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An Open Source Cartoon Soap Opera


What Is Spectral Shadows?
(Some words from the creator on the nature and history of the series)


Read The Story
(Index Of All Currently Available Episodes)


Art Gallery
(Slideshow Of Commissioned Illustrations)

Character List
(A little Info About 115 Characters In The Saga)


Synopsis
(A Chronology Of Stories In The Saga With Basic Plot Info For Each)


Adult Content Statement

(Some content may be unsuitable for children or disturbing for sensitive adults)

Contact

(Contact the creator directly at perri_rhoades@yahoo.com. You can also leave a comment or start a discussion at the end of every episode by clicking "Reply." To comment on the series in general, click "Reply" at the bottom of this index page)

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(Contribute your ideas to the Spectral Shadows project, ask questions, provide encouragement, write episodes, make suggestions.)


What Is Meant By "Open Source?"
The creator of Spectral Shadows has set aside copyrights in order to make this project entirely Open Source, meaning everyone can have a voice in how things will go. The readers may therefore use the creator's notes to write as yet unwritten stories from existing continuity, or they may bring their own characters and additional plots into the story.

The public is granted licence to create and publish derivative works, parodies, make art, anything they want. Please note, however, that any new characters added to the saga become the property of the overall creative collective. So don't put any characters in the series that you want to maintain control over.

This is very much like writing for a Wiki site. Anything you contribute is subject to editing and future development. And there are no safe spaces. Characters die in this series, sometimes horribly. Heroes don't always arrive on time. And morality is subject to the point of view of the contributor. Indeed, contributors may freely pit their morality against the morality of other contributors, and there will be no predisposition as to which will win out in the end, or how that will effect the future of the story.

But if you can handle this not so safe creative and hopefully educational environment for aspiring writers, please click above and join the Spectral Shadows Brainstormers Group on Live Journal, and we'll look forward to your contributions.

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S11E229: A Display Of Toxic Masculinity

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 229
A Display Of Toxic Masculinity

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            



       Princess Jenny returned to the drawing room and made her report to the others about her mother's intent to invade and conquer Camelot. This troubled Sir Jon. He still felt some loyalty to Camelot and wondered if he should warn the troops that they were needed at home.

       Jenny was emphatic that he could not do that. What she had shared was in strictest confidence. And if she was made in any way to seem responsible for turning the tides of war against Webberton, she'd be a marked kitty again.

       Sonny reminded Jon that his responsibility was to Suburbia. And that, just because he was getting something of a reprieve from the error he had made in his responsibility to his town, that didn't mean The Mayor Of Camelot was entitled to one.

       Blair added there was no chance Camelot would listen to Sir Jon anyway. They had tied him up in red tape to prevent him from working against them. They would not consider the possibility of his trying to help them. They regarded Sir Jon as their enemy and only real source of opposition, which made Sir Jon's continued sentimentality towards Camelot all the more ridiculous. An enemy was an enemy, and should be treated as nothing less.

       Sir Jon admitted he had deeper concerns than his ill-placed feelings for Camelot. If Webberton were to capture Camelot they would have control of its army and its technology. They would become a super power, and there really would be nothing standing in the way of Divine Felinity taking over the world.

       But Jenny reminded him that the carnivorous cats would probably eat half of Camelot's army. Only the felines would be added to Webberton's military forces. It wouldn't make that much of an improvement.

       Plus, the cats would eat themselves fat celebrating their victory. They wouldn't be ready to start thinking of going after another town for quite a while.

       Jenny then reiterated that any information she shared with them was in strictest confidence, due to their friendship. If they betrayed her trust she could no longer act as their ally.

       Sir Jon solemnly nodded agreement. He would not help Camelot.

       Leela asked if, in light of this news, Perry wanted to call off the attack on the base in No Furs Land.

       But Perry remained uncharacteristically angry and vengeful. He would not call it off, or make any allowance for mercy at all. His friends were still in danger of being tortured. He would take no chance on disaster happening because of his usual sentimentality.

       Leela pretentiously saluted Perry and said the client was always right. Then she made her exit.

       After Leela was gone, Kacey asked, "Is that the most we can do?"

       "I'm afraid so," said Sir Jon. "Well, I suppose Christine and I could go out and kill a few hundred random Camelodian soldiers, but I doubt that would have much effect. What we really need is an army; something to put the fear of the gods into the Camelodians. I half wish the Webbertonians weren't busy. I'd invite them in."

       "That would just be piling one mistake on top of another, dear," said Sonny.

       "Now let me see," said Sir Jon, referring to the map of the world behind his desk. "Who else has an army? Hmmm. Well, there's Halloween, of course."

       "My defense force is too small and pathetic to be of any help to you," said Blair. "I'm already contributing my dungeon. Don't push your luck."

       "What's that town up there to the north of us?" asked Christine, gazing with interest at the map.

       "That's Chris Corners, dear," said Miss Sonny. "The most peaceful town on the planet. They wouldn't have an army."

       "No," Blair chuckled. "All they have there is toys and candy. And elves."

       "Elves?" asked Christine, in surprise.

       "That's what they call the people who work in the big toy factory," Vicki explained. "They aren't really elves, of course. It's a term of status in their culture, based on the source material of their religion."

       "A most annoying town," Blair mused, imperiously. "Not at all on good terms with Halloween these days."

       "I'm not surprised," said Christine. "I just wonder. I seem to recall a movie where an army was defeated by toys. Sir Jon, do you suppose it would hurt anything to send an appeal to Chris Corners for help?"

       "What kind of help?" asked Sir Jon, scratching his head in perplexity.

       "Any kind that they can think to offer," said Christine.

       "You'd be asking a lot of them," said Blair. "Of all towns, Chris Corners is the most committed to non-violence. They'll have no part in a war."

       "Well, I suppose I could send an appeal to all the towns," said Sir Jon. "If they each could send just a few warriors to help us, we might produce some kind of resistance force. But if we lose, all towns that help will be subject to retaliation from Camelot. Plus it would take most of them a long time to get here. By then it might be all over."

       "I knyow where you could get an army that hates Camelodians," said Jenny. "If I could just get a message to The Possat."

       "But you can," said Kacey, excitedly. "Bixyl has a character on Another Life. I can leave him a message to give to The Possat."

       "But The Possat was against getting involved in town problems," Christine reminded them.

       "It can nyot hurt to beg," said Jenny, displaying impressive nobility. "For my friends, I will beg."

       "No," said Kacey. "Karen Simon will beg."

***


       Leela left the mansion via an underground tunnel that led to the outer garage behind the house where Xanthus was waiting. She made her transformation into Saint Saffron and then started out of town, easily blasting her way through the Camelodian road block at the edge of town, much to the humiliation of the pseudo British soldiers.

       The base was put on alert for impending attack. For more than an hour they waited for Saint Saffron to attempt to crash the base. But Saffron had no intentions of being so bold. She had left Xanthus on the road and maneuvered around to the back of the base, gliding over its defenses to alight quietly and unseen.

       She then searched about, covertly assessing the nature of the base.

       She noted that the airfield was unexpectedly small; certainly not equipped for countering an air attack from another town, which meant none was anticipated. It contained only 5 copters, one of which was black, with Webberton insignia.

       Over all, the place looked more like a concentration camp than a military base.

       Most of the action she observed was felines being brought in from Suburbia by the truck load. But though they were being treated roughly, she saw no one that seemed in immediate danger of being killed. So she pondered restraining her signal to Chico until all the felines had been rounded up. But she decided more investigation was needed before pursuing that line of reasoning.

       So she looked in some of the buildings that were lined neatly on the other side of the base from where the prisoners were being held. There she observed felines undergoing the cruelest of tortures, some being brutalized within an inch of their lives, while Camelodian officers and white coated scientists were hard put to contain their amusement.

       Another building she looked in was specifically set up for waterboarding. She had never seen this particular interrogation method before, and she made a note to herself not to depict it in her comic strip, as she did not want either the Criminal Element or Law And Order factions of Noir adopting it.

       The level of on-going torture Saffron witnessed created a dilemma for her. She couldn't save anyone from torture at that moment without alerting the Camelodians and foiling the big rescue. So she would have to allow it to continue for the moment, much as that grated against her personal conception of Love And Justice. So she decided instead to make good use of the suffering.

       Saffron snapped numerous electronic photos and E-mailed them to Perry, along with an explanation of the situation. She felt they should allow the torture to go on until Suburbia had been completely emptied of felines, which might take a day or two. Otherwise it would fill again, and rescuing the next lot of prisoners would be much more difficult, if not impossible.

       Perry texted back that she was to wait until morning before calling for Chico. Then, once the prisoners were secured, she would have to make sure the base was destroyed beyond any possibility of it ever being used again.

       Perry suggested that Leela use the cover of night to wire the base for demolition. She could then wait for Chico to arrive to set off the bombs, which should keep the Camelodians disoriented while the prisoners were being loaded on the truck. Saffron typed back simply, "Agreed."

       By this time Perry was also receiving reports from The Shadow Cat about what was going on in The Rhoades Instruments Building.

       He was told that several thousand Suburbians were held in the building; though relatively few of them knew anything incriminating against the Camelodians. But the imperious bullies were taking no chances. They planned to literally crush anyone who might have seen or heard something they wanted to control awareness of.

       The Shadow Cat informed Perry that there was no way he could rescue the witnesses, unless he first did away with all the Camelodians in the building, and then killed the guards at the perimeter. This was the plan The Shadow Cat was currently pursuing. That, and doing everything he could to delay the detonation of the building.

       "Those bastards," said Perry, displaying a vengefulness that would normally be quite contrary to his nature. "They're still planning to bring down my building, with all those people in it."

       "Let them," said Sir Jon.

       "What?!" Perry snapped, incredulously.

       "Safest place they could be," said Sir Jon, knowingly. "Tell the Shadow Cat to do what he likes with the Camelodians. The more he can clear the building of them the better. But he should leave the witnesses where they are. I will see to the evacuation of the building by my own methods. And it is vital that the prisoners remain exactly as the Camelodians will leave them."

       "What exactly are you going to do, dad?" asked Perry, warily.

       "Never mind," said Sir Jon. "Just send the message."

       Perry hesitated, and Blair chuckled, "He doesn't trust you. He's wondering if you're helping the Camelodians kill Suburbians."

       "Trust me, son," said Sir Jon. "I'm going to do what you asked me to do when your friends were burned. No one will be in the building when it falls."

       "Why does my building have to fall?" Perry demanded, with great ire.

       "Because," Sir Jon explained. "If it doesn't the Camelodians won't think the witnesses are dead. They'll still be trying to kill them. Is your building too much of a sacrifice, my son?"

       Perry looked at Blair and asked, "Does it hurt very much?"

       "It stings, considerably," said Blair. "But if you don't let the Camelodians knock down your building, I will knock it down later. And that will sting you even more."

       "Fine," said Perry, angrily. Then he typed the message, sent it, and let his arms fall limp.

       "Perry," said Blair. "It's just a building. You can always build a better one."

       "No," said Perry. "I'm through. I've retired. I won't be rebuilding Rhoades Instruments. I'm sorry, Miyan. It looks like you're out of a job. If we survive this there'll be no more big business in Suburbia. Halloween can have it all."

       "But Perry," said Miyan, in a grave tone. "What about the economy?"

       "What about it?" Perry demanded.

       "Suburbia will end up as bad off as Halloween," said Miyan.

       "Right now we're much worse off than Halloween," said Perry. "And if this is where big business has led us, we're much better off without it."

       "Don't sweat it, Miyan," said Blair. "He's just depressed right now. He'll never be able to stick with that resolve."

***


       Some hours passed, and the base stood down from its alert, figuring that Saint Saffron was just going home to Noir and had no intensions of attacking the base. The base thus relaxed, and Saffron felt more confident in spying and collecting data.

       Through an upper window, Saffron stealthfully entered one of the torture buildings. There the young lion who once delivered supplies to Perry's office was in the process of being waterboarded.

       As the lion cried out in despair that he was not a Webberton agent and had never voiced even the slightest support for Fascists, the white coats laughed and said they could keep this up all night.

       Saffron hated the white coats. To her they were the worst kind of Criminal Element. She felt a strong compulsion to rescue the lion boy, but instead restrained herself to recording the lion boy's ordeal on her cell phone.

       The lion boy suffered terribly and pleaded with the white coats not to drown him. The white coats pretended to feel sorry for him and said that, if he would confess, they would let him rest.

       Finally the lion boy cracked and said he would confess to anything if they would just stop.

       The white coats pretended to be pleased. They set the lion boy up before a camera with a green backing screen behind him, and they gave him a confession to read; frequently coaching him on how he should say certain lines.

       After coaxing what they thought was a believable performance out of him, they gave the lion boy a paper to fill out and sign, again warning him that any lack of cooperation would be met with more waterboarding.

       Once he had signed it, the high ranking white coat said, "Very good. You can rest now until morning."

       "Then what?" asked the lion boy, anxiously.

       "Well, then we shoot you, of course," said the white coat. "What else is to be done with spies?"

       "No! You can't!" cried the lion boy. "You made me sign that paper. I didn't really do anything."

       "It's no good trying to deny your crimes now," said the white coat. "We have your signed confession. That makes you guilty. And the guilty must be punished."

       "But you would have killed me if I didn't sign," the lion boy whimpered, helplessly.

       "Nonsense, dear boy," said the white coat, with a wicked smile. "It would be against procedure to kill you without a confession. Of course, we're under no obligation to see to your comfort while we wait for you to confess. The shock treatments and waterboarding were just a little contribution you could offer to our science to pay for your keep."

       "I don't want to die," the lion boy wept pitifully. "Is there nothing I can do to save myself?"

       "Hmmmm," said the white coat, thoughtfully. "Have you more information to trade for your life? More spies you could identify for us? Some crimes you could bear witness to. If you had, say, witnessed Miyan Rutherford's complicity with Webberton's attack on Suburbia, your death sentence might be commuted."

       "My boss has nothing to do with Webberton," said the lion boy. "She hates Webberton. Everyone knows that."

       "Do not lie when your life is on the line!" shouted the white coat, slamming another piece of paper on the table in front of the lion boy. "Sign this paper which says you witnessed Miyan Rutherford conspiring with Webberton and espousing allegiance to Fascism. Then you shall live beyond tomorrow morning. If you refuse, tomorrow your body shall lie in an unmarked mass grave in No Fur's Land."

       The lion boy trembled compulsively as tears rained from his eyes. Finally he whimpered, "Alright. You win." And he signed the paper.

 photo signedconfession.jpg


       "Excellent," said the white coat. "Now you have just one more paper to sign to make the waver of your execution possible."

       The white coat placed another paper before him.

       "What's this?" asked the lion boy, with all the incredulousness that remained in his soul.

       "A mere consent form signing all your human rights away," said the white coat. "So that you may continue to serve the advance of Camelodian science in one of our finer research facilities."

       "You're never going to let me go home, are you?" asked the lion boy, emotionally.

       "We can't allow criminals like you to roam freely," said the white coat. "But you can live, as long as you are of service to us."

       "With no rights?" said the lion boy. "And subject to more of your torture every day?"

       "You must not look at it that way," said the white coat. "You will be contributing to the advance of human knowledge - a noble cause in which to endure pain. Do not selfishly think of your own discomfort. Think of all those who will benefit in the future from what you help us learn."

       "I'm just an office boy," cried the lion. "I didn't do anything."

       "You try my patience," said the white coat, coldly. "Sign the paper, or face the firing squad. The choice is yours."

       Fighting to hold back his tears, the lion boy said, "I'll take the firing squad, if just to be free of you." Then he picked up the paper and ripped it in half.

       "Foolish ingrate," scowled the white coat. "Take him away."

       The lion boy was then led off to a cell with others who would be executed in the morning; all of whom were crying and looking miserable.

       Saffron then retreated to the woods behind the base and uploaded the video to Perry. It took quite a while to upload, during which time the base went to sleep for the night.

       Upon viewing the video, Perry was devastated. He had always known the Camelodians were off their rockers, but this dwarfed his imagination; the whole thing having all the more impact because it was being done to someone he knew. And the fact that the lion boy wasn't even a liberated male made it all the more infuriating.

       Non-liberated males were said to have surrendered all of what had been deemed "Toxic Masculinity," which had been said to be the cause of the downfall of the elder race. This had rendered non-liberated males effectively defenseless subservients; the equivalent of how females had been regarded in the most backward days of The Elder Race. And yet, even in the most barbaric days of The Elder Race, to batter a subservient female in this fashion would have been looked on at best as unchivalrous, at worst psychotically deranged.

       And yet, this was apparently how the Camelodians had interpreted the source material of their religion. They regarded it as written in stone that they should be this way. And it mattered not if the literature of the empire they strove to emulate had depicted their history correctly. The fiction and fantasy was all that remained to be emulated, and obviously the Camelodians had taken the worst of it to heart, calling themselves Anti-Fascist, while acting in a manner that would make the Webbertonians, who were supposedly Fascists, cringe.

       "I'm not exactly thrilled with this society either," said Christine. "What sense is there in encouraging anyone to be subservient, regardless of gender?"

       Becky explained, "The Founding Mothers were quite adamant that what had been written about toxic masculinity in the last days of The Elder Race was to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It is obvious that unsubdued human males will inevitably take to rape, war and general barbarity until they destroy their entire world."

       "Really," said Christine, giving Becky a look of daggers. "And your female entitled society is doing any different? Did it ever occur to you that there might be such a thing as toxic femininity? It's idiotic to assume anything as inconsequential as gender would curtail the human tendency to be corrupted by power. The problem is a human thing, not a gender thing."

       "Be that as it may," said Grease. "Males on this planet are encouraged to be weak, and as a consequence, we are weak. We can not defend ourselves against the tactics we have just witnessed."

       "I was under the impression you were supposed to be liberated," said Perry.

       "I strive to be," said Grease, in a guilty tone. "But I was not raised to be. And so I am more vulnerable than I should be. Isn't it obvious by the way I stick so close to Becky?"

       "It's brave of him to admit he uses a female as a crutch," said Becky.

       "On the other hand," Blair added. "A liberated male like Perry is expected to have some strength and endurance. But I expect he will sit there and whimper all night while Leela Lennox and Rick Edwards take all the risks on themselves."

       "Thank you, Blair," said Perry, causing Blair to raise a curious eyebrow. "But you're encouragement is unnecessary. I will show you just how capable of toxic masculinity I am."

       Perry typed to Saffron a short command. "Thug bomb them."

       "All of them?" Saffron clarified.

       "No mercy," Perry typed. "Exterminate every Camelodian on that base."

       Saffron thought to herself that this plan was more practical than Perry's other plan, as the blowing up the base plan might allow some Camelodians to survive and make trouble later. It just stuck in Saffron's craw to be killing so many people who would never know who they owed their deaths to. But she couldn't deny this would be more efficient than feeding her ego.

       She waited until all the barracks buildings were dark, and every fur on the base was asleep, except for the night sentries. She tended to them first, killing them one by one, sneaking up behind them, covering their eyes, and then killing them softly with her silent machine gun.

       Once this was done, she walked up to each barracks, tossed in a thug bomb and waited 15 seconds. A quiet poof was accompanied by a flash of light that momentarily lit the windows from inside, and then slowly faded away.

       These were special bombs Perry had manufactured exclusively for the AD, based on an elder race formula for a bug bomb Spike had found. Perry had adjusted the formula so that the AD would be able to exterminate thugs with the same ease the elder race had exterminated insects. And Perry had suffered no moral qualms about this invention, as the moral use of it would be the sole responsibility of the user.

       Of course, in this case, Perry was the user. And he had determined that this use of his invention was moral.

       Knowing that the AD had devices like this in their arsenal added to the intimidation of their reputation. Yet the thug bomb had extremely limited applications, as it was rare that the AD wanted to kill everyone in a building.

       Saffron was actually more fond of these bombs than the AD detectives. It was part of her mythos to kill thugs softly. And these bombs killed massively with the softest of explosions. So soft that the Camelodians hardly had time to wake up before they were dead. They would never know what hit them.

***


       Before going to bed for the night, Kacey checked in with her Another Life friends and reminded Rick that they were counting on him to be at the house at 6 AM.

       Leslie overheard this through her character and phoned the base to inform them that Rick Edwards would attempt to crash the base between 6 and 7 AM.

       But Kacey said nothing about Saint Saffron already being at the base, or Perry's order to thug bomb the soldiers. Thus it was a bewilderment to Leslie why no one at the base seemed available to receive the information.

       After talking to Rick's character, Kacey sought out Bixyl's character and let him know in a private message what had really happened in Suburbia, as opposed to the falsehoods the media was putting out. She then asked him to beg The Possat on her behalf to lead The Lost Ferals against the Camelodians and liberate Suburbia.

       Bixyl replied that Jasmine was watching. Thus Kacey needed no proxy to beg for her town.

       Jasmine then relayed through Bixyl that The Lost Ferals hated the Camelodians. She would consult her people. If they desired to kill their enemies they would come. But she charged Kacey to inform The Queen Of Suburbia that there would be a price she expected to be honored. Namely, official town status for The Lost Ferals; effectively a mutant state, which would have all the rights afforded to other town states, including an embassy in Suburbia, an ambassador, and freedom for mutants to come and go from Suburbia as they pleased without being treated with prejudice.

       Kacey asked Bixyl to wait while she took these demands to Miss Sonny. Sonny then quickly wrote out an agreement to these demands and signed it, fixing it with her official seal. Kacey then returned to her room, scanned the document and sent it to Bixyl.

       Jasmine was delighted with the document, but Bixyl was not so optimistic that this would be a good thing for either mutants or Suburbia. For one thing The Suburbians were not given the chance to vote on it, and cessation of prejudice wasn't going to happen just because The Queen ordered it to. When The Town Council found out about this agreement there was sure to be a political meltdown between the conservative right and the liberal left which was likely to destroy the town, assuming the war itself failed to accomplish that first.

       Jasmine remained unconcerned. She did not expect the document to be honored. It was like the treaties the white pure humans made with the red pure humans whose souls were said to be reincarnated in The Lost Ferals. She expected the town folk would disregard their debt, but at least she would have the unhonored document to put the final stamp of evil on the town folk.

       As Kacey was about to log off, a notation in a corner of her screen announced "Melina Swiftwind is online."

       Kacey recalled that Melina lived in Camelot, and that her player was a mouse. Kacey was suddenly panic stricken at the thought of one of her friends being eaten, should the Webbertonians be victorious over Camelot, and she felt she must warn Melina to flee Camelot immediately. But she was very aware that this would be a violation of trust with her other friends, one which could potentially alter the outcome of the war, and she was torn.

       Inevitably she could not justify abandoning Melina. She had Andy Cassidy type a message to Melina that his player was in Chris Corners and in desperate need of the help of her player, intimating that it was a matter of imminent life and death, and that if Melina didn't drop everything and come right away, Andy might disappear, permanently.

       After sending the message, Kacey quickly logged off to prevent Melina from asking for details. Then she crossed her fingers prayerfully that Melina cared enough for Andy that this deception would get her out of harm's way at the crucial hour.

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S11E228: Blair Montgomery's Infernal Machine

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 228
Blair Montgomery's Infernal Machine

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            

       Sergeant Stife was enjoying a pleasant night at the Camelodian embassy, scarfing rich food while watching the TV coverage of the occupation. Her phone rang and she was disturbed to learn that some unknown force had infiltrated The Rhoades Instruments Building and was killing Camelodian soldiers right and left.

       When told that the invisible entity had first appeared as the ghost of Jasper Phillips, Stife assumed instantly that it must be The Shadow Cat, as The Shadow Cat was known to have the abilities of invisibility and assuming the appearance of others. When asked why she was so sure, Stife explained that they were obviously dealing with a superhero type, and there were only two superheroes in town. Saint Saffron was far too egotistical to work anonymously behind a cloak of invisibility. Therefore it must be The Shadow Cat pretending to be a ghost.

       Stife went on to say that, though the casualties were unfortunate, this situation could be turned to their advantage, if they were successful in selling The Shadow Cat to the public as an agent of Webberton.

       She instructed her operatives at The Rhoades Instruments Building to kill The Shadow Cat as quickly as possible. And Saint Saffron as well, should she put in an appearance. They would both make excellent scapegoats to hang out for the Suburbians.

***


       Back at The Rhoades Mansion, there came a knock at the door. It was a group of soldiers saying they had been ordered to round up all felines. They knew the Princess Of Webberton was there, and she especially needed to be taken into custody, along with Leela and Miyan.

       Sir Jon said the house had already been sequestered and placed under guard, which was more custody than he was willing to tolerate. Further indignities on himself or his guests would not be inflicted without retaliation. And he was not in a mood to be merciful about it.

       Never the less the soldiers had their orders and were persistent, and Sir Jon eventually slammed the door in their faces.

       They pounded indignantly on the door, but received no answer. They then made the mistake of shooting at the door, but their bullets were reflected back at them, with fatal results.

       Sensing serious injury, Christine's impulse was to drag the wounded soldiers inside and treat them, but Sir Jon would not have it. This was war, he explained. It made no sense to be saving soldiers he'd in all likelihood have to be killing later.

       Perry was worried that the feline citizens being rounded up would also be held in his building. But Sir Jon doubted this. He expected they would be held at the Camelodian base in No Furs Land, where they would be tortured until they confessed to being Webberton spies.

       "What will happen to any who refuse to confess?" asked Perry.

       "I suspect they will be held indefinitely, as the Camelodians will try to keep the streets free of felines. And I'm sure the Camelodian scientists will have uses for them."

       Perry's jaw dropped at the thought of Suburbian citizens being used for test subjects in horrific scientific experiments. The hundreds dead or missing after the fall of The Montgomery Technical Building had been difficult enough for Perry to embrace as a reality. But with the thought of his beloved townspeople undergoing merciless torture, the reality of things began to sink in.

       As if suddenly awakening from a dream, Perry exclaimed, "Those people are my workers, my friends, my fellow Suburbians. The Camelodians are reducing them to numbers, making me see individual lives as inconsequential. Why are we just sitting around conjecturing when normally we'd be jumping out of our chairs to save one life . . . any life?"

       Blair chuckled and said, "You're just another armchair warrior, aren't you, Perry? Years from now you'll be telling your grandchildren how bravely we fought this war . . . from your parents' living room."

       "Alright, damn it, Blair," said Perry, desperate for a course of action. "If this was happening to Halloween, tell me what you would do?"

       "Halloween has a defense force, as pathetic as it is," said Blair. "Plus it has me and my inventions."

       "Blair's little insect spies could target the Camelodians and wipe them out instantly," Leela suggested.

       "Along with anyone else who gives me trouble," said Blair. "But of course Perry is far too moral as to have invented anything so deadly to protect Suburbia."

       "But I do have The Wazzir Of Halloween in my living room," said Perry. "As has been pointed out in the past, my formidable strength is in my friends."

       "We haven't been friends for at least 10 years," said Blair. "You haven't cultivated me as a free resource like you have Miss Lennox. Anything you want from me will come at a cost."

