by Dan Swanson
They must be brainwashed, Lily Lovelace thought about the horde of people swarming toward them, screaming, throwing things, and waving improvised weapons. They probably don’t want my autograph!
Jumping to her feet, she pulled a large tray off a nearby lab bench, dumping the contents randomly. The top of the bench started to smoke as some of the glass bottles broke, spilling chemicals. Holding the tray in one hand as a shield against the things that were being thrown at them, she helped the smaller girl to her feet. She tried to summon the courage her powers gave her, and she started to realize the big difference between being fearless — which Kali was, given that she believed nothing could hurt her — and being courageous. Could she go on despite her fear? She had no other choice.
The smoldering table suddenly burst into flames with almost the force of an explosion, knocking the two heroines backward. They would have been badly burned if it hadn’t been for the tray Lily was holding; as it was, it burned her fingers, and she had to let go. The other woman stared at the approaching mob with a look of determination on her face, and suddenly, Lily was stunned by an incredibly loud explosion — it sounded like cannon-fire. The noise seemed to have been aimed away from them somehow, though — the effect on the approaching mob was even more stunning, as many of them were literally knocked off their feet, and the surge of people was blunted as those farther back tripped over the fallen in the front of the wave. There were a few seconds of relative silence — no, Lily could faintly hear the 1812 Overture through the ringing in her ears — and then another super-amplified cannon-blast, and then the two girls were running toward the door though which the aliens had wheeled the smaller woman on her gurney.
The door slid out of the way, and they rushed through into a short corridor, and as the door at the other end slid open, they kept running.
Lily was extremely frustrated that the best she could do was run. As Kali, she could easily have stood up to the entire wild crowd, or even just picked up her companion and flown away. She was almost helpless here, though, and she hated it.
Both women were startled when a red-clad flier flashed overhead, and a beam of some kind struck the door through which they had just passed. Lily quickly recognized Red Rocket, whom she had met before in her Kali identity. The smaller woman took her arm and pointed, and she saw a black car speeding toward them at high speed.
“The cavalry, come to our rescue, just like in the movies!” she said in her ghostly voice.
“Sorry, no,” Red Rocket had overheard as he landed nearby. “We’re actually escaping.” Oxide slid the Jaguar to a screeching halt not fifteen feet away.
“Oh! Well, so are we. Let’s go!” said the voice of the tiny heroine.
It was too late. The door that Red Rocket had flash-welded closed burst open, and the crowd of screaming people surged through it. “I think they are the bad guys!” the smaller woman’s voice said.
Red Rocket had been coordinating the group’s efforts with Oxide via his helmet radio, but as soon as the mob burst out of the large building, there was an incredibly powerful burst of static that had practically deafened him. He instantly switched off his radio, and realized at the same instant that his radar was being jammed as well. At that exact moment, he was surrounded by some kind of cloud that blocked his sight. And, an instant later, something slammed into him, and his armor stiffened to protect him. He thought that the cloud might be made up of thousands of illusory insects, as he couldn’t sweep them away, and the hurtling body that had slammed into him hadn’t disrupted the cloud at all. He couldn’t fly upward and out of this cloud, because he’d realized they were in a very large room, probably underground, and he didn’t want to knock himself out on the ceiling. So he dropped from his normal flying altitude of sixty feet to twenty feet and was able to see again.
And a woman rocketed upward from the ground with both hands above her head and slammed into him, spinning him upward and out of control. As he pinwheeled upward, he caught another glimpse of her and realized that she wasn’t flying — her legs had extended to tremendous length, and were now contracting again. And then yet another body slammed into him, something that looked like a giant beach ball with arms, legs, and a head, and then the ball plummeted downward, bounced, and slammed into him again on the rebound, almost too fast for him to follow, bouncing him high into the air and even more out of control. At least he was out of range of the next bounce by the human beach ball, though.
Another flying human smashed into him, though there was virtually no impact. This flier wrapped him in her arms, and suddenly they were plummeting downward as Red Rocket’s gravity flight controller was overwhelmed — this person suddenly weighed around five tons. Red Rocket flew by control of gravity, so he could adjust to this type of attack, but it would take a few seconds, seconds he didn’t have enough of, and they smashed into the ground, Red Rocket underneath, before he finished resetting his gravity flight controller to compensate for the extra unexpected weight.
Oxide pressed a button on the dashboard, and a slim rod rose from the hood of the car just in front of the driver’s window, and the top inch or so of the rod pivoted to become horizontal, while a small panel slid back on the dash, revealing a small TV screen above a smaller control panel. Val heard a whirring noise behind them and turned to see a small panel in the trunk slide out of the way, and some kind of small cannon on a round platform rose smoothly into view.
The screen lit up, and Oxide moved a small joystick next to the screen until the screen showed the approaching mob. The tip of the antenna rod swiveled back and forth, and steadied, pointing at the crowd. He deftly maneuvered the joystick until a red circle on the center of the screen started flashing, and then he pressed a button on the control panel. With a muffled whoomph the cannon fired, and a fist-sized projectile swooshed up, and then dropped on the crowd, exploding with a puff of smoke that cleared to show a large net, spinning rapidly. Before they could get out of the way, the net fell on the mob, ensnaring a dozen or so and causing chaos as more of them tripped over their trapped fellows.
