CONTINUED FROM PART ONE
It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight
Risin' up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he's watchin' us all in the eye of the tiger
Survivor, “Eye Of The Tiger”
The first plant grabs me with a serrated tentacle and hoists me off my feet and into the air.
It’s like a cross between and octopus and an aloe vera plant. Four or five big limbs rise up from the big ceramic planter, blindly lashing out at me. Another tentacle grabs my right leg. At this rate, I’ll be immobilized in seconds. I’m starting to panic, and that’s not good. What can I say? I’ve never fought alien plants before, and it’s kind of freaking my shit out.
Okay, okay – assess the situation. I’m in the main corridor in the QuantumWorks annex, where my secret identity Connor Mackenzie works. Every day I pass these plants, six of them, big exotic succulents in huge planters. They’ve never attacked me before, but now, after hours, it’s a different story. There’s three aloepus plants, a mean looking Venus flytrap plant, a weird orchid-looking thing, and at the end of the hall, a huge creature with whipping vines and scorpion stingers. The corridor is bathed in red light, which just makes everything look more bizarre.
Crap, the aloepus just snagged my right arm. The thing’s strong – I don’t like my odds of busting loose if it gets all those tentacles around me.
Red orchid flowers float on thin stalks toward me, and the aloepus twists me around to face them. Double crap.
With my free leg I kick off the wall, jumping out of the way just as the orchids spew some sort of red dust at me. For a second I’m reminded of an old Star Trek episode, and then I turn my attention back to the evil aloe vera plant.
Holding my breath, I rip a solar flare incendiary bomb from my utility belt with my free hand. The aloe plant swings me into the red spore cloud.
I pop the top on the solar flare – fssss – and drop it right down into the aloepus planter.
That works. The tentacles suddenly go slack and I drop out of the cloud and on to the floor. The aloe stalks flail madly as the solar flare burns with nova intensity in the center of the plant.
The orchid plant’s beautiful flowers are looking for me, scanning around. I think the solar flare threw it off my scent. One of the red dust-spewing flowers rushes towards me – I decapitate it with a Marauderang.
I’ve got a plan.
Crouching on the floor, I dig out three more solar flares, activate them, and throw them down the hallway. The plants must be heat-seekers, because they go fucking crazy as the solar flares sizzle and pop like mini-novas. I don’t know how long the flares will distract them – I better move. The Nerd Zone, my target, is at the other end of the hallway, which never seemed so long as it does right now.
I spring up on to a wall, just above the writhing aloepus plant that attacked me.
Launching from the wall, I ricochet to the other side of the corridor, then bounce to the other side, and so on. I’m bouncing off the walls like Jackie Chan, dodging the tentacles and dust spewing flowers, leaping over the incandescent solar flares that burn the carpet… one final leap and a barrel roll takes me under the confused scorpion stingers of the last plant, and I’m suddenly clear.
Looking back, I see the corridor filling with stinking smoke from the burning carpets. The alien plants thrash in the gloom, backlit by the burning flares. The red overhead lights cast a hellish glow on the scene. Then the sprinklers switch on, dousing the corridor in a red monsoon. It doesn’t look remotely like the hallway I’ve walked hundreds of times to visit Margo’s office or to get bad coffee, or to take a piss.
I smile grimly. No stupid plants are going to stop The Velvet Marauder.
Gotta keep going. I run down a short hallway, past Aaron Clarke’s office, past Ted Bradbury’s office, then stop in front of the Nerd Zone, the mysterious tesseract chamber that holds the secret to this whole mess.
There’s a stout looking steel security door and a keypad blocking the way.
I jump up on the wall opposite the door and launch myself, shoulder first –
- right at the wall about ten feet from the door.
I crash through the wall in a dusty explosion of drywall and Tyvek and roll into the Nerd Zone foyer. Suckers should have reinforced their walls as much as their door.
Coughing, covered in plaster dust, I get my bearings quickly. I’m in a reception area where non-clearance staff can meet with Nerd Zone techs. In front of me is a security desk and two very startled looking security guards. Behind them, another steel door and the Nerd Zone proper. I’m almost there.
