The ‘training room’ Lisa had created in the Tower was a cramped, five by five broom closet colored such a bright, pervasive white that it was impossible to make out the corners. It might as well have been infinite, especially with the sourceless, just-as-white light that filled the space.
Warrick and Cyn nodded as one, aware that even though Lisa was elsewhere in the building, the training room allowed her full awareness of what they were doing. After a three day wait for her to bring the space into being, they’d spent an inordinate amount of time playing with its settings and capabilities and no longer had any doubts about the room.
Almost as quickly as they confirmed their readiness, their awareness expanded. The room was no longer five by five, but the size of a regulation basketball court. In fact, as colors and shapes began to take form out of the pristine blankness, the place came to resemble the court from their old high school—extendable bleachers and all.
Five strange beings stood arrayed in a rough ‘V’ before them. All were a bland shade of grey with large black eyes, small mouths and a distinct lack of nose. They were to a one six foot three and dressed in tanktops and shorts with white headbands. The tank tops were emblazoned with the image of a UFO, bottom hatch open to allow a sneakered foot to stomp down onto an exploding Earth. The words Betelgeuse Globestompers surrounded the image.
The leader, standing at the tip of the ‘V’ span the ball on the tip of its finger. “Globestompers are ready! For the fate of your puny Earth, we challenge you to no-rules basketball. To the H-O-R-S-E!
With that, the Globestopers players transformed.
One’s skin turned green as tow more pairs of arms extended from the sleeves of his jersey. His legs became digitigrade and heavily muscled at the calves.
Another turned and angry red as a single rhino horn grew from his lack of nose, accompanied by a heady, beaked skull. His arms became like tree trunks and his hands big enough to palm three basketballs at once.
Next to that one, another grew to eight feet without gaining an ounce of fat or muscle, skin stretching over unnaturally long arms and legs to show alien bone structure underneath ashen skin.
Another dropped to all fours, shirt ripping apart as a multitude of chitinous limbs grew and expanded like a nest of spiders. Their forelimbs stretched and bulged, becoming crab claws with hollow scoops instead of crushing edges. They scuttled forward at fantastic speed.
Finally, the leader gained muscle, an orange crew cut adorning its mottle grey head above a heavy brown and red-glowing eyes. Its mouth extended into a porcine snout with sharp teeth and its ears grew pointed. Soon it was seven feet tall and built like a linebacker that moonlighted as a star forward. He dropped down low and started dribbling with dramatic flourished as his team spread out.
After a few seconds of hot-dogging, he passed to the spindly giant, who pump-faked before passing to the red rhino-man.
“Points for creativity, Lis,” Cyn said before she and Warrick sprang into action. They focused on the ball rather than the player, lengthening their legs to lunge a quarter of the way down the court toward it.
Snorting, the rhino lowered his head and charged, dribbling hard enough to shake the hardwood as he came. He slammed into them, but met no resistance as liquid metal flowed around him, gathering around his neck and the arm handling the ball. A silvery hand formed and reached for the ball, only the rhino-man reacted quickly and passed to the crab monster.
A streak of silver followed the ball, but the crab caught it in a scoop and blocked the incoming living projectile with the other, slamming them hard into the floor.
Warrick and Cyn rebounded, resuming their humanoid form and attempting to skirt around the huge claw. The crab hedged thme out long enough to launch the ball into the air where the green four-armed creature had already launched itself into flight. All four arms grasped the ball as it prepared to dunk from half court.
“Cartoon logic, remember” Cyn asked mentally, eying the crab’s claws.
Being already familiar with what she had in mind thanks to Isp and Osp, Warrick complied and they grabbed one claw in each arm before leaping onto the monster’s back and pulling. If their aim had been to break the crab’s limbs, it would have been a futile attempt; they were strong, but not that strong. But that wasn’t the aim—they were just building tension in their arms.
“Fire!” Like a gilded arrow, they flew from the crab, Sagittarius by way of Cancer. They struck the ball in the green monster’s hands, wresting it free and slamming into the opposing team’s backboard.
Then more cartoon logic took hold. The liquid body turned into a spring with the ball firmly clutched in front of it. When the spring sprung, they were sent flying back across the court toward their own hoop.
The leader roared in fury. “Sly Lender, NOSceros—don’t let them score!”
Nodding grimly, the spindly limbed creature reached out and grabbed the rhino-man. They lifted him as if chuckling a skipping stone and heaved him down court after the pair of heroes.
For a moment, the air was full of orange rubber, screaming metal and one very angry rhino. Cyn took the moment to reform their head and stick out her tongue as they extended the ball toward the hoop.
The ball went through the new a split second before the rhino-man went through the backboard, shattering it in an impressive explosion of glass and shimmering light. Amid the shower of slivers, Warrick and Cyn touched down.
“Whoo! H, baby!” Cyn crowed, leading the pair in a mocking dance that included physically forming into a capering letter ‘H’. “That is an H! Four to go! Four to go!” There came a series of booty shakes and hip thrusts that would have been dubbed to fun and thus banned from professional sports.