       "What say we make a deal, then?" said Perry. "What do you want for the use of your bugs?"

       "You do realize you'd be sentencing all the Camelodian soldiers in town to death," Blair warned. "My bugs would not be able to differentiate nice Camelodians from bad ones."

       "Haven't they earned it?" asked Perry, with uncharacteristic coldness.

       "Ask Christine," said Blair, knowingly. "She's a far more consistent moralist than you are."

       "Haven't they earned it, Christine?" Perry demanded.

       "You heard what your father said," said Christine. "They're just obeying orders. Most of them probably have no idea what they're doing is wrong. You're doing to them just what you said a moment ago, reducing them to numbers, forgetting that each individual life has a tally of worth all its own."

       "You asked my price," said Blair, ominously, as he drew a pistol from his cloak and offered it to Perry. "Show me your dedication to your cause. Shoot Miyan."

       Perry was left in shock, as was everyone in the room, especially Miyan.

       "Perry, why do you hesitate?" asked Blair, coldly. "My bugs for Miyan's life. A small price to pay when the lives and freedom of all Suburbians are at stake. What is the value of her life when compared to so many others of your friends and associates who are depending on you to save them? Will you let them down and declare yourself helpless before Camelodian imperialism? Or will you do what must be done to save them?"

       "Why do you hate Miyan so much?" asked Perry, in visible bewilderment.

       "That is inconsequential!" Blair snapped. "You are making a deal for the life of your town. Grow up and pay the price of your station. Kill Miyan and you will be all that the leader of a town should be. Cast your insipid morality to the wind. Think of the number of lives you can save by extinguishing just one."

       "I shouldn't worry about killing Camelodians," said Perry, as if forcing himself against his will to accept Blair's view. "I should be ready to kill anyone to save Suburbians."

       "Us vs. them, huh?" said Christine, in a disapproving tone. "But you're all human furs. So, in the long run, them is us."

       "They don't see it that way," said Perry. "Why should I? It isn't what people are that makes them a threat. It's what they think, and what they do as a consequence."

       "So all who do not think as you must be destroyed," said Christine. "I see."

       "Are you disagreeing with him?" asked Blair. "Will you rebuke his more mature perspective?"

       "Only if there is some other option," said Christine. "Sir Jon, is there no way the Camelodians can be harmlessly subdued, or be made to change their minds?"

       "If there was, don't you think I would have employed it by now?" said Sir Jon, unhappily. "The only option I have is to change my mind; decide that it isn't important to defend Suburbia, and simply surrender it to them. Then you could perhaps flee to another town, from which you could wage peaceful protest with your guitar, maybe eventually making them feel so guilty that they'd destroy themselves in their needful haste to make amends for their conquests."

       Perry looked at Christine expectantly, hoping to see some sign that she thought this a viable alternative. But she obviously looked on the idea with disdain.

       "Such idealism is only practical for those who are not actually under threat," said Christine. "The human species is a battle of ideas. Good ideas and bad ideas constantly war with each other, hoping to destroy all competing thoughts. Once you surrender it's over for the thoughts you care about. Likewise, if they're prepared to kill you to eradicate your ideas, and you're not prepared to do the same to them, you lose. We will either destroy the Camelodians utterly, or they will destroy us. No mercy is possible in this situation. We need Blair's bugs. And we should be grateful that he isn't demanding control of Suburbia in exchange for them. He's being gracious in not making us face one form of subjugation to avoid another, which he is most certainly in a position to do."

       "Don't give Blair so much credit," said Miss Sonny. "He has his reasons for wanting Miyan out of the way. He has his reasons for wanting Perry to marry Clover. And I'd be very surprised if those reasons don't have something to do with his own conquest of our town. He may be willing to be our ally now just to spite a mutual enemy. But that won't stop him from trying to take over the world later."

       "I'm not really being gracious, Christine," said Blair. "My future conquests are already assured. I was destined from birth to rule this planet. Therefore, dominance of Suburbia is not something you can offer me in trade. It's something that's already mine. If you want my bugs you must pay the price I set for them. And that price is to see Perry kill Miyan."

       Blair then looked at Perry with greedy eyes and said, "So, Perry, which will it be? Which means more to you? Which do you judge more worthy of survival? The Camelodians, whom you perceive as evil? Or the Suburbians, whom you perceive as innocent? You must make the choice."

       After a tense moment where it looked like Perry might actually shoot Miyan, Perry sighed in defeat and handed the gun back to Blair.

       "I knew you were too weak to make life and death decisions when it's important," said Blair, derisively, as he put the gun back in his cloak.

       "You'd be mistaken to think that," said Perry. "I did make a decision. I decided that Miyan is more valuable to me than all the Camelodians and Suburbians combined."

       "I see," said Blair. "And is that the decision your people count on you to make; to base who will survive on which is more important to you?"

       "You know something, Blair?" said Perry. "When it comes to being a democracy, the people of Suburbia make their own decisions. If Suburbia employed me to make decisions, this would be a very different town."

       "Then what do they employ your pathetic tail for?" Blair demanded, with disgust.

       "To be their heart, their conscience," said Perry. "To nag at them relentlessly when they do wrong, to take my lumps when they feel the need to beat their conscience into submission. That's all that I am, Blair, the only thing I'm really good at."

       "If that is such a great thing, then you can save your people without my bugs," said Blair, dismissively.

       "Is there nothing of reason I can offer you?" Perry pleaded. "Halloween is a desperate town. Surely there is some way I could help you with it."

       "I never need to ask, Perry," said Blair. "Whatever I want from you I will take when I want it, with or without your approval. You are helpless before me, even more than you are before the Camelodians. I will be walking over you till the day you die, and enjoying every minute of your suffering."

       "Not so long as I'm around," said Miyan. "You can't walk over Perry while he has good friends looking out for him."

       "That is very true," Blair admitted. "Perry does seem to have this uncanny charm for making friends to cover for everything else he lacks. Therefore, anyone who wants to attack Perry will go for his friends first. One would think they'd get the message that being Perry's friend substantially increases one's chance of finding a bomb under the hood of one's car, or having their homes set on fire, or having their internet anonymity compromised."

       "Are you confessing to these things, Blair?" asked Sir Jon.

       "I never confess to anything," said Blair, with a regal air. "Why should I? The fact that I observe certain things happen for certain reasons doesn't necessarily mean I had anything to do with them."

       "Wait a minute," said Christine. "Are you saying Kacey's recent internet troubles have something to do with Perry?"

       "I find you highly admirable, Christine," said Blair. "Unlike Perry, you are very strong, and very observant. If I were prone to fear, which I'm not, I would fear you more than anyone in this room. Between your strength, Miyan's business savvy, and Leela's ruthlessness, our helplessly innocent little Perry becomes a very dangerous individual.

       "Kacey, on the other hand, is a friend who uses Perry, without ever worrying about how using him the way she does makes her a liability to him. The forces that have ensnared Suburbia want most of Perry's friends dead, particularly Miyan and Christine. Unfortunately, both of them have proved unexpectedly difficult to kill. So, they explore plan B. If they can't weaken Perry by killing his more powerful friends, they can weaken him by exploiting his more vulnerable friends."

       "These people are actually petty enough to hire someone to mess with Kacey's mind on the internet?" asked Christine.

 photo christine and blair facing off.jpg


       "If you would think that beneath them, you would disappoint me, Christine," said Blair. "They will mess with Kacey, they will mess with Vicki, and they've been messing with you all along. Can you guess who the agent is they've assigned to you?"

       "Someone in the hospital administration, I suppose," said Christine.

       "Denial doesn't become you, my dear," said Blair, theatrically gesturing with his arms. "Show this room full of fools that you are better than they. Tell them the name of the agent charged with diminishing your power over Suburbia."

       Christine drew a deep breath and sighed, reluctantly, "That would have to be Dr. Reinhart."

       "Embarrassing, is it not?" asked Blair, with mock sympathy. "Humiliating, heart-rending. How easy it would be to just deny it, to tell yourself it couldn't be. There must be some other explanation, a coincidence perhaps, or just misguidance on his part. Perhaps he was manipulated by someone, or coerced against his will."

       "Nothing doing," said Christine, angrily. "He screwed me over, and that's all there is to it."

       "You see, Perry," said Blair. "That is a demonstration of true strength. Christine has no susceptibility to denial. She may give someone the benefit of the doubt for a time. But once they've screwed her over, she doesn't forget."

       "Screw me once, shame on you," said Christine. "Screw me twice, shame on me."

       "Precisely," said Blair. "And yet, you all seem to have some doubt that these nameless individuals, who are all about messing with Perry's friends, would find some way of infiltrating and exploiting Kacey's internet life. None of you seem to see that Kacey is the weakest link in your chain. She encounters anonymous individuals on the internet every day. Any one of them could be a Camelodian agent, a Webberton spy . . . or me."

       "You play Another Life, Mr. Montgomery?" asked Kacey, tremblingly.

       "Forgive me, dear Kacey," said Blair, in a kinder tone. "I have taken shameless advantage of you, any time I had need to know what was going on in this house. Ah, but now I suppose you'll want to know what character I play."

       "It's against the rules for me to ask," said Kacey. "Just please tell me you're not Eric Enelar."

       Blair chuckled heartily and said, "Oh, Kacey, dear, I do like you. But not that much."

       "So you only play to manipulate me?" asked Kacey, as if thinking that would be a huge waste of the game's potential.

       "It's a use I've found for the game, just as you've found one," said Blair. "But, you see, I have no need of dating networks, nor a means of self-exploration. I know very well who I am inside."

       "Do you like him?" asked Kacey.

       Blair seemed to be blown away by the innocence of Kacey's question. It took him quite off guard.

       "Answer honestly with no denial, Blair," Christine dared him.

       "I don't suppose I do," Blair admitted, as if finding the question difficult to answer. "I don't know if any of you have noticed, but I'm not what you would call a terribly happy person."

       "Why not? You have everything," said Perry.

       "I do not have everything," said Blair, with abrupt anger to Perry. "You saw to that."

       "I did?" asked Perry, seeming mystified.

       "Let us not speak of the unspeakable," said Blair, with audible hurt in his voice. "I know you don't know what you took from me. And I have sworn never to tell you. So don't ask!"

       "Kacey, please turn up the TV," said Sir Jon. "It looks like we have a new development."

       The TV announced that forces of Camelot were now engaged in battle with ground forces of Webberton attempting to invade Suburbia.

       "That's impossible," Jenny exclaimed

       The announcer then stated that, in accordance with Sir Jon's edict, all invaders would be rounded up and summarily executed.

       "What effrontery," spat Sir Jon, angrily. "To put words in my mouth; words that will no doubt be used to cover the mass execution of witnesses and feline citizens, by claiming them to be captured enemy combatants."

       Perry became desperate to take some action. He looked at Blair and contemplated begging for his help again. But Blair just stared at him expectantly, as if saying silently, "This is your job. Show me what you can do."

       Perry then turned to Leela and said, authoritatively, "I'm calling in all my favors from the AD. I want that base in No Furs Land destroyed, and all prisoners rescued."

       "That's a tall order," Leela explained. "If my bosses were with me I would feel more confident about it. But as things are, the best I can do is attempt to do what you ask."

       "I don't care how you do it," said Perry, his sense of morality thoroughly subdued. "Just save my friends."

       "Alright," said Leela. "First we'll need a plan. I expect the number of prisoners to be high. We'll need transport to get them out. That means lots of trucks with lots of drivers. I can order them from Noir, but it will take time to organize. Then there will be the problem of where to take them. If we bring them back to Suburbia they'll just be captured again. I can't take them to Noir because they'll have no immunity to the toxic cloud. Webberton might be unhealthy for other reasons. And of course Camelot is out of the question. Then there's Chris Corners, which is a long drive through unprotected area, and no defenses to stop the Camelodians from retaking the prisoners once we get them there. That leaves only one possible destination."

       Everyone looked expectantly at Blair.

       "What?" Blair asked with a shrug. "Are you begging for the use of my dungeon again?"

       "It behooves you," said Leela.

       "In what way?" Blair demanded.

       "If Camelot is allowed to expand its power unchecked, Halloween may be its next target," Leela suggested.

       "If I cross Camelot in this matter, Halloween will definitely be their next target," said Blair. "Personally I'd rather not be attracting any more unwanted invaders to my door."

       "They'll be at your door one way or the other," said Sir Jon. "I recommend fighting them now while they're still inexperienced."

       "I will admit," said Blair. "They have made a nuisance of themselves."

       "A nuisance?" said Perry. "Blair, they knocked down your building."

       "You think The Camelodians alone are responsible for that?" asked Blair. "You give them too much credit. Still, though, they must pay for their part in it. And I suppose I owe some loyalty to these prisoners, being as many of them may be my employees. Very well, Miss Lennox, you may take anyone you rescue to Halloween."

       "How gracious of you," said Leela, in a sarcastic tone.

       "Don't look on it so harshly, Blair," said Miyan. "Think of the PR benefits of being seen as a hero in all this. You're going to be needing it."

       "Oh, for pity's sake," said Blair, as if relenting to his own conscience. "I'll throw in with you."

       "We'd really appreciate it," said Perry.

       "I don't suppose you've thought about how long you dare wait to get these prisoners rescued and on their way to Halloween," said Blair. "I expect most of them will be dead if you take the time to organize a rescue convoy from Noir. Or do you suppose they'll be safe waiting for the train?"

       "I would imagine Camelot has halted the train service," said Sir Jon. "They're probably holding it in Camelot. We'd have to invade Camelot to rescue it."

       "I don't think that would be impossible," said Christine. "I know how to drive a train."

       Sir Jon simply looked at her crossly and said, "No."

       "Dad's right," said Perry. "We don't have time to liberate it, and the train isn't built for speed. It's too slow and can be too easily attacked and captured. What we need is a big red rolling fortress. Fortunately I just happen to have one in my garage."

       "But you don't have Rick Edwards in your garage," said Leela. "How can we get the message to him that he's needed?"

       "Through Another Life," said Kacey. "The main internet has been disrupted, but AL can still be accessed directly."

       "I see," said Blair. "And you think he'll be playing a video game at a time like this."

       "As far as I know he's online all the time, even when he's not watching the screen," said Kacey. "He has a little transport business in AL with Twee and Chico. So all you have to do is tell Chico, and he'll get the message to Rick."

       Everyone looked about at each other, speechlessly.

       Blair finally broke the silence by saying, "Advantageous things, these superfluous video games. Just remember, Camelot may be monitoring it."

       "Ok," said Leela. "Say I get to this base and I'm able to liberate the prisoners. I send Perry a signal, Chico rushes out to the base and we go to Halloween. Simple plan. Why don't I like it?"

       "Sounds like total idiocy to me," said Blair. "You are, after all, only one person, Miss Lennox; or are you counting on some assistance from Saint Saffron?"

       "She does tend to show up when I'm in over my head," Leela admitted. "She has a vested interest in my survival, like she does with Ratzo."

       "I wouldn't count on Saint Saffron," said Blair. "Saint Saffron is with the enemy this time."

       "That's ridiculous," said Leela. "Saint Saffron has no interest at all in this situation, except that Ratzo and I are here."

       "She sent that package to my office just before the explosion," said Blair. "Explain that to me."

       "Was the package addressed to you or someone else?" asked Leela.

       "It was addressed to me," said Michelle.

       "I'm not at liberty to repeat privileged conversations," said Leela. "But, it could be that Saint Saffron suspects Michelle of impersonating her. Maybe she suspects Michelle of framing her for Duke Turner's murder. Maybe she even suspects Michelle of having done away with Ratzo. Considering the heavy insurance invoked, a little package bomb is the least Michelle could have expected."

       "I don't think Saint Saffron sent a package bomb," said Blair. "I don't think that package ever blew up. I think there was a target tracker in that package, which enabled the missiles to be targeted on my office. I think Saint Saffron herself was in that borrowed Webberton police copter. Which she must have known would give the Camelodians the perfect excuse to kick their occupation into high gear. Why would she do that if she wasn't in league with The Camelodians?"

       "That's a very good question," said Perry. "I hope you have a very good answer, Leela."

       "It's another frame up, obviously," said Leela. "After all, we only have Blair and Michelle's word for it that there was a package. Surely Saint Saffron wouldn't have expected anyone to survive to tell about a package. So why bother sending one? Unless for some reason she thought Blair was incapable of dying. But, why in the world should she think something like that? I'm afraid Blair is just indulging in a silly fantasy."

       "I did not imagine Saint Saffron's calling card on the package," Michelle insisted.

       "Maybe not," said Leela. "But you didn't have the presence of mind to stick it in your carrying bag, either. So, there's no way to prove it wasn't a forgery."

       "Hmmmm," Christine pondered. "If it was likely a forgery, someone wanted Blair to think Saint Saffron was responsible. But for them to anticipate Blair thinking anything, they must have been pretty sure he'd survive. Blair, who knows you're immortal?"

       "You're joking, of course," said Blair. "Or are we back to that damned Illuminati business again?"

       "You remarked earlier, I'm not prone to denial," said Christine. "A normal person isn't blown by a missile from one building to the next and able to just get up and fly a helicopter. To say you were just lucky would be extreme denial. That's the kind of thing only superheroes and the immortal can do. And you weren't wearing any superhero armor. So, if we are to know who our enemy is, I must ask you again, Blair. Who knows you're immortal?"

       "Christine," said Blair. "I do appreciate your ability to avoid denial. But I'm afraid you have jumped to a most irrational conclusion. I am not immortal. But I do have a secret invention that insured my survival, which of course I can't tell you about, because it's a secret. What you want to know is which of my enemies knew about this invention. I have only one enemy who knows about this invention and would risk killing me, because they don't want the invention for themselves. All others who know of this invention are my willing slaves, except for Miyan Rutherford."

       "Miyan, you know what this invention is?" asked Perry.

       "He calls it an invention," said Miyan. "I don't look on death as an invention any human fur can lay claim to."

       "You must not tell him, Miyan," Blair warned. "If you tell Perry he'll want it for himself. He'll be hopelessly corrupted like everyone else."

       "I give Perry credit for more than that," said Miyan.

       "Then you're a bigger fool than I thought you were," said Blair, with a helpless sigh. "Go on, tell him already."

       "What is this invention that I would sell my soul for?" asked Perry. "Some means of fixing our procreation problem, perhaps?"

       "On the contrary," said Miyan. "Blair's invention will mean the end of all procreation."

       "But that would be the end of our species," said Perry.

       "Exactly," said Miyan. "Why do you think I've done everything in my power to fight it, destroy it?"

       "Are you seriously telling me that everything that's happened in this town lately has been due to a private war between you two over industrial secrets?" Perry demanded. "You can knock me all you want for being naive, but you two are insane."

       "It's not just an industrial secret," said Miyan. "It's the secret of all secrets. It means the end of the world."

       "It does not," said Blair, in exasperation. "It simply means the end of all human subjugation to mortal dangers."

       "If this invention is such a good thing," said Perry, "why haven't you gone public with it?"

       "It's a source of power to me," said Blair. "I invented it, I own complete title to it, no one can use it without my permission, and it will only be made available to those who can pay my price. Wouldn't you say these are my rights, according to Capitalistic values?"

       "That depends entirely on what you've invented," said Sir Jon.

       "It's an industrial secret," said Blair. "It's protected."

       "This invention is what Miyan was offered in that Grove Of Aljion, isn't it?" asked Perry.

       "I didn't take her for such a fool that she would turn it down," said Blair, regretfully. "No one ever had before. If she had only accepted and become one of us, things would have continued to run smoothly. But, because she refused, everyone who knows sees Miyan as a potential obstacle to their acquisition of my invention. I can hardly believe she's survived this long with all the hits that must be out on her."

       "Then Miyan did see something," said Christine. "So there must be some truth to The Illuminati Corporation."

       "Don't disappoint me, Christine," said Blair. "Conspiracy theorists never know what's really going on. The simple truth is that I invented something. And anyone who knows about it will become my slave to possess it. So I have a tendency to offer it to those who might make useful slaves. That does not mean there's an intertownal corporation. I don't need an intertownal conspiracy to take over the world. The world will sell itself to me of its own accord eventually. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of thinking Miyan would make a good slave. She not only refused, but she determined to become my mortal enemy, as well as the enemy of my slaves."

       "If they're your slaves why can't you control them?" asked Perry.

       "Because I haven't made the device available to anyone yet," said Blair. "I've only promised it to certain individuals. But apparently certain people have decided they can just put me out of action, and look for the device among my effects."

       "What is this infernal machine that my people are dying for?" Perry demanded. "You owe me the truth, both of you."

       "Perry, I have no desire to have you for a slave," said Blair, with an amused smile. "So I'm not going to tell you. Are you going to tell him, Miyan?"

       "No, I'm not," said Miyan, regretfully. "I'm sorry, Perry. Blair's right. Even you can't resist this kind of temptation."

       "It doesn't matter, Miyan," said Blair, smugly. "I've no intention of ever letting Perry have one. I may grant eternal life to every other person on this planet. But I will see Perry Rhoades grow old and die."

       "Do you really hate me that much?" asked Perry.

       "Ah, Perry," said Blair, with contrary affection. "Mere mortal words could not convey the depths of my loathing for you."

       Perry sank back in his chair and seemed quite distraught, as if Blair's words had physically hurt him.

       "Look at him," said Blair, appraisingly. "Diminished and destroyed by the simple awareness that someone does not love him. But think of this, Perry. With the machine I will not give you, you could rid yourself of that weakness. You could adjust yourself in any way you wanted. Human kind would be rid forever of the whims of nature.

       "I would rather give Kacey my invention for free, than to sell you one for your entire fortune. She, of all people in this room, would appreciate the freedom I will provide to adjust her appearance, her species, and even her gender to her own taste. I would give her the ability to see her fantasies come to life in the real world. And she would test my invention to its very limits. What do you say, Kacey? Would you like a new job testing my inventions?"

       "I expect I'm going to need a new job," said Kacey, shyly. "I'm sorely tempted."

       "Don't be," said Miyan. "Blair doesn't really like you. He's just trying to steal you away to hurt Perry. Besides, Blair couldn't give his invention away if he wanted to. Whether he charges money for it or not, it will cost you more than you can imagine."

       "Does she have to buy it with her immortal soul?" asked Christine.

       "I knew Christine would understand," said Miyan, sadly.

       "Seriously?!" Christine exclaimed.

       "Miyan is ignorant and superstitious," said Blair. "She believes in the existence of some abstract concept called a soul. I say there is no such thing. There is only information. And information can be transferred from one place to another, from one container to another. And so long as information can be contained, it can not be lost.

       "Imagine what it would mean if I had learned how to extract every bit of information from the human body and mind. Imagine if I knew how to build a vessel to contain it - one that was self-maintaining and never need die. Now imagine if that vessel was the heart of a computer that could generate a physical avatar into the real world according to that intellect's design, and then project that intellect into the avatar. Are you not fascinated, Kacey?! Would you not beg me to let you be the first to demonstrate my invention to the world?!!"

       Kacey was terrified by the madness in Blair's eyes, yet unable to contain her fascination with the idea. She could only tremble. She could not answer, leaning against Vicki for support.

       "As long as we're indulging in theoretical fantasy here," said Christine. "What if we acknowledge that Blair Montgomery is the greatest snake oil salesman the universe has ever seen? And that he has tantalized the leaders of this world with the spiel he has just demonstrated for us. But what if there were no such invention? Blair Montgomery could still manipulate the entire world on the mere belief that such an invention exists."

       "Either way, Christine," said Miyan, "to maintain that control, Blair would need to provide periodic demonstrations of the immortality his invention provides."

       "Like surviving the bombing of his building?" asked Christine.

       "One has to admit that was a pretty good trick," said Miyan. "But, he would need to make demonstrations for his followers more frequently, more privately. Like say, in a certain grove where those who have signed on for Blair's digital immortality cult come to discuss the new world they plan to create."

       "May we fantasize that you witnessed such a demonstration?" asked Christine.

       "You may fantasize anything you like," said Miyan. "Without proof none of this amounts to more than just another conspiracy theory. And Blair knows it. That's why, if he wished, he could tell you the truth to your faces, and have no fear that you wouldn't dismiss it all as unbelievable."

       "An immortality machine seems both unbelievable and impractical," said Perry. "But Christine's right. Blair could sell such a thing, whether he'd actually invented one or not - to some people. But I wouldn't want one. Not even for free."

       "See, that's why I'd never sell you one," said Blair. "You're too limited by your sappy ideology to appreciate it. It would be completely wasted on you."

       "Humor me just a little more, Miyan," said Christine. "What do you imagine you'd have seen at such a demonstration, if you had witnessed one."

       "Oh," said Miyan, as if pretending to be making it up. "I imagine I would have seen a hokey supernatural ritual in which Blair was drenched in fire, burned to ashes, only to reappear unscathed a moment later. Then I might imagine I saw him strapped to a sacrificial table, his throat cut, his blood drained, his body hacked to pieces. And then again he would appear alive and unharmed. And then I would imagine I saw him lain between two huge slabs of granite. The upper slab would fall upon the lower slab, and would then be removed, showing that there was nothing left of him but a huge red stain on the white rock. And yet again he would appear alive and unharmed. And then I would imagine that I saw the leaders of the entire world prostrate themselves before Blair Montgomery as the conqueror of death."

       "Is that the kind of demonstration you want me to do?" asked Kacey, nervously.

       "Oh, not at all, Kacey," said Blair, reassuringly. "Don't mind these fools. They're just playing around. All I'd want you to do is demonstrate that you can use my invention to do in the real world what you do in Another Life; make yourself over into something that can live comfortably and successfully in this world."

       "You thinking what I'm thinking, Christine?" asked Sir Jon.

       "I'm afraid so," said Christine. "Blair not only isn't immortal, but he doesn't have any magical machine that can give Kacey the appearance of her AL avatar in the real world. He's just one heck of a Houdini fan."

       "But Christine," Miyan pleaded. "What if I really saw it? What if I saw that fur sitting there killed three times in one night?"

       "Oh, I've no doubt you saw something," said Christine. "I imagine you saw three people killed. Three people who were made up to look like Blair Montgomery. It's not a difficult optical illusion to pull off. It would be even more simple to present Kacey as she is, and then in a puff of smoke have someone else switch places with her."

       "More than that," said Sir Jon. "Miyan has been subjected to hypnosis and mind control recently. Nothing she remembers can be trusted. She's no threat at all to Blair or anyone he might have duped into believing this immortality machine exists."

       "But that puts us back where we started," said Perry. "If there's no immortality machine, how did Blair survive the blast? There's no way that could have been faked."

       "May I?" asked Leela.

       "Oh, please, be my guest," said Perry.

       "When I talked to Saint Saffron after the attack on Miyan at the revolving restaurant," said Leela. "She told me the fake Saint Saffron was seen flying into Michelle's office. And that by the time she got there, there was no one in the office but Blair and Michelle. Which is why Saint Saffron is out to get Michelle. She thinks Michelle has been impersonating her. And Saffron does not take impersonation as flattery.

