“I found eight more.”
“Dark, it’s me.”
But her voice was already lost in the hubbub of battle. A concussion grenade went off, throwing almost everybody to the unforgiving ground. The Creed and Satan shook off the attack, the advantage of durability as a power. The Creed jumped onto Satan’s flanks. The horse bucked, Creed jumped, and he was on the roof of the one story building. He closed in on The Dark only to find himself shoulder over heels and his head following its own arc. When it landed the head was facing away from the fight. The Creed was effectively blind.
“Dark, it’s me, CTH.”
“Now that’s a bad, baaaad lie.”
Kelly turned and saw a different version of her own costume. The black was duller. The boots had no purple, but there were to two sets of three purple lines from the bottom of the breasts around the sides to the upper buttocks. She had the belt, the pepperbox tasers, knives in the boots, but no backpack.
“You died … you died and I took your place.”
“You are a sad …”
This CTH drew a taser and fired at Outreguerre. It didn’t work but before he could aim his rifle, she shoulder blocked him. As his feet left the ground she pulled his legs to change the angle, then she rammed him into the ground and put a wad of cloth over his face. Outreguerre started going under immediately.
Kelly shook her head to clear it and kicked the woman off Outreguerre, but he simply curled up. Kelly put her face close to her doppelganger and took the biggest risk of her life.
“Catherine Theresa Hernandes, I thought you were dead.”
The doppelganger CTH stopped and looked at this woman who just broke one of The Dark’s big rules.
“Why do you think you know who I am and why do you think that woman is dead?”
“The original CTH committed suicide. She was bipolar but thought she could handle it without treatment.”
The other CTH looked around.
“How did you get to the edge of the riot?”
“Thrown off course. What riot?”
“Same time breakouts at four prisons for the extraordinarily dangerous. Suddenly every criminal is on their A game. Why didn’t you know this?”
“We came from a parallel Earth where Rome never fell but it did blow up the planet (and the Moon) and now everybody lives on asteroids that only have air because of the artificial gravity and eclipses happen all the time.”
Kelly – CTH – held her breath. Outreguerre groaned and tried to rise but fell back almost immediately.
“Can your horse vault me up there, I don’t want to waste a shot of my climbing hook.”
Kelly looked at Satan, who nodded his head and whinnied like a circus horse in an act.
“He’s fine with you,” said Kelly.
Kelly held on to Satan’s mane and his muzzle. The original CTH mounted the horse and stood on his rump. The horse bucked and CTH jumped and she was on the roof. Kelly would have listened in to what CTH and The Dark said but Satan was mouthing a flood of dirty talk until she slapped him across the mouth.
“Calm down, horse.”
“You do that again, you bitch …”
“Are you arguing with a horse?”
“Lie back down, Outreguerre. That chemical is still affecting you.”
Outreguerre did as he was told. Satan brought his muzzle close to her face.
“You do that again. Please.”
That was so much worse.
“Get to work, horse.”
Kelly vaulted onto Satan. He bucked and she jumped. Their timing together wasn’t perfect, or Satan was just being a sod because she didn’t slap him like he wanted. In any event she got her hands to the edge of the roof and vaulted up.
The Dark looked at her. Kelly felt embarrassed, as if she’d done something wrong. Unable to think of anything more reasonable, she made a long detour around The Dark and CTH. She picked up the Creed’s head and took it back to his body. The Creed grabbed his head by its hair and held it out to face The Dark.
“Most of us are not the bad guys,” he said. “We got sidetracked trying to get back to our own Earth. We came here by mistake when we upset the magic that would have destroyed our and several other parallel Earths.”
“I believe you,” said The Dark. “I’m familiar with parallel worlds. More important, your version of CTH picked your head up carefully. You just grab it by the hair and, to judge from when you came over the roof, you swing it like a morning star as a matter of course.”
“OK, we’re on the same page, most of us are the good guys. But we’ve got to deal with your bad guys. So, where are we and where do we go from here?” asked Kelly.
