Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 11 – Gargantua Ayla and the Mad Scientist CHAPTER 11 – Gargantua a Whateley novel by Diane Castle I went heavy and dropped like a rock. The ball of whatever seared through the air where I had been a split second earlier. I hit the brick of the Quad hard enough that it shattered under my feet and I sank a foot into the ground. <(Phase) It’s not me! It’s a trick!> <(Lancer) Cut her off from the comms.> <(Phase) It’s…> Crap. They had already locked me out of the comms. And I knew who it was. It was so obvious. Not that I was going to get the time to explain. Because the entire team was wheeling about to blast me out of existence. I Phase-leapt to my left about forty feet and landed as heavy as I could, so I could change direction. Then I leaned one way and Phase-leapt the opposite direction. “Chaka Chaka Bang Bang!” Chaka’s Ki attack just barely missed me, and Tennyo’s follow-up turned the spot where I had just been standing into a crater. I was quicker than Tennyo or Fey, but they both had area attacks I couldn’t just dodge. I was no quicker than Lancer in melee combat, but he would have to catch me first before he could go hand-to-hand with me. I could phase right through anything the J-Team threw at me. Which left Chaka as my biggest worry for the next couple seconds. Two shuriken and a hail of sewing needles came winging my way. I went light and dove through them, instead of letting Chaka herd me toward Lancer. Then I went heavy before she could guess I was going light again and nail me with one of her Chaka Chaka Bang Bang attacks. I took a deep breath and threw two smokebombs to the ground. Once the ‘smoke’ expanded to mask my movements, I considered diving into the ground. I knew that Chaka and Fey had perceptions that the smoke might not block, and I had no idea if the smoke was dense enough to screen Shroud’s vision in the least, so just standing still in a smoke cloud wasn’t a very good option. I grabbed a broken piece of brickwork. I took it disruption-light with me, and then I threw it down into the ground. There was a sizzling explosion, and chunks of rock ricocheted off an invisible barrier just under the surface. Some of the chunks whizzed through my incorporeal form – which let me just say wasn’t any fun – while others blasted out in other directions. Damn, it was a good thing I hadn’t tried doing that dive with my body. “Look out!” “Hey!” From the sounds, a couple of my teammates were caught by surprise when the chunks of rock went rocketing through the air. The yelps also let me locate Chaka and Generator. Obviously, I couldn’t dive down into the tunnels. Fey had me blockaded already. That meant there was probably a magical screen somewhere above me, keeping me from flying away from everyone. Not to mention that if I took off, that would leave the rest of the team to be sitting ducks for our Dark Phoenix. I wasn’t going to fight the entire team, because they would never believe I wasn’t our Dark Phoenix if I did. And I couldn’t beat the entire team. Even worse, if I really put in my most ruthless efforts, I would probably incapacitate someone I would need later in the fight against our real Dark Phoenix. I threw a couple more pieces of brickwork. Two chunks went down into the ground, while a third one went up and behind me. I instantly went heavy again. All three chunks exploded against Fey’s barriers. Disruption-light brickwork exploding against magical shielding? Not quite up to the standards of fragmentation grenades, but still unpleasant. I was just glad that when I was heavy, the disruption-light chunks bounced off, because having them go through me hurt. Generator yelped again, giving me a better idea of her general direction and movement. I leapt out of the smoke cloud before I was chased out. Or blasted out. I leapt straight at where Generator seemed to be moving. The cloud erupted with a searing blast, and then a hideous noise signaled one of Tennyo’s ultra-gravity attacks that sucked the smoke into a painfully bright sphere. But I was already moving, and when I did my fastest Phase-leaps, I went from around zero up to several hundred miles an hour at Tennyo-like accelerations. The only team member capable of reacting quickly enough to catch me was Chaka. I wasn’t aiming for Chaka. I tore out of the smoke and went heavy again just before I passed Generator. I grabbed her around the waist and hung onto her as I dropped to the ground. I had to be careful not to land on her when we hit the ground, because I didn’t want to hurt her. I stayed fully heavy, because she had a bag full of tricks she could unleash on me at a moment’s notice. And I held her so she was between me and the rest of the team. “Tell everyone to freeze.” She snapped, “Kiss my grits, Mel.” And she said it in a bad Southern accent, so I knew it had to be some weird television reference, even if I had no idea what it was supposed to be. Tennyo flew closer. “Let her go.” I insisted, “Not until you listen to me. I’m not the Dark Phoenix. It’s Fey. You’re being set up. Hell, I’M being set up. And I’m not going to fight anybody. I just want all of you to stop.” Generator executed a mule kick and caught me right in the crotch. If I hadn’t been fully heavy, I would have been in serious pain. “OW! My foot!” she squealed. Chaka suddenly wheeled and stared at Fey. She froze for a split second as she stared. Then she yelled, “That’s not Fey, it’s one of her fake simula-whatzits! The Ki flow’s all wrong!” Lancer yelled, “Comms are compromised!” No shit, Sherlock. Fey controlled our comms. That made me consider something else. Something unpleasant. I yanked up my headmask and went for my Spot as I called out, “Ditch-” My Spot suddenly squealed in agonizing tones that nearly knocked me off my feet. I scrabbled with my fingernails and managed to scrape my Spot from behind my ear before I went deaf. Or comatose. “Ditch your Spots!” Lancer was curled up in mid-air with his hands over his ears. Chaka was pawing at her Spot frantically. Jade was nearly falling to her knees, and if I weren’t still holding her around her waist, she might have collapsed. But the sound attack had only a small effect on Tennyo, and no effect on Shroud. Fey had to know that would happen, so… Shroud flew right at ‘Dark Fey’, hurling knives and cables. Tennyo was a pace behind, flinging a plasma ball at the simulacrum from a different direction. The Dark Fey simulacrum waved her hands, and suddenly Tennyo’s plasma ball flew right at Shroud, while the handful of knives veered sharply to fly right at Chaka. ‘Fey’ looked my way and hurled a blast of lightning at Generator. Whatever it was, it didn’t move at lightspeed. I had just enough time once I saw her gesture in our direction to spin halfway around. With Generator still in one of my arms, that was enough to put my body in between her and the blast. It hit me in the back like a truck made of tasers. “GAAGH!” I didn’t manage to keep quiet. I didn’t really manage to stay upright all that well. Generator had to give me a hand when I staggered. All right, I weighed more than a ton, so she probably just cast a couple of the J-Team into me to push me upright for a couple seconds. I had been hit before with blasts of lightning while heavy, and none of them had done more than tingle. Whatever the hell Fey threw at me, it would have creamed me even if it had gone through Generator first… which was probably the original intent. If the battle had been just me and Fey, it would have been all over at that point. I had to struggle just to stand up and turn around to face her. But it was a Dark Fey simulacrum against an entire team. I turned and looked. Fey was in the center of a maelstrom of destruction. She was surrounded by a gleaming green sphere of flashing fractals that was protecting her from attacks while still letting her hurl magics at everyone else. Tennyo was bombarding one side of the sphere with blue plasma blasts which rocked the sphere with every explosion. But for every two or three plasma blasts, Fey was hurling a lance of green energy at Tennyo. And there was already a huge singed hole in the center of Tennyo’s uniform over her stomach, which told me those lances were pretty nasty stuff. Chaka was sprinting about, firing off more of her Chaka Chaka Bang Bangs every chance she could, while vicious red ovoid objects the size of a chicken flew through the air pursuing her all over the place. Shroud was switching off, taking turns hurling objects at Fey’s protective sphere or else blocking any of Chaka’s red ovoids which got anywhere near her. Lancer was smashing the other side of Fey’s protection with anything he could get his hands on. Boulders, trees, chunks of the buildings… Ooh. I never liked that statue of Noah Whateley anyway. Fey was retaliating as much as she could while trying to deal with Tennyo and Chaka first. I grabbed Generator by the arm and whispered, “You know that junk I got you for this?” She nodded hastily. “Don’t use it yet. We need to save it for the real thing.” “Gotcha.” I Phase-leapt at the ovoids closing in on Chaka. I wasn’t quite stupid enough to try flying through them while disruption-light, even if they couldn’t simply dodge out of my path. They were probably energy constructs. Really powerful energy constructs that would fry me like a moth in a bugzapper. I waited until one dove at