Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Golden Rule

Sean Miribilis, once known as the Alchemist and now known as Prisoner 08-7797, shuffled slowly through the corridors of the Federal Penitentiary in Crown Point. He was carrying his few allowed personal items, hoping that the guard wouldn't decide to dismantle his radio or inspect his dop kit. Miribilis was not considered a violent criminal, but was forbidden from handling chemicals. Still he'd earned a few privileges and worked in the prison library. As a result, Miribilis was a position to know most of the inmates, becoming a conduit for information. But Miribilis was no idiot, he also knew he could profit from this information.

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. " 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.

The End.

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