       "But, if I was to let my imagination go, I'd say what if it's not Michelle that's the Saint Saffron impersonator, but Blair Montgomery, the great illusionist. What if Blair had synthesized the fabric of the Saint Saffron costume and made his cloak and business suit out of it? That would have given him the ability to glide from one building to the other. And the material would also have given him some protection from the blast."

       "Mind if I examine your cloak?" asked Perry.

       "I mind very much," said Blair. "My clothes are made of a special material I invented myself that is much better than the Saint Saffron costume. I'll not share the secret with you. But Miss Lennox is right about one thing. This material does function like armor, and it is the reason I survived. It also provides me with a minimal ability to glide, without which I would most likely not have been able to reach the other building. But even so, it's still quite a stretch to imagine me impersonating Saint Saffron."

       "Can I indulge in a bit of imagining," asked Perry. "What if Blair set up the attack himself?"

       "You think I wanted my building blown up?" asked Blair.

       "Of course not," said Perry. "But let's go on the assumption that you wanted my building blown up. Let's imagine that you got an AI helicopter, put Webberton markings on it, and then sent a targeting package to Miyan's office. Let's then imagine that Saint Saffron intercepted it, changed the address and sent the targeting tracker to your office. She could save Leela and get even with you for impersonating her at the same time."

       "Ummhmm," said Blair. "And I suppose I wired my own building for demolition, too."

       "No," said Perry. "No, we can be pretty sure The Camelodians did that."

       Perry suddenly snapped his fingers and said, "I've got it. You knew the Camelodians were planning to down both buildings. Probably by setting off the demolition while copters with Webberton markings attacked them. You thought you'd beat them to the punch to ensure Miyan wouldn't survive. You borrowed one of their copters to do it. But the tracker that was supposed to go to Miyan's office somehow wound up in yours. And the minute you saw the package you knew exactly what had happened. That's why you grabbed Kenny and Michelle and headed for the window. Otherwise you'd still have been sitting at the desk pondering the package."

       "You're not used to being theoretical, are you, Perry?" said Blair. "Perhaps I should indulge my own imagination a bit. Now, both buildings were wired for demolition by the Camelodians. I think we're all agreed on that. The purpose being to create the illusion of an attack from Webberton to justify the Camelodian occupation."

       "Yeah," said Perry. "And we all know who the master illusionist here is, don't we?"

       "Go away, little boy, you try my patience," said Blair, waving off Perry's comment. "If I had planned it, I would not have been anywhere near the buildings, there would have been a second targeting package in Miyan's office, and the two buildings would have been brought down within a few minutes of each other. That would mean there was a hitch. Someone didn't do their job. It could be that Miyan's targeting package was somehow intercepted or delayed."

       "Blair has a point," said Sir Jon. "We shouldn't assume that everything that's gone down has been as the Camelodians planned it. Though they pride themselves on their efficiency, they are actually notorious screw ups.

       "But let's say that Blair's right, and both he and Miyan were targets. I can see why The Camelodians would want to get rid of Miyan, but why would they go after Blair if they are somehow beholden to him for some immortality machine he has theoretically invented, but hasn't given them yet? By all reason, Blair should be thoroughly insured against attack. Why is he suddenly on the Camelot hit list? Why wasn't he advised of the plans to bring down the buildings and told to keep well away?"

       "I can think of two possibilities," said Leela. "One, they're so convinced Blair is immortal that they thought they didn't have to worry about him dying. Two, they wanted a demonstration of Blair's immortality that they wouldn't have to wonder about being rigged."

       "My turn," said Blair. "I enjoy imagining that it was Miss Rutherford who enticed Miss Lennox to encourage Saint Saffron to arrange for the package and the copter, because they're all terrified of my ‘theoretical' invention, and they wanted to see if they could wipe me out."

       "Not logical," said Christine. "Miyan thinks she saw you killed three times. There's no reason for her to think she could wipe you out with a hundred missiles."

       "Exactly," said Blair. "They were all reasonably certain I wouldn't die in the explosion. They were trying to expose me; force me to give a demonstration that I'd have to explain to the whole world. And that's why Saint Saffron left her card. She wanted me to know who had exposed me as being immortal."

       "But you're not immortal?" Christine clarified.

       "No," said Blair. "If not for a great bit of luck I'd be dead, and all three ladies would have a date with a needle."

       "It's the kind of thing Saint Saffron might do under the conditions you suggest," Leela admitted. "But Miyan would first have had to blab to me about you, and she never did. As far as I can tell, the only thing going on with Saffron is her usual vendetta. You messed with her image, you messed with her nemesis, she may even see you as having messed with the Noirnian religion itself. Whoever she places the blame for all that on is in for a lot of trouble. If she is after you I wouldn't be surprised if she followed you back to Halloween. She might even blow up your castle before she feels justice is done. Should you actually turn out to be immortal, she may not be able to kill you, but she sure as hell can make you wish you were dead."

       "Excuse me, everyone," Kacey stuttered. "I've found all this terribly fascinating, but I feel like we've been wasting a lot of time, when we should be trying to do something to save lives."

       "I always say," said Perry. "She doesn't speak up much, but when she does . . ."

       "Quite right," said Sir Jon. "The conspiracy theories can be sorted out later. Right now it is imperative that we locate the prisoners and rescue them. Leela will go and check out the Camelodian base while Perry gets Chico and Rick ready for action."

       "What if I don't find the prisoners at the base?" asked Leela.

       "Well," said Sir Jon. "If for some reason you can't prevail upon Saint Saffron to use her truth mist, I suppose you'll just have to pummel someone until they tell you where the prisoners are."

       "I hope you know I'll be sending you a bill for this," Leela warned. "The AD doesn't owe Perry that many favors."

       "Miss Lennox," said Sonny. "If you do not succeed, the town of Suburbia may soon cease to exist; in which case any money we might pay you with will be worthless."

       "Point taken," said Leela.

       "Shouldn't I go along to help Leela?" asked Christine. "An extra soul sword might improve her odds."

       "Thanks for the offer," said Perry. "But I think Leela will be more effective working on her own."

       Christine did not understand this, but Leela agreed she was kind of a loner in this sort of thing.

       Christine then asked Sir Jon if he might like to accompany her on a little destruction spree of their own. Sir Jon was amused by the idea, but he said "You know they're just going to blame any damage we do on Webberton to reinforce their position."

       Jenny said, "Fine then. Fight them in the name of Webberton. I will call myi mother and have her send forces to help."

       Sonny warned that would make Suburbia beholden to Webberton.

       "Nyot necessarily," said Jenny. "Camelot has affronted Webberton by attacking Suburbia in their name. They are also attempting to beat Webberton to the constitutional goal of world domination. For either of these offenses myi mother would rip Camelot to shreds."

       Sir Jon gave Jenny the nod to call her mother.

       As expected, The Queen was seriously affronted, but said she unfortunately had no forces to send to help in Suburbia, as she had just sent her forces to attack Camelot directly for their affront.

       This worried Jenny, as it had long been the consensus that Webberton could not beat Camelot in open warfare.

       The Queen said this would normally be true, but Camelot had failed to take into account how defenseless they left their town while they were out playing police force to the world.

       The Queen calculated that some three fourths of Camelot's forces were in Suburbia. The full force of Webberton would therefore be more than enough to capture Camelot. Then Webberton would have finally begun its empire, the world would see Webberton as having saved Suburbia, and there would be innumerable new slaves and food animals to feed Webberton's needs.

       In fact, The Queen seemed to be dancing on air with happiness at the thought of the blood that was about to be spilled in the first war of their species. And she told Jenny that she could not wait for her to return and preside both as princess and future empress over the new Webbertonian Empire.

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S11E227: Who Then Shall We Call The Good Guys?

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 227
Who Then Shall We Call The Good Guys?

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            

            

      Theme music: Fade down.

      FX: Six Chimes.

      Radio Announcer: 6 O'clock in the evening, in a waiting room of the now severely damaged Rhoades Instruments Building.

      After the first attack of Suburbia's war with enemies yet to be definitively identified, the mile high Montgomery Technical Building lies a massive pile of rubble, bent steel and toxic dust at the feet of its twin tower. In spite of the rescue efforts of The Suburbia Fire Department, assisted by Saint Saffron and The Shadow Cat, hundreds of Suburbians are assumed to lie hopelessly crushed under the rubble.

      Now, over six hours after the collapse of the building, all rescue efforts have either ceased or been prevented by the Camelodian army who have secured the area. Both Leela Lennox and Jasper Phillips have put away their super hero disguises, knowing there is nothing more that can be done.

      Leela has returned to The Rhoades Mansion to give her report of the disaster to The Ruling Family, but Jasper has stayed behind.

      Curious to discover what was being done with the numerous citizens being taken into custody by the Camelodians, Jasper had allowed himself to be captured, and found himself being taken into the supposedly evacuated Rhoades Instruments Building, which he found was being used as some kind of temporary operations center by the Camelodians, who had filled several of the higher floors with prisoners, seeming to have no fear of the building falling, as they had previously announced it would.

      Left in a waiting room with dozens of other prisoners, Jasper encountered his childhood friend and fellow Green Meadow Lands Gang member Molly Squirewell, also being detained. Feeling slightly nostalgic, Jasper assured Molly that she could count on him to protect her, as always. And they waited anxiously to be called to their interrogation, or inquisition, or whatever the Camelodians might have in mind for them.

      Some time has now passed, and Molly continues to hang close to Jasper for protection, while Jasper does his best to keep a low profile, as everyone who recognizes him is tempted to make a scene, due to recent reports of his death on the news. But for the most part the prisoners are too absorbed in their own situations to notice him.

      But now their wait is apparently over as a Camelodian soldier of canine extraction approaches Jasper and Molly. She eyes them critically for a moment, then speaks with authority . . .

___


      "You there," said the soldier, pointing at Jasper. "You're next. Come with me."

      "As you wish," said Jasper, obligingly. "Come along, Molly."

      "Just you," said the soldier, holding up a hand to warn Molly not to follow.

      Molly hesitated and looked at Jasper uneasily.

      "If that's your attitude I'll stay here," said Jasper, still keeping his tone casual.

      The soldier drew her side arm and said, threateningly, "Am I going to have trouble with you?"

      But rather than being intimidated, as the soldier expected, Jasper's hands moved with lightning speed that the eye could hardly follow, ripping the gun from the soldier's grasp with one hand and pulling her forward so that her throat fell into the grasp of his other hand, and she found herself paralyzed by the unexpected force of his grip.

      Jasper then gazed into the soldier's eyes, swamping her narrow military indoctrinated mind with the power of his more worldly consciousness.

      "I think the real question is am I going to have trouble with you," Jasper intoned in a deep voice that made the soldier believe she was confronting someone far more powerful than herself.

      "I said she's with me," Jasper continued, ominously, as his grip tightened like a deadly vice, and the soldier's eyes began to bulge. "Shall I expect further argument from you?"

      The soldier trembled as recognition washed over her. It was not every day a Camelodian soldier found herself face to face with someone who was widely believed to be dead; let alone someone whose grip was so vice-like that it could almost be considered superhuman.

      Unable to speak, the soldier fearfully shook her head to indicate she would not try to regain control of the situation, and Jasper released her, allowing her to fall backwards a step before she caught herself unsteadily, gulping for air.

      "Now lead on," Jasper commanded.

      The soldier looked from side to side nervously. She knew she shouldn't feel helpless, but she did. And she was reluctant to display to her superiors how easily she had been subdued by an unarmed male.

      As if understanding this, Jasper emptied her gun and handed it back to her.

      Without bullets, the gun made her no less powerless against Jasper's superior warrior skills. But it could still function as a crutch, and it might save her from more severe punishment, if her superiors were not made aware it was unloaded.

      "You have a job to do," said Jasper, in a low, non-threatening, but still authoritative voice. "Carry on."

      The soldier escorted Jasper and Molly through the door into the next room, where three Camelodian officers sat at a long table, looking up in surprise at having their routine disturbed by two prisoners being escorted in at once. But it would break the mood they were attempting to project if they berated the soldier in front of the prisoners. So they let it slide for the moment.

      Jasper and Molly were invited to take seats on the opposite side of the table, and Molly attempted to do so with as much calm as Jasper displayed. Indeed, the vibrations he gave off made it seem like he was almost happy to be there.

      They were asked to press their thumbs to a small but heavily built DNA reader which sat on the table. This sent a signal to the database of Suburbia's main bank, which returned a signal identifying the two prisoners as Jasper Phillips and Molly Squirewell.

      The identification was printed out, and the officers studied it with disturbed expressions.

      "Welcome back from the grave, Mr. Phillips," said the Rottweiler Sargent who appeared to be in charge. "You . . . seem to have recovered quite nicely from being blown up."

      "Get used to it," said Jasper, looking the Rottweiler in the eye with dead seriousness. "You'll find me very difficult to kill, regardless of who you employ to do your dirty work."

      "As a registered citizen of Webberton I don't have to be lenient on you, you know," said the Sargent. "Your very presence here in this time of war is . . . illegal."

      "Being legally dead I don't have to be lenient on you either," said Jasper, cryptically, eyeing the Sargent's name plate. "Sargent Stern, is it?"

      "Come now, Mr. Phillips, there's no need to be difficult," said another officer of terrier extraction. "Everyone knows who you are. How you managed to survive your assassination is not really any of our concern. This panel is merely a formality to insure that false information will not be disseminated. This war will proceed much more smoothly if everyone is on the same page. So we will ask some questions, and if we get the answers we like, you and your friend may go on your way."

      "And if you don't like the answers you get?" asked Jasper, daringly.

      "Then you'll be sorry," said Sargent Stern, in a malevolent intonation. "You'll be very, very sorry."

      Jasper then smiled at the Sargent, licking his lips as if imagining the taste of him, and said, "Try me."

      The Sargent, despite his best efforts, felt a chill of revulsion travel down his spine, having no experience to fathom the vibes of attraction he felt emanating from Jasper. Males in Cygnesian society simply were not attracted to each other under any circumstances, let alone while they were threatening each other. He sensed madness in this daring feline that was somehow more intimidating than his own wartime power of life and death.

      "Did you witness the fall of The Montgomery Technical Building?" asked the terrier.

      "I did," Jasper replied.

      "And what about you, young lady?" asked the terrier.

      "I was inside The Montgomery Technical Building when it fell," Molly replied, nervously. "I was too busy clinging to a rescue vehicle to notice much."

      "You did not take note of any explosions?" asked the terrier.

      "Only the large explosion at the top of the building, which I was very far away from," said Molly. "If there were other explosions, I could not hear them for the noise of people screaming around me."

      The officers looked at each other with satisfaction, as if liking Molly's response. Then they turned to Jasper.

      "And what did you see, Mr. Philips?" asked the terrier.

      "Oh, nothing much," said Jasper, in a provocatively casual tone of voice. "Just a lot of dead and injured people that I've known and cared about most of my life."

      "Were you aware of Webberton agents hindering their rescue?" asked Sargent Stern.

      Jasper replied dryly, "The only people hindering the rescue efforts were the Camelodian helicopters shooting at Saint Saffron and The Shadow Cat, who were the only rescuers capable of functioning at such heights."

      "That is a misinterpretation of what you saw," said the terrier. "Saint Saffron and The Shadow Cat are both mercenaries in the employ of Webberton. They were attempting to do further damage to the building, while catching mice and rabbits to feed Webberton soldiers."

      "Really," said Jasper, dryly. "And with the cooperation of The Fire Chief no less."

      "I'm afraid they did away with him," said Sargent Stern.

      Jasper half suppressed an irritated growl and said, "The Fire Chief was an old and dear friend of mine, you know."

      "Then you will want to help us deal with his murderers, won't you?" said the terrier.

      "Oh, I'll deal with his murderers alright," said Jasper, in a low, ominous tone. "There will be no mercy for those who attack my old home town."

      "Were you aware of any explosions, Mr. Phillips?" asked the terrier.

      Jasper replied, "I heard one big explosion at the top, another at the bottom, and several dozen smaller explosions while The Montgomery Technical Building was falling."

      "That is incorrect," said Stern, with a poisonous glare. "What you heard was the impact of the air craft above, a fireball exiting an elevator at the bottom, and the impact of the floors falling against each other."

      "Hmmm," said Jasper, picking up a pencil from the desk, which he used to tap out the steady cadence of the explosions he'd heard. "Do you really expect anyone to believe that the floors failed with such a regular cadence?"

      "It is a fact," said the terrier.

      "There will be no facts until the debris is examined," said Jasper. "However, I do suspect you are right. The floors did indeed fall with that regular cadence, aided by explosions that weakened the supports for each one. The evidence, however you may try to hide it, will surely bear that out. Perhaps if you claim sabotage you may yet salvage this farce, but otherwise I expect Blair Montgomery will have issues to settle with Camelot."

      "You know, I get the distinct impression you want to make trouble for us," said the Sargent.

      "On the contrary," said Jasper, eying the Rottweiler menacingly. "I mean to see you are all appropriately rewarded for everything you've done."

      Jasper then smiled in a way the officers found anything but reassuring. But for a time he pretended to go through the motions of being co-operative. Still, every move he made, every word he said, every look he gave them, seemed to be loaded with poison soaked daggers, as if he was just biding his time till the appropriate moment to wring their necks.

      After several more questions and instructions on how to interpret what they had heard and seen, Jasper and Molly were handed papers to fill out for their witness reports; being told that if they filled them out correctly they would be allowed to leave. But if they filled them out incorrectly they would have to be detained for further questioning.

      Jasper told Molly to fill her paper out as instructed so that she could go. Then he told her not to wait for him, just to go and not make any waves.

      The officers were quite pleased with Molly's report, and the soldier was instructed to escort her out of the building. But before she left, Jasper said for everyone to hear, "When you leave here you will go straight to The Rhoades Mansion. You will report to Perry everything you have seen. He will be expecting you. If you have not arrived in half an hour, he will know Camelot has failed in its duty to protect you."

      Once Molly was gone the officers waited anxiously for Jasper to finish his witness report. He then filled his report out honestly, listing everything he'd seen and heard; no Webbertonians, just Camelodians hindering rescue efforts. He even ventured to say he saw The Shadow Cat halt the demolition of the second building, which caused the terrier to grab his chest in shock.

      Upon reading this the faces of the officers were twisted with rage. They asked why he was so determined to rock the boat.

      Jasper then put it to them straight. He wanted to see what happened to those who didn't comply with their attempts to control the facts.

      They warned that he was being foolish. The world already thought he was dead. He would not be missed along with anyone else who perished in the disaster leaving no identifiable remains.

      "So that's it," Jasper assessed. "Anyone who doesn't endorse your version of what happened will just disappear."

      The officers shrugged and said this was expedient, fortunes of war and all that. Quite routine.

      Jasper replied, "This is not war, nor is it a police action. It is crime on a scale that no fur has ever imagined, and crime does not pay."

      They laughed and said, "Who will stop us? You?"

      "Could be," said Jasper, in a deep, cryptic tone of voice.

      "You're funny, Phillips," said Stern. "What a pity you have to die."

      Jasper laughed heartily and said, as he began to disappear before their eyes; his voice distorting to that of The Shadow Cat as he vanished, "Did you forget? You already had me killed. There's not much you can do against a ghost."

      "What power does a ghost have to stop us?" Stern yelled at the empty air where Jasper had stood, refusing to be intimidated by the unknown.

      "Shadows of shadows," the disembodied voice of The Shadow Cat echoed through the room, from no discernible source. "The shadows know what you have done. The shadows know your guilt. They conspire against you. You will learn to fear them."

      All in the room were frozen with astonishment. Then the shadow of a hand appeared, moving towards the officers as they stood gaping in disbelief.

      When it reached the table, the shadow hand picked up the DNA reader from the desk and held it aloft for a moment, as if to illustrate the power of vengeful shadows to grasp and control objects of great weight. Then it hurled the small but heavy machine at the glass wall behind the officers with such force that it shattered the glass.

      Instantly air began rushing out of the pressurized building with irresistible force, causing the long table to up-end itself as it was drawn along with the air current, forcing the officers towards the opening in the glass.

      Sargent Stern managed to find something solid to grab onto and pulled himself clear of the death draft. But the terrier was not so fortunate, and the Sargent was not about to risk helping him. Instead he clung desperately to the handles of a heavy file cabinet, feeling no compassion as he watched over his shoulder, seeing the terrier forced outside the building, and hearing the desperate screams of his fellow officer becoming more distant as he fell helplessly to his death.

      Suddenly, as if having been released by invisible hands, the long table was drawn against the hole in the wall, and the deadly draft abruptly ceased, allowing the two surviving officers a moment to breathe, and to stare at each other, hardly able to believe what they had just witnessed.

      A moment later Stern shook off his confusion and bellowed, "Get some furs in here to fix this office. We must continue our work."

      Then the ghostly voice was heard again, laughing intermittently with evil intent, "Yes, Stern. You have work to do. You must report to your superiors what you have witnessed. But will you dare write the truth? They will think you mad with guilt if you write that this building is haunted by the vengeful ghosts of those you've killed."

      "I don't believe in ghosts," Stern swore at the empty air.

      "You will believe, Stern," said the ghostly voice, in tones that chilled the two officers to their bones. "When you have seen the last of your command die before you, you will believe."

      Once again the voice laughed, as if greedy for the taste of fear. And as it did so, the door to the office opened, and the laughter seemed to leave the room, moving away until it was heard no more.

***


      Meanwhile, back at The Rhoades Mansion, The Ruling Family remained under house arrest, along with those friends unfortunate enough to have been trapped with them. And there was little for any of them to do but discuss the Camelodian occupation and attempt to anticipate what the next stage of the Camelodian master plan might be.

      Sir Jon conjectured that the Camelodians could stage more attacks, further endanger the population, and even try to exterminate The Ruling Family. All except Perry and Lappina of course, whom they still probably needed to get married. But after Lappina's baby was born, they too would most likely become expendable. The Camelodians would then no doubt try to raise the child as some Arthurian figure, destined to rule the world in the name of Camelot.

      "And you signed a contract with those nut cases?" Perry queried, in disbelief.

      "Even the wisest of leaders may be swayed by falsely perceived loyalties and treacherous tendencies one would rather pretend do not exist," said Sir Jon.

      Sir Jon further lamented that Camelot would not be in a position to do this if not for the time and technology he had invested in them before moving to Suburbia. And that they had probably been planning to take advantage of his becoming Mayor all along, because of the false trust that existed between them.

      Vicki asked, "How can this be? The Camelodians are the good guys, aren't they?"

      Leela asked her, "Who are the good guys in my comic book?"

      "Ratzo and Saint Saffron are the good guys," Vicki replied.

      "Noirnian society doesn't see it that way," Leela explained. "Saint Saffron is considered an outlaw. While Ratzo is despised for being the one who chases the outlaw that the fans always side with."

      "So the outlaw is the hero and the Law And Order detective is the bad guy?" asked Vicki, as if this made no practical sense.

      "No, no," Kacey interjected. "Saint Saffron is the hero. Ratzo is the hero's foil. They're both good guys. It's just that one good guy is Law And Order while the other is Criminal Element."

      "Heh," Leela chuckled. "Noirnian politics 101. No good guys or bad guys. Just two political parties with something different to prove."

      "But public perception has nothing to do with who are the good guys and who are the bad guys," said Kacey. "It's what they fight for that determines who is a good or bad guy. Saint Saffron fights for love and justice, Ratzo fights for law and order. Both are good guys. The bad guys are those who find justifications to victimize the innocent. The good guys are the ones who stop them."

      "So who is innocent in this situation?" Leela asked.

      "The people of Suburbia?" Vicki shrugged.

      "Really?" asked Leela. "What do they fight for?"

      "The religion of the cathode ray tube and its principles," said Vicki.

      "Is that all?" asked Leela. "Don't they also fight for female supremacy, ultra conservatism and the status quo?"

      "Are you inferring that makes us not the good guys?" asked Vicki.

      "I don't see you as being any more the good guys than Camelot, Webberton or Noir," said Leela. "All have something to prove. Whether what they have to prove is good in the grand scheme of things is never a consideration."

      "I thought the good guys were determined by who's the victim and who's doing the victimizing," said Vicki.

      "And who would you say is doing the victimizing here?" asked Leela.

      Vicki replied "The Camelodians, obviously. But why would they do that if they're the good guys?"

      "They wouldn't," said Leela. "So, by that reasoning, obviously they aren't the good guys."

      "They emulate the heroes of ancient times," said Kacey. "Were they also not the good guys?"

      "My father was one of those heroes," Christine reflected. "He killed millions of men women and children at one blow, and though he struggled for years to rationalize the righteousness of what he'd done, in his heart he knew he was not one of the good guys. And though he had resisted my goodness at first, in the end he had admired me for standing up to him as the bad guy he was and defying the evil he served."

      "One must share the guilt of whom one serves," said Sir Jon. "Every Camelodian soldier may not be evil at heart, or know they do evil in obeying orders. They may obey orders because they trust their leaders to be righteous and above reproach. But any time one sells one's soul or mind away to a military force one does wrong, because one is attempting to sign away their conscience, their need to think and reason for themselves, the need to decide what is right and wrong. One then becomes but a tool. And if the user of the tool is evil, then the soldier is the willing instrument of evil."

      "A tool can not be a good or bad guy," said Perry. "A tool can not even be a guy. A tool is just a tool. It is whoever is using a tool that must consider the right or wrong of things."

      "But what if The Camelodian leaders aren't evil, just stupid?" asked Vicki.

      Sir Jon set out the equation extreme power plus stupidity equals evil waiting to happen.

      "If the equation fits, wear it," said Christine, in a critical tone.

      Sonny started to protest that this was too harsh a comment.

      But Sir Jon admitted that Christine was right. He had not thought and had acted stupidly while in a position of extreme power. And in doing so he had perpetrated a great evil on the town that trusted him. Thus he could not be considered a good guy in this situation.

      Sonny threw up her hands and said, "So what? Isn't a Time Captain entitled to at least one stupid mistake per millennium?"

      Sir Jon thought a moment, then he turned his chair around to face away from the others and said, gravely, "No."

      "Stop it," said Vicki. "I feel like you're all trying to marginalize the need for good guys. That there should be no good guys in a situation like this is unacceptable. In fact, it is unacceptable to consider that my side are not the good guys, because obviously I'm the only one in the room who stills sees the importance of good."

      "You're setting yourself up as a good guy?" Leela remarked, with doubtful surprise. "How arrogant."

      "If I didn't see Suburbia and its religion as good, I'd leave it," said Vicki. "We're not perfect or incapable of mistakes, but being the good guys is one of the tenets of our religion, isn't it, Christine? You are the authority. Tell me if I'm wrong."

      "If your religion is based on Polithsanian black and white TV shows," Christine considered, "there was an active theme in such shows that Polithsania always strove to be the good guys."

      "And is that not also true of the source material of Camelot's religion?" Vicki pressed.

      "No," said Christine. "In the source material of Camelot's religion there is an imperative towards obeying rules and unquestioning loyalty to one's rulers. There is no implied imperative towards being moral, in the right, or being the good guys."