me, and then I went fully heavy at the last moment. I whipped out my tactical baton, popping it to its full length as I swung. The baton hit the red ovoid with a sizzling crack. It felt like I was swinging a baseball bat at a water balloon the size of a soccer ball. The ovoid thought so, too. It exploded like a water balloon, flinging goop everywhere. “Home run!” cheered Chaka. I stayed heavy, and handfuls of red goo splattered all over my front. The slime that didn’t hit me landed on the ground, promptly turning chunks of rock and sod into burning ooze. Crap. The stuff might have killed me if it had hit me while I was light, but now I didn’t dare change density until I had the stuff off of me! On the plus side, it didn’t seem to be able to dissolve the adamantium baton, either. So I went after the other ovoids. Chaka had the other three of the things closing in on her, until she gave two a head fake, made a move with her legs like a pro football tailback, and faked all three of them out of their… whatevers. She sprinted past me, dodging so that anything following her path would end up right in the sweet spot for my baton. Two of the things did just that, and I nailed both of them with one solid swing. The third one swung around behind me. I quickly made a hand signal to Shroud to back off from pursuing it. She even paid attention to me. Was that a first? I hit the back side of Fey’s protective sphere with a fireball egg at almost the same moment Tennyo hit the front side with one of her ‘neutron star’ super-gravity balls and Lancer hit the top of the sphere with a chunk of building that looked about the size of a truck. The sphere collapsed explosively, flinging the remains of my fireball and Lancer’s building all over the battlefield. Fey warded off the super-gravity threat with a nasty-looking black screen, but Chaka got her from underneath with a “Chaka Chaka Bang Bang!” That was enough to disrupt whatever the simulacrum was, and it lost the black energy screen. The super-gravity pulse sucked in the simulacrum with a sound like a flock of pigeons heading into a jet engine intake. Lancer quickly flew down toward the ground and made a ‘regroup on me’ hand gesture. Chaka tried a plummy British tone. “What ho, chaps. That was a bracing bit of jollity!” Lancer glared at her. “Let’s keep this professional, okay? That was just one of her simulacrums-” “Simulacra,” I corrected him automatically. “Her fakes,” he continued grouchily. “And we didn’t do that well against it.” Tennyo said, “I’ll say.” That was when I realized that the burn through the front of her uniform had a matching burn on the back. Whatever that ‘energy lance’ was, it had punched a five-inch hole right through her. And Shroud was missing one arm, not that it made a lot of difference to her. Lancer turned to Generator and Shroud. “Can you spot any magic in the area?” “Don’t see any,” they said in near-unison. He nodded crisply. “Okay. We fell for her first trick. If Phase hadn’t had a good counter, we would have taken out a teammate and then gotten bushwhacked as soon as our guard was down. Comments?” He looked my way first, so I spoke up. There were a lot of things I could have said, but didn’t need to. The team already knew Fey had pulled a brilliant maneuver on us to start the sim. It was just what we had done the prior two times, so she even caught me flat-footed. Frankly, I thought I should have thought of it first. Then she used our comms against us. Twice. If Chaka hadn’t been able to tell it wasn’t really Fey, we would have had an even bigger problem. I was assuming the only real limitation she had so far was that her simulacrum didn’t have the raw power of the real thing. It certainly didn’t show the full range of attacks and defenses we had seen over the past months. Instead, I just said, “We’re going to have to assume she has no power limiter from here on out.” Everyone nodded. We all knew I was talking about the ‘ecosystem destruction’ issue without using those words. But there was no way I was going to say that out loud, particularly when we were being recorded. I added, “She already knows my Plan A, so I’m recommending Plan B. The J-Team is already prepped.” Lancer nodded. “Good. We stick with hand signals. Assume she’ll use anything.” I winced inwardly. “So Tennyo has to be our big gun, and Shroud is our visuals.” “And us,” said Generator. No one corrected her pronoun usage. All right, I almost did it, but Lancer glared at me first. I said, “I can’t change density until all this acidic slime dissipates off me.” Chaka pointed a finger at me and hit me with some sort of Ki poke. The red goo made a ‘blurp’ noise and faded away. She smirked, “You squish enough hobgoblins, and ya know how to handle it.” Generator asked, “Why didn’t you do that to the balls when they were chasing you?” Chaka frowned, “Couldn’t until Phase busted ‘em outta their crispy candy coating. Believe me, I tried.” She looked at Lancer and said, “I knew it wasn’t Fey ‘cause I could see her energy flows weren’t all going in, and her Ki wasn’t flowin’ right. It looked exactly like her fake Fey in the Crucible sim, so I knew what she was pulling. I figured from the energy flows that she was north of us, but she’s had time to skedaddle since then.” “Or build up a much bigger store of Essence,” I said. Chaka said, “If she does that, at least I can see it.” Lancer said, “I carry Chaka so she can give me alerts. Tennyo carries G for the same reason. We go with a left finger four formation with me as lead and Tennyo as lead of the second element. Phase, you’re my wingman. Shroud, you’re Tennyo’s wing.” We nodded, and he took off northward toward the Crystal Hall. We spread out like the fingers of your left hand, with Lancer as the middle finger. I was off to his right and a little behind him, watching like a good wingman for attacks he might not see, even if Chaka was a lot more likely to spot anything before I did. Tennyo was a little farther off to his left and slightly behind him, and Shroud was even further to the left and a bit behind Tennyo’s position. Of course, as long as Tennyo was carrying Generator, she had all the surveillance she needed. Chaka turned her head and said something to Lancer. He made an arm signal that we had bandits in the direction he was pointing. I looked and saw a swarm of… things scattered unobtrusively across the dome of the Crystal Hall. Fey had to know we would spot anything like that, which meant it was some sort of trap or decoy or feint. I realized we weren’t just up against Fey. We were up against Fey and Aunghadhail, the Queen of the West. The general who had fought countless battles against things I couldn’t comprehend. Yet. I reminded myself I was going to learn about this sort of threat, because I no longer had a choice. Goddamned unpronounceable demons. About forty things launched from some of the panel vertices of the Crystal Hall. Each one looked like a hairball the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. At least, they did until they opened their mouths. At that point, they looked like forty mouths each the size of a Volkswagen. Mouths with rows of enormous triangular teeth, as if Fey had shoved the maw of the world’s biggest great white shark into some sort of yak hide covering. Crap. Enough of them could probably even chew Tennyo into unrecoverable pieces if we were stupid enough to let them try. I figured Lancer’s PK field was all the protection he needed, but I couldn’t be certain I could pass through them while I was light. Chaka was already blasting them out of the sky with her Chaka Chaka Bang Bangs, and Tennyo was just starting to fire off blue plasma balls. I went disruption light and threw a disruption-light cannonball through the closest one. The cannonball passed cleanly through it, making it shudder and wobble. Okay, I was now going to assume I could pass through them safely while I was light. Two of them over on the right abruptly exploded from Chaka’s attacks, while one of Tennyo’s super-gravity attacks sucked down three of them as they tried to fly past. Generator was sniping at the things with her Cobra, without much success. I held a fireball egg and an explosive egg just long enough that they were about to revert to normal density, and then I threw both. My aim was good enough. The fireball egg went off on the crown of one monster, while the explosive egg went right down the maw of another before it detonated. Now that one was spectacular. The thing erupted like it was made of some sort of explosive gelatin. The blast radius had to be eighty feet across, and forced Lancer to swerve to the side to protect his passenger. Half a dozen other monsters exploded or disintegrated from the blast. When the blast faded away, there were still a couple dozen of the things, and they were nearly on top of us. Tennyo was orbiting her super-gravity ball, and suckering lots of monsters who were then ending up in screeching death spirals into the gravitational vortex. Lancer flew right up to one, as Chaka lightfooted her way to the ground. The giant hairball instantly opened its mouth wide enough to swallow half the team. He swung into his best Superman stance and punched the thing hard enough to send it flying backward all the way to the dome of the Crystal Hall. He grabbed the next one and bodyslammed it – or perhaps mouthslammed it – into one that was facing Tennyo. The