I owe you guys dinner, Colt promised the absent Mel and Bruno. Many of the car’s gadgets hadn’t yet been tested in combat, but this one had worked like a champ. One of the people who hadn’t been caught in the net stopped and pointed at the Jaguar, and it stalled immediately, and all the lights on the control panel went out. Oxide pointed his oxidation pistol at that man, carefully counted clicks on the selector dial, and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened — somehow the man seemed to have stopped the electricity in the car and his pistol. He vaulted out of the car. “Stay behind me, darlin’,” he said over his shoulder to Majique. “This could get rough!”
“Are you out of your #^@%!*& mind?!” Val Coppersmith snarled at him, using language she would never use in front of a client. “I can take care of myself just fine, thank you!” She wasn’t quite that sure, but nobody treated her like some helpless damsel in distress. Grabbing the bag from her belt, she spoke to it with quiet intensity. “You better stop playing games, buddy, or I’ll cut you up and use you to patch my blue jeans! I need something to help, right now!” She yanked the top open; she could feel it resisting, but her adrenaline was pumping. She reached inside and grabbed — and something slipped right into her hand. She pulled it out, ready to wield whatever mighty weapon her magic pouch had provided against the approaching enemy mob.
Only to find she was wielding a small, spiral-topped notepad, such as she had often seen used by reporters, with the capital letters L.L. embellished on the front cover. Snarling in the Romany language, in words that might cause paper to burst into flames, she threw it from her and hopped from the Jaguar, paying no further attention as it fluttered to the ground. She hopped out of the car, and when her feet hit the ground they shot out from under her, and she flopped hard on her tailbone. The air around her turned blue with curses.
The spot where she’d landed had been incredibly slippery, though it looked just like any other patch of stony ground around. She touched it, and it felt like any other patch of ground. She started climbing to her feet, and as soon as the sole of a boot touched the ground, it skidded out from under her, and she plunked down again. She checked, and the soles of her boots were as slippery as wet ice. The horde was getting closer, and some of them were waving swords and guns around. She had to do something.
Reluctantly, Majique reached up and undid one of her earrings. She always wore a number of magical items as part of her client-facing image — bangles, bracelets, rings, jewelry, and the like — and she was pretty sure she knew what this one did. Her earrings were carved from hard red wood, and they were very old and worn, with few distinct features, but they looked like they were probably supposed to be carvings of animals. Her great-grandmother had given her one of the carvings, and Val had worked very hard to carve the other, and then make it look as old and worn as the original.
She weighed the token in her hand. If she used it, it would be destroyed, and she had nothing else like it. On the other hand, nearly every magical artifact she had gathered was a singleton, and she wore them anyway, because she might need them. She threw the worn earring as hard as she could, and when it landed there was a flash of light and a puff of smoke — and suddenly there was a pack of wolves there as well — a howling pack of very large wolves, which snarled and charged the charging pack of snarling, charging humans. The human wave halted in confusion, and some of them turned and ran. Val made another attempt to get to her feet, and discovered that whatever had affected her boots before was gone.
While the wolves stayed in a pack and closed on the humans in the lead, many of the humans streamed out to both sides and kept coming.
Lily and the small unknown girl reached the shelter of the Jaguar. For some reason, Lily felt drawn to peek at the seats. On the driver’s seat, there were two glowing, pulsing bright white lights that grabbed her attention and wouldn’t let go — and she realized that whatever was glowing was in the shape of two Ls.
Why, those are my initials! And they’re even in my handwriting! she thought. For her signature, Lily had developed a distinctive style, and those two capital Ls were definitely in her style. Yet she had never seen this notebook before. Why was it drawing her attention so strongly? She wasn’t a damn reporter, and she wasn’t interested in writing anything down. She wanted to say her magic word and end this battle now. It has to be a magical message to me, Lily Lovelace! she thought.
Grabbing the notebook, she opened it, but to her great frustration it was empty. There was no message to her, magical or otherwise — besides the inexplicable initials in her own handwriting, it was just an ordinary notebook. She thought quickly, racking her mind for a few seconds, and then she got it. Yanking the pencil out of the spring binding at the top, she rapidly started writing and hoped her plan would work.
Oxide had been horrified to see the humans being attacked by huge wolves, but he was suddenly too busy staying alive to worry about his potential enemies. Something was rolling toward him, too fast for him to dodge. He waited until the last possible instant, then jumped as high as he could, and whatever it was rolled by. He could have sworn it was a girl, curled up as tightly as she could into a ball, though it had been moving too fast for him to be sure.
“Gutter ball!” he uttered, or tried to, but his words came out jumbled and unrecognizable. He had barely come down when a woman in a karate gi, wearing a black belt, set upon him. They traded blows for two seconds, and he quickly realized that she wasn’t anywhere near that good — and then the belt uncoiled and slammed him in the chin. She leaped forward and followed up with a kick to the chest, and he staggered backward until he slammed into the Jaguar and fell backward across the hood. “You’ve got a tail!” he tried to voice his astonishment, but once again, his words were scrambled.
Don Chaun, who had been standing on the trunk of the Jaguar apparently waiting for the fight to come to him, leaped forward, used the hood as a springboard, and slammed into the karate girl. She managed to get her tail between them just before he hit, and it cushioned the blow somewhat, but she was still knocked backward. A painfully bright light suddenly struck Don in the eyes, and he jerked backward, crashing down on top of his ally — and the two of them stuck together as if they had just been glued.
“Sticky wicket, wot?” Oxide tried to quip, and was a little dismayed when whatever had been scrambling his words had stopped.
“Nae so cute, ye bloody big Sassenach!” Don snapped back.
Val was screaming in pain. Her remaining earring had just been torn violently from her ear by some unknown force, and her dagger had ripped out of her ankle sheath and had gone flying as well.