      "What about all that Chivalry stuff?" asked Vicki.

      "Chivalry deals more with manners than living for what's right," said Christine.

      "More than that," Sir Jon added, "Chivalry is completely suspended by the codes of James Bond. The codes of James Bond say there is no right or wrong. There is only the chain of command. You are not a person with a name. Therefore you have no need to think for yourself. You have only your assignment, which you will accomplish by hook or by crook. Knights may strive to be heroes, mainly for egotistical reasons, but spies and soldiers are trained to keep themselves far apart from any sense of morality that might lead them to question, let alone defy the chain of command."

      "So Camelodians don't strive to be the good guys?" asked Vicki, in a tone of disillusionment.

      "The source material of their religion leads Camelodians to want to be powerful," Christine explained. "Their religion takes inspiration from a monstrously narcissistic culture that believed it was their manifest destiny for the entire world to revolve around them. Consequently, however noble their intent may have been from occasion to occasion, their view of themselves and whoever they were dealing with was always distorted and unrealistic, which had a tendency to result in disaster."

      "Good intentions don't count towards being the good guys?" asked Vicki.

      "Certainly they don't," said Blair. "Good guys protect you from danger that arises on its own. Bad guys create danger that good guys need to save you from. It makes not one bit of difference if you had the best of intentions when you create a danger that threatens others, especially if you continue to defend and propagate that danger, either because you don't understand how bad it is, or because you think the harm it does is justified."

      "And Suburbians can't be good guys because they do harm to mutants and males?" asked Vicki, doubtfully.

      "It means they aren't paragons of virtue," said Christine, "Which means any perch they find on the moral high ground is anything but stable."

      "But doesn't our religion suggest that's unacceptable?" asked Vicki.

      "It does," Blair agreed. "And that is what The Green Meadow Lands Gang attempted to instill in all its members; the will to maintain righteousness in all situations, even when law or custom gave us leave to be less than virtuous. To be true to our religion, to never embrace any excuse to be a bad guy, that was the binding ideology of our gang."

      "And yet you grew up to be a professional villain," Leela observed. "Not a very effective religion, is it?"

      "On the contrary," said Blair. "It's a very good religion, for those who choose to follow it. But almost no one in Suburbia does, especially now with the shortage of children. Many of the surviving black and white TV shows were intended for children. Hence it's a religion that is highly dependent on the presence of children to maintain its core values. The cardinal sin of the religion is to grow up and become an adult with an adult's habits and needs that would lead one to betray those values. But it is beyond all possibility to fulfill that promise to one's self. One can not avoid growing up, which means accepting the necessity to abandon virtue and compromise with evil. Thus it is almost an unwritten law that once one enters their mating years the childish ideology of Suburbia's religion will be set aside in favor of business and politics. Previous ideologists like Perry and myself must take our place in the corrupt world of adult human furs, where one does not live long if one continues to strive to always be a good guy."

      "Perry, you don't see yourself as a good guy?" asked Vicki.

      "Well," Perry considered. "Unlike Blair I don't actively try to brush my religion aside. But when it comes right down to it, I'm motivated to do things because I want to. And sometimes the things I want are not the most virtuous things. Also, the ideals I tend to live by are those of The Town Council. And those also tend to run contrary to the religion. All in all the laws of Suburbia attempt to prove the virtues of Capitalism, female supremacy and the status quo, all of which are contrary to the ideals of our religion, and also to the idea of being the good guys."

      "So because Suburbia isn't true to its religion I can't be a good guy either?" asked Vicki.

      "On the contrary," said Blair. "The very fact that you ask these questions shows that you haven't grown up to the extent that Perry and I have. You still keep your religion with a childish heart, as does Kacey. Therefore, if anyone is entitled to wear the mantle of good guys in this scenario, it's you."

      "But we're not capable of defending the town," said Vicki.

      "True," said Blair. "The very act of doing what one must to get the power to protect the town negates any potential to be a good guy. That's why I long ago decided being a good guy was a poor ambition. And I'm sure Perry did the same."

      All eyes turned to Perry, as if waiting expectantly for him to deny this.

      "I don't know that I ever consciously made such a decision," said Perry. "I think it was just circumstance after circumstance came up where doing everything by the good guy playbook would not accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. I have to admit there have been times, probably more times than I choose to remember, where going by the codes of The Gang would have cost lives, or at least severely disappointed people who were counting on me. At some point I must have just quietly accepted that living by the ridged standards of a good guy would not get done what needed to be done. And after that I developed a tendency to cut corners, to make immoral compromises, and to sometimes let things slide when it would have been wiser not to."

      "So I can't even look to you as a good guy?" asked Vicki, seeming deeply hurt.

      "I'm a prince," said Perry. "I have to make hard decisions. I have to get things done while dealing with people of power who couldn't care less about being the good guys. A good guy is just one more thing our society doesn't afford me the luxury of being. I do not get to put on a white hat and be flawlessly righteous all the time, because I am not a character in a black and white era TV show. I'm a player in a progressive color era show where the issues and the righteous view of how to deal with them depend entirely on what is trending in society at the moment. Suburbia's view of good and bad is anything but black and white."

      "Well, I'm sorry, but that's not acceptable," said Vicki. "I demand that Suburbia live up to its religion. There's no point in living here if it doesn't. I demand that the people who rule this town be the good guys, as our religion says they should be."

      "Let me have that in writing later," said Miss Sonny. "It may be useful in my determination of how to resolve this situation."

      "You know you can't do anything with it," said Blair. "It's an unreasonable demand from an unreasonable person."

      "How am I unreasonable?" Vicki demanded. "Citizenship in a town is a contract. One agrees to live by certain standards with the understanding that everyone is on the same page with those standards. Telling me I'm unreasonable for living by those standards because nobody else does is not reasonable. I say it's a breach of contract. I say Suburbia has broken faith with me. I say we are supposed to be the good guys. And good guys do not make compromises with bad guys, ever. I say you have all failed me."

      "Uh, Vicki," Kacey interjected, nervously. "You shouldn't talk that way in the presence of The Queen. If she takes you seriously she might fail the town."

      "Kacey, dear," said Miss Sonny, in her usual motherly tone. "Are you suggesting I shouldn't do my job? If the town has failed to live up to its religion as Vicki suggests, and I do not give the town failing marks simply because you don't want to lose your home, I couldn't claim to be a good guy, could I? Just like Perry and Blair I would be compromising with what I know is the right thing to do, in order to perpetuate your selfish desire, which would also be my selfish desire, because I put what is important to you above what is right. Do you stand against Vicki and wish me to not be a good guy?"

      "Consider your answer carefully," Sir Jon warned. "Since we have already determined that you and Vicki are the only good guys in this room, the only true innocents, you will either state the righteous course that we should follow, or you will compromise yourselves to selfishness, and there will be no more good guys, negating the validity of the entire argument."

      "You're seriously saying that righteousness lives or dies by how I answer a certain question?" asked Kacey, in bemusement. "And that no one else can answer this question?"

      "Fate has placed you in that position," said Sir Jon. "You are the only good guy who can stand in our presence to substantiate the cause of righteousness."

      "Then I will not compromise," said Kacey, seeming to cast off her hesitance and insecurity in an instant to present a front of uncompromising determination. "I stand with Vicki. I have a contract with this town. I demand its fulfillment. I demand that you all be as good as our religion dictates you should be. If it is ever a matter of my needing to question if Suburbians are the good guys, then my town has failed me. It has left me and Vicki standing alone for principles we don't really share with the rest of you."

      "Oh, my," said Grease, seeming impressed to tears of admiration. "I have seen the oppressed rise to challenge authority. I must write it down that the world may know of this bravery."

      "Is it bravery to speak the truth of how one feels?" asked Kacey, reverting to her usual timidity.

      "To a Mayor and a Queen?" said Grease, in wonderment. "Many would banish you to No Furs Land for being so bold as to tell them they have ruled in violation of your trust. Even if it is true, it is not the kind of thing rulers like to hear. I shall proclaim Kacey Caddell as a hero of The People who dares to hold the ruling class to its promises."
"Oh dear," said Kacey, nervously, as she slowly sat down in her chair, wishing only for all eyes to be turned away from her.

      "Surely she's not the only one ever to have said something like that," said Vicki.

      "These are things that never get said," Blair explained. "Innocents such as yourself take these things for granted. So you never state them, assuming they already live in the hearts of everyone you share the town with. While just about everyone you share the town with would resent you for attempting to secure a moral high ground which they believe to be beyond the achievement of anyone who functions on an adult level."

      "I'm not a child," Vicki declared, defiantly. "Expecting the fulfillment of a promise is not a childish thing. Thinking you can come up with any justification for not fulfilling a promise, that is childish. I was promised a land of pleasant living with a standard of moral virtue that was absolute. I was promised that I could feel secure in the belief that I lived with and supported the good guys. If you've let things slip to such an extent that none of you believe it's even possible for good guys to exist, then you have failed me on all fronts, and this war is the result of your failure."

      "Wow," said Sir Jon, seeming all but speechless. "I'd better write that one down too."

      Both Perry and Blair seemed wounded by Vicki's words, but Leela seemed to find them offensive.

      "What a load of rubbish," said Leela. "It's fine to spout such nonsense in peacetime. But you're in a war now. And good guys can not win wars. You need to face the fact that your religion is over. Suburbia has been occupied by another town that will impress its own religion on you. And you'll either accept it or you'll be dead, unless you're willing to get as down and dirty as the worst of the bad guys. And once you've done that, even if you manage to free your town, you'll know even better than you knew before that you can't ever afford to be the good guys, because the good guys just get taken advantage of by the bad guys. That's human nature. Deal with it."

      "Leela makes a good point," said Sir Jon. "There is no nice way to win a war."

      "I will leave winning the war to you who think yourselves too mature to be considered good guys," said Miss Sonny. "If afterwards we should find there is a post war Suburbia to reconstruct, I will see that the moral fiber of our town is strengthened in the direction of Vicki and Kacey's demands."

      "That doesn't sound terribly democratic," said Lappina, in a critical tone. "Why do Vicki and Kacey get to have what they want considered, when nobody ever even asks me?"

      "You have a voice," said Sir Jon. "Use it. What is it that you want?"

      "As a former Noirnian and Ash, I tend to agree with Leela," said Lappina. "All this talk of good guys is a lot of nonsense that completely ignores human nature. Half humans can't be good guys simply because they're half human. And you can't be a good guy when you're half evil by nature. I want a town that bears such facts in mind and takes all necessary steps to hold human evil in check, and I don't want it hamstrung by any childish fantasies of the power of good. Good is a lack of power, and the lack of power is a set up for victimization. I don't want my child being brought up weak."

      "Hey Blair," said Perry, much to Lappina's shock and dismay. "You want to buy a bunny? I think she'd rather be with you."

      "I'm sure she would," said Blair. "Except that she knows I'm much too strong to be victimized by the likes of her. Yes, she wants her son to grow strong, but it is your weakness that attracts her to you. She will no doubt preside over a Suburbia that is more totalitarian in nature than Webberton, while being renowned for her achievements. But her achievements will consist of nothing but the power you allowed her to steal from you."

      "While your predicting the future," said Lappina, in a reviled tone, "expect me to be a pain in your tail every chance I get."

      "Somehow I don't see you being much of a bother to me in the future," said Blair, as if projecting his vision far into the distance. "How you rule this town, if you're allowed to live that long, will be determined by the people who put you where you are, and I don't see them granting you any leave to rule as you please. Indeed, if it should turn out your unseen backers want something from me, they'll see that you do whatever I want you to do. You needn't anticipate being anything more than a puppet queen."

      Lappina was made visibly insecure by Blair's words, and she cast her eyes away from him.

      "Don't fret, Clover," said Vicki, as if she could also see the future. "If you are to be a puppet queen, and Blair Montgomery controls your strings, you're sure to rule as one of the good guys."

      "How do you figure that?" asked Blair, in surprise.

      "It's very simple," Vicki softly threatened. "If you have the power to control the ruling of Suburbia, and you use it in ways ill befitting a good guy, I will never cease to let you know how very disappointed in you I am."

      "Wow," Leela remarked, rolling her eyes. "No shortage of monster egos around here. What the heck makes you think you have so much power over him?"

      "I suppose you really are just a secretary, Miss Lennox," said Blair. "A real detective would have figured out by now why Vicki holds so much power over me. I'll give you a clue. It's the same reason I didn't kill you when you intruded on my castle in No Furs Land."

      "I don't see where that makes any sense at all," said Leela.

      Perry explained, "You came in the company of someone Blair holds so much affection for he will never be able to overcome it, no matter how long he lives, or how mature he becomes. Therein lies Blair Montgomery's only weakness. He can't maintain his facade as a bad guy around those who know the good guy he once was and continue to expect him to live up to it."

      "Perry, do you have any such weaknesses?" asked Lappina.

      At this Blair let out a hearty chuckle, which Lappina found quite disconcerting.

      "Perry will grow weak and wither before the disapproval of the most minor citizen of Suburbia," said Blair. "He has weaknesses he hasn't explored yet; all extending from the folly of raising him as The Golden Boy who could do no wrong, was always praised, even when he failed, and was kept safe and coddled in spaces where not even the slightest stress could trouble him. If you were counting on his strength, you made a very poor choice of mates indeed. He is as delicate as a snowflake. I have but to look at him with disaffection, and he will melt before your eyes."

      "Don't let him trip you out," Christine reassured Clover. "Perry also has strengths he hasn't begun to discover yet, strength enough to free you from any strings that might attempt to bind you as a puppet, if you are wise enough to bring those strengths out of him."

      "That's a big if, Christine," said Blair, as if having no fear of Clover's wisdom. "A very big if indeed."

      Sonny turned the TV up, as if having found the conversation wearisome, and all heard the announcer attribute the attacks on the twin towers exclusively to The Shadow Cat and Saint Saffron, two notorious feline mercenaries obviously now in the employ of Webberton. Several witnesses were then brought forward to back up this accusation, stating boldfaced lies of how they had seen both super characters attacking the rescue workers.

      "What the hell?" Leela exclaimed. "They've got a lot of nerve."

      "Who are these witnesses that are speaking?" Perry pondered, curiously. "Miyan, do you recognize any of these people from the office?"

      "I don't see anyone who looks even remotely familiar," said Miyan. "There's not one person on this newscast who actually worked in The R.I. Building."

      "They aren't my employees either," Blair concurred. "They are most likely actors."

      This was then followed by The Mayor Of Camelot formally announcing that forces of Camelot were occupying Suburbia to protect lives and restore order. Public cooperation would insure that peace and democracy would be restored in the near future.

      This left Sir Jon fuming.

      The Mayor Of Camelot then went on to announce that all people of feline extraction were to be considered a terrorist threat and would be taken into custody until the conflict was settled.

      "Niyow!" Princess Jenny exclaimed, in indignant offense. "He can't do that!"

      "Standard procedure," said Christine. "No illusion of war would be complete without a manufactured enemy to generate hatred against."

      "More than that," said Blair. "Every time we see a feline face, we'll be assured the enemy is among us."

      "It will have another effect," said Sir Jon. "Felines all over the world will now feel persecuted. They'll be encouraged to flock to Webberton to show their support for Divine Felinity, which they'll start to buy into. Camelot will then be able to report that Webberton is massing troops for war, and thus keep fear in a state of escalation."

      "No doubt that fear will spread to other towns," said Christine. "Felines all over the world will feel persecuted. Towns will become unstable."

      "And of course Camelot will be called in to protect them all from The Feline Menace," said Sir Jon.

      "I shall be quite disappointed if we don't hear that term on the television within the next few hours," said Blair. "It's all as predictable as clockwork."

      "But no one will see that?" asked Perry.

      "At this point, my dear Perry," said Blair. "The people of your fair town are developing tunnel vision. From this point on they will see, hear and think only what comes out of their TV's. All other suggestions or naggings from common sense will be ignored. That is the effect fear has on people. It negates the higher functions of the human brain, brings out our animal side. Felines will become more aggressive and defensive. Mice and rabbits will become like cattle, looking to someone, anyone to lead them to safety, invariably choosing the one who will lead them to the slaughterhouse."

      Blair chuckled and added, "Isn't human nature delicious?"

      Kacey whimpered slightly and said, "I think I'm going to be sick."

      Christine looked Blair straight in the eyes and said daringly, "Screw you, I'm a fox."

      "What a thing to say," said Blair, in bemusement. "Are you somehow thinking being a fox fur gives you some kind of edge over human nature?"

      "It always has," said Christine. "You'll find I'm the exact opposite of Perry. I've always preferred to take my lumps rather than be sheltered. And my fox spirit insures that the one thing you expect most of me is the one thing I will not do."

      "So you're not fooled by any of this smoke and mirrors show?" asked Blair, daringly.

      "Not a bit of it," said Christine, smiling bravely. "And I'm not intimidated by you either. I'm a wildcard in this game. So whatever you or the Camelodians are thinking will be the sure outcome of this war, that's the one thing I can guarantee will not happen."

      Blair chuckled villainously and said, "While it is true that any plans I had for the future have been trashed since your arrival, and you have seemed resistant to any bait that has been laid out for you, the day will not be won simply by being unpredictable. Just because you have a tendency not to jump where we want you to doesn't mean every other place you might jump is safe. Beware that you could win this town from the Camelodians and still lose it."

      "Would you care to elaborate on that?" Christine invited.

      "No, I would not," said Blair, with a confident smile. "I'm making a bet with myself right now that I will master you through your over confidence as easily as I master Perry through his weakness."

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S11E226: Money Is The Root Of All Prosperity

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 226
Money Is The Root Of All Prosperity

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            

      As the day wore on, everyone in The Rhoades Mansion remained under what seemed like house arrest, there being little for anyone to do but continue to monitor the television and ponder on how much truth they should read in to the narrative it presented and conjecture about what the full truth might be.

      "Is it possible that Camelot has been behind all the recent troubles in Suburbia?" asked Miyan.

      "I'd say they've had a hand in just about everything," Blair mused. "I wouldn't say they planned it all. But I'm sure they knew everything that was going to happen and did nothing to prevent anything they felt would be advantageous in evoking their contract."

      "If you could prove that," said Sir Jon, "It would nullify their contract."

      "You have proof of it," said Grease. "Bixyl and Ratzo risked their lives to get you proof. But for some reason you all act like it doesn't exist."

      "It's not that it doesn't exist," said Miss Sonny. "But who can we call on to enforce the legalities of an intertownal contract? Without an intertownal court to present the evidence in, evidence is useless."

      "Intertownal courts would be useless in times of war," said Sir Jon. "War is by definition the suspension of all laws and moralities. War is chaos. And the only reason for establishing chaos is so someone can take something they can't acquire by legal means."

      "I was just wondering how it helps Camelot if Perry marries Lappina," said Miyan. "Or why they feel I need to be taken out of the picture."

      "I'm sure it would serve Camelot's interests well if Suburbia had a queen whose mind could be controlled," said Sir Jon. "We know from Bixyl's wire recordings they had subjected Clover to serious mind conditioning. Thus, if Clover becomes Queen, she will be but a puppet ruler for Camelot."

      "If they already had that locked up, why did they need to start a war?" asked Perry.

      "Because they didn't have it locked up," said Christine, in a somewhat guilty tone. "I came along and threw a monkey wrench into the plans of both Camelot and Webberton. As long as I'm here, there's no guarantee Clover will be Queen. The future of Suburbia no longer hinges on who Perry marries."

      "And they wasted no time trying to get you married to a pawn as well," Miyan observed.

      "Do you really think Dr. Reinhart worked for Camelot?" asked Christine.

      "I'm sure he was under the thumb of someone in league with Camelot," said Miyan.

      "Whoever Dr. Reinhart worked for wanted to preserve the status quo," Christine observed. "Does the status quo benefit Camelot?"

      "The concept of maintaining a status quo is more significant to Camelot than it ever was to Suburbia," said Sir Jon. "But were Christine to become Queen, there would be no preserving the status quo as we knew it. Nor would Dr. Reinhart have been able to control her in the way that Clover will be able to control Perry. Therefore, if Dr. Reinhart was working on behalf of Camelot, or even just The Town Council, his mission would have been to prevent Christine from becoming Queen by any means necessary."

      "I think you're all missing something," said Lappina. "I don't feel like I'm under the influence of anyone from Camelot. The voices I hear in my dreams are Noirnian."

      "By the power of suggestion," said Sir Jon, "they could program you to register the voices in your head with any accent. A Camelodian voice in your head would be a dead giveaway."

      "Surely you don't think Noir would be out to take over another town," said Leela. "You know it would be against our religion."

      "Don't dismiss Noir," said Blair, dryly. "They have just as much to gain from Miss Lappina's good fortune."

      "I don't see how," said Leela.

      "Employment opportunities, for one thing," said Miyan. "I can't remember a time when more Noirnian mercenaries have been at work in Suburbia."

      "Why are you all looking to pin the blame on one adversary?" asked Becky. "Isn't it obvious that there's a conspiracy between all the implicated towns to achieve a common goal? Camelot needed a pawn. Noir supplied one. Camelot and Webberton need to have a conflict. Suburbia provides the stage. And then there's Halloween, which is also poised to benefit from this conflict."

      "No more so than Neo-Tokyo, The Aviary or any other town thinking the destruction of Suburbia would result in a wide redistribution of the world's wealth and prosperity," said Blair.

      "But it won't, of course," said Becky. "Halloween is poised to soak it all up like a sponge."

      "That's not a conspiracy, Miss Shaman," said Blair. "That's the natural way of wealth. It always concentrates in the areas that set up to favor it, while the rest of the world maintains its various levels of poverty, regardless of how much charity one might pump into them. Would you not agree, Perry?"

      "That is a phenomenon I have observed," Perry admitted, uncomfortably. "There has never been any hording of wealth in Suburbia. Blair and I have both invested extensively in towns as far away as The Aviary. No amount of investment has been shown to bring them any significant level of prosperity or self-sufficiency. I can only conclude this is the result of their religions leaving the drain open where wealth is concerned."

      "My religion doesn't regard acquiring wealth to raise one's status above others to be an admirable goal in life," said Grease. "Is it not written that money is the root of all evil?"

      "Where human furs are concerned," said Sir Jon, "money is the root of all prosperity. To believe money is the root of all evil is to invite poverty."

      "We don't agree with that," said Grease. "We believe prosperity is the right of all, and those that horde it steal it from the rest of us. If your investments do not create equal prosperity in all the towns, then you are not investing enough."

      "Nonsense," said Blair. "I could will all the wealth I possess to you, charging you to bring prosperity to The Aviary. You would piss it all away within a year, and it would all flow back to Halloween."

      "My religion says otherwise," said Grease, defiantly.

      "Have you ever noticed how religions that try to dictate science by how they think it ought to work tend to be the least successful?" asked Becky.

      "I thought you were on my side," said Grease, dejectedly.

      "I'm on the side of truth," said Becky.

      "Truth is a religious construct," said Grease. "If every town has a different religion there's no such thing as a constant truth."

      "What a pity science has no respect for religion or politics," said Blair. "And finance is a science."

      "He's right, Grease," said Perry. "Prosperity isn't a matter of having money. It's a matter of knowing how to manage money. Our religion says money is the root of all evil as well. That's why we're constantly giving it away. Nobody in Suburbia hordes their wealth. Not even Blair who has demonstrated wealth beyond measure, because he has invested that wealth in Halloween. But it is not his wealth that will restore prosperity to Halloween. His knowledge of how to manage money is what they really need."

      "What town will you bless with your knowledge of money when Suburbia is no more?" asked Grease.

      Everyone looked at Grease in surprise, as the notion that Suburbia would be completely destroyed by the war had not yet been conjectured by anyone. Yet Grease gave off the distinct impression that the death of Suburbia was something he'd been anticipating for some time.

      "Well," said Perry, thoughtfully. "If I had to migrate for any reason, I know I wouldn't be moving to The Aviary. The Aviary is what I think the elder race used to call an ethno state. It's not terribly unlike Webberton in that it favors one breed of furs over all others. So I wouldn't go there for the same reasons I wouldn't go to Webberton. It's not a good environment to cultivate wealth."

      "Webberton is considerably more wealthy than The Aviary," Grease pointed out. "Apparently Fascists are good with money."

      Christine interjected, "I take it the religion of The Aviary is Socialist in nature?"

      "We believe in social order, if that's what you mean?" said Grease.

      "History has shown that Socialists have a tendency to be extremely bad with money," said Christine.

      "Ah," said Blair, as if he got as much enjoyment out of challenging Christine as he did making Perry feel inferior. "But Fascists are also Socialists."

      Miyan looked at Blair strangely and said, "You actually know what these words mean?"

      "As much as is possible with the limited knowledge of the elder race that is available," said Blair. "These are false ideologies, long proven to be failures. However, they are prevalent in the background of the source material of most Cygnesian religions. So they may have an influence from time to time, just as all the religions of the elder race may have an influence, though they also are considered to be failed."

      "How curious," said Becky, taking notes in her notebook. "I wonder what made the Fascist Socialists better at handling money."

      "On that I must defer to Christine," said Blair. "I'm afraid history did not address that issue."

      "As I recall," said Christine, "Fascist regimes tended not to last very long. What wealth they maintained was derived mainly from the confiscation of other peoples' treasures, and they tended to invest it mostly in war. Like all Socialists, they had a tendency to govern according to fantasies they made up to justify concepts that had no basis in nature; usually concerned with the idea that one race was superior, and therefore destined to dominate. So I would be surprised to find that any apparent wealth in Webberton has to do with being good with money."

      "Is that nyot how science dictates it must be?" asked Jenny.

      "Science dictates that the most powerful species will dominate a planet," said Sir Jon. "And indeed, anywhere you go in the universe you will not find humans subordinate to any other species. They are always at the top of the food chain. But once at the top there is no longer legitimate competition. Thus humanity becomes its own natural enemy, controlling its own numbers by subdividing itself and trying to make out that some humans are more at the top than others; thus creating an excuse to become predators of their own kind."

      "Perhaps the Fascist among us would enlighten us as to how Webberton steals its wealth," said Grease, giving Jenny an icy stare.

      "We are nyot thieves," said Jenny, eying Grease with extreme offence. "But we are Socialists. And we are nyot bad with money. Our wealth comes from investors in The Feline State, of which there are myany wealth producing felines who believe in supporting their own kind. Webberton is run like a business. Every feline is an investor who receives equal dividends. If Webberton appears to be wealthy, it's because investment and productivity are high. If they are low, everyone in Webberton will be more impoverished."

      "So you have a 100% tax in Webberton?" asked Christine. "Along with universal welfare?"

      Jenny nodded proudly with a smug grin and added, "And nyo poverty or unemployment. Free healthcare, too."

      "But of course there always has to be a catch to it," said Christine.

      "You all knyow what the catch is," said Jenny, abruptly deflating.

      "You have to be feline to enjoy the no poverty and unemployment," Christine surmised. "All the rabbits, mice and squirrels probably live in impoverished ghettos, hardly able to put food on the table."