two melded into something ugly that dropped to the ground with a splat. Chaka picked off a couple more with her Chaka Chaka Bang Bangs, while I took out one more with a fireball egg in the face and five more with an explosive egg down one’s gullet. We were down to four mouth-monsters. Two avoiding Tennyo’s monster trap, one trying to sneak up on Lancer, and one aiming for me. But what happened to the one Lancer punched into the Crystal Hall? And for that matter, where was the shattered hexagonal panel from my cannonball? It should have gone to normal density well before it hit the dome. Oh crap. It suddenly dawned on me what distraction Fey was using these monsters for. I went heavy and dropped thirty feet to the brickwork. Then I pulled out a fireball egg and hurled it at the Crystal Hall while the egg was still completely heavy. The egg vanished. There was the sound of an explosion, and suddenly the fireball appeared in the air ten feet above the dome. Or rather, some of the fireball appeared, because most of it was hidden from view by something covering the entire Crystal Hall. “TRAP!” I yelled. “BIG TRAP!” Some sort of illusion that had covered the entire dome of the Crystal Hall wavered and faded away. The dome itself writhed like the aboral surface of a jellyfish. A really, really humongous jellyfish. Crap, if we had been flying over that thing, it could have grabbed us and eaten us like popcorn. I suddenly had a memory of Fey talking about how she turned a ten-by-ten-by-ten cube of rock into silica dust: it was all Law of Similarity. And if the geodesic dome of the Crystal Hall was made of a material with which Fey could work, there was no telling what that thing could do. The mouth monster that had been aiming for me was now plummeting straight down onto my head. I went light and sank into the ground. It smashed maw-first into the brickwork around me just as my head vanished under the ground. I detoured fifty feet back away from the dome and came up out of the ground. The mouth monster was a hairy, dissolving mess where it had smashed on the ground. Lancer landed beside me. He growled, “What the HELL is that?” Chaka ran over to us and complained, “She animated the whole freaking dome?” With an enormous crunching noise, the now-living dome tore itself free from the ground floor and flopped toward us, apparently intent on devouring us. From over our heads, Generator complained, “That is not okay!” Shroud said, “She made a magical illusion we couldn’t see that hid the real magic spell from us. How’s that even possible?” The dome pulled the two upper dining levels to pieces and began using the pieces to walk toward us like a centipede. Thick, glimmering tendrils of I-have-no-idea-what began sliding out past the edges of the dome and writhing hungrily. “How do we stop that thing?” Chaka asked. “Do we stop it at all?” I asked. Lancer looked at me and said, “Right. We don’t have to stop it. We just have to stop its mistress.” Chaka said, “That may not be enough to stop it.” Lancer said, “Yeah, but once we stop Fey, we can worry about clean-up afterward.” Generator looked at the thing, which was now well over four hundred feet across and extending tentacles even further out. “That’s clean-up?” Lancer said, “Tennyo, put your gravity ball in it and see if that’ll stop it.” Tennyo stared at her super-gravity sphere, and it suddenly dove right into the middle of the dome. She said, “It ought to eat a hole through it, but anything more than thirty or forty feet from the center will be pretty safe.” “Won’t the extra mass it eats make the gravity ball get bigger and bigger?” Chaka asked. I said, “You’d need to drop in something bigger than the whole planet to make an appreciable change to something with that kind of gravity differential.” She looked at me. “Don’t wanna know how you figured that out.” Lancer said, “I do, but not now. We back up, let it come toward us, then dodge around it. We give it our best shot at staying out of sight… or whatever the hell it’s using to spot us. Then we go after Fey. This thing can wait.” I added, “Because if Fey can do this, I don’t want to find out what she can do with The Grove. Or just the forests around the campus. Or the Indian tribes off-campus.” “Oh shit,” said Chaka. “An army of Weres coming after us. That would be bad.” Lancer reiterated, “So first we target Fey.” “Okay, but I don’t feel good about leavin’ a giant monster running around loose like this,” Chaka grumbled. “Maybe Mecha-Godzilla can come wrestle with it!” Generator chirped. I said, “More importantly, if Fey can create an illusion which masks her magic from our magic detectors, we’ve got serious problems.” Lancer said, “We just do the best we can with what we’ve got. And we occasionally blast the shit out of stuff that looks safe, just to keep Fey honest.” “On it,” nodded Tennyo. Chaka said, “Okay, so how do we lead Jelly-zilla where we want?” Lancer looked at Tennyo. “Can you haul all of us?” She said, “Yeah, but at top speeds it won’t be easy for you to breathe.” Lancer said, “Right. So warn us first, give us a couple seconds to take a deep breath, and then go at your top speed for one minute. We retreat over those trees toward Melville, then duck down low. You grab us all and hit the afterburners. You head east to the forest, north along the treetops just outside central campus, then back west when you get around the main open area.” Tennyo nodded. “I can do that.” So we beat a hasty retreat down the path toward Melville in the same left finger four formation as before, only with Tennyo dragging Shroud too. The giant jellyfish-slash-cafeteria pursued us at a good forty miles an hour or so, so it was a good thing Tennyo was pulling Shroud. With Tennyo’s and my flying speeds, Lancer turned out to be the slow one, moving along at roughly fifty or sixty miles per hour. Once we dove past a bit of forest and got out of sight of The Blob-ateria, Shroud dove into Generator’s purse. Generator clambered onto Tennyo’s back with her arms around Tennyo’s neck. Lancer hung onto Chaka with one arm and grabbed Tennyo’s hand with the other. I went heavy and took Tennyo’s other hand. Then Tennyo moved. It was like being shot out of a cannon, then yanked in various impossible directions by giant magnetic coils. We sped along eastward at probably a hundred fifty miles an hour, while only about five feet off the ground. I was just hoping we didn’t crash into anything. And then, only seconds later, we were past the open areas of campus. Tennyo shot into our little glen where we occasionally met with Aries, and then abruptly changed direction so we were moving into the treetops and heading due north. Lancer turned over onto his back so Chaka wasn’t at risk of getting ripped apart by stray branches. I was counting seconds in my head. It was still only around thirty-five seconds when Tennyo abruptly veered west again, and it was less than fifty seconds when she suddenly stopped and floated down toward the ground. We were still in forest, but it wasn’t the dense forest off the main areas of campus. She whispered, “I didn’t want to fly over the brick paths. She might be able to spot us.” I swallowed a couple times until my stomach was back below my diaphragm. Chaka muttered, “Girl, you gotta start carryin’ air sickness bags on these flights.” “Sorry.” Lancer said, “We’re nearly at the main path to Dickinson, right?” “Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” said Tennyo. I figured we had traveled over two miles in under a minute, so we might even have the advantage of surprise if we could find Fey quickly. “So where is she?” asked Generator. “I’m guessin’ that way,” said Chaka as she pointed toward roughly where Dickinson had to be. “That’s where the ley lines are all getting dragged. At least, the lines of Ki. If she’s figured out how to pull just the Ki one way and all the other ley lines somewhere else, we’re hosed.” We spread out again in the same left finger four formation, with Chaka and Generator being carried by our heavyweights. We flew silently just above the treetops, although I was completely light so I was cutting through branches while I flew a little lower than everyone else. Lancer suddenly made the stop gesture, then the ‘regroup on me’ gesture. We quickly flew to him. “Holy crap on a popsicle stick,” whispered Generator. “What?” I asked quietly. “Go up a few more feet,” murmured Chaka. So I did. I floated up another ten feet, until I was at the same level as everyone else. And then I would be able to see Dickinson Cottage. Which wasn’t there. In place of Dickinson was a ten story palace that looked like it was three times the length and breadth of Dickinson, and it appeared to be made out of alabaster and nacre and marble. I complained, “Nice of her to mark the evil lair with big street signs.” “Assuming it’s not another big honkin’ illusion,” groused Chaka. “If it’s a good enough illusion, is there any difference?” I asked. “Thank you, Mister Existential Philosophy,” she muttered. “Actually, that’s not existentialism, it’s-” “Not now, Phase!” snapped Lancer. “Sorry,” I said. “Me too,” Chaka added. “But the lines of Ki are all heading into that castle. So even if it’s a trap there’s some major power available in there.” “She knows how we move through evil lairs, too,” I pointed out. “Duh,” Generator muttered, not quite under her breath. Lancer asked, “Do