the floor, his head lolling then resting on his chest. Crimson looked at him, then back at the open vault. She smiled, still slightly intoxicated by whatever was in the air. She began gathering up papers, and didn't hear the man stealthily sneak up on her...
BWAHMMM!!! Stars shot through the Crimson Dynamo's eyes as they rolled up into her head. She groaned, struggling to get back to her feet. The lab chair cracked across her head one more time and the dominoed daredevil dropped to the floor, unconscious. Michael pulled himself to his full height, grabbed the case he was after and ran from the room...
“I don't understand, Theena,” said Tiffany, as she held an ice pack to the back of her head. The nanites infesting her body had already done most of the work toward healing her; the ice pack was an affectation. “Why didn't Wee Man want to grope me? Why did he let me go?”
“Consider the facts Tiffany. You were an unexpected factor in his robbery. Add to it that the guards—slower and duller than usual, but still on call; were on their way. As it was, you were lucky to scramble back to your lab and get back into your lab gear. How did you explain the goose egg?”
“Oh I told them I clonked my head on a table after dropping and chasing my pencil. As dull as they were, they bought it. Even helped me down to my car. Though I'm certain I'll get some comments about being clumsy in the next few days.”
I sat back on Tiffany's couch this time. “I'm sorry you didn't get the guy Tiffany. What did he take?”
“An experimental ultrasonic cannon. Supposedly it would be useful for punching through cave walls, undersea mining, that sort of thing. I don't know why he would have wanted something like that. Man who would have thought such a small guy could be so strong? I ache all over.”
“Wait; you said your attacker was about five feet tall?”
“Yeah, with stringy hair and a beard. Wiry guy too; since I found a cable outside the sonics lab going up to the roof.”
My mind was calculating, but I didn't want to believe the answer. “I think I may have an idea,” I said.
“Oh?” said Tiffany.
“Yeah, but it may have to wait until next Friday to get an answer.”
The rest of the week went quickly, but there was no sign of the missing Sonic Blaster, and most of the trouble in Queen City was minor league stuff; muggings, street crime, and so forth. Tiffany remained tight--itching for action and checking all the sources that either of us had on the streets.
Even so Tiffany was surprised when I told her where I thought the sonic blaster would be used.
"The Federal Reserve depository will be getting a supply of cash on Wednesday night. Since Friday is the First of the month, the banks need a ready supply of cash for government checks and paychecks."
"Won't the security be really tight?" asked Tiffany.
"Yes, but I think these theives are smart enought to avoid it. Would WE have trouble getting past it?"
Tiffany put a gloved had to her chin. "Maybe in the planning phases, but no, we'd bypass everything and get in and out quick."
"Exactly, and I think these thieves are like that too. I also think they're related to the Fiorini robbery."
"You know who they are, don't you."
"I know who I suspect," I replied. "But I don't have hard evidence." I tossed a manilla folder on Tiffany's coffee table and she scooped it up.
"Sister Brain and Dr Brawn? Of Braun's shows?" she said. "Look Athena, I know you told me you didn't want them at your festival but aren't you tilting at windmills here?"
"Just read, Tiffany."
"Michael Braun has quite a record," she said, leafing through the folder. "But its mostly petty assaults; not surprising for a guy who's only about 5 feet tall."
"I know, but there's still something I don't trust."
Tiffany sighed. "All right. The money comes in Wednesday night and is moved Thursday. So where do we come in?"
"We wait Thursday. I think they'll move then."
Thursday Night we were situated on the rooftop of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Queen City. We counted nine armored cars going into the parking decks and waited. Thirty minutes later, eight cars came out.
"Move in," I said. "They're robbing the place."
I swooped into the alleyway and up to the remaining armored car. Inside, the two guards lay unconscious and bound. Three more guards lay strewn on the conrete pad. There was no sign of any other motion.
"Be careful," said Crimson, drawing her Ion disruptor. Stealthily we padded through the door to a control room. The door was open and more guards were strewn on the floor.
"Wow, that's some damage," I said. Crimson knelt next to one guard. He had shaggy brown hair, and seemed shorter than most.
"This one isn't a guard," said Crimson, turning her attention to me. I looked as the guard raised a kubaton and smacked my partner on the head.
"Look out!" I called too late. I raced across the room where Crimson was getting herself off the floor. With a swift boot, I kicked the fake guard, then watched in dismay as he rolled, bounced and came to his feet in a fighting position.
"Come get me pigeon" He shouted.
"White Owl, No!" I heard behind me. I whirled and Sister Brain stood there, pointing a gun at me.
"Oh come on," I said. "Surely you could do better than a gun?"
She aimed low, then depressed the trigger. In my lower regions I felt a rumbling, my sex stimulated. I felt my knees turning inward and my hand reached toward my crotch.