      "Oh, nyo," Jenny corrected her. "Our food animals are not unemployed. They are the only ones that actually work and earn a wage. Felines who get paid for doing nyothing have nyo need to work, unless they want to. They have all the time in the world to give to their families. Everyone has a very good life in Webberton."

      "Until the cats get hungry," Grease all but spat at her.

      "I'm hungry right nyow, feather brain," said Jenny, giving Grease her most terrifying feline stare. "In Webberton you'd be considered a delicacy."

      "Jenny?" asked Christine, curiously. "Do mice and rabbits actually come to Webberton for employment opportunities?"

      "Mmmhmm," Jenny affirmed, as if she had thought everyone knew that.

      "Knowing they'll end up being eaten?" Christine clarified.

      Jenny explained, "For food animals to migrate to Webberton they sign an agreement to citizenship, which assigns them a social class and gives them a certain amount of time to work and earn wages, which they are free to send to their families in other towns. They knyow before they sign that when their time expires they will go to the food factory and work there until their time comes to be butchered."

      "But at that point they can't get out of it?" asked Christine.

      "Of course nyot," said Jenny. "They myade an agreement and were paid. They must hold up their end of the bargain."

      "Does anyone ever try to migrate illegally so they can take advantage of your employment opportunities without signing their life away?" asked Christine.

      "Oh, that would be criminal," said Jenny. "Anyone who entered Webberton illegally would go straight to the food factory and be immediately cooked. Assuming they were nyot feline. We can nyot eat felines. We would consider that cannibalism."

      "And to eat me would not be cannibalism?" asked Kacey, emotionally.

      "You do nyot live in Webberton," said Jenny, in an affectionate tone. "You are nyot a food animal. You would have to move to Webberton to become that. And I do nyot ever want you to go there."

      Kacey observed tears welling in Jenny's eyes and felt emotionally drawn to her.

      "You mustn't cry," said Kacey, sweetly brushing Jenny's tears away. "You'll lose your voice again."

      Jenny meowed, as if deeply touched by Kacey's concern, and then drew Kacey into her arms, hugging her tightly. While everyone in the room wondered at the fact that Kacey would allow this, let alone seem so comfortable in the arms of a squirrel eater.

      Sir Jon found this fascinatingly curious. Obviously Kacey was terrified of the very concept of Webberton. Perhaps it gave her some kind of erotic thrill to be loved by Webberton's princess. Perhaps there was something in this to explain the mystery of why Webberton was never wanting for migrants of the prey variety.

      Jenny meowed adoringly and even allowed herself to purr as Kacey continued to hug her affectionately, which made Miyan turn away in disgust out of affront to her human dignity; while Grease filled with such hatred and rage that he unconsciously snapped his pencil.

      As everyone looked at him for an explanation, Grease angrily blurted out, "How can you do that? How can you hug a Fascist?"

      Kacey could only shrug and say, "She's a nice Fascist."

      "There's no such thing," Grease insisted, glaring hatefully at Kacey.

      At this Kacey felt compelled to turn away from his hateful gaze and say over her shoulder, "She's way nicer than you are."

      Becky handed Grease another pencil and then said to Christine, "What would it mean if the Webbertonians were the first Fascists in history to be good with money?"

      "I think it would probably mean they're not Fascists at all," said Christine. "They might well be the first monarchy in history to successfully employ Socialism without starving everyone to death. Certainly they've got something going that a lot of people seem to want a piece of."

      "Yeah," said Miyan. "A lot of sick people. I wonder if you can imagine what it's like being served by prey types in a Webberton restaurant, bringing food to your table that might well be one of their relatives cooked up. And all the while the customers are treating the servers like living food; telling them how delicious they look, and how they hope to get a piece whenever their time to be cooked comes."

      "Interesting," said Christine. "And how do the servers react to that? Do they turn around and smack the customers for being offensive?"

      "No," said Miyan, with disgust. "That's the sickest thing of all. They like it. They get hot over it. If the servers are bare skinned you can see them blushing. And if not you can smell in the air how aroused they are."

      "Why is it sick if they are there by choice?" asked Jenny.

      "Why don't you tell me?" said Miyan. "It obviously disgusts you as much as it does me."

      "I don't knyow why it upsets me," said Jenny, emotionally. "Maybe it's just me. Maybe I don't want them to die, even if they do. Maybe I'm just being selfish. I have nyo right to judge them. Myany have good reason for their sacrifice. There is much poverty in the world. The money they are paid saves lives in other towns."

      "But it still makes you sick eating them, doesn't it?" said Miyan, somewhat cruelly.

      "It does," Jenny admitted, painfully. "That's why I spend so much time away from Webberton, mating with princes all over the world. It's my least favorite place on the planet to be."

      "That must be why it's successful," Christine conjectured. "It would have to produce a very high quality of life . . . to make up for its low quality of life."

      "I will nyever understand," said Jenny, sadly. "Social order seems like such a good thing. Why is it such a bad thing to organize society by social groups?"

      "Because," Christine mused. "At the end of the day there's no reason to do that except to decide who will eat and who will get eaten. Humans always say they want to divide each other into groups so the groups can receive benefits. But in the end, being forced into a group is just like being forced into a heard. And being in a heard is a great thing. All the free food and loving care you want, until that final drive to the slaughterhouse. The only way you can have true equality, with no group better off than any other group, is to have no groups. There is only one species on this planet; one genetic family that has no natural reason to divide against itself."

      "It doesn't need a natural reason," said Michelle. "Furs divide themselves up by towns and religions. Each group becomes unique. Then they're not the same anymore. They have differences that have to be tolerated, or not tolerated. Is it tolerating those furs that like to be eaten by not allowing other furs to eat them? Seems to me you're the one living in the fantasy. You're trying to make out that furs are something you think they ought to be. But I've never seen furs that were happy living outside of a heard."

      "Michelle has a point," said Sir Jon. "I've had more opportunities to observe human behavior than anyone else. And I've never seen humans who didn't group in herds. And, indeed, most humans seem to know those herds will inevitably end up at a slaughter house. It doesn't deter them in the least. And that's no less true of the feline population of Webberton. They knew from history that grouping together by species would cause towns like Camelot to develop a need to kill felines. The very act of creating groups produces the equal and opposite reaction of other groups that make it their mission in life to destroy them. This is human nature 101. Genetically all humans may be of one family. But that only lasts as long as it takes some humans to decide to be otherwise. Then you have no choice but to view them by group."

      "Is that why Camelot thinks it would be good for the world if they subjugated it to one rule?" asked Perry.

      "Obviously," said Blair. "But it would not work. It would simply take furkind back to square one, and it would immediately start to divide against itself again. There can be no restraining this, as human populations grow too large and range too far not to develop separate cultures."

      "But you have ambitions to rule the world, do you not?" asked Perry.

      "It is my destiny to rule this world," Blair explained. "As with water or money, power tends to collect in the place most advantageous to maintain it. It naturally flows to me; and to you, to a slightly lesser extent. But if anything were to take me out of the picture, you would then be destined to rule the world."

      "By what virtue?" asked Perry.

      "By virtue of your ability to manipulate money," Blair explained. "It would not matter if you remained childishly foolish in every other respect. You'd still have what everyone needs. And the world would come crawling to you for it, just as they come crawling to Webberton. Just as Halloween and every other impoverished town comes crawling to me. The world sells its soul to me so that I will do for them what they can not – keep them alive."

      "Then Camelot is wasting it's time, isn't it?" Christine suggested.

      "Camelot is not good with money," said Blair. "They thrive on investment in a service they have no intension to provide: a service for which there was no need, and so they are attempting to manufacture the need. But money naturally flows to me, not to them. So, inevitably, other towns will not be able to afford to invest in them, their town will fall to urban decay as all funds are used to sustain their military, and eventually they will not even be able to finance that without coming to me to mortgage their town."

      "Because you and Perry keep this world baron of wealth," Grease spat in disgust.

      "If we weren't here, the wealth would just pool somewhere else," said Blair, dismissively. "Quite possibly in Webberton."

      "Why not Camelot?" asked Miyan.

      "Ah," said Blair. "Therein lies a strategy, which the Camelodians actually are somewhat good at. You see, that's why it's important for them to make Suburbia their first conquest. Until recently all the knowledge of how to manipulate money was concentrated in Suburbia. When they formed their strategy it was probably most important to them that they capture Perry, Sir Jon and myself. Whoever acquires those resources could rule the world by default, no further wars necessary. Though of course they would still arrange for wars as a hobby. They wouldn't know what to do with themselves without them."

      "I see," said Miyan. "But you were leaving Suburbia. The resources were breaking up. They could no longer be caught in one basket. And you would naturally build Halloween into a military powerhouse that Camelot couldn't intimidate. So they had to step up their plans, managing to catch you in the basket at the very last minute."

      "They won't be able to hold me here," said Blair. "They know I can escape any time I want to, and that my resources are already transferred."

      "Makes sense," said Perry. "So rather than risking you establishing a base of competition they decided to blow you up."

      "Hmmmmmmm," Blair growled, with murderous malevolence.

      "What's the matter, Blair?" asked Miyan. "Did you not see that move coming?"

      "I'm afraid I must admit," said Blair. "I underestimated their audacity."

      "Then maybe I don't need to feel so bad about my own miscalculations," said Sir Jon. "It's clear now that they planned to escalate hostilities between the two companies, hoping Blair and Miyan would take each other out, leaving Suburbia in a desperate situation at whatever point Queen Davila could be manipulated into issuing a declaration of war."

      "Meow?" Jenny queried. "Myi mother wouldn't like being used to help another town get their empire started before hers. If this were proven to be true, Webberton would probably declare war on Camelot."

      "That would be playing into Camelot's hands," said Sir Jon. "Webberton will lose any such war. And once Camelot has control of both Suburbia and Webberton, they will try to get the rest of the world to submit to their rule."

      "Assuming something like that is the case," Perry conjectured. "How might we put a stop to it?"

      Sir Jon thought a moment and replied, "It will be important to The Government Of Camelot to promote the belief that Webberton is responsible for the bombing of the M.T. building, and that Camelot's forces are here with our blessing. Therefore they will attempt to control Suburbia's media and suppress any attempt to get the truth out, or to request help. They'll also need to keep their own soldiers convinced of the righteousness of their actions, as well as the Suburbians. All that is really needed to confound that is a public declaration from Suburbia's Queen banishing Camelodian forces from Suburbia. But they will never let Sonny get anywhere near a TV station. They have already seized control of all broadcasting stations and will not let the message be widely distributed to the public if Sonny uses some alternate means to publish it. Further, we can probably expect threats in the near future designed to keep The Ruling Family in line. Considering the unknown number of citizens being held in the R.I. building and the base in No Furs Land, they will have good leverage for their threats."

      "Radio and TV are no longer the best means of spreading a message," Kacey suggested. "Through the internet we can broadcast a message to the whole world. And it will be repeated through so many channels that making it disappear would be impossible."

      "An excellent suggestion, Kacey dear," said Sir Jon. "Come with me into my study, and we will inspect the state of the internet."

      Kacey and Sir Jon found the internet to be all abuzz with conspiracy theorists duking it out with those supporting the occupation. It seemed that understanding of Camelot's deceptions was anything but universal, and many were buying into the outright lie that Suburbia was under attack from Webberton.

      "That's typical of the people who frequent social media," Kacey explained. "The people with the greatest access to information tend to be willfully uninformed, seeking out only the news that confirms their biases. Then they group together with those who share their take on things to create echo chambers where other opinions can't be heard."

      "I see," said Sir Jon. "Useful idiots for the Camelodians to exploit, creating a cloud of confusion through which reality is impossible to perceive."

      "I wouldn't say it was impossible to see reality on the internet," said Kacey. "One just has to be very clever and recognize the signs of willful blindness."

      "And would you say the majority of people on social media are that clever?" asked Sir Jon.

      "Oh, heck no," said Kacey. "Social media makes people outright stupid. Someone who knew how to use it could throw out any crazy idea and have half the busybodies in the world believing it before the end of the day. While the other half would disbelieve it just to be ornery. They'd start flaming each other, and everyone would be forced to choose a side. And as you can see, the side that supports Camelot, which we know is wrong, is putting up the nastiest fight, because the less right you are, the more you have to resort to bullying to shout down your opposition. The side in the right will attempt to win with logic, and that never works, because people on social media are not geared towards logic. They are conditioned to respond only to outrage evoking gossip."

      "My goodness," said Sir Jon. "How do you deal with such a toxic environment?"

      "I don't, anymore," said Kacey. "Once it eventually sunk in that nothing you read on social media is real I started keeping my distance from it."

      "But Camelot will be very aware of this," Sir Jon assumed. "They will have been using it to disseminate misinformation all along."

      "If you mean spreading fear and mistrust of Webberton, they've been doing that for years," said Kacey. "At this point there's no act of evil those who reign on social media would put past Webberton. They equate Webberton to the Fascists of Chikyu, who came down through history as the ultimate evil, the worst thing to be feared."

      "Do you fear these Fascists, Kacey?" asked Sir Jon.

      "Honestly, I don't know that much about them," Kacey explained. "War is not my favorite aspect of Chikyu history. But I don't need the association to be terrified of Webberton. They eat squirrels. That's all I need to know."

      "Curious," said Sir Jon. "It seems to me I saw some art on your blog that left the impression you regarded being eaten as something of a fetish."

      Kacey gasped and covered her face with her hands in embarrassment.

      "There, there now," said Sir Jon, in a comforting tone. "If you make such information available to the world, why should it bother you if I know your fetishes too?"

      "I couldn't imagine anyone your age reading my blog," said Kacey. "You must fine my topics so childish."

      "To someone my age you are a child," said Sir Jon. "That your topics should be childish is no disgrace. But tell me, have you ever discussed this fetish with Christine? Does she know you have a tendency to be erotically stimulated by your greatest fears?"

      "It isn't something I'm prone to brag about," said Kacey, nervously. "At least, not outside of fan communities where such fetishes are common."

      "But you obviously know the difference between reality and your erotic fantasies," said Sir Jon. "Are there people on the internet who don't?"

      "You mean, people who would want Webberton to invade just so they might get eaten?" asked Kacey.

      "Do such people exist in Suburbia?" asked Sir Jon.

      "They exist all over the world," Kacey explained. "They're usually prey type animals who tend to seek relationships with predator types."

      "Really?" said Sir Jon, as if he found the subject fascinating. "Are you attracted to predator types?"

      "Oh my gosh," Kacey exclaimed, as she turned away in extreme embarrassment.

      "I'll take that as a yes," Sir Jon chuckled with amusement.

      "I feel so dirty," Kacey confessed, painfully.

      "Don't feel that way," Sir Jon reassured her. "It's part of human nature to experience an attraction to what you fear. And your squirrel half naturally fears predators."

      "And do squirrels fear pure humans as well?" asked Kacey.

      "Oh, pure humans are the ultimate in fearful predators," said Sir Jon.

      "I thought I was just screwed up," said Kacey.

      "No," said Sir Jon. "What you are is open to self-examination. You analyze your strange feelings, rather than avoiding them. You get in touch with things inside you that others would just run away from. That makes you uncommonly brave, and uncommonly observant."

      "Well, I don't know about being brave," said Kacey. "But I do observe a lot."

      "What have you observed that could help make furs less afraid of Webberton?" asked Sir Jon.

      "The only thing that trumps fear of Webberton on the internet is support for those seen as the good guys," Kacey explained. "That would be Camelot and The Ruling Family of Suburbia. So if you speak, most busybodies on the net won't try to contrary you."

      "Let's see if our official government site is still up, shall we?" said Sir Jon.

      Punching up the site, they saw that it was under the control of the Camelodians who had changed the passwords so The Ruling Family wouldn't be able to use it.

      "How irritatingly rude of them," Sir Jon commented.

      "Rude, but probably not effective," said Kacey. "I'd be very surprised if you didn't have technology to hack the site."

      "Of course I have such technology," said Sir Jon. "And they bloody well know I have it. Therefore they're doing this just to insult me; demonstrate their disrespect."

      "I'd think you too big a person to take personal insults seriously," said Kacey.

      "Hmmmm," said Sir Jon, thoughtfully. "I might disappoint you there."

      "Don't," said Kacey. "You have the technological advantage here. Don't even take the time to spank the Camelodians for their naughtiness. Compared to them you're a giant. Just step on them and move on as if you didn't even notice. Playing with trolls only gives them ground to fight you from."

      Sir Jon nodded approval and said, "I will draft a declaration of banishment against the Camelodians and have Rocie hack it on to the site. I will then have Rocie fix the passwords so the Camelodians can't change them again. I will also have Rocie save the site in case they try to take it offline. Rocie will then be able to regenerate it."

      "Sounds like a good plan," said Kacey. "The Camelodians will, of course, start a rumor that the declaration is a phony being generated by Webberton, just to keep social media hopelessly divided."

      "Tell me, Kacey," said Sir Jon. "In your considered opinion as an internet geek, how important is it that I win over social media?"

      "Sir Jon," said Kacey, in a slight tone of shame. "No one of any consequence takes social media seriously. When I see politicians taking memes, flame wars and fandom silliness seriously, that just tells me who not to vote for. I would never vote for anyone I could see wasn't smarter than me."

      "Still, I'm sure the Camelodians count on these people as useful idiots," said Sir Jon. "And it would infuriate them no end if I were to deprive them of the support of their useful idiots."

      "I could design a meme campaign for you," Kacey offered. "I doubt Camelot will be expecting you to attack them on a geek level. And of course, since they aren't geeks, they won't know how to effectively respond to it."

      "Do you realize that makes absolutely no sense?" said Sir Jon. "People whose own religion is steeped in the ways of propaganda not being equipped to deal with geek communication."

      "It's because of the false assumption that geeks are intelligent and respond to logic," said Kacey.

      "You certainly seem very intelligent," Sir Jon observed.

      "I'm highly skilled when it comes to archaic knowledge," Kacey admitted. "As a geek I get to choose where I want to focus my study and self-education. Naturally I focus it in areas that are of specific use to me. So I develop skills that are useful to me in fandom, rather than skills that enable me to function in the real world. To a great extent geeks don't live in the real world. We function in a reality those who are attuned to standard logic will never be able to understand."

      "You live in Wonderland," Sir Jon surmised. "You come from a place where insanity is the normal state of things. Would you be terribly offended if I asked you to be my useful idiot and win the internet for me?"

      "You couldn't do it for yourself?" she asked.

      "I'm afraid I've grown too old and dignified to deal with Wonderland," Sir Jon admitted. "Only you understand how these dreamers on social media think. And it is a wise gamer who defers to an expert."

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S11E225: The Omman Trinity Vs. The White Virus

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 225
The Omman Trinity Vs. The White Virus

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

      

            

      Leela arrived at the house, much to Miyan's relief, explaining that she had been at the scene of the building fall observing and helping rescue efforts.

      She gave an account of how the Camelodians had attacked anyone who was in any way being successful in getting people out of the R.I. building, and explained that the reason it was taking so long was that the Camelodians had blocked all the exits out of the area and were only letting people out if they passed interrogation questioning.

      Perry was alarmed to learn that his building was not fully evacuated as the news reports had said. He asked if the building was unstable. And Leela reported that the building had taken considerable damage from debris, as well as missiles fired at the lower structure. But the damage was mostly cosmetic in nature. And, as might be expected of such a solidly built structure, it was hardly swaying in the wind any more than it was built to do.

      What had Leela especially pissed off was that she had discovered the people who had been rescued were being rounded up by the Camelodians and taken back into the building. Both Saint Saffron and The Shadow Cat had given up when they realized this. So the Camelodian soldiers now had uncontested control of the entire area, and even The Fire Chief was nowhere to be found.

      Miyan was much more interested in how Leela had managed to survive the fall. Leela explained she had used one of the gadgets Perry had made for The AD to grab the side of the building and tediously lower herself to safety.

      Miyan found this hard to believe, but she was too happy to have Leela alive to question it. And though Leela thought Miyan's concern for her somewhat strange, she was by no means flattered by it, and thus did her best to ignore it.

      Leela then reported a disturbing account of the questions she had to answer in order to be allowed to leave the area. They particularly wanted to know if anyone had heard any explosions other than the initial one and the crash of the black copter. Leela had said she'd been too busy helping with the rescue to have paid any attention. They seemed pleased with that answer and had passed her through.

      Perry wondered if they were sincerely investigating what had happened, or if they were trying to cover their tracks.

      Leela thought it odd he would even stop to ponder such a thing. The whole business was so obviously contrived that there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Camelodians were running the biggest and least well produced smoke and mirrors show in history.

      She suspected it had been planned to look a lot more plausible than it had ended up. It would seem that their coordination had been put off by equipment malfunctions, soldiers balking at their orders, and the shock of finding that The Ruling Family actually had arranged their own resources for dealing with such disasters.

      The fact that Suburbia had proven itself to not be completely helpless had unexpectedly damaged their ability to control the narrative. And as things stood now, the only way they could salvage their plans was to get complete control of the media. Thus they would most likely have to kill all witnesses who couldn't be convinced they didn't see what they saw. And Camelot would not be hamstrung by any inconsequential things like morality or compassion in a time of war.

***


      For some time, Perry and Sir Jon made phone calls. But they could not accomplish anything. The Camelodians were not going to let them leave their house, nor were they going to let any member of The Ruling Family near what they were calling "Ground Zero."

      A messenger came by and informed The Ruling Family that the Camelodians were keeping downtown Suburbia evacuated, due to the likelihood that The Rhoades Instruments Building would fall because of structural damage from debris.

      Sir Jon wanted to know by what idiocy it was assumed such a massive and well supported structure could be felled by debris. "High rise buildings are not made of cardboard, you know," he commented.

      But the messenger insisted that the building had indeed sustained considerable damage to crucial supports; that the damage was beyond all possibility of repair, and that a repeat of the fall of the M.T. building was inevitable.

      "And what was it that The Montgomery Technical Building had sustained so much damage from?" Sir Jon demanded.

      The messenger fumblingly put forward a theory of chemicals that might have been kept in the building without Camelodian awareness which had supported the fire and increased its intensity, melting and destabilizing the supports on every floor.

      "It sounds like you're describing sabotage," Sir Jon commented sternly, in his most superior sounding Camelodian accent. "Am I to understand the Camelodian military is so incompetent as to have missed sabotage of that magnitude going on under its very noses?"

      At this the messenger seemed quite downcast and apologetic as she admitted that this was their first real war deployment, and they had been so over-concentrated on looking for spies, obeying orders and doing everything by the book that the individual initiative it would take to notice anything out of the ordinary was negated, and had adversely limited their effectiveness.

      The messenger then hastily entreated Sir Jon not to repeat what she had said, as it was a personal criticism she was not authorized to make, and to express it could get her into extremely hot water.

      Sir Jon nodded understanding and dismissed the messenger.

      Meanwhile, Perry was on the phone arguing with the Camelodian Field Commander, saying it was essential that he get his explosives experts into The Rhoades Instruments Building to find and defuse the hundreds of bombs Perry knew would be necessary to bring it down.

      But the field commander assured Perry there were no bombs in his building, as it had been thoroughly swept. He dared to venture that Perry and Blair simply had not designed their buildings as well as they thought. She informed him that the building was leaning towards its damaged side, creating stress that Perry had failed to calculate.

      At this Perry became incredulous, saying he could see on the TV, or by just looking out his window, that the building was not leaning. The center structure of the building made it physically impossible for the building to lean.

      The Commander suggested that Perry was too distraught to be thinking clearly. He should just sit back and not worry, as everything was under control.

***


      Meanwhile, a group of Camelodian explosives experts were at work on the detonator which The Shadow Cat had disabled, unaware that an unknown person had slipped in behind them and was hiding in the shadows, taking pictures with a cell phone.

      Once they were done repairing and resetting the timer, the Camelodians turned to leave, but stopped when they sensed the character in the shadows, draped in dark rags.

      They assumed it to be some Ash that had crawled in to sleep. None the less, Ashes had been known to make damaging witnesses. So they drew their guns to kill it. But suddenly the figure in the shadows revealed a sawed off shot gun and blasted the two soldiers across the room.

      The ragged figure then made its exit through the hole The Shadow Cat had made in the wall, leaving the soldiers to bleed to death.

***


      Perry watched the TV as an announcer predicted the immanent fall of The Rhoades Instruments Building.

      He was enraged, asking if the Camelodians thought he was really so dense as to not know they were blowing up his building on purpose.

      Sir Jon said he would have to take the blame for under-estimating the corruption of The Camelodians. But this was no consolation to Perry as he watched the TV, expecting to see his building fall at any moment, knowing it was probably packed tight with Suburbian citizens.

      Perry's only hope was that The Shadow Cat would re-appear to prevent the detonation from being re-initiated, but Perry had not heard from him for some time, and he was worried.

***


      At a perimeter blockade, a gray feline identified himself as Jasper Phillips and pressed his thumb to the DNA data base scanner of a Camelodian blockade officer to prove it. But the soldiers insisted that Jasper Phillips was dead, and that this must be a spy from Webberton that had somehow assumed his identity.

      Jasper dismissively replied, "Whatever you say," and allowed himself to be taken into custody. He then found himself being transported back to the R.I. building, where he was forced into an elevator with several other prisoners.

      "How unusual it seems to be using the elevator in a building as damaged as this one is supposed to be," Jasper casually commented.

      The soldiers told him to be quiet, but he had succeeded in making them nervous.

      Jasper was taken into an office which the Camelodians had transformed into an interrogation center. Then he was placed in a waiting room with numerous other prisoners.

      There a gray squirrel girl he knew as Molly recognized him and exclaimed with joy to see him alive.

      But Jasper shushed her and the others, telling them to deny him if anyone asked if they recognized him as Jasper Phillips.

***


      The Rhoades household spent the night together in the drawing room watching the news in disbelief.

      Lappina eventually could hide in her room no longer. She joined the others, but clung to Perry for protection from what she perceived as a room full of enemies.

      Everyone could see she was inordinately agitated and disturbed. But under the circumstances they mistakenly attributed this to the war situation unfolding on the TV.

      Kacey and Vicki seemed just as disturbed, and were mostly speechless as they watched things unfold on the TV and listened to the analysis of The Ruling Family, surprised that for once in their lives The Ruling Family seemed to be completely out of control of a situation.

      On the TV, the Camelodians announced that they were working through the night so that the people of Suburbia might return to their jobs in safety in the morning.

      "What jobs?" Miyan mused. "With both Rhoades Instruments and Montgomery Technical out of business, Suburbia will be facing a 75% unemployment problem."

      Perry conjectured, "What they're probably doing is hauling all incriminating evidence away, as well as stealing my technology."

      Perry then passed around faxed photos that had just been sent to him; photos that showed the Camelodian soldiers re-setting the detonator. And one final picture which showed the soldiers lying unconscious after being blasted with what Sir Jon guessed was something along the lines of a sawed off shotgun loaded with rock salt.

      Leela's ears pricked up as Sir Jon identified the weapon used. She looked at the picture with a smile of recognition, but did not venture to say anything to anyone of what she suspected.