we have any intel options?” Generator said, “Maybe. I can try Jamie Anne and Jamie Beth.” I figured those had to be new names for her Spyspecks. I said, “She can put up magical barriers I can’t get through, so G’s our go-to girl this time.” Generator tossed three little objects into the air. They hovered expertly while she pointed her ‘universal remote’ at them and pretended to program them. Then they took off toward Castle Obvioustrap. It only took a few seconds before Generator flinched. She complained, “Ouch. She blocked my… devises. Big poopyhead…” Lancer frowned. “I guess she wants us to barge in and get caught in the fancy traps. Do we have alternatives?” Chaka said, “I can make a quick sprint around the evil lair and see if I can spot anything, like maybe Ki lines going somewhere weird.” Tennyo said, “I can fly around it and hit it with a bunch of plasma blasts, maybe I can provoke a reaction.” Lancer said, “Let’s combine. Chaka, you ride piggyback on Tennyo while she strafes the site. Look for anything suspicious while she’s doing it.” “Do I get a barf bag?” “Knock it off!” complained Generator as she floated away from Tennyo. “Yeah!” agreed Shroud. “I promise I won’t make any sharp turns, unless they start firing back at us,” Tennyo murmured. “Okay, let’s rock,” said Chaka. She did a funky spin-and-barrel-roll-and-leap into the air from Lancer’s arm and landed on Tennyo’s back just as Tennyo lifted off. If I had tried to hit a moving target like that, I would have missed my target and ended up crashing to the ground face-first. Tennyo accelerated more slowly than usual, which is to say non-instantaneously, but she was going at a phenomenal speed before they got near the closest corner of the mansion. They circled the thing at about a hundred yards out, which took no time at all at Tennyo’s velocity. I estimated it took them about a dozen seconds to loop around the place, even with the super-gravity sphere into the front entrance and the cascade of plasma blasts all around the walls. Unfortunately, the plasma blasts just bounced off whatever magical screens Fey had up, and vanished when they hit the ground. They flew back, and Chaka somersaulted so that she was standing on Tennyo’s horizontal back like Tennyo was a surfboard. Chaka reported, “Dunno what she’s up to, but the ki lines went mondo bizarro when the plasma blasts bounced off and hit the… whatever. I think she ate ‘em, at least the energy from ‘em. They’re natural, like lightning, right?” “Great,” Lancer muttered. “So… either she’s found a way to absorb the energy from Tennyo’s attacks, which is ultra-bad for us because she’ll be able to use the energy later, or else she’s found a way to repel them and make it look like she could be absorbing them, which is still a major problem for us,” I complained. “We got that already,” Chaka murmured. Lancer said, “She has to know we’re here and we can’t get inside intel on her. What’s her next move?” I offered, “She can either wait us out in her giant trap, or she can do that and also launch another sneak attack.” “That giant jellyfish was gross,” Generator volunteered. “And… Oh holy crap, there’s a big flash of magic all underneath us!” “UP!” Lancer called out. Not that it was necessary. We all jetted up away from the trees. Even Tennyo. Only Tennyo was moving fast enough to avoid the hundreds of branches that suddenly snatched at us. Incredibly, Chaka didn’t fall off, but rode her like a surfboard in a turbulent wave. Dozens of heavy branches lashed at me or tried to grab me. But I was disruption light, so they whirred through me without being able to touch me. Most of them recoiled as if they were in pain. That had to be good. Lancer moved fast enough that the branches were only able to attack his legs. The branches couldn’t get through his PK field, but a good dozen managed to wrap themselves around the field at his feet and ankles. He ripped them apart without making an effort. Generator and Shroud weren’t so lucky. They didn’t move as fast as the rest of us, and they weren’t strong enough – or intangible enough – to handle the attack. “Ouch!” Generator yelped as a dozen branches wrapped around her legs and torso to drag her down into the forest. The branches wrapped around Shroud too, but she hacked at most of them with knives and nanowires. Other branches she simply let slide through her as she split her ‘body’ into pieces. The nanowires made short work of even the thicker branches, and the one branch tip that went for Shroud’s face was snapped off by a bear trap for its troubles. “Guys!” Generator yelled as she was sucked down into the forest. I was already diving into the branches after her. But Tennyo was a lot faster than me, and a lot angrier. She had her lightsaber out and was already hacking her way through anything within her reach. I cut disruption-light around behind her and zapped anything trying to sneak up on her. “On your six!” “Copy that,” she growled as she slashed at anything that even looked like it wanted to grab her. We caught up with Generator when she was about forty feet down into the forest canopy. She was securely wrapped up in about six or seven branches, but she was making the trees pay for it. Spinner was buzzing and slashing through everything that tried to pile on. The Hello Kitty compact was spinning madly, slicing into anything thin enough that it could cut through it. Half a dozen knives and two katanas were defending Jade from anything else that tried to get within six feet of her. And Jade had one slender branch in her right hand that she was threatening. “Don’t make me get out the plastic explosives! You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry! I’m not kidding either! I mean it, we’re talking a HUGE kaboom!” Tennyo slashed through the branches that were holding Generator in place, and grabbed her by a couple still-coiled branches to haul her straight up and out of the danger zone. I flew around them, going disruption-light through anything that looked like a potential threat. When we flew up out of the angry branches, we found Chaka arguing with Lancer and Shroud. “Look Hulkster, I can fight this shit off easy! I wanna go down and help out! And… Oh hi, G.” Generator smiled, “Hey, thanks for being worried.” Shroud flew over and sliced off the remaining wood that was still coiled around Generator. I said, “You should’ve seen her. She was scaring the crap out of the trees by threatening them with C-4.” Tennyo grinned, “She actually said ‘you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.’ If I hadn’t been so worried I probably would’ve laughed.” Lancer frowned, “Well, we know it’s not a good idea to hang around waiting for her sneak attacks. We’d better do what she wants and go attack Castle Anthrax before she hits us with something even worse.” “Ents,” I said in the best Indiana Jones voice I could muster. “Why did it have to be Ents?” Tennyo smiled, “Okay, I got that joke.” “Just be glad she didn’t tell it in Elvish,” Chaka teased. “Quenya,” I corrected automatically. “Tolkien had-” “Later, team?” Lancer pleaded. “Yeah, let’s go storm the Chapel Perilous,” I muttered to myself. “Right, on to the Kaibacorp Building!” said Generator. “I was gonna go with LuthorCorp Building myself,” chipped in Chaka. “I was thinking the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness,” murmured Tennyo. “I can’t take you girls anywhere,” complained Lancer. “We didn’t say anything!” chirped Shroud sprightly. Lancer said, “Okay, I want Tennyo in the lead, sword out and blasting anything that even looks funny at us. Phase right behind her. Shroud and Generator after her, and I’ll cover our six with Chaka.” Chaka said, “And I’m surfing on the Hulkster so I can Chaka Chaka Bang Bang whenever I need to.” Lancer just sighed. We flew in a straight line right at the front doors of Fey’s mansion. Or what would have been the gorgeous, nacreous front doors if someone hadn’t already hit them with a super-gravity pulse that had turned them into a thirty-foot hole. On the upside, the gaping hole meant that we could see the things waiting for us inside. A ten-foot thing that looked like a demon made entirely of red flame leapt at Tennyo. She blasted it with a plasma ball, and it just changed to a yellow flame and kept on coming. She slashed through it with her lightsaber as it closed with her, and it just changed to a white-hot flame. And then it engulfed her. A thing that looked like it was a twelve-foot gorilla made of lightning targeted me. I went heavy and dropped to the marble-tiled floor, shattering what I landed on. It flew over my head to land just outside the mansion. It quickly reversed direction and came back at me. A trio of things that looked like angry eight-foot slime demons went for Shroud and Generator. Shroud began hacking and slashing at the things, but her knives and wires and beartrap and claws just sank harmlessly in the mess. Generator unleashed Spinner and her compact at the things, but they weren’t hurting the slime either. She darted up and back just before one of the slime demons would have caught her. A thing that looked like it was a ten-foot metallic ‘Alien’ complete with nasty jaws went for Lancer. Chaka hit it right in the face with a Chaka Chaka Bang Bang, and it didn’t even flinch. She somersaulted off of Lancer’s back just a fraction of a second before Lancer hit it fists-first. There