"Wh..what the hell are you doing?" I said, feeling my thoughts and intellect racing away. Behind me, Doctor Brawn clubbed me with his Kubaton. I dropped to my knees, groggy, but managed to rally.
"You can't do that to White Owl," said Crimson, diving at the little man's feet. She dropped Dr Brawn to the ground and the two of them began to wrestle.
I got to my feet, shakily, as Sister Brain strode to me. She grabbed my hair. "I am Sister Brain, White Owl. I'm the smartest woman in the world, and I'm here to prove to you that your time is over."
"I don't think so, Sister," I said, driving a hard elbow into her ribs. Sister Brain groaned, then released my hair. I pivoted, eager to follow up, when she pointed the sonic gun at me. Once again, the rumble built up in my sex, then intensified.
"Its so easy White Owl--you're completely helpless with my new toy." I looked for help, and saw Crimson was still grappling with Dr Brawn.
"I think we have some unfinished business, red," he said, cupping Crimson's breast through her body suit.
I saw Crimson bite her lip then arch her back as her nanites responded to the sexual stimulation.
"Do you need some help, brother?" asked Sister Brain. She trained the sonic blaster at Crimson, and I saw my partner being to writhe at the extreme stimulation. Brawn managed to put a sleeper hold on Crimson at this point and began to choke her out.
Brain turned the sonic blaster at me once more, and I felt a wave of euphoria crash against me--then it felt like one hundred jackhammers were pummeling my loins and then my head. I staggered forward and dropped to the ground unconscious.
"Let's get them out of here," said Brain...
I don't know how long I was unconscious. I don't recall much of anything regarding the passage of time, but I know that I roused several times, only to have a thick pad of foul smelling stuff placed tightly over my mouth and nose. Once; and maybe more than once, I felt a heavy club against the back of my head as well.
When I regained my senses, I was leaning against a heavy wooden post with my hands shackled firmly above my head. My feet were similarly restrained and I was finding it hard to try and squirm free.
“There's no way for you to find leverage, White Owl,” I heard a sinister voice hiss. I rolled my head toward the sound and instantly regretted it. The drugs and the beatings had taken their toll. Squinting one eye, I saw Sister Brain standing in front of me. In her hand she held my tool belt and...my costume?
“Lovely fabric,” she smirked. “Soft, shiny and sensuous on one hand, yet impervious to bullets. I have some friends who would love to get their hands on this. And these weapons; so clever. You must have felt terribly bright conceiving them.”
“Who..what?” I stammered.
“Oh ho, the bird has a tongue,” she teased. “I told you dearie, I'm Sister Brain, the smartest woman in the world. And with your death, I'll seal my place in destiny.”
“You've gone crazy,” I said.
“Oh I don't think so. You already figured out my plan once. It would only be a matter of time until you managed to come after me again; and possibly win. The wise thing to do is eliminate my opponent.”
To my left I heard a by now familiar groan. I looked over to see Crimson Dynamo, similarly undressed and bound to another post. “Let her go,” I demanded. “And I'll submit to whatever you have planned for me.”
Sister Brain smiled. “I could do that I suppose; but you costumed types are really wearying in your relentless pursuits. So I think I'll kill you both; to insure your silences and my getaway.”
“It must make you feel really unsuccessful,” I said. “To be holed up in a lousy fleatrap carnival, with your immense brainpower. Why this, and not the lab or lecture route?”
“Because my brother Michael couldn't stay out of trouble; he had to drift. But I couldn't bear the thought of him alone in the world. He's strong, but not terribly swift.” She couldn't resist, and I felt the sonic cannon's soft caress against my thighs once more.
“Oooooh!” I purred, feeling the sweat trickling down my breasts. Summertime in Queen City is exceedingly warm. I heard Sister Brain laugh.
“Oh how the citizens of this city would laugh if they knew how easily their precious protectors were taken down. You're really quite the sexually deprived little things aren't you?' She placed the sonic gun between my breasts and let it run. I shuddered, awash in pleasure and shame as my body responded to the exciting tingle. I tried to buck, but the restraints at my ankles held tight. My back arched, and I felt the raw wood cutting into the skin of my back. Sister Brain laughed.
“And as repressed as you are, your little friend here is even MORE given to stimulation.” Without moving a step, she pointed the cannon at Crimson Dynamo, and I saw Tiffany's eyes widen. A husky moan escaped from her lips as the nanites in her system became even more hyperactive. She backed against the post as well, and I could see her breasts swelling with the stimulation.
“And that's on the lowest setting,” bragged Sister Brain. “But I'm growing tired of this. Its time we see your real faces.”
She stepped over to the Crimson Dynamo and tilted her head up. Tiffany was still burbling in pleasure from the sonic stimulation, and with her hands above her head, was unable to offer much resistance. Pausing dramatically, Sister Brain pulled at the Crimson mask. I could see the skin pulling back, remembering the magnetic attraction was how it was affixed. When she pulled it free, though, I saw the scowl of the villainess.