      As they continued to watch Timeline, The Mayor Of Camelot boasted of what a good job his soldiers did in protecting The Suburbians and subduing the attackers from Webberton.

      Sir Jon called the Timeline number, but was informed that soldiers were guarding the studio and allowing only pre-approved call ins.

      Sir Jon bellowed into the phone that as mayor he required no one's approval. But he was informed that only the acting Camelodian governor could authorize changes to the program.

      In extreme anger, Sir Jon slammed down the phone just as the acting governor was being introduced on TV, and it was explained that, in these times of crisis, an experienced military leader was needed to coordinate efforts, and that The Ruling Family had agreed to the installation of the temporary governor whose orders would supersede theirs until such time as it was no longer necessary for Suburbia to be under martial law.

      "Some friends you've got there, Dad," said Perry, pouring salt on his father's wounds.

***


      Jasper kept a comforting arm around Molly while they sat in the waiting room, and she asked what he thought was going to happen to them.

      Jasper replied calmly, "I imagine they'll hold us here until they can convince us we didn't hear and see what we heard and saw. Or until the building falls. Whichever comes first."

      "You don't seem very nervous," Molly observed, her own insecurity beyond all concealment.

      "Don't sweat it," said Jasper, in a reassuring tone. "I won't let anything bad happen to you. You know bullies don't stand a chance when I'm around."

      "It's been a long time since you protected The Green Meadow Lands Gang from bullies," she reflected.

      "But you haven't lost faith in me, have you?" asked Jasper, affectionately.

      "Never," she replied, forcing a faithful smile through her fear.

***


      When the Timeline program ended Sir Jon picked up the phone and called The Mayor Of Camelot directly, asking if he really thought he was going to get away with these extreme abuses of their defense contract.

      The Camelodian mayor pretended not to know what Sir Jon was talking about, saying all that had been done had been in strict accordance with their contract, right down to the very smallest print of it, which perhaps Sir Jon had neglected to read.

      "I really don't understand why you're surprised by any of this," said The Mayor. "You lived in Camelot long enough to know this is all standard Camelodian procedure. Much of our standard procedure was established under your influence. You know that Camelodians may be seen to take rude and unprecedented steps in providing security, but it is all in the cause of efficiency. And Suburbians should feel free to rely on that efficiency without question. We're only doing our job, protecting your town from Webberton."

      "How long do you anticipate Suburbia will need this protection?" asked Sir Jon, in a malevolent tone.

      The Mayor chuckled and said, "Indefinitely, I should imagine. Unless by some miracle someday Webberton should cease to exist, Suburbia will always be threatened by it."

      Sir Jon also allowed himself a good chuckle. Then he said, in an abruptly darker tone, "Yes, it is quite amusing how you deceived me, or encouraged me to deceive myself. But you likewise know well what I'm capable of when rubbed the wrong way. I will give you only one week to abandon that base and get your troops far away from Suburbia. If you do not, I promise you, you will lose everything I have given you, you ungrateful son of a bitch."

      The Mayor laughed maniacally and said, "I am not moved by the empty threats of the helpless."

      "You should contain your excitement, Mr. Mayor," said Sir Jon, in a slow, icy voice, as he projected his will through the telephone line. "You sound to me like someone about to have a heart attack. In fact, you sound to me like someone who has only seven days left to live."

      The mayor's amusement abruptly faded as he felt an invisible hand closing around his heart.

      "Know that your life is in my hands," said Jon, in a tone of murderous contempt, "as is the life of Camelot itself. If your soldiers have not withdrawn in a week's time, a storm such as no living Cygnesian has seen shall devastate Camelot. Do you still want to play war games with me?"

      "Within a week I can erase your existence from this planet," said The Mayor.

      "Are you sure?" asked Sir Jon, daringly. "Play your cards carefully, Mayor. The loser of this hand . . . will die."

      Sir Jon hung up the phone and noted Christine watching him with a concerned expression.

      "Speak," Sir Jon ordered, somewhat rudely, but Christine took no offense, maintaining the air of detached casual observer she seemed determined to keep up throughout these potentially deadly events, which was not surprising of someone who had once worked as a diplomatic ambassador.

      "Are you planning to bring down the wrath of the gods?" she asked, seeming intrigued, but not terribly concerned.

      "I'm sure you've realized by now that I am The Gods in this situation," said Sir Jon. "And that it is a burdensome responsibility."

      "Like running a town is a burdensome responsibility?" she asked.

      "Hmmmm," Sir Jon considered. "There is not much difference. In both cases a large population puts faith in you to hold the power of life and death over them, anticipating that you will not value their lives lightly."

      "Or that you will not be foolish enough to be careless with the town to make up for having been careless as a god, or vice versa," Christine suggested.

      "As The Mayor Of Suburbia I had some latitude for being careless," Sir Jon reflected. "In a female dominated society it was almost expected that I would screw some things up, if just to allow Sonny to prove female superiority by stepping in to clean up my messes."

      Miss Sonny, sitting on the other side of the room with the others watching the TV, let out a little chuckle.

      All assumed that what Christine and Sir Jon were discussing was between them and did their best to restrain the questions they were generating. Though both Becky and Grease were scribbling like crazy in their notebooks; this conversation by itself being almost as jaw dropping as anything they had seen on the TV that day.

      "But in my capacity as the last of The Omman Lords, I have no such latitude," Sir Jon continued. "I must see to completion the last of our deceased creator's experiments, allowing nothing to interfere. And in that capacity, my powers are virtually unlimited and terrifying in their implications."

      "But do you have the power to insure the result our creator anticipated?" asked Christine. "Or, if The Creator was wrong, is your obligation to prove it?"

      "In any kind of experiment," said Sir Jon, "results will not be valid unless the intent to reveal all error is maintained. However, if the experiment is proven false, then the experiment is ended, and the future is for anyone who maintains power to decide."

      "May we surmise that this war was set up by The Creator in order to prove something?" asked Christine.

      "We are no longer in a situation where everything can be blamed on Ra," said Jon. "Ra is dead and has been for some time. He died before my very eyes, placing in my hand the key to the closet in which he kept the chronicles of the great experiment, which was us. And thus it was left to us, the three, you, Rael and myself, to finish it."

      Leaving Becky to take notes on what Christine and Sir Jon were saying, Grease leaned close to Vicki and asked if all this talk of being gods with ultimate powers was to be taken seriously, or if Christine was just humoring a senile old fur.

      "You'll get used to it," said Vicki, softly. "I love Christine like a sister, but she's not of this world. This house itself is not of this world. There's no reason to think any understanding that exists between Christine and Sir Jon is not real. Just stop expecting anything they say to make sense to we who have never traveled time and space, or been to Magical School, or lived for thousands of years."

      "But if they are gods, why do they not stop the buildings from falling?" asked Grease.

      Vicki looked at Grease helplessly, saying, "Of all the people to ask, why me?"

      "Because you are closest to Christine," said Grease.

      "Not that close, apparently," said Vicki. "When those two get into it, I feel just as lost and confused as you do."

      "Interesting," Christine reflected, ignoring Vicki and Grease. "Then you are not the last of the gods. You are not empowered to act alone. You require Perry and myself to support you. Why have you not asked for our support?"

      "Until recently you weren't available," said Sir Jon. "And Perry was not in a position to assume Rael's part in our trinity."

      "And so you proceeded on your own, creating plans upon plans that were ineffective due to your lack of completeness," Christine reflected.

      "Was it not the same for you in your former life?" asked Sir Jon, perceptively.

      "It was," Christine agreed. "And perhaps for Perry as well. We all have had good intentions, but we can not function as The Creator intended unless we work together. And as we are all together now, perhaps you should not . . ."

      "Do anything insanely godlike without your approval?" asked Sir Jon.

      At this Perry could not help but burst out laughing, while waving at Christine and his father to ignore him.

      "I would not venture to advise my Sensei," said Christine, with amused affection.

      "I listen to you," Sir Jon assured her. "Do you disapprove of my threats to The Mayor Of Camelot?"

      "Frankly, I don't," said Christine. "I don't think anything has ever been gained by pussy footing around with evil. I think, if the experiment is to succeed, we need to be free to adapt it, change the rules when they are found to be ineffective."

      "Exactly which rule are you thinking is ineffective?" asked Sir Jon.

      "Would you agree with me if I suggested democracy was a totally ineffective tool in eliminating evil?" asked Christine.

      "I must admit I've never seen democracy do anything but bring out the worst in any civilization," said Sir Jon.

      "Then it would seem that, without governance, Ra's creations are completely incapable of not being corrupted by evil," said Christine.

      "Ra's creations are afflicted with certain viruses which they can not avoid," said Sir Jon.

      "And you have proven that these viruses can not be destroyed or bread out?" Christine surmised.

      "That would be an accurate assessment of my experiments," said Sir Jon. "Humans can only synch with good if ruled by good. And good governance can not be guaranteed from one generation to the next. Thus it is no good for humans to be ruled by other humans. They must be ruled by an immortal religion or philosophy that stresses uncompromising good."

      "But are humans capable of inventing such a religion?" Christine pondered.

      "They are not," said Sir Jon, as if it were a well proven fact. "But perhaps we of Ra's trinity may create such a religion."

      "In that event," Christine suggested, "any act we perform may become an aspect of the religion we would establish. Therefore we must consider if using our god-like powers to threaten and destroy our enemies is a good example to leave to the future."

      "A very wise thought indeed," said Sir Jon. "So now do you disapprove of my threats?"

      "Again," said Christine, affectionately, "I would not venture to disapprove of my Sensei. It is enough that you have thought about it."

      "Ah," said Sir Jon, approvingly. "I see your point. This must be the nature of The Trinity. The one to hold absolute power must be three in order that sane counsel be maintained to avoid corruption."

      "I know this much about you from our school days," said Christine. "On your own you might do any crazy thing. But when you know I'm watching and absorbing your example, you will do nothing you would not want me to emulate. You will do nothing you know is not good."

      "Christine, let's be realistic about this," said Sir Jon. "This is war. War is chaos. To bring order back from chaos I may have to kill a lot of people. How am I going to do that in a way you'll see as good?"

      "Do you think of me as some kind of innocent hippie child?" asked Christine. "During the time I worked with The Rebellion I learned the realities of war. There is no nice way to get around it. When other people are out to kill you or enslave you, you have to defend yourself. Don't hold back because you fear I won't approve anything that doesn't suit a childish belief that love rights all wrongs. That wouldn't be the right thing to do. And it certainly wouldn't set an effective example that the future could live by."

      "Then the commandment we will send to the future is 'Thou shalt kill?'" asked Sir Jon.

      "Thou shalt not kill is predicated on the assumption that a god exists to kill your enemies for you," said Christine. "And therefore you should not stain your hands with blood. That's not going to be the case for the future, is it?"

      "Not likely," said Sir Jon. "Anywhere people exist there will be some people deciding they need to kill or enslave them. And being passive about it will only result in death or enslavement, because there will be no gods, no magic; only mortal humans who will live and die by their own wisdom, or lack thereof."

      "Then the commandment of The Trinity, should Perry approve it, should be to never be passive with those who make war on you," said Christine, as Perry listened thoughtfully, not really wanting anything to do with this trinity business. "It should be known that humans are in full control of their own destiny, and those who seek to do evil onto others can not be stopped by reason or compassion. They need to be dealt with according to the severity of their trespass, regardless of how regrettable it may seem. Humans must learn to recognize evil the moment it rears its ugly head, and to waste no time in destroying it before it destroys them. That would be the only way humans might successfully manage the virus of evil they carry."

      "I see," said Sir Jon. "And who shall define what is evil being done onto others, as if that is not the excuse Camelot is using to justify its actions right now?"

      "That's for those under attack to determine," said Christine. "Regardless of their intentions, be they good or otherwise, we are obviously not under attack by anyone but Camelot. Even if they do not recognize the evil in seeking to defend others who have not asked to be defended, it is still evil. Humans have every right to throw their lives away if the only alternative is a war from which no good can come. To feel one has the power to take on that decision on behalf of others is the effect of The White Virus, wouldn't you say?"

      "I'm surprised you understand the concept so well," said Sir Jon. "But do you understand so well the workings of The Black Virus?"

      "Would I be right in assuming The Black Virus is The White Virus inverted?" asked Christine.

      "You would," said Sir Jon.

      "So, where The White Virus would inspire humans to do evil under the justification of defending others who haven't necessarily asked to be defended," Christine surmised, "The Black Virus would inspire humans to do evil onto those perceived as having done evil because of their tendency to defend other people without being asked."

      "And do you understand that it was The White Virus that drove you to want to defend Perry against the customs of his society, even though he told you repeatedly he liked things the way they were?" asked Sir Jon, "and that it is The Black Virus that's gaining a foothold through this new philosophy that's taking root in The Aviary and Noir?"

      "Wait a minute," said Christine, thoughtfully. "Are you saying that the root of both evils is the human obsession with social justice?"

      Grease seemed about to jump out of his chair and start indignantly spouting rhetoric about the virtues of social justice, but Becky restrained him and clamped his beak shut.

      "You tell me, Christine," said Sir Jon. "You're a war child. Have you ever known any war were both sides were not utterly convinced that their actions were justified as the enforcement or defense of social justice?"

      Christine found herself going cross-eyed trying to wrap her mind around what Sir Jon was suggesting.

      "I can't deny that's true," Christine finally admitted. "But if social justice is an inherently evil concept, where else is good to be found?"

      "If I knew the answer to that, we could fix the problem," said Sir Jon.

      "It would not be enough for The Omman Trinity to leave behind the commandment ‘Thou shalt not fight for social justice?'" asked Christine.

      "As a healer you know perfectly well that, when dealing with viruses, the commandment ‘Thou shalt not sneeze' would be utterly useless," said Sir Jon.

      "The commandment in that respect would be ‘Thou shalt take thy medicine,'" said Christine. "What medicine would counter the human drive to regard social justice as so important people would kill each other over it?"

      "The only thing I've ever been able to come up with is a commandment that says, ‘Thou shalt live and let live until thy living is infringed upon. Then thou shalt kill without mercy to protect thy space," said Sir Jon.

      Christine seemed shocked at the harshness of Jon's words, but she forced herself to contemplate them before reacting. Then she said, "In other words, live simply in your own space, never bothering others about what values they practice in their space, because at the end of the day it's none of your business. But when people come into your space trying to change it against your will, you have a right to defend what's yours. But that right ends at the border of your territory. You can eject invaders, if they will leave, but you can't pursue them into their territory and impose your values on it. You only have a right to defend what's yours."

      "Do you approve?" asked Sir Jon.

      "Well, I suppose that philosophy works fine for skunks and porcupines," said Christine, drawing curious expressions from Michelle and Patti, neither of whom understood how such ideas applied to them as a skunk and a porcupine.

      "Actually it doesn't," said Sir Jon. "They still get eaten."

      "Is it not Nature's way that animals get eaten?" asked Christine.

      "That's my problem, Christine," said Sir Jon. "I'm trying to cure humans of how Nature has decreed they should be?"

      "Jon," said Christine, in a very serious tone. "Even as Ra's Trinity, do we really have the right to decide that Nature is wrong and go against it?"

      "I think we do."

      "Why?"

      "Because Nature blessed humanity with the unique ability to seek its own destiny."

      "And wouldn't you say that's their territory?" asked Christine. "Son of Ra as you may be, does that really give you the right to dictate for humanity what Nature intended humanity to figure out for itself? It couldn't be that what you're trying to do is impossible because humanity can't be influenced or commanded to be good. Maybe it has to come up with the will to be good on its own?"

      "It will never do that," said Jon, in a tone that suggested there could be no question about this. "Unless I can change it, humanity will continue to be a thing of evil. And I will destroy humanity utterly before I'll allow that evil to continue into the new universe."

      All eyes in the room suddenly trained on Sir Jon in shock. It was bad enough to learn that Sir Jon held the power of life and death over humanity, let alone that he did not seem to like humanity at all.

      Christine likewise stared at Jon in jaw dropped shock, tears quickly welling in her eyes, as if she felt Jon had personally condemned and rejected her for racial reasons. And she said, with choked emotion, "But . . . But . . . I'm human. If you destroy humanity, you'll destroy all others in the future who might be like me. Am I really that evil in your eyes?"

      "You're a fox," said Jon, dismissively.

      "Oh, stop it," cried Christine, emotionally. "I'm no more a fox than any other half human vulpine on this planet."

      "Are you going to beg me to spare humanity for your sake?" asked Jon. "Suppose I order Rocie to give you the power to search out others like yourself in the future. How many should I require you to find to justify all the death and horror human kind will inflict throughout time in the new universe? How many do you think you could find; three, ten? Would you not sacrifice your own life to prevent the death and horror of just one human war?"

      "That isn't your decision to make for me or anyone like me," said Christine, tearfully. "But as for myself, if I had a choice to surrender my existence, along with the existence of all humanity, in order to prevent the war I was born into, so that my parents wouldn't have had to suffer as they did, I wouldn't do it. Because then my parents would never have been, just as I would never have been. And I would not want to deny them the beauty of the lives they lived before the war destroyed them."

      "You can say that, even knowing what your father did?" asked Sir Jon. "You no longer regard your father as a monster?"

      "That is not fair," Christine cried, tears spilling from her eyes. "Everything he did was to protect me, because I was his space. I was all he had."

      "And in the end he could not even protect you from himself," said Jon, with uncommon cruelty.

      "Are you really so ungrateful for the gift his existence gave you?" asked Christine, hardly able to speak through her tears. "Would you have rather never had me in your life, because you hate humanity that much?"

      "Have you ever considered," said Jon, "that if humanity had been eradicated before our time, my mother would not have died at the hands of humans, my brother would not have been taken away from me, and my forest would not have been devastated. And though I have lived thousands of years since then, humanity has never managed to undo its first impressions on me."

      "And do you feel the same way about wolves, and foxes?" asked Christine. "Is any enemy of deer and rabbits your enemy, even though you probably haven't been a deer for thousands of years? How can you be this way? Is even the son of Ra himself that vulnerable to The Black Virus? Has everything you've ever done been to achieve social justice for the massacre at Rubicon Forest?"

      "Actually, no," Jon relented. "Once I became a Time Captain I hardly thought about it at all. It's only you coming back into my life that has reminded me of those times."

      "Then I'm sorry I came here," said Christine.

      "Don't be," said Sir Jon, emotionally. "I need you."

      "Why do you need me?" asked Christine, sadly. "Evil human thing that I am in your eyes."

      "I need you because you're right," Jon admitted, looking downcast. "I am consumed with The Black Virus. It has made a monster of me. And this war, this unholy screw up I have achieved, is the result of it. Help me, Christine. I must find the answer."

      Christine seemed visibly relieved to find that Jon's anti-human feelings were not immovable. Thus it was something she could most likely help him get beyond. Still, the answer Sir Jon sought was the solution to a problem that had plagued humanity since the beginning of time. She could not see how any answer she came up with was likely to be the one Jon needed, if indeed there was any such answer to be found.

      "I can't help you find what doesn't exist," said Christine. "There is no way for you to mold humanity into what you think it ought to be, because that's not what Ra created you for. So he never gave you that power."

      "Ra is dead," said Jon, coldly. "I'm no longer dependent on him for the extent of my powers in this universe. And neither are you, for that matter. Or Perry."

      "I thought our powers were diminished by Ra's passing," said Christine.

      "Only so long as you reach out to him for power he can no longer give you," said Jon. "But once you realize you're new place in this universe you'll be so much more than a healer. You'll be a goddess."

      "I've never been interested in being a demigod, have you?" asked Christine.

      "Not especially," said Sir Jon.

      "Do I have enough rank in The Trinity to ask you to give up your foolish plan?" asked Christine. "To just let humanity be whatever it will be, for better or worse?"

      "If you mean will I decline to destroy humanity for your sake . . . " said Sir Jon. "Well, I'm sure I couldn't go through with it with you watching anyway."

      Christine breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Well, at least we got that out of the way."

      "So shall we forget the matter of the commandment?" asked Sir Jon.

      "I think not," said Christine. "I think we've come up with a good commandment, and we ought to let it govern our actions."

      "Meaning we should do whatever we must to protect Suburbia," said Sir Jon. "And otherwise stay the hell out of everyone else's business."

      "Works for me," said Christine. "We have asked the Camelodians to leave, and they've refused. If we put up with their abuse, we will just encourage more of it. It is only by showing the extreme measures we're willing to use to stop them that others will be deterred from trying this in the future,"

      "Are you very sure we shouldn't love and tolerate them to death?" asked Sir Jon, as if to remind Christine of her childhood outlook on life.

      "I don't recall that strategy ever being recommended during our schooling," said Christine. "I seem to remember being told that peaceful resistance was nothing but a good way of getting a lot of people killed. And I certainly saw that borne out by The Rebellion. Peaceful resistance can only work when your enemies care about you and don't want to kill you. That will never be the case in an ideological conflict."

      "So the wage of war is death," said Sir Jon. "And after all our experience, that is the best we can come up with?"

      "You know it is," said Christine. "As long as human beings have any expectation what so ever that they can get away with it, they will perpetrate evil on others. Only when it is fully understood that trespass will be punished will humans have reason to value peace."

      "Does it bother you at all how much your father would have approved that statement?" asked Jon.

      "Only in so much that I treated him more cruelly than he deserved because of my immaturity," said Christine.

      "Then if you were to meet him again, you would forgive him?" asked Sir Jon.

      "For nuking Nihongo or for raping me?" asked Christine, not waiting for an answer. "Perhaps, when I go back to my time, I will see him again, and I will try my best not to look on those things as his fault. Just as I will not look on anything you are forced to do in this situation as your fault. It is Camelot and Webberton that foolishly cling to the idea of divinely endorsed imperial conquest. And regardless of who ends up with the responsibility for dealing out the required punishment for that folly, they will not share the blame. They will just have ended a situation human beings should have known never should have been started in the first place."

      "So if I were to offer you an airplane and a nuclear bomb, would you destroy Camelot?" asked Sir Jon.

      Christine thought a moment, as if finding the idea repugnant, but then she maintained her resolve and said, "If there was no other way to save Suburbia from them, I would do it."

      "But what if I lied to you?" asked Sir Jon. "What if I was making all this up and Camelot were just trying to be the good guys? What if I wanted you to destroy them for me so I'd be able to get away with something evil?"

      "I wouldn't nuke them unless I was sure beyond all doubt I was destroying the bad guys," said Christine. "I wouldn't do it just because you told me to. It would be my business as one of the good guys to be absolutely sure and have to take no one's word for it."

      Sir Jon chuckled, as if lightening up, saying, "You know, I'll never get used to you being this mature. In a way I still miss my adopted little sister."

      "Strangely I feel the same way about you," said Christine. "I miss my somewhat impetuous big brother who hadn't quite taken the weight of the universe on his shoulders yet."

      "Still, it's nice to have someone besides Sonny who knows me well enough to help me sort out my messes," said Sir Jon. "And you have helped me get beyond my injured pride to see this situation more rationally. I will not destroy Camelot for what they have done; I will merely show that I can get them to go away if I want them to.

      "It will be more effective if I exploit the loopholes in their religion. The literature on which they base their religion encourages them to gamble, as well as to be so deceitful that their left hand rarely knows what their right hand is doing. Thus, no Camelodian soldier dares guess at orders. They dare not think for themselves the right or wrong of what they're told to do. They can only hope that the chain of command is in order and knows what it's doing. And they dare not care if what it is doing is morally sound or not. Indeed, in any military oriented state, morality is determined by the chain of command. Therefore you do not move Camelot without striking the fear of the gods at the highest point of the chain of command."

      "Still The Master Of Games after all these years," Christine observed.

      "Have you lost confidence in my gaming skills?" asked Sir Jon.

      "In your ability to win the impossible game? Never," said Christine. "But I remember your strategies can be a little hard on your friends. In fact, I can see why you got on so well with Camelot. Your strategies were not so different from theirs. To you winning was always the most important thing, even if all your friends had to die, or end up spending considerable time in a torture chamber."

      "You're referring to my strategy for winning the Aslander game," said Sir Jon. "It was indeed difficult. I had to be willing to sacrifice myself to win."

      "I never got a chance to ask you if you knew beforehand that Rael was the only one who could defeat Omega," said Christine. "Did things go according to your strategy? Or did Rael pull your tail out of the fire after your strategy totally bombed out?"

      "I did not know that Rael was the one against whom Omega would demonstrate a fatal weakness," said Jon. "I was counting just as much on you as I was Rael and myself. My strategy was that, if we all hit him with everything we had, one of us would capture his crown. As things worked out, I would not say my strategy was a failure."

      "But not particularly brilliant either, I take it," Perry interjected, his patience for staying out of the conversation exhausted.

      "That is another mistake The Camelodians are prone to," said Sir Jon. "They think in war one wins points for brilliant strategies. But very often the most effective strategy of ‘Hit 'em With Everything You've Got' provides the decisive win. And Camelot has some awareness of what I could hit them with if I was willing to pull out all the stops. They are gambling that I will not pull out all the stops, because it will reveal things about myself I don't want the world to know. They are gambling that I will be as protective of my secrets as they are of theirs."

      "In that event I should put my money on Camelot," said Perry.

      "Oh, no, Perry," said Christine. "Never bet against your father. Winning means more to him than the protection of any secret. It means more to him than your life . . . Or mine."

      "But he equates your life with the survival of the universe," said Perry.

      "It doesn't matter," said Christine. "I'm still a card in his deck. And he will risk playing me if he feels it necessary to win."

      "Does it bother him that I don't approve?" asked Perry.

      "Of course," said Christine. "It always has, even when we knew you as Rael. But still that's never stopped him."

      "You don't mind being a card in my deck, do you, Perry?" asked Sir Jon, cryptically.

      "What can I do against Camelot?" asked Perry.

      "You will know, when I play you," said Sir Jon.

      Perry shrugged, as if to say this was typical of his father, and returned his attention to the TV screen. But after considering Camelot's repetitious rhetoric for a moment he asked, "Is there any chance that Suburbia actually is under attack from Webberton as the news program suggests? The reports seem very convincing."

      "It is the function of smoke and mirrors to make an illusion look convincing," said Sir Jon. "But logic will foil it every time. Consider this. Are the Camelodians lying about a single terrorist bomb and a single crashed helicopter knocking down a building and threatening to bring down another?"

      "They certainly are," Blair interjected, dryly.

      "It is good that you are so certain of that," said Sir Jon. "If you had any doubt at all in your ability to judge the science involved, you would be vulnerable to deception, as are the 97% of the population who are not extensively educated in physics and architecture. Now consider this question. Does Webberton have the technology and skill to wire 2 mile high buildings for demolition on their best day, let alone under the noses of the Camelodians?"

      "Webberton is largely dependent on me for their technology," said Blair. "Conscientious fellows like Perry prefer to spread their technology to more reputable towns, like Noir, who end up using it to attack Suburbia. I, however, am far too cautious to give Webberton any technology they might use to attack Halloween. So, no. They absolutely do not have that ability."

      "Very well then," said Sir Jon. "Who did have the technology and the opportunity to wire the buildings for demolition?"