was an impact that sounded like a wrecking ball smashing into a building, and the thing hardly reacted. Lancer was knocked back about five feet. Chaka hit the ground and fired off another Ki blast before she was finished cartwheeling into an aikido stance. Her blast hit one of the slime demons and only managed to get its attention. The slime demon made a beeline for Chaka, reaching out with grotesque tentacles for her. Chaka dodged the longest tentacle and ran up a wall to avoid its attack. The thing splutted into the wall… and then began sliming its way up the wall after her. Zappy the Lightning Gorilla leapt at me again. It wasn’t as fast as lightning, but it was fast. I went light and dove through the closest wall to put myself back outside and in front of the open hole where the doors used to be. It crashed into the wall and failed to penetrate, but it figured out where I was and came after me again. I went heavy. I could hear Tennyo screaming angrily, so I threw two ice eggs at her back. Then I threw my last ice egg at the floor right in front of the slime demon that was going after Generator. That was all the time I had, because the lightning-gorilla was leaping for me once again. Lancer spun in the air and gave Sigourney the Metal Alien a spinkick that knocked it sideways. It hit the wall with a crash that embedded it a foot deep in the marble. It pried itself out and went back for more. One of the slime demons engulfed Shroud. That didn’t bother her any. She continued to chop and hack and slash from within the monster. The only problem was that her hard work didn’t bother the monster any. Chaka raced down the wall away from her slime demon, and found some sort of plant demon coming for her. It looked like a full-sized topiary lion, complete with immense thorns for claws and fangs. “Whoa! Nice kitty!” It leapt for her, claws out and paws extended. The ice eggs exploded all about Tennyo, and the fire demon blew up, flinging white-hot flame all over the room. Shroud leapt into the air, taking the entire slime demon with her, and blocked almost everything flying at Generator. Chaka slid behind the plant-lion, letting it take the brunt of the damage. Lancer and I ignored the flames and tried to deal with our own opponents, who unfortunately were just as fireproof as we were. The other ice egg exploded just as Generator’s slime demon was about to pass over it, which turned out to be pretty good aim on my part. The ice egg froze the front half of the thing, simultaneously freezing it to the floor so it couldn’t keep moving toward Generator. The flames from Tennyo’s monster incinerated its back half. Once Shroud’s slime demon was on fire, she had a lot less trouble shaking it off. Even if she ended up covered in nasty green slime and dripping mess all over the floor. At least she was the least likely one to be bothered by the mess. Usually, I was the one who got dumped into the sewer or who caught the face full of monster snot. Chaka ran back up the wall, as the plant-lion turned out to be extremely flammable. It just didn’t seem to care that it was on fire as it continued to pursue Chaka. Lancer got Sigourney by the arm and used a hip throw to hurl it through the air into the flaming plant-lion. The impact crushed the plant demon, but didn’t slow down Sigourney a bit. Zappy leapt at me again, and I Phase-leapt five feet to the side before going heavy. I whipped out my tactical baton and slashed at the thing’s leg as it went by. The baton sliced through it without any effect. Lancer yelled, “Incoming!” I moved. I Phase-leapt thirty feet further away from my pal Zappy. Sigourney tore through the air and smashed into the lightning-gorilla. There was a searing noise like the world’s biggest short circuit, and a flash of light. I blinked away the spots before my eyes and looked. There was nothing left except a toasted-looking Sigourney that was getting back to its feet. That, and an intense smell of ozone. I yelled “Clear!” and hit the thing with a tangleweb egg before it got up off the floor. Everyone jumped back, and the tangleweb glued it to the floor. But Sigourney wasn’t done. It slowly pulled itself upright, ripping the floor apart as it went. It was covered in webbing and chunks of flooring, but it was still mobile. For about two seconds. Tennyo flew through the air with a scream. A scream and a lightsaber. Three quick slashes in a Z-shape, and Sigourney was in pieces. The first slash took off its head. The second slash cut diagonally through its arms and torso. The third slash separated its torso from its legs. I counted seven pieces, none of which were moving anymore. “Nice one, Zorro,” said Lancer. Shroud wrung herself out, the fabric twisting into a rattail that squeezed out most of the slime fairly effectively. She said, “Yeah.” I just looked Tennyo in the eye and said, “Cute outfit.” She frowned at me. There was nothing left of the fabric parts of her costume. I had contributed something to her costume that Harry was still working on, even if Larry had been willing to let me slip it into the system when I showed him what Harry had so far. And that little contribution was all she had on. Her skin and hair had already recovered from the flames, but all that was left of her uniform was a tiny bit of liner comprised of half-inch interlocking adamantium disks. She said, “I told you this was too tiny! And with the fabric all burnt off, it’s not comfortable either.” I said, “Sorry, it was all the adamantium Harry had left, and the sim guys wouldn’t let me add in any more.” Chaka said, “Oh yeah, I can see why they wouldn’t.” Tennyo stood there in the tiniest bikini top and thong you could make if you were working with half-inch metallic disks. Her nipples were covered, and her privates were covered. But there wasn’t much else to it. Generator said, “Good thing I brought a spare costume.” She reached into her purse. “Oh no, not the blue Ryoko bikini!” Tennyo pleaded. “It’s almost as bad as this thing!” Generator pulled out what looked like a bright red unitard that had been passed through a chipper-shredder. Tennyo groaned, “Not the naughty space pirate outfit!” Generator grinned mischievously, “I got the blue cloak that goes with it too.” Tennyo glared at her. “You stink. I am so getting even with you after the sim.” But she tugged on the unitard. It really looked worse once it was on her. The pieces sliced out of it took up about as much surface area as the unitard did. There was a weird orange piece that only covered her arms and shoulders, but had puffy material at the shoulders. And the cloak only draped down her back, not covering any of the front of the unitard. It wasn’t as bad as the adamantium thong bikini, but it wasn’t good. And Tennyo really looked like an anime character when she wore the outfit. Lancer snapped, “Are we done having fun with dress-up?” “No, I got some makeup for her, and a thing to go over her right eye, and-” “Generator, knock it off!” Lancer growled. “You know, Bardue is watching this!” “Oh, he’s just a big pussycat,” she smiled calmly. I rolled my eyes. I think we all did. Lancer said, “Chaka, you and Tennyo on point. Track down where the Ki lines are going. I want to get going before the next wave of faerie monsters comes and jumps on us.” “Right,” said Chaka. “And what was up with that lion? Aren’t lions and leopards supposed ta get along?” “In places like the Serengeti, they’re competitors in the same food web,” I pointed out. “I think she knows that,” Lancer said. “Phase is just so easy to work,” Chaka grinned. “Well maybe you could work what you’re supposed to?” Lancer said pointedly. Chaka just looked at Tennyo and said, “Let’s rock.” The two of them jetted forward, one flying and the other sprinting. “More rock, less talk,” said Lancer as we followed. We rushed down a hallway that had to be five times longer than the entire length of the building from the outside. But we were in the domain of a Sidhe Queen, so I didn’t have a lot of hope for sensible geometries. The hall ended in a large room. I mean, a large room. In fact, calling it a room was an injustice. Calling it a stadium was probably an injustice. We found ourselves on a balcony about two hundred feet above a glimmering alabaster floor. The ceiling was perhaps a thousand feet above us, and it looked like the photographic negative of a gleaming night sky. The opposite wall looked like it was perhaps a mile away. The side walls looked like they were even farther away. “Some house,” muttered Generator. “And this is just the closet space,” snarked Chaka. “Is there an indoor pool?” asked Tennyo. “Yeah, but it’s the Great Salt Lake,” I replied. Lancer just said, “Well, I guess we know where the ley lines are going.” About half a mile away was a monstrous diamond. It was glowing with an inner fire, and it looked like it was the size of a hill. It had to be a couple hundred feet high, and it was wider than it was tall. “Who said ‘more rock, less talk’?” Chaka asked with a smirk. We took off toward the big diamond. As we approached it, we saw that it was ringed with hulking figures. Each one looked like an ape carved out of diamond, and each one was about forty feet high. Chaka asked again, “Okay, who asked for more rock?” Every one of the apes turned and stared at us. I didn’t have much hope that they were immobile. We got within about a hundred yards of Diamond-zilla, and