“You’re in New York and we’ve got to lock down the riot before they crush law enforcement and take over the city. Bind your bad guys so they don’t join our bad guys, then we go back to the main street.”
With that The Dark was gone. The Creed turned to the original CTH.
“We can’t imprison Inversus.”
“I can.” The Rebel Lodestone turned and floated down to the alley. “Outreguerre, Inversus is not going to work in this crisis situation. I’ll imprison her host and make her invisible to everyone but you and Tablegrrl. Tablegrrrl, say nothing about what you see.”
Shadows flowed from his hands. Inversus disappeared. Then Lodestone covered Mia Ravenheart and she, too, vanished.
“Outreguerre, protect them,” said Lodestone.
“With my life, mon ami, each of them.”
The Creed jumped off the roof and walked up to Tablegrrrl.
“Stay here with them.”
“I’m better in a fight than I was …”
“That’s not it.” The Creed picked up her head and turned it around. “If we don’t come back, concentrate on the symbol in front of you. It should activate what’s left of recall and bring you back to our Earth.”
The fight team moved to the front of the alley.
“What do I call you? It can’t be CTH, that could cause confusion.”
“Call her KB. I’m the Creed, this is Rebel Lodestone, and the horse is Satan.”
“Why’s he called Satan?”
“’Cuz I am.”
The Dark looked at the horse for a very long time, breaking one of his own cardinal rules. Villains had taken over the square and held a large number of hostages. Obviously they thought terror would make later rule easier because the hostages were bloody, bones broken, and the attractive ones were in various states of undress. They also had piles of money and other loot, complete with guards. They could use the money to advance their rule. It was a far bigger plan than criminals usually came up with. It was a far simpler plan than they usually came up with, too.
“Why doesn’t the President just move in the troops?”
“Because the President does not want to be associated with the deaths of American citizens and their illegal alien house cleaners,” said Satan. “Wimp.”
There were over seventy criminals. KB recognized some of them from their parallels on her Earth. In an odd way, being in the New York of a parallel world brought her closer to being home than being in Buffalo on her own Earth.
“Hey, this one’s cute, I might drag her to Gramercy Park.”
With that, KB knew where she was: just a couple blocks north of Washington Irving High School. As usual, The Dark knew what to do.
“No easy way, people. Charge in and count on being better than them. CTH and KB, you know what to do.”
Blind the enemy. KB took a grenade. On signal (the same signal her teacher used) the grenades hit, blew, and a wide swath the villains were in a cloud of tear gas. The villains started to tear up, to wheeze, and to claw at the ground hoping the gas would rise. KB noted the tactic worked better when done in tandem.
Lodestone rose higher into the air and let loose a couple lightning bolts. The bolts headed down and struck a magical shield. Lodestone floated back as one of the villains rose into the air.
He had Medieval armor. His sword’s blade was surrounded by blue flame. The figure pointed the sword at Lodestone. The flames at the hilt turned orange. The orange flowed down the blade and, when it reached the tip, flew out as a ball of flame. Lodestone dodged easily enough, but the orange flame turned into an eagle and came around to attack again.
The Creed leapt on Satan and rode the horse hard. He stood on Satan’s rump, and leapt when Satan bucked.
The Creed flew in a high arc. He caught hold of the armored figure and punched him in the helmet. The armored figure swung his sword feebly, then fell back, unconscious. Lodestone caught Creed and dropped him into the dispersing cloud of tear gas.
The armored figure revived, the blue flame surged, and he managed to stop himself from crashing so hard. Still, the hit knocked him out. Rebel Lodestone – Ivo – moved on to the next opponent, a were-thylacine. Lodestone was less able to handle such a physical opponent. KB guessed everybody came to New York, even Australian lychanthrope criminals. The Creed laid into everything near him, mostly people dressed in red.
With that as a sort of battle cry, The Dark drew his pepperbox and fired into the closest villain not in the tear gas. CTH and KB did the same. KB noticed the others could fire wires in sequence, while she had to pull wires out before she could fire her taser again. KB thought she’d have to get some of those new model tasers.