      "The Camelodians with their emergency evacuation drills," said Perry.

      "So far your observation skills are up to par," said Sir Jon. "But now look out the window and tell me if you see fighting in the streets or in the air between Camelodian and Webberton forces."

      "I do not," said Perry

      "Well, then," said Sir Jon. "Under the circumstances, who does logic dictate we're at war with?"

      "Logic would seem to dictate we're at war with Camelot," said Perry. "But this does not seem like any kind of war I've ever read about. What kind of war is it where you just invite your enemies in and allow them to do whatever they please to you?"

      "Both Camelot and Webberton are well aware that conventional warfare will not fly on Cygnus," said Blair. "Neither favors the physically attack and overwhelm by force method of warfare that was common to the elder race. Because there's always the possibility of other towns banding together to create a greater opposing power. Or of people simply becoming overwhelmed with righteous indignation to a point that a very few will sacrifice themselves to bring their enemy down. It is not numbers or technology that often turn the tide in war, but conviction of spirit and determination. These must first be defeated before any long lasting conquering can take place.

      "Therefore, psychological warfare is favored among those towns on Cygnus with imperialistic constitutions. The threat of an army from Webberton marching into Suburbia and overwhelming the town by force is just a threat, a terror tactic. It's not something they would ever actually do. Because once they do it, they'd be easily enough destroyed. Therefore, in order for Camelot to conquer Suburbia, they must deceive you into handing it over to them willingly, so that their forces do not appear to be an invasion. But in fact you have been invaded. You just neglected to close the front door, allowing them easy access."

      "It's irritating how much satisfaction you seem to take in us making such a mistake," said Perry.

      "It is difficult not to take satisfaction in being proven a superior ruler," said Blair. "Something like this would never happen in Halloween."

      "I'm sorry, Perry," Miss Sonny interjected. "But Blair makes a good point. He has every right to gloat."

      "You agree that this wouldn't happen in Halloween under Blair's rule?" asked Perry.

      "Of course it wouldn't," said Miss Sonny. "Blair is too practical to trust the obviously untrustworthy."

      "And also too practical to trust the defense of his town to an outside partnership that could potentially go sour," Leela added. "Blair may not as yet have had a chance to build up Halloween's own military for self-defense, but he doesn't need it. Blair Montgomery is of himself a defensive force no town on this planet could stand against."

      "Well, I'm glad someone fully appreciates my achievements," said Blair. "Perhaps I should give more tours of my castle to potential enemies."

      "Stop patting yourself on the back, boy," said Sir Jon. "Such over confidence will be your downfall. Now, apply your minds to this question. Did Webberton initially employ their terror tactic to create an opening for Camelot to take over Suburbia, or was that just a ploy to scare Jenny and Perry into an arranged marriage that would have given Webberton influence over Suburbia?"

      "The latter would be typical of Queen Devilla," said Blair. "And it would also have been typical of her to back out when she saw how Camelot intended to capitalize on her tactic, because Webberton would never engage in open warfare with Camelot. It would be suicide. But if Camelot took over Suburbia, Perry might use his influence with Jenny to call Webberton in as an ally. Webberton would enjoy the feeling of respectability it would give them. They may even have sent The Shadow Cat here to help us. Not to mention the probability of Webberton increasing its influence over Suburbia through such an alliance. But Camelot is depending on Suburbia to remain terrified of Webberton. As long as Suburbia is terrified, it will give Camelot everything it wants without a fight."

      "A war of terrorism," Perry pondered. "Where nothing actually happens. People merely scare each other into victory or defeat."

      "I'll confess something to you, Perry," said Blair. "I employed a variation of the same tactic to get control of Halloween. There is nothing the people of Halloween fear more than the possibility of their town failing. It was no trick for me to magnify that fear in their minds, nor to convince them that I was the only one who could save them from it. Because of that, they can refuse me nothing. I as well as own that town. And I can gain control of many other towns the same way. So could you, or even Christine. Certainly Sir Jon could do it."

      "The only difference being that we're too scrupulous to do it," Christine added.

      "That's the unfortunate Catch 22 in this situation," Blair explained. "You who actually have the best interests of everyone at heart are far too restrained by your morals to use the power you possess. You're interested in saving the world, but not if you have to conquer it first to do it. In a world where terrorism is a decisive factor, good can never win out over evil. Good requires freedom of intellect to function. And as you can see, freedom of intellect is what The Camelodians are trying to suspend."

      "Blair, did you teach The Camelodians this?" asked Perry, in shock.

      "Certainly not," said Blair, in disgust. "I have nothing to do with Camelot. They're just as much my enemy as yours. No, someone else in this room is responsible for bringing this awareness to our planet. And we all bloody well know who it is."

      "I suppose I might have taught them a bit much," said Sir Jon, sadly.

      "Don't flatter yourself," said Blair. "I wasn't referring to you this time. It was Perry who taught this world the power of fear. The Golden Boy against whom not one disparaging word could be said, for fear of losing all the good things his presence had made them accustomed to. The Golden Boy who acquired unprecedented power by portraying himself to be delicate and perishable, even after he had acquired strength and durability that many would envy.

      "I have watched you do it all my life. Watched you instill fear in your friends to get your way, or to get out of things you didn't want to do, even if you could have done them. That's why I grew to hate you, Perry. Because there has not been a day I have not seen you demonstrate the effectiveness of terrorism to the world."

      "Perry, don't fall for this," said Christine, seeing that Perry was being worked into a bad state by Blair's words. "He's trying to psych you out."

      "No," said Perry. "No, Blair does hate me. There is no doubt of that. There must be some reason."

      "But you know it's not true," said Vicki. "You never abused your illness to get your way with your friends, or the town. You were too honorable for that."

      "Was I?" asked Perry. "I'm not sure. I don't remember so clearly. Maybe there were times when I overstated things to get my way. Or maybe I just fooled myself into thinking I was weaker than I really was."

      "I congratulate you, Blair," said Sonny. "You are indeed adept at terrorism. Look at yourself, Perry. With only a few words Blair has reduced you to a trembling mass of uncertainty. In that state you could be convinced to take the sins of the world on your own shoulders, whether you've rightful claim to do so or not. Blair has confused you of your very identity. And in this guilt he has filled your being with, you will become his pawn. Through you he can control Suburbia as freely as he controls Halloween."

      "Is she right, Blair?" asked Perry.

      "Absolutely," said Blair. "What I did was mix just enough of the truth with a lie to get you to buy the lie."

      "The truth being that you hate me," Perry supposed.

      "Unfortunately, yes," said Blair. "I then employed the probability that you might have abused your illness a time or two over the course of your life. This provided a little hole in your character that could be ripped at to make you see yourself as hopelessly immoral. This enabled me to hit you with the final lie that you are responsible for the ills of the entire world, and [snap] your free will was utterly destroyed. And that is why tomorrow your building will be lying in ruins, and the Camelodians will have convinced you it was all your fault.

      "That is the real reason why I hate you. You are weak - far weaker than you even imagine yourself. And a person in your position, with your responsibilities, has no business being that weak."

      "Then, if my building falls tomorrow it's not my fault?" asked Perry.

      "Certainly not," said Blair. "It's clearly all your father's fault, and maybe a bit of mine for getting too cocky."

      "Please, at this point, don't be generous," said Sir Jon, dryly.

      "Thank you, I won't," said Blair. "The blame's all yours, and you're welcome to it."

      "How rude," Christine remarked.

      "It is never rude when someone states the truth, Christine," said Sir Jon. "And if there's one thing this situation does not need, it's more lies to save face. I'm guilty as charged. I have made mistakes when I had responsibility to not be so careless. I will gain nothing by denying others the right to rebuke me for it in as rude a wording as they deem appropriate."

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S11E224: The Keeper Of Furgatory

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 224
The Keeper Of Furgatory

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            

            

            

      As Christine continued to work on Kenny, normal light reappeared around Patti and she woke up.

      "Oh," gasped the porcupine girl, looking around her at the strange alien surroundings of the Sound Chaser, and then quickly inspecting her body to make sure it was still made of flesh, blood and fur.

      "Am I in Heaven?" Patti asked Christine, assuming she was some kind of holy spirit because of the meditation pose she was seated in. "Or is this some place we go before we get to Heaven?"

      "Ohmmmmmmm," said Christine in a monotone, without opening her eyes. "This is the intergalactic fix it shop. Ohmmmmmm. You were broken. Ohmmmmmm. Now you're fixed."

      Patti's eyes then fell on the subject of Christine's concentration. She gasped deeply and exclaimed, "Kenny! Did he fall too? Was I broken like him? Can he really be fixed?"

      "Ohmmmmm," chanted Christine, pain audible in her voice. "You're breaking my concentration. Ohmmmmmm. Please ask somebody else."

      "Oh, I'm sorry," said Patti, with uncertainty, as she backed away and bumped into another table. Then she turned quickly around and exclaimed, "Boss!"

      Miyan's eyes flew open wide and she stared upwards for a second. Then, all at once, she began whipping her arms about, as if to disperse the purple air.

      Light then returned to normal around Miyan, and she sat up breathlessly, as if having just awakened from a nightmare.

      Then Miyan seemed to come to her senses and realize where she was. She looked over at Patti and smiled.

      "We survived," said Miyan, as if she could hardly believe it.

      "Survived?" asked Patti. "I . . . I don't think so. I think we will meet The Goddess soon."

      "Ohmmmmm. I am The Goddess. Cuckoo ka-chooo. Ohmmmmmm," said Christine, in what seemed a delirious daze.

      "What's up with Christine?" asked Miyan.

      "Is that Christine?" asked Patti. "Is she the keeper of Furgatory?"

      Miyan shook her head in surprise and said, "You really think we're dead, don't you?"

      "I've seen no place on Cygnus like this," said Patti. "We can't still be in our own world."

      "Well, I've seen this place before," Miyan assured her. "And it's right under Perry's house. Now, you don't think Furgatory would be under Perry's house, do you?"

      "OHHMMMMMM," Christine cried out, as if she were in excruciating agony.

      "Christine, what's wrong?" asked Miyan, urgently.

      "OOOOhhhhhhmmmmmm," Christine moaned, as if enduring some unending hellish torture. "Not all the kings horses . . . or all the kings men . . . can help me put Kenny . . . together again."

      Miyan looked at the table before Christine and beheld the severity of Kenny's injuries. She gulped hard, wondering as Patti had done, if she had been brought to the lab in that condition, and if Christine had suffered like this to save her.

      Christine groaned long and painfully, clenching her fists, as if to summon power to fight something, or draw something inside her.

      Miyan watched horror stricken as the bones inside Christine's body seemed to be moving inside her flesh. And when she looked back at the table she observed similar motion inside Kenny's body.

      This sight by itself was a nightmare Miyan would not soon put behind herself. But most unbearable of all were the projections of pain Christine was spewing into the air.

      It was more than Miyan could take. She grabbed Patti's hand and towed her through the door, feeling relief almost as soon as they were outside the lab.

      She took a breather for a second. Then she led Patti up to the part of the house she was familiar with. And as soon as Patti realized she was indeed in Perry's house, she lost all thoughts of being dead.

***


      Miyan and Patti came up to the drawing room where they found the others watching events unfold on television.

      "Patti, are you all right?" asked Blair, urgently, as he rushed to her, completely ignoring Miyan.

      "I'm alright, Blair," said Patti, in a state of bemusement. "I just can't believe I'm still alive. I saw Kenny in the basement. He doesn't look so good."

      "Christine doesn't look so good, either," Miyan commented, shivering as if still creeped out.

      "She wouldn't," said Sir Jon. "I hope Blair is aware of the hell Christine will have to suffer to save that boy."

      "I understand, Sir Jon," said Blair, sincerely. "To be honest I can hardly believe she'd do such a thing for me. I fully expected her to say no."

      "I don't think Christine's the type to turn anyone away who comes to her door for help," said Perry.

      Blair directed Patti to a chair and sat her down. Miyan sat down near Patti, and Blair returned to his seat beside Michelle.

      "Have they said anything about Leela on the news?" asked Miyan.

      "Not a word, Boss," said Kacey, dutifully.

      "Damn it," said Miyan, painfully. "She must have fallen straight down to the street."

      "With Saint Saffron around I find that hard to imagine," said Blair.

      "It's crazy," said Miyan, as if distressed that there might be some unrighteousness to her survival. "She had me in one arm and Patti in the other. She could only save two of us. But why would she choose me instead of Leela?"

      "I don't know," said Perry. "Maybe she figured that's what Leela would have wanted. Or, maybe she figured Leela could take care of herself. Goodness knows I've sold The AD lots of gadgets for breaking long falls."

      "You think she could have survived?" asked Miyan, hopefully.

      "If you didn't see her hit the ground," said Perry, "I'm not going to count her out until I see the body."

      "Doesn't anybody think it odd that Saint Saffron was there at all?" asked Michelle.

      "Not really," said Perry. "Saint Saffron has a vested interest in Leela. Leela's on a dangerous job. Saffron wouldn't want to take a chance on Leela ending up like Jasper."

      "Well, if Lennox is dead, Saint Saffron is to blame," said Michelle, angrily. "She's the one that did this to us. I guess she just didn't figure her attack to backfire and hit the Rhoades building as well."

      "Now, Michelle," said Blair. "We shouldn't make that assumption."

      "What assumption?" Michelle demanded, incredulously. "I had her calling card in my hand when the bomb blew up."

      "Bomb?" Grease queried, scribbling in his notebook. "There have been no news reports of a bomb."

      Perry directed everyone to the aerial footage of the burning Montgomery Technical Tower that was playing on the TV. Then he asked Michelle, "Do you really think that kind of damage could have been caused by a bomb inside the building?"

      "I don't think. I know," said Michelle, indignantly. "I was there."

      "I was there too," said Miyan. "It wasn't a bomb. It was two missiles fired from a helicopter with a Webberton insignia. We saw it quite clearly as it flew around the R.I. building and took aim. Leela thought it was going to shoot at us. That's why she had us huddled under that desk. If not for that we might not have fallen out of the building."

      "I saw the copter as well, just for a second," said Blair, with a slight chuckle. "It was sitting right beside your office, Miyan. All the while we were flying across the street I was thinking you'd taken our corporate feud to a new extreme."

      "I beg your pardon," said Becky. "Are you saying there was a bomb, and two missiles? Was that overkill, or were you attacked by two different enemies at the same time?"

      "I'm not sure there was a bomb," said Blair, thoughtfully. "There was a box. But we didn't have time to open it. And I'm not actually aware of it exploding."

      "Kacey, turn the volume up, please," said Sir Jon, urgently.

      " . . . widespread panic at the announcement that Webberton aircraft are approaching Suburbia. Aircraft from the Camelot base are scrambling to engage the enemy and prevent them from reaching Suburbian skies. But just in case any more should break through, citizens are advised to evacuate large buildings and take refuge in basements or underground shelters."

      "Meyow!" cried Jenny, in horrified disbelief. "This can't be happening! Myi mother wouldn't do it this way!"

      "Dad, are we to assume you have this under control?" asked Perry, with reluctant skepticism.

      "At this point I'd have to say that would not be a safe assumption," said Sir Jon, with hesitant uncertainty, as everyone looked on in astonished disbelief.

***


      A group of soldiers arrived at The Rhoades Mansion, saying they had been dispatched to protect The Ruling Family and were setting up a guard post outside the house.

      Sir Jon protested that he had made no such request for protection. But they insisted this was standard procedure in protecting a town that was under attack. The Ruling Family needed to be sequestered and kept under secure guard.

      Sir Jon threw up his hands and told them to do what they wanted, as it was their time to waste. But he warned, "Woe be tied anyone who should try to prevent me from leaving if I want to, or if harm should befall any innocents trying to enter the house."

***


      Both Saint Saffron and The Shadow Cat had been assisting the local fire department with the complicated evacuation of the two mile high buildings. Saffron had helped to construct a long scaffold outside the R.I. building which could be used to lower workers to the ground, usually at a rate of one floor's occupants at a time. But it was a hastily built and untested apparatus which sometimes malfunctioned, causing workers to fall off. Fortunately so far she had managed to catch everyone who had fallen.

      Meanwhile, The Shadow Cat used his Shadow Copter to help evacuate the M.T. building. The cage suspended beneath the copter by a cable was more frightening than the scaffold Saint Saffron was working with, but less prone to deadly malfunctions; which was a good thing, because The Shadow Cat wasn't free to try catching anyone who went flying.

      The work for both out of town superheroes was slow. The people were terrified and hysterical, and there was a pervading sense that time was not on their side hanging in the air.

      Then, as The Shadow Cat was making a return trip for more workers, he was fired upon by Camelodian fighters.

      Desperately he tried to radio the Camelodian fighters, saying "Cease fire, you idiots. Can't you see this is a rescue vehicle?"

      "You won't get away with it, Webberton scum," was the only reply he received.

      The Shadow Cat tried to point out the Suburbia Fire Department emblem he had pasted on the side of his copter. But all the fighters could see was a black copter piloted by a feline dressed for battle.

      Seeing this on television, Sir Jon hurriedly telephoned the Camelodian command, but his order to cease firing upon the black helicopter was immediately tied up in red tape. This only added to Sir Jon's visible distress and uncertainty.

      The bullets could not hurt The Shadow Copter, of course. But The Shadow Cat dared not fly near The Montgomery Technical Building while being fired upon, lest innocent people be hit by what the Camelodians would have termed "Friendly fire." So he had no choice but to retreat and fly out over No Furs Land, with the Camelodian copters following him.

      As soon as they were over the wilderness, The Shadow Copter whirled on the Camelodians and fired a disrupter beam at their motors, causing the Camelodians to crash into the jungle. And though The Shadow Cat was aware that there was little chance of anyone in those copters surviving, he would not waste time regretting it. Whether their intensions had been good or bad he could not afford to consider. Their continued existence was potentially costing lives on a grand scale. And, according to the morality taught to him at Superhero School, ignorance of such a fact was no cause for mercy.

      The Shadow Cat then hurriedly raced back to The Montgomery Technical Building and lowered his rescue cage down to a shattered window, where more workers were waiting to be evacuated. And the survivors frantically clambered inside.

      Just as the cage was about filled, another black copter with Webberton insignia appeared, spraying bullets indiscriminately.

      Saffron, watching from the scaffold on the R.I. building, noted that it was either the same copter that earlier had fired on the M.T. building, or a twin to it.

      Saffron quickly opened a bulletproof shield and tried to protect the workers on the scaffold from stray bullets, but the shield was not big enough, nor was she fast enough to prevent workers from being shot and falling off the scaffold. And now she was too busy to dive after them.

      The black copter also sprayed bullets in the Shadow Cat's direction as it buzzed around both buildings. But there was little The Shadow Cat could do to protect those in the cage below.

      Suddenly more Camelodian fighters arrived to pursue the black copter. It climbed into the air as it flew away with the Camelodians in vertical pursuit.

      The Shadow Cat locked the cage and took another load down to the ground. Then he waited anxiously as those who had been lucky enough to escape injury did their best to get the wounded unloaded.

      While waiting, The Shadow Cat noticed Saffron arguing with the fire chief, who obviously thought her scaffold too dangerous to use in this situation.

      The Shadow Cat saw reason in not trying to evacuate buildings with enemy aircraft attacking. But he decided to try getting just one more load before any other copters could show up. So once he saw the cage was fully unloaded, he urged The Shadow Copter back into action.

      While he was waiting for his cage to fill again, The Shadow Cat heard a copter approaching from a distance and called down to the workers to speed it up. He noted that the sound was getting louder too fast and looked up just in time to see the black copter which had disappeared into the clouds flying straight down at an incredible amount of speed.

      Before The Shadow Cat could even make a move to warn anyone, the black copter slammed into the top of the M.T. building and exploded, sending a shower of flames pouring over all sides of the building, as if the copter had collided with an enormous tank of gasoline. Though it was hard to imagine why any such container, situated between the transmission antennas on the roof, wouldn't have already exploded.

      The Shadow Cat saw the liquid flames falling towards him. If he stood his ground, The Shadow Copter would protect him, but the furs in the cage below would be fried. He had no choice but to pull away from the building, which was now beginning to rock, as if the blow to its head had somehow left it unable to continue standing still.

      As The Shadow Copter pulled away from the building, workers jumped for the cage; some managing to catch it and hang on to the outside. Others missed their mark and fell down into the street. While those still exposed to the burning liquid falling down the outside of the building were engulfed in flames; most of them falling out of their windows, while those awaiting rescue in the R.I. building watched in prayerful horror.

      As The Shadow Cat was descending with what he feared would be his last load of survivors, his sensitive ears detected explosions from below, and he sensed the structure of the M.T. Building beginning to rock with frightening instability, as if it was rapidly taking on the consistency of a house of cards, or a well-balanced tower of dominoes.

      Suddenly The Shadow Copter's computer warned of an approaching shower of falling debris, and The Shadow Cat moved the copter further away from the building, alighting safely in the park just in time to look up and witness the final death of The Montgomery Technical Building.

      A cloud of dust and violently flying debris was descending from the top, a mile in the air. It was descending fast, and at a regular speed of what he roughly calculated was something like one floor per second. And as much as he tried to rationalize this with his previous impression of a house of cards or a stack of dominoes, he couldn't make any sense out of what he was seeing.

      By the laws of physics the domino effect would not work going straight down. The law of equal and opposite resistance should have already stopped it. And a house of cards wouldn't fall straight down either. It would twist and fall to one side.

      As fascinated and puzzled as he was, The Shadow Cat knew he had no time to sit there and figure this out. Those on the ground would need rescuing now, and every second would count.

      Meanwhile, those gathered at The Rhoades Mansion were stunned as they watched the collapse of The Montgomery Technical Building on TV. Perry was aghast, stating that such a fall made no sense. But none seemed so shocked and horrified as Blair himself.

      "My building!" he exclaimed, his antlers seeming to burn with rage. "This time they've gone too far. I'll see them all dead for this."

      "Who, Mr. Montgomery?" asked Grease, intently. "Who did this to you?"

      Blair hesitated in sudden realization and then admitted he wasn't quite sure. And not knowing seemed to be a new and strange experience for Blair that he was not at all enjoying.

      Nervously Jenny asked if anyone thought The Rhoades Instruments Building would fall too.

      Now it was Perry's turn to be shocked. He asked Jenny why she would even think of such a thing. He was The Master Builder. He had every confidence that his building would not crumble in such a fashion.

      But Blair grabbed Perry's arm insistently, shouting, "This is no time to be thinking logically. Clear your building just in case."

      A horrifying idea seemed to occur to Perry, and he dashed into the study to use his cell phone, frantically dialing Saint Saffron's number.

      It took several breathless minutes for Saint Saffron to answer, as she was busy helping the firefighters rescue people while debris relentlessly assaulted the R.I. building. But when she finally did answer, Perry shouted at her, "Sabotage! R.I. Building will fall! Step up the evacuation as fast as you can!"

      Perry then called The Shadow Cat and informed him that the second building was likely to start falling at any moment.

      "It will not," said The Shadow Cat, in a tone that suggested he would personally not allow such a thing. "I will stop it from falling."

      Perry screamed at him, "It's impossible. There's no time."

      But The Shadow Cat had no time to waste with Perry's hysterics, as a second black helicopter appeared on the scene, spraying bullets into the shattered windows of the R.I. building from a distance that kept it out of range of flying debris.

      The Shadow Cat ran as quickly as he could back to The Shadow Copter, lifted into the air and flew to engage the enemy helicopter.

      He shot a stream of bullets into it, but the enemy copter ignored them. And by this The Shadow Cat realized there was no one in the enemy copter for his bullets to hit. It was an unmanned copter being operated by remote control, which explained its haphazard targeting.

      It would be the simplest thing for him to fire a missile and destroy the copter, but the last thing anyone still alive on the street needed was more falling debris. Instead, he flew The Shadow Copter into the path of the enemy bullets and attempted to shield those inside the building.

      This maneuver was not entirely successful, but The Shadow Cat kept it up until the unmanned copter had expended its ammunition.

      At which time, just as the previous copter had done, the unmanned copter flew off into the upper atmosphere, presumably to gain momentum for a crash dive on The Rhoades Instruments Building.

      The Shadow Cat followed after it, and as soon as he figured the trajectory to make the debris fall in the jungle outside of town, he launched a missile that blew the enemy copter to pieces small enough to be carried out of town by the wind.

      But The Shadow Cat knew he had no time to stay and watch. He knew it would take more than being hit by a helicopter to fell a mammoth skyscraper. And he gambled on his assumption of how the Camelodians would have planned it, never giving pause to the idea that anyone else could be responsible. Perhaps because he knew the Webbertonians better than he cared to, and he could not see them waging war in this fashion.

      The Shadow Cat flew about the R.I. building using his on board scanners to search for bombs and a triggering mechanism. He then locked his missiles on what he assumed was the triggering device and fired into the lower part of the building, after having set them to penetrate, but not explode.

      Reports of more missiles fired brought more Camelodian fighters back to attack The Shadow Copter. But The Shadow Cat had no time to acknowledge them, beyond a stray thought of how suspicious it looked that the Camelodians only attacked him, while offering no opposition at all to the unpiloted copters attacking the buildings.

      He set The Shadow Copter on auto land and jumped to the ground, diving through the hole in the R.I. building made by his missiles.

      Once inside the basement, he rushed to the building's electrical system and shut it down. He then searched with special goggles for any continuing electrical activity. He spotted activity on the other side of the room and spied the detonator in the wall counting down at 4 seconds.

      Instantly he pulled out one of his large throwing stars and flung it at the wall. It cut through the wall and severed the detonator wires, just before the detonator counted down to zero.

      His objective accomplished, The Shadow Cat dashed back out the hole in the wall to find himself surrounded by Camelodian soldiers. They tried to detain him, referring to him as Webberton scum. But he merely shouted at them that there were bombs in the building and it might fall at any moment.

      He then leaped over them and started running away. The soldiers fired at him, but he knew he was protected by his armor. So he just ignored them, much to their chagrin. And they chased after him.

      Once The Shadow Cat was sure he had led the soldiers far enough from the building, he activated his shadow cloaking and disappeared, leaving his pursuers in confusion.

***


      Perry sat nervously at his father's desk, watching the TV and waiting for his cell phone to ring, knowing he was powerless to affect the outcome of this situation for any of his friends.

      Finally his phone rang. It was The Shadow Cat informing him that he had disabled the detonator, but his scanners indicated several bombs on every floor of the R.I. building. So there was still danger of something setting them off.

      Perry breathed easier for a moment, but then told The Shadow Cat to go back and do what he could to help Saint Saffron. The Shadow Cat said he would do that, but he needed Perry to get the message to the soldiers that he was not the enemy.

      Perry called the fire fighters and told them to trust The Shadow Cat, and to keep the soldiers off his back. But Perry was told there were no soldiers in his building. Those that remained had been abandoned by all but the local emergency responders.

      Perry returned to his living room and sat down beside Lappina, who had recently joined the gathering.