suddenly a forest-green light flared all around us. When the light dimmed, I realized that we were inside a geodesic dome made of Fey’s magical green barrier. On the other side of the barrier, we could see Fey. Only she appeared to be about eight hundred feet high. Either that, or we were now the size of mosquitoes. I personally was hoping for a really impressive illusion. She laughed in an icy tone that sent shivers down my back. Her laugh sounded like it was coming from the world’s biggest rock music performance. “Thank you, Chaka. I knew that if I diverted all the Ki for miles around into my firestone, you’d lead everyone to it.” “I think I called that one,” said Chaka to the giant figure. “Then you’ll really like this. All the Ki I pulled in? My firestone is powered by it. My barrier and my floor will keep Phase inside, and will reflect Tennyo’s energies. My diamond-fae will feed off it, and grow stronger and stronger, until even the vaunted Team Kimba cannot stop them. I expect this will be most entertaining.” “Poopyhead,” someone muttered. The diamond-apes went for us. Lancer grabbed Chaka, and we all rose up out of their reach. Beams of pure white light shone from the giant diamond into the diamond-apes, and each one began growing larger. “Uh-oh, that’s not good,” muttered Shroud. “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” said Generator. “Same to ya, Major Pain,” said Shroud. “Back at you, General Nuisance,” said Generator. “Ditto, Colonel O’Corn,” said Shroud. “That was lame, Private Parts,” said Generator. They looked at each other and giggled. Lancer fumed, “Now that the comedy club is closed, can we deal with the threat?” “What’s to deal?” asked Generator. “They can’t get us-” Two diamond-apes grabbed a third and hurled it straight at us. “-except like that,” Generator finished. She dodged out of the ape’s flightpath. Tennyo darted to one side and slashed at the diamond-ape with her lightsaber. The energy beam passed through it harmlessly. The ape arced through the air and landed with a crash over by the edge of the barrier. It clambered to its feet, apparently unhurt. Chaka said, “Incoming!” Another ape was hurled through the air at us. Chaka shouted, “Chaka Chaka Bang Bang!” and blasted the flying ape. It suddenly grew. It took a swipe at her, but Lancer darted to one side and the ape missed her by a good ten feet. Chaka watched the ape fly past, and she just said, “Oops.” Lancer groaned, “If they feed on Ki, please don’t give them more. Okay?” Chaka said, “Sorry. Let’s fly over there and see if they’re breakable. Howzaboutit?” Lancer looked at me, but I didn’t have a better idea. We needed to figure out what these things had for weaknesses before they figured out how to smash us into kindling. We wheeled about as a team and darted at the second ape. It was still picking itself up off the floor when we dropped in on it. Lancer punched it hard enough to knock it into Fey’s green barrier. It just bounced off and came back at us. Tennyo hit it with a plasma ball. It absorbed the energy and grew another ten feet. She flew in and hit it with a plasma-powered punch. It flew backward and bounced off the barrier again, but grew even more. By then it was over seventy feet high. I said, “If they keep getting bigger, eventually we won’t be able to fly high enough to stay out of their reach.” “Already figured that one out,” sang out Chaka. Tennyo launched one of her super-gravity attacks, and we all backed up. The glowing sphere flew right at the unmoving diamond-ape. It simply stood there and watched as gravitational destruction came right at it. The sphere touched the ape’s faceted chest… and bounced. “Shit!” “Look out!” The super-gravity attack came right back at us, only four times as fast. Tennyo swooped past me and grabbed Generator, dragging her out of the way. I went heavy and dropped to the floor. Lancer, with Chaka still in one arm, darted upward. Shroud flew off to my left. The gravity sphere went hurtling past us toward the giant diamond in the center of the room. I tried to sound casual as I asked, “So… if that thing bounces off these diamonds and comes back several times faster, what’s going to happen when it hits some more diamond facets?” “Bad day bad day bad day!” said Generator. Okay, I was now officially making a list of the weird refs she threw at me, and I was going to track every single one of them down. The gravity sphere hit another diamond-ape and reflected off it even faster, then hit the giant diamond and reflected off it even faster. “Incoming,” I announced. Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I really hate being the one who’s correct? All right, I usually love being the one who’s correct, but not every time. Tennyo swooped in at an angle and headed off the sphere. She put up her hands and ‘caught’ it. I watched as it wavered and then vanished. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. “Okay, any other awesome ideas?” Generator asked. “Because I got nothing. I mean, I don’t have anything that’s gonna take down a sixty-foot super-ape made of diamond with magic protection all over it. Unless you think C-4’s an option.” Chaka said, “Right now I think C-4’s a damn good option.” Lancer said, “I can try my tornado move. Maybe that’ll do something.” I said, “I can try my baton. I have a few more tangleweb balls and taser shots. I’m out of ice eggs. I have a couple fireball eggs and a couple explosive eggs left. And I have a couple other toys, but nothing designed with giant magical monkeys in mind.” “Mystical Monkey Power?” smirked Generator in tones that warned me she was making yet another allusion I didn’t get. “Incoming!” Shroud called out. Three more diamond-apes were soaring in arcs aimed our way. Lancer stared at the apes and calmly said, “Phase, experiment on the left one. I’ve got center. G, try that C-4 on the right-hand one.” Chaka leapt out of Lancer’s grasp before he could start spinning, and she lightfooted her way down to the floor. I pulled out my Cobra and fired a taser shot at the incoming diamond-ape. My shot was dead on, even catching it right on the head. I could even see the flash when the shot detonated, but the ape just ignored the effect. Lancer pulled out his paper swords, turned them into PK weapons, and began spinning up to speed as he moved to intercept his ape. Jade put her hand into her purse and pulled out a block of C-4. Detonators swarmed out of her purse and plugged themselves into the block. Then a battery and a triggering mechanism joined the fun. The whole mess flew off at the third ape. I tried letting an explosive egg go nearly normal density in my hand and hurling it at my ape. The explosion was impressive, but had no effect. The ape went flying past us, pawing madly at empty air since we had already moved out of its path. I hit it with a fireball egg in the back before it hit the floor, but that didn’t do anything useful either. So I waited a moment until it crashed into the floor, and I hit it with a tangleweb ball. The webbing didn’t stick to the diamond facets. It just pried its way out of the mess and stood up again. Lancer’s PK tornado attack pummeled the second ape as it flew past, but all that Lancer managed to do was to knock the ape off in another direction. It hit the green barrier and bounced to the floor unhurt. Chaka lightfooted her way back to Lancer’s shoulder and gave him a ‘nice try’ pat on the head. Generator’s ape hit the ground and the C-4 detonated, blasting it half a dozen feet back up into the air. It crashed to the floor again and got up unharmed. I flew in behind my diamond-ape and went heavy, whipping my tactical baton out and smashing the thing in the back of the knee as hard as I could. The baton just bounced off. I might as well have taken a potshot at Lancer. The ape wheeled about and took a swipe at me. I Phase-leapt out of the way and threw a disruption-light cannonball at it. The cannonball bounced off whatever magics were protecting it. I was down to a one-shot combat maser. That was not going to be a lot of help against a small army of very large – and still growing – monsters. I Phase-leapt back up to the team. “Anything else?” I asked. “Yeah,” Chaka said. “One major asspull comin’ up. If this works, you guys better be as close to that barrier as you can go.” She dropped from Lancer’s shoulder and sprinted right at the army of diamond-apes in the center of the room. “What the hell does she think she’s doing?” Lancer asked. “Oh crap,” I replied as the answer dawned on me. “Everybody back up to the barrier. Tennyo and Lancer in front, Shroud and Generator behind them.” Chaka ran right at the ring of diamond-apes, who lumbered toward her and reached down to grab her. She did her lightfoot kung fu trick again, and ran over their heads. As they reached up to grab her, she ran above their outstretched hands, giving her even more height. She kept going. She lightfooted her way toward the center of the giant diamond. I asked, “How much Ki energy does she think she can handle?” Lancer got it. He gasped, “Fuck! She can’t!” She did. Chaka hit the center of the side of the giant diamond with outstretched arms, and did what she did best: manipulate Ki. The entire room exploded in a silent blast of pure white light. The diamond was nothing but stored Ki. The diamond-apes ran on stored Ki. The whole trap was probably powered by stored