Someone dressed in an all-over costume of lime-yellow: a shirt long enough to form a kilt; pants; belt, gloves and boots in a tone darker than the rest. There was a mask which covered the whole face that had lenses set an an angle like some exaggerated form of oriental eyes. The lenses were the same color as the gloves and boots. The shirt and pants were not skin tight, and the whole thing looked like some kind of hasmat suit. There was even a modified biohazard symbol on the chest.
“Lady Hasmat,” she said by way of introduction, “I control all bacteria.”
“That’s a dumb power,” said KB. “Suck smoke.”
KB threw a smoke grenade, figuring one punch should lay ‘Lady Hasmat’ out cold and she could get on to the next opponent.
“Dumb power? Suffocate. By the way, I’m wearing a gas mask.”
Suddenly, all the air seemed to have been stolen from KB’s lungs. She tried breathing in but it was all useless gas.
“Some bacteria use aerobic respiration. They use the oxygen. Breathe all you want, you’ll still suffocate.”
KB decided Lady Hasmat started out in academia, because she had a massive need to lecture.
“Bacteria also form biofilms which can be half a meter thick. These biofilms may consist of many different species, like the one that’s now covering you. So now you can’t breathe and you’ll be unable to move with any speed at all.”
“Yeah, but fire sterilises bacteria.”
“Did that horse just talk?”
“You’re crazy,” said KB, and then muttered some dark things about Satan.
But at least his flame breath took the bacteria off her before he ran off to stomp someone who was eight feet tall and superfast. And that meant she could breathe again. She pulled her pepperbox taser and fired a shot at Lady Hasmat.
“Idiot. My costume’s dielectric: insulates me electrically. And it’s strong so you can’t penetrate. A little forethought and knowledge works wonders. What college did you graduate from?”
KB didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t got to college, yet, but she thought it wouldn’t do to say that.
“Too much of a clue to tell you that.”
The lenses probably meant flash grenades would be useless. KB couldn’t believe Lady Hasmat was leaning on a tree.
“Here’s another fact about bacteria. They’re involved in putrefaction.”
With that the tree she was leaning on fell over. KB jumped out of the way easily enough, but she was fast realizing the woman did not have a stupid power. So KB had to find its weakness, and the only thing KB could think of was to punch Lady Hasmat in the face (and possibly kick her in the crotch). Something she’d learned from The Dark: KB couldn’t punch out the bacteria, so she had to attack the source of the power.
“Did you know that recently experiments showed bacteria could be induced to build a little pyramid. The bacteria acted like organic nanobots. I could have told them that was possible.”
With that, Lady Hazmat held out her hand. A spear made entirely of wood formed in it and she threw it at KB. The throw was wide but it was followed by another spear.
“You’re taking the tree apart.”
Lady Hazmat only laughed and held out her hand. A cloud seemed to form around the hand and when it dispersed, a gun was in it.
“They’ll carry anything for me, even molecules of the whole. When I tell them to put it together, I have what I want.”
KB glanced to one side. The Creed had his hands full with what overheard conversation called the Bat-Crap Crazy Gang. There were about fifty of them, they were armed, and he was on his own. Satan was still fighting the superfast giant. The Dark and CTH were cutting through costumed villains at a rate of knots. It made KB realize how much she missed being partnered to a mentor.
“Waitaminnut, bacteria don’t create metal and they probably couldn’t break it apart. For them to carry this stuff, you have to break it up for them. And bacteria don’t move that fast, they have to be where you’re going to need the thing they will build. You have to plan things out. This whole thing was planned out.”
KB thought, and put together everything she knew about parallel universes (this was the third one she’d visited), the voice, and, alas, the attitude.
“Your name is Kelly Banks.”