“BWARM!” An airhorn sounded and unexpectedly, the court, the Globestompers and everything in the training room collapsed back into a tiny room.
“Gah!” Warrick exclaimed, throwing out their arms to ward off what felt like a room closing in on them.
“Hey, sore loser!” Cyn complained at the same time.
A hole irised open in the wall in front of them. Through it, the Tower’s main workroom could be seen. Lisa stood before them, wearing an amused expression. “Sorry guys, I for one wanted to see how it turned out. But we just got a care package from Mayfield you might be interested in.”
Had it been possible while sharing the same body, Warrick and Cyn might have exchanged a wary look. So far, care packages hadn’t been an exciting prospect. The baked goods and braciole sent by the Kaines looked amazing, but they couldn’t eat any of it. In fact, they couldn’t taste anything at all either.
Lisa must have noticed their expression because she shook her head. “This time it’s something different. Come on.” She led them out of the tiny alcove that was the training room and into the workroom proper. It looked different from the first day of their ordeal; gone was the containment vessel; now a number of folding tables had been pulled out to hold various experiments Lisa had been working on to reverse their condition. Some sported burn marks, others were stained with colors not found in nature or outside of it either.
The main table that used to hold the containment vessel had been cleared off now, all except for a folded black rectangle of cloth. Or at least it looked like cloth. Closer inspection revealed it to be semi-reflective with faint hexagon patterns across its surface.
“This just arrived courtesy of Tink and the Magi Club,” she explained, moving so that she was across the table from them.”
Warrick as silent as Cyn cooed over how pretty it was and picked it up. It unfolded into what looked like a wetsuit complete with pants, long sleeves and cowl. “Cool… what is it?”
Lisa drew in a deep breath. “Something that might turn out scarier than the Yellow World depending on who gets a hold of it, or more helpful than duct tape for the same reason: anti-magic. Well… conceptually.”
Warrick marveled at the garment. “You mean this is like spell proof armor?”
“Conceptually,” Lisa repeated. “They figured out the spell harmonics the Yellow World artifacts exhibit and the suit can detect them and generate a counter-harmonic. Like a counterspell but more universal. It can’t cancel existing effects unfortunately, but it can keep those harmonics from passing through the suit. So any Yellow World corruption you might be exhibiting—and we haven’t seen any in the whole week you’ve been here—will be contained to you.”
“Dude…” Cyn breathed…” Cloak of immune to magic? We can go kick Morganna’s ass right now if we wanted!”
Lisa held up a hand as if to ward off bad spirits just saying the mad mage’s name. “Um… right now it just blocks the one kind of magic. Someone like me or the Magic Club… every spell is different. Tink says it might take months to build software to protect against the basics. We’re talking years to be immune to everything Morganna can throw and even then we know how she likes surprises.”
“Still…” Cyn said wistfully. “Maybe Mad-Mad? I never got a real chance to fight that guy.”
Warrick shook their head. “We do not want to go up against any reality warpers if we have the choice. I’m not even okay looking at the Eddie kid from Tammy’s school funny.”
“Chicken,” Cyn muttered with a smirk. “Anyway… does this mean we’re going to get to go home? Not that we can do much there what with not being… like ourselves and all.”
Lisa reached across the table and put her hand on their shoulder. “Soon. We need to get some more data with you wearing to suit to make sure it’s working. Safe than sorry and all that.”
Their head hung a bit. “Safe than sorry,” Cyn repeated quietly.
“Are you okay? I haven’t seen you guys like this since this all first started.” Said Lisa, giving them a concerned look. “Look, this isn’t false hope, it’s the opposite. We’re on the right track. We’re going to get you out of here, then we’re going to get you cured.”
For a moment, she could only tell that there was an internal conversation from the dueling expressions on their faces. Finally, Warrick spoke up. “It’s a little bit of false hope. More like disappointment. Ollie’s party is at the end of the week. Cyn’s not totally decided if she wants to g or not but…”
“It’d be nice to make the choice on your terms,” Lisa finished for them. “Right… I get that. Maybe I can set something up where you can go remotely if you want to? Like an illusion or a fairy doll you can control or experience from the training room? I know the spell is in the Books, I just need to find it.”
Their eyes narrowed. “You had a drone spell and you never used it?”
“I’ve never worked fairy magic before. It’s going to be some trial and error. And as violent as most fairy spells tend to be, it’s going to take work making it not the kind of drone war crimes are made of.”
“I guess we can accept that,” Cyn agreed, “But don’t worry. I know I shouldn’t go anyway. If I don’t know how I feel, it’s just stupid to show up and tell him that. ‘Happy Birthday, still don’t know if I’m okay dating you yet. Mind if I eat the cake?’ Yeah. Dumb.
“Cyn…” Warrick said, then stopped. They both knew that whatever he was going to say wasn’t going to have much effect. “You know what? If talking isn’t going to help, maybe I can distract you. I think I have just the thing…”
Alien monsters bent on galactic domination through round ball were fun, but there was something satisfying about laying into real life Nazis; especially ones like Jim Partlowe who spent their lives building up and encouraging dangerous armed groups, feeding them on hate and the promise of a race war–then going on TV and smiling in the face of a nation they wanted to see torn down while saying they were just ‘protecting their rights’.