“What is this!” she demanded. Beneath the Crimson mask, was a black painted face, in the same style as Tiffany's mask. I smiled.
“Looks like she was too smart for the smartest woman,” I mocked.
“That may be, White Owl. But what about you?” She reached and yanked at mine. I felt the gentle ooze as my own face paint settled over my eyes. Sister Brain glowered at me.
“I should have known,” she said. “Your little friend isn't smart enough to have thought of this on her own.” She stared intently into my eyes though, then grabbed my chin. I reared back but the post and chains kept me from going anywhere. Sister Brain smiled then.
“But I don't need to see your full face now, do I? Miss Athena Nikos, archaeologist and world traveller I believe.” I gasped in astonishment. Sister Brain laughed, “I rarely forget a face. Its the blessing of an eidetic memory.”
I decided it was time to take control. “So what's the ultimate plan? What are you going to do with us?”
“With you? Nothing. You're going to die, its really that simple.”
“And what do you get out of it?”
“Power, money, aand the opportunity to quit this 'fleatrap carnival' and see the world as a power broker. I have your secrets, your identity, your costumes and equipment and the ability to out think just about anyone. I'm certain there will be other secrets your cell phone will reveal to me. Its only a matter of time from here.”
I pulled at the chains, testing the tensile strength. As the sex urge declined, I could feel my strength slowly washing back through me. Outside, I could hear the sounds of the carnival going into a full tilt. Braun stuck his head back into the shed.
“Hey its almost time for your show,” he said. “And the guy in the shooting gallery wants to start soon. Are you almost done here?” Sister Brain nodded. From the table to her side, she tossed Braun a long scarf.
“Gag the redhead. Make it tight.” He moved to obey. As he approached Crimson, he grabbed her breasts and began massaging them. Tiffany squealed indignant, but the stimulation soon melted her. Braun laughed as she moaned, and shoved the knotted scarf into her mouth. Deftly he tied it around her head.
I lost my battle to Sister Brain. “Can't have you calling for help,” she said. “Imagine the shock here when dear Athena Nikos is found dead and naked in the aftermath of the fair. Your precious secret will die with you, though, so I'm doing you a favor.”
With that she gathered our costumes, and moved toward the door. With a dramatic pause she turned and said, “I don't know who it's going to be, but out there,” She pointed behind us, “There are bullets with your names on them. I hope you don't mind the wait.” And with that, she left us in the dark.
The last rays of the late August sunshine limned the doorway. As my eyes adjusted to the waning light, I could hear the sounds of the festival just beginning to come to life. The merry music of the midway droned in my ears, and I could hear Dmitri Lysander and his band warming up some distance away.
The heat and humidity of a late August in Queen City was adding to the fear and adrenaline causing my body to sweat profusely. I pulled at the chains, but was unable to get the leverage to pull the links apart or to break the cuffs attaching them to my wrists.
I glanced to my left, but could only see a dim shadow as Crimson writhed as well, with even less success than I was having.
“Pardon me Padre,” I heard Michael say. “Would you like to try our shooting gallery?”
“Oh my!” I heard Father Timothy exclaim. “I really don't think I should.”
“Come on Father, its for the Parish Fund,” said Michael Braun. “All you have to do is shoot the ace of hearts.”
“Well since its for the Parish Fund, all right.”
My blood ran cold. I had no doubt as to which target Michael would set my unsuspecting priest. I tugged again at the chains, with similar results. “Come on Athena,” I said. “Think!!”
Father Timothy was taking his time, making sure the shot was well aimed. And that moment of hesitation gave me the opening I needed. I managed to plant my feet on the ground, with the chain straddling the post I'd been chained to. I bent my knees, the threw my back into the pole.
There was a loud creaking, then a popping sound as the post bent then broke under the increased strength the goddess had given too me. It coincided with a bright flash of light and a shattering BOOM!!!
I dropped to the ground, the post splintering around me. Above I could hear the whizzz....thud as the bullet hit the backstop. I got to my feet, then snapped Crimson's manacles, setting her free.
At that moment, the roof of the shooting gallery crashed down, and the heavy rain poured over the festival; scattering merrymakers toward the church building and the parish hall.
I snatched up Crimson in my arms and flew out of the festival almost too fast to be seen. Three minutes later, we were wet, and shaking, and in my apartment. “I don't recall anything about nude crimefighting in the literature,” laughed Crimson. Then her face grew solemn. “She knows who you are, Athena.”
“I know,” I said. “But we can't let that stop us.” I smiled at her through my painted mask. “Fancy another go at them?'
“Thought you'd never ask! Meet you back in five minutes...last one back owes the winner first shots.”