She couldn’t see Lady Hazmat’s face but the sudden freeze told volumes about her shock. In that moment of shock, KB drew her pepperbox and fired. The wires hit an eyepiece enough to make it feel like the eyeball was being pushed from its socket. When Lady Hazmat grabbed her eye she lost her aim and KB closed the distance and levelled the woman with a right cross.
KB took off Lady Hazmat’s mask and gas mask and looked into her own face a half a dozen years older.
“Superpower, plus; being a crook, big minus. At least I get to go to college.”
She looked around. Fight was not going well. So she used up the last shots in her first pepperbox and finished off the superfast giant that Satan was fighting. Fortunately, his red-yellow-and-black costume wasn’t armored in any way.
“Who was that?”
“No idea,” said Satan, “we weren’t introduced.”
KB looked around. The Dark and CTH were still doing brilliant dealing with the reinforcements for the bad guys pouring into the square, but the entire Bat-Crap Crazy gang was doing their best to kill the Creed. That made her decision for her.
The Bat-Crap Crazy Gang were either insane socialists or really sarcastic capitalists. They all wore different clothing and masks, but everything was red and they yelled out socialist-sounding slogans.
“We reserve the right to strike,” and he swung a pipe overhead where the Creed’s head should be, aiming for the collarbone.
“We must end your bourgeois deviationism,” and he threw stones at the Creed.
“The internal contradictions of capitalism will ensure your defeat,” and she loosed a crossbow at the Creed.
“All right, I’m about to have trouble managing my anger,” said Satan. With that he hit a couple Crazies with his front hooves.
KB took out her second pepperbox and calmly took out eight. Fifty down to forty two gave the Creed some room to move. Not much. They all had weapons but they didn’t tend to guns. The went for chains, pipes, rocks, brass knuckles, knives, and the like.
Another Crazy went out when a were-thylacine fell from a great height on top of him. That would have left Rebel Lodestone free, but he was soon dealing with the guy in armor with the flaming blue sword again.
“We’re taking them out, but they keep getting the time to recover!” KB wished she’d sounded more dynamic and less panicked when she said that.
“That’s the idea, stupid.”
Lady Hazmat was up again, with her mask on and no doubt her gas mask in place. Suddenly KB realized another part of the plan. The criminals were going to depend on not being taken down permanently and just trying again and again until they overwhelmed the good guys.
“Bacteria cause diseases. Right now, you’re suffering a dozen minor diseases at once. Want me to name them for you?”
KB had one tear gas grenade left. That would be no use on Lady Hazmat. Her tasers were used up. Wouldn’t help in any event. Sweating like a pig with muscle weakness, socking her in the jaw wasn’t going to help.
KB barfed. Then she barfed again.
“Minor illnesses, but when they’re put together, they can be fatal.”
KB started squeezing her butt shut to keep stuff from getting out. There was nothing much in her stomach but it still heaved. It was an effort to even think what tools she had on her. She couldn’t run an inventory, she had to go for broke.
KB slipped off her backpack, messed herself, and stuck her hand in. A weak smile crossed her face.
“Guess what, bitch.”
KB lobbed but her aim was off. The concussion grenade went off too far away. Lady Hazmat was hit but not enough to stop her.
“For that you can have more fever.”
Suddenly KB was a lot sicker. She reached into her backpack, but even doing that much was painful. She’d already given up having any control below the waist. Whatever anyone thought of her, whatever the cost to her chances in the next fight, Kelly had to win this one.
Her vision started to fade grey at the edges. She put her hand into her pack and almost by habit drew out her knives with the handles in the middle. Her throw might have been off with the grenade, but if she closed, she could slash or throw as opportunity permitted.
“It’s time for you to die, bitch.”
“Bonjour, mademoisel, parle vous shot by a gun?”
With that, Outreguerre let loose. He hit Lady Hazmat with a through-and-through. She grabbed her shoulder as she fell to her knees. He walked up and kicked her in the jaw.
“Are you insane?”
“You were all losing. Besides, it is best if they go down now.”
With that he started shooting the villains one after the other. He started with the armored guy with the burning sword. Then he started taking villains out in an arc.