Ki energy. And Chaka was all Ki all the time. Energy seared across the room, blinding us with its intensity. Energy burned against Tennyo and against Lancer’s PK field. I hid behind Lancer, while Generator hid behind Tennyo and Shroud tried to give Generator some additional protection. Even with my eyes closed, I saw enormous bursts of red and green which probably weren’t really light. The light faded. I opened my eyes, only to find I was seeing huge green and red spots dancing before my eyes. Tennyo’s uniform was burned off again, leaving her with only the adamantium bikini covering burned skin. Shroud was nothing but limp handfuls of cloth and metal. Lancer said, “I had my eyes closed, and I still can’t see. Are we okay?” The burned skin on Tennyo’s front rapidly healed, leaving her looking like an anime bikini model again. Generator popped Shroud back into her costume. Lancer blinked some more and said, “Okay, my vision’s coming back. That was way too bright. Next time, I want some shades.” I didn’t mention that I had polarized lenses on my headmask, and they hadn’t done much to stop me from seeing spots. Granted, the red and green bursts had possibly been from the ‘high-powered-magic sight’ I seemed to have, so polarized lenses were probably useless for that. I looked around the room. The floor looked dull and burnt. The green barrier was completely gone. The diamond and the diamond-apes were nothing but piles of clear goo. And in the middle of the biggest pile of clear goo was a small, unmoving body. I took off toward Chaka as soon as I saw her. I dropped to the floor and Phase-leapt as fast as I could go. I even beat Tennyo. Not that it did any good. I reached into the dissipating slime and pulled out Toni’s body. Well, what was left of her body. Imagine if you burned off someone’s clothing and skin, then left them in the middle of the Sahara to mummify for a decade, then poured a gallon of clear gel on the remains. That was what I had. It was as if she had used every bit of power she had and expelled everything that was ki-related. And really, what part of Toni wasn’t ‘Chaka, Mistress of Ki’? One of the really great things about wearing a headmask? No one can see you cry. It didn’t matter that this was just another stupid simulation. I was holding Toni’s dead body. Would someone please remind me why most of my teammates thought these sims were a load of fun? A strong hand patted me on the shoulder. Tennyo said, “Come on, Phase. We’ve gotta go.” “Right,” I managed to say. I stood up and looked around. The room was now a hemisphere about six hundred feet across. Lancer and Shroud and Generator were closing in on me. One of the really annoying things about wearing a headmask? You can’t blow your nose. I had to inhale sharply and hope everyone didn’t think I was sniffling. Across the room, over by one of the sculptures on the wall, the air began to waver. A portal appeared, and Fey floated through. Lancer murmured, “Showtime.” Fey spoke in a voice that carried throughout the room as if there were speakers hidden everywhere. It was in Nikki’s tones, but Aunghadhail’s stiff formality. “We have to admit, We did not think there was a way out of Our little arena. But then, Chaka’s strongpoint always was her creativity.” Lancer whispered, “On three. One…” Fey didn’t move. But suddenly there was an awe-inspiring glow all about her. Suddenly she was… more. Much, much more. I was overwhelmed. All I could think about was how beautiful she was. How desirable. How perfect. Why was I trying to attack her? The reasons didn’t make any sense to me. All I could think about was her perfection. Lancer knelt and bowed his head. I couldn’t make myself move. Tennyo yelled, “We lost ‘em! Move!” She leapt into the air and flew at Fey. Why would she do that? Shroud and Generator were right behind her, although Tennyo rapidly pulled away from them as she raced toward Fey. Surely she wouldn’t want to attack someone that lovely? Spinner and the Hello Kitty compact leapt out of Generator’s purse and moved just in front of her. Until Fey looked at her and blew away all of Generator’s PK forms. Shroud and Spinner and the compact all dropped to the floor. Generator dropped to the floor. She fell about forty feet and pancaked face-down on the rock-hard tile. “You BITCH!” Tennyo yelled. Tennyo never cursed like that. Why would she be cursing at Fey? Why would anyone ever curse at Fey? She was so lovely. So important. So… Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something? Did I need to attack Tennyo and stop her from hurting my beautiful Fey? Wait, that didn’t make any sense. There was something wrong. I just couldn’t figure out what. I knew it couldn’t be Fey. She was so gorgeous. And I had never been so horny in my life. I needed her to be there. I needed to… I needed to do something. Why couldn’t I figure out what I was supposed to be doing? I knew there was something wrong if I couldn’t figure things out. I watched the devastation as Tennyo and Fey blasted at each other. It was spectacular. Fey was spectacular. Why was Tennyo attacking her? Was she supposed to? Tennyo threw blast after blast at Fey, and Fey simply absorbed the energy of the attacks into her barriers. Then a massive ball of yellow energy appeared around Tennyo, and she was trapped. She pounded on it. She punched it. She slashed at it with her lightsaber. She hurled energy attacks at it. Nothing broke the energy ball. Fey calmly said, “Phase and Lancer. Stay where you are. I’ll deal with you in a few minutes, after I cast your little friend here into a pocket dimension.” That seemed good to me. Whatever Fey wanted to do was fine with me. Whatever Fey wanted me to do was fine with me. Wait, that didn’t sound right. Something was definitely wrong. Why couldn’t I figure out what was wrong? It was important. I needed to figure it out. I needed to… Generator’s arm moved a few inches and touched her compact. Did my Fey want that to happen? Surely she knew it had happened. Surely she knew everything. I smiled to myself at the thought of her omnipotence, and how it made me feel safe and loved. The compact slid across the floor, skating only an inch or two above the tiles. I watched as it slid right at me. What was it doing? Why was it moving? Did I need to tell Fey? The compact skated past my leg. Suddenly I felt a vicious, stabbing pain in my butt. And another one! Damn! Suddenly the compact was hiding behind my head and hissing in Jade’s tones, “Phase! PHASE! Snap out of it! You have to help Tennyo RIGHT NOW!” “Wha?” I was having trouble focusing. What was she doing? Why was she trying to… “OW!” Another knife jabbed me right in the can! Oh shit, I was completely taken out by Fey’s glamour. How pathetic was that? Lancer was out of it too. “Help her!” the compact fussed again. Oh. Right. Fey was about to dump Tennyo into a pocket dimension, squish the J-Team like ants, and then do Christ only knew what to me and Lancer. I stood still and reached into my utility belt. There had been more than enough time for Larry and his buddies to register my GDI CM019A, unless they were too busy drooling over the specs for it. I reached into the correct pocket, and… There wasn’t a CM019A in my pocket. No, there was something much bigger. Something that couldn’t possibly fit in that pocket. I pulled it out. Instead of a flashlight-sized CM019A, there was something the size of a rifle. A really fat rifle that needed to be introduced to Jenny Craig. A rifle with a barrel about three inches thick, an optical sniper-scope atop that, a massive cylindrical battery slung under the barrel, and a battery-filled stock that was the size of a small ham. Somehow, they had snuck a CM019B into the registration system for me. The compact giggled, “Is that a combat maser in your pocket, or are you just glad to see Fey?” As it happened the answer to that was ‘yes to both’. A CM019B had roughly seven times the power of a CM019A in each shot, a much better aiming system, and about thirty times the battery. I might have a whopping four shots in this puppy. Five, if I were careful enough. I dropped to one knee, assuming the proper kneeling stance. As soon as I moved, the compact leapt in front of Lancer’s face and made a little puffing noise. Lancer didn’t move. I flipped off the safety, checked the battery power, and lined up the scope on Fey’s chest. When the charging light inside the scope flipped from red to green, I pulled the trigger. A beam of invisible electromagnetic energy lanced out. It hit a shield only inches in front of my target. The shield flared into a field of dark green fern-like fractals. How did that shield stop something invisible, when light and ordinary electromagnetic energies were obviously passing through it? Well, the answer was ‘magic’. Duh. Fey’s voice boomed across the room. “Lancer. Kill Phase and then bring me that compact.” I prepared to shove the weapon back in my pocket and Phase-leap across the room. Lancer was a lot stronger than I was, and I couldn’t bust his PK field – unless I used my combat maser on him, which I wasn’t ready to do yet – but I could Phase-leap a hundred yards away from him and avoid his attacks. Man, the last thing I wanted to do was use the few remaining blasts of my combat maser and then find out maser blasts were one of the energies his field could swallow… and then regurgitate. I did not want to get