Guys that wouldn’t ever actually show up to an arms deal in the middle of Mayfield because that was too close to actually endangering themselves and the money they made off selling their twisted ideology to others. They would never put themselves in the path of a heroic fist to the breadbasket.
Plus there was Orb Weaver. Just as infuriatingly untouchable thanks to his army of proxies and a web of dummy accounts and false fronts that even Laurel couldn’t cut through. There was no doubt to either Warrick or Cyn that he actually would hold an open-air weapons bazzar for the scum of the earth. They’d broken three up in Mayfield that year.
It was hard to tell who was worse, despite one party literally being Nazis. On the one hand, Partlowe and his people followed a philosophy that had been proven by history to be 100% monstrous. They wished for the extermination or subjugation of everyone but their ‘master race’ under the bootheel of an authoritarian regime.
On the other hand, Orb Weaver looked at people like that and decided to empower them and those like them; from street toughs to mob bosses to warlords to dictators; hate groups and militia men and terrorists foreign and domestic; people who kidnapped children and made them into soldiers; strongmen who victimized villages and towns… seemingly just for profit.
As far as anyone could tell; from those captured after having done business with him to multiple intelligence communities; Orb Weaver had no ideology. He would sell to anyone despite styling himself as an outfitter to those he openly referred to as supervillains. It wasn’t just criminals and terrorists who had been caught buying from him; private companies, celebrities and certain government police agencies had also been implicated.
The Orb Weaver’s web was huge and everything about that was a source of frustration for the heroes who he’d used to announce his presence to the world.
But in the magically generated training simulation, they didn’t have to pick and choose who was the worse and most deserving of vigilante justice. They just had to go in swinging.
One man leveled a sawed-off shotgun only to find that ten feet was not enough range against Gallium. They lashed out with one arm extending, ten percent of the mass from the rest of their body flowing to make their hand big enough to engulf his weapon.
Undeterred, he pulled the trigger only to find the hammer unable to move and the gun ripped from his hands thereafter. It swiftly made a triumphant return by sweeping around behind his knees, tripping him to the ground.
With the ease of a child snapping a crayon, Warrick and Cyn broke the gun in half and tossed it aside. Another goon was charging them with one of Orb Weaver’s plasma swords in hand.
“Are those an actual thing?” Cyn asked in their mind. The incoming blow was avoided by simply melting into a puddle on the ground and flowing around their assailant’s feet.
“For us, actually. Not Orb Weaver,” Warrick explained. They reformed behind the swordsman. “Soon at least. Ever since we got a look at Excalibur, Tink’s been theorizing about how to make a home version. The prototype doesn’t do the hum though and that’s half the fun.”
The swordsman whirled, swinging the sword horizontal. The magical recreation did, in fact, hum.
They bent ninety degrees and then some to their right while their legs remained completely straight in a movement that would bring tears to a yoga master’s eyes, allowing the blade to miss cleanly.
Then they slithered between their foe’s calves an reformed once again, this time with their hands interlaced over their heads to bring a double axehandle blow down upon the him, knocking him cold.
Grinning in satisfaction, they looked around for their next fight. The group of goons hang back, each looking to the others to go next. Supremacy meant only ever taking on those weaker than them after all. Or people who weren’t expecting it. Women, children, peaceful counter protesters. Not superhuman liquid metal with a right fist of justice.
From them, however, emerged ‘Cut’ Jim Partlowe. He trained an antique luger on them and flashed a charismatic smile.
“Now let’s just hold on a minute here,” He said smoothly. “Now I read the news and I know as well as you know where descendants come from. World War II engineering. Let’s face it: you’re representative of our end game.”
“Seriously?” Cyn asked Warrick.
“He’s said this kind of crap in articles. The spell that makes this stuff probably recognized it as something that would make both of us want to hit him even more.:
“Did I ever tell you about my great-great grandma?” Cyn asked, clenching on fist and feeding it mass.
“You didn’t tell it, but I got a little. I think we’re on the same page then? I never knew anything about whatever ancestor of mine got experimented on… They probably never knew either. But your… yeah, you ready?”
“Oh hell yes!”
They struck forward. A modified luger bullet with a taser delivery system passed through the liquid metal of their body. Even if Cyn had been in her normal form, she hadn’t been susceptible to that trick in months.
One silver fist crashed into Partlowe’s jaw in what felt like slow motion. It was catharsis. It was a great release after a weak of weirdness and being outside of their comfort zones. It was an intense feeling of some kind of right in the world for those who continually get away with wrong.
There was a spark of pale yellow, bordering on white. It rippled through them.
Jim Partlowe went flying, crashing to the ground a few feet away.
Gal Gallium stood, admiring her fist. Whole and united at last.
She smirked at the stunned goons and formed both arms into clubs with knobby protrusions along their length. “About time, you two,” she quipped before leaping into battle.
To Be Continued…