The Dark spotted Outreguerre and and gave orders to CTH. She took out a tear gas grenade and threw it at him. A sudden wind came up and sent the grenade off course. The grenade fell amongst some of the Bat Crap Crazy Gang. KB looked up to see Inversus floating in the air.
“Don’t, mon ami. Please.”
KB looked at Outreguerre, and wondered why she hadn’t thought of that before. But did he love the host or did he love … flash grenade, surely.
Inversus took off her hat and tipped it at the criminals as if they were an audience. And suddenly KB realized they were. Destiny did not exist without an audience. Someone had to see.
“Inversus. Inversus! This is another dimension. No one will see what you do here. Why even try to shift events?”
“I exist in all known dimensions. I act in any and all of them. And I have a task to fulfil here.”
With that she flipped her hat, tapped it with her white with black tips wand and pointed it at her like a cannon. Suddenly a number of shots from the guns of the villains turned and flew through the hat, shattering its top. As a group the bullets flew into The Dark. For the first time since she had met him, The Dark did something in an uncoordinated way. He fell.
The Gang yelled “Revolution” and then individually shouted various slogans as the Creed attacked. KB tried to rise and simply fell back. She threw up, then looked at the Dark. CTH was holding him, crying. One of the team had died again. Parallel worlds, parallel tragedies, the same thing in different forms again and again. Suddenly, Kelly much preferred space to other dimensions.
Outreguerre went back to shooting down the criminals. Inversus put a handkerchief on top of her hat and when she pulled the kerchief off, her hat was whole again. Then she attacked. Together, they were more ruthless and also more successful in taking out the villains.
KB threw up again. This time it seemed to help. Maybe Lady Hazmat had to concentrate on bacteria to keep them under control. She puked again, just a watery dribble this time, then gripped her knives.
“We’ve been fighting on their terms. Time to bring it to our terms. Form up. Creed, Satan, to me.”
They had to extricate themselves from their own fights, but they joined her.
“Satan, fire breath into the middle of the Bat Crap Crazy Gang. Anybody catches fire, tough.”
“You are persecuting the working class.”
“You bet I am.”
There were more slogans shouted, but the Crazy Gang dropped and rolled to put the flames out. While they did that, Creed battered them with his head and KB hit them with her billy club, knocking them out.
“What is wrong with you people…?”
“Listen, CTH, The Dark got killed and they just cheered. There is a line between crime fighting and war. They have crossed the line into war. Fight it!”
They finally beat the Bat Crap Crazy Gang down and left them, some of them with small fires burning their flesh.
“Go. Now! We do things our way, here.” They all looked at CTH. “The Dark would not accept this. He knew how to handle these people and his is still the way we follow.”
For KB it was as if The Dark himself had rejected her. All the more strange, then, that she should feel so little angst over it. So what if he had some other way of handling this, it obviously didn’t work. He died. They cheered his death.
The Bat Crap Crazy Gang was this world’s version of the Skhaters. They were in it for the thrill more than the politics. Just like the Skhaters were in it for the thrill rather than the greed. Maybe KB’s external view affected how she saw things, but as far as she was concerned, it just let her see things more clearly.
“You ask those people who were kidnapped, beaten, robbed, and raped by people who were doing that to take power by terror,” said KB.
“If you are going to act like this, you are more like them than you are like us,” said CTH. “If you use these tactics, you sink to their level. It’s time you left our dimension.”
The Creed intervened and took the travellers out of the fight. They went back to the alley and Rebel Lodestone uncovered and awoke Mia Ravenheart.
“Listen,” said KB. “They’re calling for help.”
“Way too late,” said the Creed, and others echoed the sentiment.
Tablegrrrl concentrated, crackled, and opened a doorway they all could step through. The ground gave way beneath them and they felt a sense of rising, falling, and spinning in an increasing microscopic space. When they hit the ground they were in another universe, their own they guessed.
“Well, welcome back,” said Detective Martinez. “I have some warrants for you.”