taken out with my own combat maser attack. He rose unsteadily… and wobbled. He opened his mouth to say something, and his jaw froze. He raised one arm… He toppled over and hit the floor with a smack. The compact giggled in my ear, “Maybe he can stop a bullet, but he can’t stop air!” I uncomfortably wondered what kinds of gaseous poisons that little monster was really carrying around. Generator lifted her head off the floor and pointed her arm in Fey’s direction. Six tiny missiles took off at floor-level before sneaking up the wall behind Fey and attacking her from the rear. Three exploded against Fey, eliciting screams of outrage and pain. One burst into a cloud of smoke, while another erupted in a cloud of whitish gas that could have been anything. The last one ducked past Fey’s shield and exploded against the outside of the yellow energy ball imprisoning Tennyo. I took another shot, and this time the maser punched through a rapidly fragmenting forcefield to burn right into Fey’s chest just above her armor. She shrieked in pain. Whether it was the distractions, or the pain, or Generator’s explosive against the outside of the yellow sphere, the yellow surface fluctuated, and Tennyo’s two-handed blast ruptured a huge hole in the side. Fey stopped the complex spellwork she was performing and tried to pull up a new shield before Tennyo could leap out of the sphere and throttle her. I shot her in the face before she could get the new shield ready, and she screamed in agony. Generator yelled, “NOW!” And Jasmine finally came out of hiding. We hadn’t been sure how hard it would be to sneak a PK construct past all of Fey’s defenses, but it was still our Plan B. Jasmine had a weapon I had carefully procured and registered without Fey knowing about it, and she slid up behind Fey to launch her attack. Two hundred pounds of cold iron filings attacked Fey like a living avalanche. As soon as they poured across her skin, burning everywhere they touched, Fey opened her mouth to scream. The filings poured into her mouth and up her nostrils and into her ears. As they disrupted her magic and her connection to the ley lines around her, the room began warping and falling apart. Within seconds, there was what appeared to be a metal sculpture of Fey in her stead. It stopped floating and crashed to the tiles of the floor. It struggled to move for long seconds before it sagged and froze. Tennyo floated down and said, “I hate to do it, but…” She unleashed a massive ball of blue plasma which disintegrated Fey and everything around her. The building began to collapse around us. Tennyo yelled at me, “Go!” She swooped down across the tiles and scooped up Generator in one arm before zooming across the floor to scoop up an unconscious Lancer in the other arm. Once I was sure she had them, I Phase-leapt down the long tunnel and out the hole in the front wall. Tennyo was about fifteen seconds behind me, with a person in each arm and Shroud clinging to her ankle. We turned and watched the massive building. The roof was collapsing inward, while the walls and windows were exploding outward. Generator, blood still all over her front, asked, “Do we need to move back some mo-” * * * * * “Welcome back, Phase. It is 9:18 pm. Team Kimba has been successful in its Dark Phoenix scenario three, although it did lose one team member. Please remove your helmet.” I already had my helmet open before the stupid computer voice had finished saying ‘welcome back’. I put my hands over my ears just a fraction of a second before Bardue began bellowing at us to get to Room 1 for the debriefing. I stood up uncomfortably, trying to ignore the sticky disconnection feeling around my bottom. Was there a custom system that Cecilia could design for me so I didn’t have to connect and disconnect the cabling through my gluteus maximus? I stepped out of the cubicle into a full-body Nikki hug. “I’m really sorry about the glamour.” I nodded. Just getting an enormous hug from a bodysuit-clad Fey was making that horniness come back, and my suit definitely didn’t have room for an erection too. I just said, “It’s okay.” Lancer walked over and complained, “At least you shook it off.” I admitted, “Not really. The J-Team stabbed me in the ass until I snapped out of it.” He snorted with laughter. Toni stepped out of her cubicle, and Nikki threw herself into Toni’s arms. “I’m really sorry!” Toni just grinned, “Hey, no sweat, homes. Just, so you know, when it’s time for Dark Chaka to roar, you’re goin’ down. And hard. The big smackdown.” Nikki managed to apologize to everyone before we reached Room 1. Apparently, Aunghadhail had stepped up and had insisted on demonstrating just why you didn’t mess with the Sidhe. I think I already had that message written on my mental whiteboard. We traipsed into the room and sat down in the front rows right in front of Bardue and Wilson and Everheart. Bardue stared at us for a second before he said, “Well done. All of you. Especially the adjustments when you were without comms, and the threat assessments. Who came up with the plan?” Everyone, including Nikki, pointed at me. Nikki even said, “And this was her Plan B, because she already told me her Plan A.” I said, “The key part was that Generator had something that could make it work. Otherwise, it was just some cold iron we couldn’t get into position.” It wasn’t much of a fib, at that. It was literally true, just deliberately deceptive. Billie grinned, her little fangs showing. “Yeah. She can build anything.” Jade gave her a hug for that. Bardue asked, “And what did you learn tonight?” Hank volunteered, “Verify the sitch before launching into a full-fledged Dark Phoenix movement. We were all so sure it had to be Phase, what with that ‘gun safety course’ bit, that we all assumed Fey was telling the truth.” Billie said, “I was about to say it had to be Phase, so when Fey said it first, I just figured she was seeing something magical that I couldn’t.” Toni said, “Generator was monitoring all of us at Poe, so we didn’t see how it could be anyone else.” She turned her head and asked Nikki, “So how did you sneak that one over on us?” I guessed, “The call you said was from Scrambler was really Bardue?” She nodded. “Yeah, I just kept saying ‘no Jay Jay, this isn’t Jody’s room’ until Gunny got the hint. Then I magically briefed Koehnes on what I wanted, and I sent her over here to give Gunny the details.” Toni laughed, “Sneaky!” Nikki teased, “Phase will probably have her personal assistant and her corporate lawyers come over and give you a twenty page proposal for her Dark Phoenix turn.” Bardue and Wilson spent several minutes going over what we had done well, and where we had slipped up. They thought that Fey had spent too much time playing with her food before eating it, but she firmly insisted that it was the way of the Sidhe, and there were rules she had to follow – and really, who knew if she was telling the truth? Still, on the whole, we got more pats on the back than usual. When Bardue wrapped up, Everheart said to us, “You’re a lot more… touchy-feely than most teams after a knock-down drag-out Dark Phoenix sim. Especially with two deaths, two mind controls, and some fairly tough fights.” Toni just grinned, “Hey, we aren’t most teams. We’ve fought real supervillains. We know we’ve all got each other’s back. We know we’re real friends. And we all know about Nikki already, so no big.” Bardue crossed his arms and said, “That's one reason why we don't hit every team with the Dark Phoenix sims.” “Very well. Team dismissed,” Everheart said. We walked out to get changed into our regular clothes. Toni and I exchanged looks. Tomorrow night, if they weren’t done with this bullshit, we were going to be prepared for Dark Lancer. As we flew through the tunnels back to Poe, Jade chirped, “Okay, so tomorrow night I only have to watch Lancer and Chaka and Phase. That’s easy!” I said, “Dark Lancer. They’re working top down now.” Chaka said, “I dunno, I’m thinkin’ Dark Phase.” Hank said, “I don’t care who it is, I just don’t want Peeping Janns and Jaynas when I’m studying with Lily.” “Ooh, ‘studying with Lily,’ is that what they call it these days?” snarked Toni. “Knock it off.” “These young whippersnappers, they have all the ‘hep’ slogans these newfangled days,” teased Nikki. “Shut up, you guys!” But they kept teasing him, until finally he said to me, “Ya know, sometimes I wonder why you don’t just dive through the floor or the ceiling and ditch these loonies.” I said, “Well, there is a reason they’re in Poe.” So then they insisted on teasing me too. Once we were back in our rooms, it took me several minutes of searching to find out what Jade’s weird references were. That, and it took several minutes of annoying snarking from Vamp, who was intent on giving me a ton of crap for looking up what turned out to be cartoons. I should have known. All right, I had seen a couple minutes of “Kim Possible” before, but who knew Jackie Chan had a cartoon series too? That night, I dreamed about the Dark Fey scenario, but I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with horrifying nightmares. However, I did wake up four times with throbbing erections. I really had to find a way to block glamours and lust auras. I was going to have to ask Circe to teach me how to perform those kinds of protective spells. Man, I couldn’t wait to see the expression on Circe’s face when I asked. Not!