One of the guards rushes me while the other picks up a phone and starts yelling “Intruder alert! Intruder alert!” They look like average rent-a-cops in their white uniforms, but I have to assume that these guys are parahuman or have some cool toys. They’re both going down.
The first guy is all business. He swings a nightstick at my face as he runs forward. I see a telltale blue crackle of energy coursing up the nightstick: stun baton.
I take the blow on my armored forearm. Doesn’t hurt at all. Then I hit him with a move I call “The Philadelphia Story.”
Let me be irritating here and stop the narrative to explain. Have you ever seen The Philadelphia Story? Great old flick with Carey Grant, Jimmy Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn. In the classic no-dialogue opening scene of the film, Grant and Hepburn are breaking up. He storms out of this house, mad as hell, and Hepburn follows him. Carey Grant turns, looks at her smug face – he’s just volcano TNT pissed – and you can tell he’s thinking about decking her. He hesitates for a second, then grabs Katherine Hepburn’s face and just shoves her down. That may not sound funny, the whole violence against women thing, but trust me, it’s hilarious. Besides, she’s not hurt or anything. Okay, now I feel like a dick for even bringing it up.
Anyway, I’ve been practicing the super-powered equivalent of Carey Grant’s face shove in my gym, and I’ve been just dying to try it in a combat situation.
Back to the fight: I block the security guard’s stun baton with my left forearm in a classic karate rising block, then twist my arm and grab a handful of the dude’s face with my gauntlets. Palming his head like a basketball, I shove him down. Hard.
The security guard slams to the ground in a reverse-belly flop, bounces, and stops moving.
“Boo-ya!” I shout, stabbing a finger at the guy. “Philadelphia Story!”
The other guard drops his phone and reaches for something on his desk. I’m already in mid-air by the time he brings a sub-machine gun up. He’s about to fire when my flying roundhouse kick catches him on the ear. Guard #2 is down.
Quickly I look at the security desk. A red light is flashing and buzzing, which can’t be good. Fortunately, there’s a big yellow button that says “ACCESS” right there on the desk, which I punch.
Behind me, the Nerd Zone security door slides open. I grab the transat telephone that Silver Striker gave me and step into dark territory.
“Holy sheee-it,” I say.
I’m standing on an observation walkway that wraps around the perimeter of a huge circular chamber made of polished steel. The room is about three stories tall, paneled in brushed steel. Twenty feet below me, on the other side of the chamber, I can see a control room full of computers and blinking lights and techs in silver hazmat suits. Red alert signs are flashing. It’s full-on Death Star stuff.
But the insane thing, the holy sheee-it thing, is the miniature black hole slowly spinning in the center of the round chamber. It’s utterly black in the center, devoid of any light, but at the edges purple and blue energy slowly swirls the dark core like pure energy circling a drain. It’s probably about ten feet in diameter, and I get a chill just looking at the thing.
Oh, yeah. There are two people floating in a lotus position in the chamber, deep in meditation. Both wear the saffron robes of Buddhist monks. As a matter of fact, one of them looks like a monk – Asian guy with a shaved head. The other person –
- the other person is Hydrangea.
She’s deep in a trance, floating about ten feet off the ground, legs crossed, facing the miniature black hole – Hydrangea, the most beautiful Tibetan Buddhist sorcerer I’ve ever met.
“Heidi?” I say.
And then, from behind, somebody grabs the collar of my faux-velvet topcoat and hurls me back into the reception area with incredible force.
I splat against the steel security door that I so easily bypassed minutes ago. I conk my head, and for a second I think I’m going to black out. My vision narrows and ears start to ring.
Pulling myself unsteadily to my feet, I shake off the impending unconsciousness with a groan. I’m back in the real world, in the reception area. The big steel black hole chamber seems like a dream I just woke from. My head hurts.
And I smell bacon.
“Mackenzie, you stupid asshole,” says a familiar voice.
Ted Bradbury is striding across the room towards me. He’s wearing a terry cloth robe over boxer shorts and a tank top. He’s barefoot. It looks like the big guy just rolled out of bed.
“Ted,” I say. “Did I wake you up?”
“Yes,” Ted says. Boy, does he look angry. “I’ve been waiting months to beat the hell out of you.”
“Then we have something in common." I take a deep breath and smack my fists together. "Let’s go.”
He charges me.