Tiffany dashed down the stairs and I heard the door of her apartment shut. I knew it took her a while to get her costume all straight, so I took my time slipping into my old, form fitting Nu Silk leotard. I cinched on my spare tool belt, then ambled down the stairs from my loft bedroom. Tiffany was standing at the terrace doors with her arms crossed. “What took you so long?” she laughed. Her costume was similar to mine—a red leotard with white tights. She twirled for me.
“Its not as durable as my normal outfit,” she said. “But it does well in a pinch. Now let's go beat some bad guys.” She beat me to the balcony and we leapt off into the thick, moist air.
The thunderstorm had pretty well stopped, and the rains were decreasing as we flew back toward the festival. The grounds still seemed pretty empty, though I could see a few people still hovering in the Bingo, Beer and Hold 'em tents. But the midway was deserted. The destroyed shooting gallery was at the end of the row, and across from it was the sideshow tent, where Brain and Brawn performed nightly. I dropped Crimson behind the tent and approached from the front. I flipped open the tent flaps and caught Sister Brain, hurriedly throwing items into a trunk. She whirled when she saw me, her nostrils flaring.
“You!” she growled. “I would have thought you dead, or at least ashamed to show your face ...Athena.”
She spat my birth name like a curse.
“There is no shame in my name, or my task as White Owl,” I replied. “And if I put you away, then I can retire, satisfied.”
“You're assuming you can WIN, little bird brain,” she said. As she spoke, she pulled the sonic blaster from the stage trunk. Sister Brain whirled, then fired at me.
Or more precisely, where I had been. The vibrations of the gun caused the tent flaps to shudder, but nothing more. I dove from the ceiling, planting a pulled punch on Sister Brain's chin. She dropped to the ground and lay still. I landed next to her and gingerly put two fingers on her neck. A strong pulse greeted me, and a swift knee in my ear. I flopped to my left, grasping my head.
“You little fool!” taunted Sister Brain. “I learned street brawling from Michael. He taught me how to roll with any punch.” She rolled and lurched toward me, but I swept out with my leg, tumbling her back to the ground. She tried to crawl off, but with my forward momentum, I tackled her and cracked a fist into her jaw once again. Sister Brain's head lolled back and cracked the edge of the stage.
From behind the stage, the curtains parted and the Crimson Dynamo stepped out, holding a groaning and restrained Michael Braun. “Hey Owl,” she said. “I thought you said I could have first shots.”
“You got him, didn't you?” I said. “Did he put up much of a fight?”
“Oh he thought he could get clever with me, but the shock gloves made him pretty docile,” she said. “Of course I may have had to get a bit rough with him.
At that moment, Braun opened a blackened eye and saw his sister sprawled on the floor. “What have you done to her? I swear I'll kill you both!”
“You won't be doing much of anything, Braun,” I heard the reassuring voice of Captain Don Winslow say. Behind him came a contingent of Queen City's Special Crimes Unit. The captain quickly took charge of the scene and an ambulance was soon on hand for Sister Brain. Braun was trundled into a squad car
“How did you find us?” asked Crimson.
“Oh that was easy.” said Winslow. “Your emergency transponders were switched on; all we had to do was track them.”
I smiled. “Sounds like curiosity got the best of Sister Brain,” I said.
Three days later I was in Father Tim's office at the church.
“I'm sorry the festival wasn't very successful Father,” I said.
“As well you should be. You and your friends nearly put us completely out of business. The Metropolitan even called, wondering what we were up to. But surprisingly, we did bigger business than ever on the last two nights of the festival, even without rides and arcade games.” He sighed and rubbed his hands together.
“You don't know anything about a sizable gift do you? From a Guillermo Fiorini?” I shook my head.
“Well I hoped I could convert the man, but it seems he's a staunch Roman Catholic. Still he said it was in gratitude for all we do at St George.” I frowned, but kept my mouth shut.
Later that night, Crimson Dynamo and I waited in Winslow's office. When the captain came in he sat at his desk nervously. “Please, sit down ladies,” he began.
We took chairs and Winslow leaned across the desk. “What I'm about to say can't leave this room. At least until the investigation is completed.” He frowned. “There's really no easy way to say this. Michael Braun was found dead in his cell this evening. Right now, it looks like a mob based killing, and quite frankly we're worried about Marcie Braun.”
“Who?” asked Crimson.
“Sister Brain,”I said. “What's her condition?”
“She's out of intensive care, but she's lost her total recall. Seems she can't remember much from the last several days. It will make it hard to convict her since there weren't that many clues to begin with.”
“So she walks?” I asked.
“No, there are enough witnesses to her attempted murders and the missing merchandise WAS with her. More than likely she'll go to Meadowbrook for a while, then off to prison. Its not a perfect ending. But it is an end.