      Miyan was still obsessing over the notion that Saint Saffron saved her instead of Leela. Perry repeated that she should not write Leela off just yet, as AD detectives were not without their own resources.

      "But Leela's not an AD detective," Miyan protested. "She's just their secretary."

      Perry assured her, "An outfit like The AD wouldn't have a secretary who couldn't take care of herself. They'd have to be constantly rescuing her and would never get anything else done. I have confidence in Leela to be every bit as competent and capable as her bosses."

      Miyan shook her head with downcast eyes, thinking Perry was just in denial.

      Perry didn't understand how Miyan could be so obsessed with one person when thousands of lives were now at stake. As far as he knew there was no love that existed between Miyan and Leela. Thus her fixation on Leela made no practical sense. And if there was one thing Perry had always thought he could count on Miyan for, it was being practical.

      Christine came up from the lab, saying she had finally gotten Kenny out of danger, but she had felt something akin to a huge disturbance in The Force. Whereupon her attention was directed to the TV.

      Quickly grasping the situation Christine declared that she should be at the scene of the disaster. But Sir Jon pointed out that, even if he were willing to send her into such a dangerous situation, which he was not, the Camelodians outside the front door would not let her leave.

      "But I have to leave," Christine insisted, "if not to go to the disaster site, at least to go to the hospital to help out."

      "You quit the hospital," Vicki reminded her. "They won't have you back - not after the fuss you made. Not even in a desperate situation like this."

      "Fine then," Christine acquiesced. "I can help from here if it can be arranged to bring the overflow from the hospital to the mansion."

      "I doubt I'll be able to arrange anything like that with the red tape the Camelodians will have tied the town up in," said Sir Jon.

      "People will die if you allow such inefficiency," Christine warned.

      "I've already allowed it," Sir Jon shrugged, shamefully. "It's out of my hands."

***


      Time passed, and the news reported that The Rhoades Instruments Building had been completely evacuated, the survivors having been taken away for debriefing.

      "Debriefing?" Sir Jon pondered.

      "Isn't that just a fancy military term for questioning?" asked Becky.

      "It can mean that," said Sir Jon, in a doubtful tone. "It may just be more pointless military precautions. But still I have a bad feeling about the whole business. I fear the extent of human evil is beyond even my ability to anticipate."

      "And that disappoints you?" asked Blair. "To me it just confirms my own understanding of human nature."

      "It would disappoint you, if you were hoping for human nature to change," said Sir Jon.

      Blair chuckled with amused detachment, saying, "One would have to be something less than a realist to anticipate such a thing. Human nature has not changed for millions of years. It is not going to change, now or ever. Any calculations you have made based on some anticipated improvement in the human condition will not serve you well."

      For a moment Sir Jon looked at Blair as if he were the devil, but Blair merely smiled back at him innocently, as if to say he was simply stating an obvious fact with no evil intent. And Sir Jon eventually had to nod concession to Blair's assessment and drop the subject.

      Sir Jon tried to call the hospital, but found all regular lines and cell phone connections disrupted. But Perry's cell phone could use frequencies no one would think to jam. So Sir Jon borrowed it to get in touch with the hospital to see what the situation was there.

      After some time getting an operative to respond, Sir Jon learned that the hospital was under military lock down, and there had been no influx of wounded from the collapsed building. It was believed the injured were being air lifted to the base in No Furs Land.

      Meanwhile, a Camelodian news reporter on the television stated for the umpteenth time that a bomb went off in the office of Blair Montgomery, weakening the structure of the building. The crashing of a helicopter into the weakened section had then completed the severing of support for the uppermost floors, causing them to crash down on the floors below and start a chain reaction that had "pancaked" the entire building. This explanation was being repeated on all stations like a mantra.

      Perry got a drawing pad and started trying to work out scientific calculations to support the explanation, but there was no way he could draw it where the explanation corresponded to any science Perry was aware of. And Perry was only too aware of Blair glaring at him critically for even trying to give such an obvious lie an attempt at verification.

      After all, they were both master builders who knew the buildings in question inside out, and neither had ventured to allow any possibility of their great achievements being leveled by anything so mundane as a domino effect. It simply could not happen, even if there was some way for a bomb and a crashing air craft to sever all supports in a way that would cause the upper floors to crash straight down, rather than becoming unbalanced and sliding off to the side, as they would have done if the bomb had done what was being claimed.

      Eventually Blair took the pad from Perry and drew what should have happened, assuming the story about the bomb and the crashing air craft was true. His drawing showed that the strength of the lower structure would have held against the falling upper structure, with only a worst case scenario seeing the top of the building separate from the main body of the building and crash down on the town below.

      "Looks like they had their story prepared before it even happened," Becky observed, looking over the drawings.

      Perry then asked his father, "Do you think there's any chance at all the Camelodians honestly believe this story and are innocent of this crime?"

      Sir Jon replied somberly, "Of course there isn't. You know there isn't."

      "I'm not even sure the bomb had a chance to explode," said Blair, thoughtfully. "I had my back to the explosion. But no mere smear package bomb would have blown us all the way across the street. And what an interesting coincidence that Saint Saffron should send a package at the exact time a Webberton helicopter fired missiles into my office."

      "If that had happened to me I wouldn't be calling it a coincidence," said Miyan. "I'd be calling it a conspiracy between Webberton and Noir to take me out at a specific time. One attempt might be foiled, but not so likely two."

      "Mr. Montgomery?" asked Jenny. "Are you on bad terms with myi mother."

      "Not at all," said Blair. "Why do you ask, Princess?"

      "Myi mother would have to need you out of the way to plan something like this," said Jenny.

      "I assure you, Princess," said Blair. "Your mother and I have always gotten on fine."

      "Then it was nyot Webberton that fired on you," said Jenny.

      "At least not Webberton alone," Blair agreed. "Even if there was a Webberton pilot in that craft, which I seriously doubt, it couldn't have entered Suburbian air space without arrangement with Camelot. They just left everything wide open."

      "They even removed the soldiers from our buildings," said Miyan. "It's just like Leela said. They had to arrange for something to happen to justify themselves."

      "Such false flag operations were quite common in my day," said Christine. "You steel a vehicle from the enemy, or disguise one of your own vehicles to look like the enemy, target your own people, and POOF, instant war."

      "Camelodians learn that tactic in elementary school," said Sir Jon. "But why would they choose Blair for their target? I'd think they would have attacked this house."

      "Obviously because I had the tallest building in Suburbia," said Blair, with ironic pride.

      "A good point," said Sir Jon. "But they sacrificed a measure of believability to insure your personal destruction. There were far more likely places to attack your building if they wanted to make its fall appear legitimate. And they timed the attack so as to insure you'd be in your office, which is not such an easy trick to pull off these days. I believe you have some serious enemies."

      "Miyan is my principle enemy," said Blair. "I know of no one else who would go to such lengths to destroy me."

      "We agreed to a truce," said Miyan. "Besides, I wouldn't use a method to destroy you that put my own life at risk, would I?"

      "No, you wouldn't," said Blair. "And you'd have no part in killing half the employees in my building either. That is why I always end up besting you, just as I did with Perry. Your ruthlessness has predictable limits."

      "I wouldn't want to see you blown up, Blair," said Miyan. "That would be like shooting a chess partner. It would deprive me of besting you in business."

      "If you'll forgive me for pointing it out," said Christine to Blair. "You seem remarkably intact for someone who's just been blown up."

      "Are you accusing me of something?" asked Blair, warily.

      "Not at all," said Christine. "I'm just really, really impressed."

      "Don't be," said Blair. "Saving your friends from that fire was a lot more impressive than any heroics I've ever performed."

      "Someday I hope we can share a pleasant evening of mutual flattery," said Christine.

      "I'm sure I'd enjoy that," said Blair, eyeing Christine, warily.

      Christine put a hand on his shoulder.

      "What are you doing?" Blair asked, anxiously.

      "I can see you are troubled," said Christine, in a cryptic tone. "You need not bear this weight alone."

      "Please, Christine," said Blair, pushing her hand away. "I appreciate your compassion, but I can not share my burden with anyone. My building is destroyed. How many of my employees and friends are dead I dare not guess. Do not offer magic to dispel the rage that boils within me. It will be stilled only by revenge. And such terrible revenge as I will need to still this anger should never stain eyes as innocent as yours."

      "Blair," said Perry. "My building is rigged to implode also. It may yet fall. Whoever did this meant to hit both of us. I would share your revenge."

      "Leave it to me, Perry," said Blair, in a warning intonation. "You're not the type for this sort of thing. Rest assured this attack will be avenged. You may not see it on the news, but I promise you, they will suffer. And their suffering will be terrible even to imagine."

      "Blair?" asked Christine. "These people who destroyed your building, are they the same ones who burned my friends?"

      "You speak as if you think I should know," said Blair.

      "I know that you know," said Christine. "It's not something you can hide in your current state. Your anger isn't directed towards someone unknown."

      "You're very perceptive," said Blair. "Do you also perceive that I hate you?"

      "Yes, I do," said Christine. "I knew that the day I met you. Though I have never understood why."

      "It is not important now," said Blair. "My reasons for hating you seem very far away at the moment. Still I can not tell you exactly who burned your friends. I can tell you only one thing. They were Noirnians."

      "And the people who attacked you today?" asked Christine.

      "Well, we know Saint Saffron was involved," said Blair.

      "We do not," said Perry. "We don't have the calling card to verify its authenticity. And that by itself makes me think it's phony. Whatever else Saffron may be she's an insufferable egotist. I can't imagine her blowing you up and not insuring she'd get credit for it. Not unless she knew you'd survive to tell us about it."

      "That would be interesting," said Sir Jon. "If she sandwiched Blair between two deadly explosions, and still felt reasonably certain of his survival to tell about the card, I'd have to wonder if Saint Saffron isn't trying to tell us something about Blair."

      "Blair, are you saying you think Saint Saffron burned the house?" asked Christine.

      "No," said Blair. "Perry's right. She doesn't do things like that without leaving a calling card. I don't think she was in town at the time. But there were other Noirnians in town."

      "And did you have some kind of arrangement with these Noirnians?" asked Sir Jon.

      "Any business deals I might have with people in other towns are privileged," said Blair. "Don't ask."

      "Tell me, Blair," said Christine, daringly. "Could all this have something to do with . . . The Illuminati Corporation?"

      Christine observed the reactions around the room. Miyan had the strongest reaction, anxiously waving to Christine not to banter such things about. Kacey also seemed alarmed. While Sir Jon merely sat back and observed curiously, as if he felt this nothing more than another clue being introduced to a great mystery. While Becky, the ever eager conspiracy hunter, suddenly had her ever flopping bunny ears fully erect, as if Christine had unexpectedly stroked her favorite fetish. But Blair just seemed slightly amused.

      "Tell me, Christine," said Blair. "Is it Kacey that's been filling your head with conspiracy theories, or possibly Bixyl?"

      "You deny it, of course," said Christine.

      "I don't even like to deny it," said Blair. "It's beneath my dignity to point out I'm being accused of such a grand fantasy. And sometimes it even works to my advantage to allow people to believe it. Fear is such a great asset to business. But, just between myself and the people in this room, there is no Illuminati Corporation, no secret spirit of cooperation between the towns. Every town is out for itself."

      "Then you wouldn't say our current situation is the result of a conspiracy?" asked Becky.

      "I didn't say that," said Blair, his intonation becoming abruptly grave. "This is a conspiracy alright. It's just not anything as clean and well packaged as the Illuminati fantasy. It's a dirty little conspiracy between 4 dirty little towns - Noir, Camelot, Webberton and Suburbia - all of which have something they want that they're riding on the ambitions of the others to achieve."

      "Halloween is not involved in this conspiracy?" asked Grease.

      "Well," Blair sighed, petulantly. "I suppose you could say we are. I suppose you could say it's all my fault."

      "Explain," said Sir Jon, in his deepest, most disapproving tone.

      "What Halloween needs most is money," Blair confessed. "And you all know I'm no moralist. I have provided financing to all the other towns in question, without ever caring what the money would be used for. All I cared about was having the other towns rack up a mountain of debt which could be added to my demonstration of wealth without measure. And since all the interest on those loans has been marked for the restoration of Halloween, it can't be said that Halloween hasn't profited from the fall of my building."

      "Well, I guess that's what you get for electing to be a bad boy," said Christine, with a slight, non-condemning smile.

      "Please, spare me the self-righteousness," said Blair, pointing at Perry. "Mr. Good Boy over there is just as guilty as I am."

      "Is that true, Perry?" asked Christine, still in the tone of a non-involved, non-critical observer.

      "He's quite right," Perry agreed. "I make loans and investments to other towns as well. And though I have tried to refrain from investing in Webberton for moral reasons, I have considerable investments in Camelot and Noir; not only in loans, but in technology and weapons."

      "What a pity I didn't have time to notice whether the missiles fired into my office had Rhoades Instruments written on them, or Montgomery Technical," said Blair.

      "So neither of you cared who was killed with your weapons," Christine surmised, in the tone of an admonishing teacher. "Just as long as it wasn't yourselves."

      "Christine," said Perry, painfully. "Please don't hate me for saying this. But Noir is a closed environment. Killing is their way of life. It's their religion, for Goddess sake. We're supposed to respect other religions as long as they don't threaten ours. I would have considered it immoral to not help the Noirnians kill each other."

      "And what about you, Sensei?" asked Christine, turning to Jon. "Didn't you advise Perry against this?"

      "Oh, Christine," said Sir Jon, as he shamefully turned his eyes away from her.

      "I swear," said Blair. "It was almost worth the loss of my building to see these expressions on your faces. Did you not know, Christine? The people of this world would still be fighting with bows and arrows if not for Sir Jon. When he arrived in Camelot, they were still at the level of knights in armor. Before he left they were at the level of James Bond. Now you may reconsider if I am any more deserving of your pointless recriminations than they."

      "Well, Sensei?" asked Christine.

      "Blair may think as he pleases," said Sir Jon, absently. "And you as well, Christine. I did what seemed necessary at the moment. I'll offer no further justification for my actions."

      "You really do think of yourself as a god, don't you?" asked Christine.

      "Please, Christine," said Sir Jon, as if pained. "Mr. Stopheles' interpretation of that art on the bridge was no more real than Miyan's Illuminati Corporation. You, of all people, know me better than to believe such things. Do not force on me the indignity of begging you to remember that."

      "You look tired, Sir Jon," said Blair, with an evil air of satisfaction. "Do you not bear the weight of the world as well as you used to?"

      "You would enjoy it no less," said Sir Jon, cuttingly.

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S11E223: The Towers Struck Down

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 223
The Tower Struck Down

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

            

            

            

      At that same time, Blair and Michelle were in their own office busily at work, as they had much business to finalize before Blair returned to Halloween. Particularly since there was no reason to think he would ever be returning.

      In the course of their work, Michelle mentioned to him that Sir Jon was still worried that the war between Montgomery Technical and Rhoades Instruments would be too much to deal with if Suburbia went to war with Webberton.

      "Sir Jon seems unusually clueless," Blair commented. "Suburbia is already at war with Camelot. I'd be sure he, of all people, would have noticed that by now. And Montgomery Technical never was at war with Rhoades Instruments. That little present we arranged for Ratzo was just our way of showing our appreciation for her dedicated service. It was Saint Saffron who decided she shouldn't have it."

      "I can't wrap my mind around that," said Michelle. "Why would Saint Saffron kill Ratzo's boyfriend."

      "Maybe because she didn't believe he loved her," Blair snickered. "Maybe she thought he was still working for us."

      "But he wasn't pretending," said Michelle, as if utterly mystified. "The poor slob really did love her. Saint Saffron must have known that."

      "Perhaps she was jealous," said Blair, with a wickedly amused smile. "I suppose it could be said that Duke was horning in on their relationship."

      "Well, anyway," said Michelle. "I guess that's just one more bad investment we'll have to write off."

      "Duke or Ratzo?" asked Blair.

      "Both," said Michelle, with a shrug. "What profit did we make out of all that?"

      "We gave Miyan Rutherford a hard time," Blair explained. "This kept her from working at her peak for quite a while; long enough for us to slip our entire agenda past her. Whatever she figures out now will be of no consequence. It's far too late for anyone to stop the wheels we've set in motion."

      "Even us?" asked Michelle.

      "Michelle," said Blair, with a slight tone of distaste. "As they say in Halloween, the genie is out of the bottle. Cygnesian furs have found the will to make war. Even I could not take that back from them now. Assuming I wanted to. A world prone to war will be far easier to control. And anything that makes the world easier to control suits my plans. Besides, most Cygnesians will learn to love the change. It's not something I would wish upon them. But if they choose it of their own free will, it is not for me to subvert democracy."

      "I just can't help feeling bad for . . ." Michelle began, then thought better of it.

      "The weaker ones?" asked Blair. "The Kacey Caddells of this world? Have no fear, Michelle. There'll be a place for them in the new order. Every dictator needs subjects to oppress. Every villain needs minions. Besides, war will make them stronger, and more useful. War is a good investment. I wish I'd thought of it sooner."

      There was a knock at the door, right about the time Blair became aware of the sound of an approaching helicopter. But The Montgomery Technical Building had no heliport. Its roof was built to support transmission antennas, and therefore had no space for an aircraft to land. Thus he always assumed helicopters were heading for the shorter of the two towers and paid the sound no mind.

      "Come," ordered Blair.

      Kenny, the koala receptionist, came in holding a package.

      "This was just delivered for Miss Duarte by special messenger," said Kenny. "No address on the package, just a card."

      Kenny set the package on the desk, and Michelle opened the card, reading aloud, "Hope you get a real bang out of this. Signed Saint Saffron."

      Blair and Michelle looked at each other in disbelieve for an instant, the sound of the approaching helicopter now pounding in their ears.

***


      Leela and Miyan had, by this time, gotten everyone from the office started down the stairwell of The Rhoades Instruments Building, but it quickly clogged to a standstill as panicking employees frantically sought escape from the mile high building, while the evacuation alarms pained their ears and heightened their anxiety. This left Miyan, Leela and Patti pretty much stranded at the top.

      Miyan suggested making their escape via the heliport, but Leela figured they'd be sitting ducks for a Webberton police copter. They'd just have to sit tight and play it by ear.

      Meanwhile, the black helicopter made a wide circle around The Rhoades Instruments Building, during which Miyan and her companions all observed the insignia of The Webberton Police on the side.

      The Copter then went into hover mode, and Leela pulled her two companions to the floor, dragging them under a large steel desk as she saw the copter's missiles locking on target.

      Patti screamed and Miyan held tight to her as they heard the sound of the missiles firing. But then they saw the missiles flying past them, never having touched The Rhoades Instruments Building, but flying across the way to strike The Montgomery Technical Building; hitting it near the top, right where Miyan had so often looked up to see Blair Montgomery looking down on her.

***


      Blair brought his fist down on the intercom and bellowed in his most urgent voice, "Clear the building!"

      He then jumped over the desk and ran for the window, which was covered by black drapes that he quickly yanked down, revealing the copter sitting beside Miyan's office, poised to fire. And he wasted not a second in thought as he grabbed his heavy office chair and flung it through the glass, creating a huge hole through which the air of the office began to rush out with what seemed like hurricane force, drawing everything towards it.

      Seeing the missiles fired, there was no time for instructions or explanations. Blair just grabbed Kenny and Michelle as the wind pulled them passed him. And holding one under each arm, he jumped out of the building, more than a mile above the street, feeling the rush of the missiles as they flew under him, crashed into the building, and exploded behind him; the blast propelling him forward in the direction of the shorter tower.

***


      Miyan, Leela and Patti, huddled transfixed under the desk, unable to take their eyes away from the gaping, smoking hole near the top of The Montgomery Technical Building.

      Then they became aware of massive debris flying in their direction, including one huge twisted girder which seemed to be headed right for them.

      Leela had just about enough time to shout, "Hold tight! It's gonna hit!" before the beam smashed into The Rhoades Instruments Building just above them, showering glass down about the desk, and allowing the outside air to rush in, causing almost everything in the office to move towards the opening, including the heavy desk, from which the three females had no way to escape.

      Nearer and nearer to the destroyed glass wall they were pressed while the wind raged around them to the point they could hardly breathe.

      "Leela, I hope you got a way to get us out of this!" Miyan called over the wind.

      "If I let go the wind will pull you both out of the building!" Leela called back.

      "If you don't do something the desk will push us out!" Miyan yelled.

      Just then they heard something snap loudly beneath them.

      "Oh crap!" Miyan exclaimed.

      "That wasn't what I think it was, was it?!" Leela shouted.

      "I'm afraid so," yelled Miyan, with a look of extreme misgiving.

      "Ladies!" yelled Leela. "I hate to tell you this, but we're about to get a crash course in flying! I suggest you make the most of it!"

      "Oh, Goddess!" cried Patti, tearfully, making the sign of the cathode ray tube over her heart. "This isn't the walk into the sunset I imagined!"

      "Maybe not for you, kiddo!" yelled Leela. "But it's gonna be a real Noirnian top of the world for me!"

      With another loud snap, the support below their floor buckled and gave way, causing the floor to sag, which instantly dumped the desk and the three screaming females out the opening and into free-fall.

***


      Blair came to his senses and looked about him, realizing he was on the roof of The Rhoades Instruments Building, which was a huge heliport, mostly covered in tarmac. Not exactly the kindest of surfaces to land on after being blown up.

      He was in a lot of pain, his clothes were hot as fire, and he generally felt like he'd been hit from behind with a brick wall. But he assessed that he was otherwise intact and would get over it quickly.

      He rolled over and looked behind him at his burning building. It seemed quite surreal to him. It looked almost like a mile high candle with the flames dancing around the huge radio antenna on the top.

      He couldn't help staring in ironic fascination as he watched the radio station's iconic billboard burning up - the words "WSUB Suburbia, The Land Of Pleasant Living" fading to black for the last time.

      Then he came fully to his senses and began looking about for his companions.

      "Michelle!" he called, as he staggered to his feet. "Kenny!"

      A moment later his eyes fell on a crumpled heap some distance away. He ran towards it.

      "Kenny!" he called. But no response was returned.

      Then he knelt beside the broken body and despaired.

      "Oh, Kenny," he breathed sadly as he rolled the body over and observed its condition.

      "Is he dead?" Michelle's voice came from behind him. But Blair did not look back at her, knowing that she would recover as quickly as himself.

      "He lives," said Blair, emotionlessly. "But that's no blessing. Every bone in his body must be broken. I can do nothing for him."

      "Shouldn't we try to get him to a hospital?" she asked.

      "Waste of time," said Blair. "They don't have the technology to save him."

      Then he raised his eyes in awareness and said, "But I know who does."

      Blair jumped to his feet and made a dash for a medical helicopter that stood readied for emergency dispatch. He found a safety board inside it which he brought back and laid beside Kenny's body. Then he carefully moved the broken body onto the board and strapped it down so that it was completely secure.

      He then hefted the board up over his head and dashed back to the helicopter with Michelle being hard put to keep up with his deer-like speed.

      Michelle got into the passenger seat, while Blair secured Kenny in the back.

      Blair then got into the pilot's seat and started the machine.

      "Have you ever flown one of these before?" called Michelle over the noise of the propellers.

      "You should have asked that before you got in," Blair called back with a casual smile. "Oh well, I guess there has to be a first time for everything."

      Blair pulled back on the stick, and the copter lifted into the air. Obviously he knew what he was doing, even if he had never flown before. And though he manipulated the craft well, Michelle commented to herself that only someone with no fear of death could be so casual about a thing like this.

***


      Miyan, Leela and Patti fell away from the desk, and from each other as they spilled out of the building into free-fall.

      Suddenly Miyan's attention was entirely absorbed by the ground rushing up at her, which demanded accounting by her inner calculator; all the wealth and power she had accumulated in her lifetime seeming to drain away until her net worth fell to zero; which was only slightly less irritating than the thought that Leela was probably yelling "Yaaaahoooo!" all the way down. Apparently Miyan had indeed chosen the wrong religion.

      Suddenly Miyan felt a jerk, as if a parachute had opened above her. By now too resigned to the idea that her life was over to want to be distracted from enjoying every minute of her impending doom, it took a moment for Miyan to find the presence of mind to look to her side, where she saw that her human parachute wore yellow, and had Patti in her other arm.

      Miyan thought about this critically. She was still at a deadly height, and Saint Saffron looked like she'd bitten off more than she could chew. Her odds of survival did not seem at all greatly increased.

      With both arms immobilized Saffron couldn't effectively glide. She couldn't even manage a straight descent. Whenever the wind blew they would spin helplessly. It made no sense to think Saffron could keep this up for long. So Miyan decided she would continue contemplating her doom and not allow herself the anxiety of imagining she had any possible chance of survival.

      Fortunately, this was not the first time Saint Saffron had performed this particular stunt. She was by now well aware of the shortcomings of her suit and knew how to compensate for them.

      She couldn't fall straight down or accurately aim for a landing point, but she could slightly influence the trajectory of their downward spiral. She could catch the wind just enough that they were carried far out over Suburbia, and they eventually alighted safely in the park near The Rhoades Mansion.

      As Saint Saffron released them, Miyan and Patti slid helplessly to the ground. Miyan was still conscious, but in a deep state of shock that occurs when one is certain death is inevitable and peace has been made with that awareness. Anyone could have come up and killed her at that point. She wouldn't have cared.

      Xanthus came driving up to them a moment later, having been tracking their fall. Saffron then quickly piled the two bodies in the back seat, with her usual roughness, and they sped on to The Rhoades Mansion.

***


      It took only a hand full of minutes for Blair to fly to The Rhoades Mansion and set the helicopter down on the front lawn.

      "See, I told you I could do it," said Blair, as the propellers were winding down. But by the look on Michelle's face he was clued that his flying had been anything but confidence inspiring. Michelle had, in fact, been unsure through most of the short trip whether they were flying or falling.

      Perry, Christine, Sir Jon, Sonny and Pamela were already out in the yard observing the fire at The Montgomery Technical Building. They came rushing to meet the helicopter, but they were taken back when they saw Blair and Michelle getting out of it.

      "I say, Blair," Sir Jon demanded, incredulously. "What's the meaning of this?"

      "I beg your indulgence, Sir Jon," said Blair, breathlessly, as he raced to extricate Kenny from the back of the copter. "My friend is dying."

      Moved by the sincerity in Blair's voice, Christine bounded forward, and Sir Jon followed.

      Blair laid the board Kenny was strapped to on the lawn so that Jon and Christine could examine him.

      After a moment Sir Jon commented regretfully, "He's pretty far gone. I have not the power to save him."

      "Christine," Blair pleaded. "Kenny is to me what Kacey is to Miyan. If you can save him, I will grant you any wish within my powers."

      "You don't need to bribe me, Blair," said Christine, moved by his sincerity. "Even if things didn't work out before, I still owe you a favor. But even if I did not, I'd still do what I can to save your friend."

      Christine then took charge of the situation.

      "Rocie, can you hear me?" said Christine, to no one who was there as far as Blair and Michelle were concerned.

      "I hear you, Christy," came a response seemingly from the direction of the house.

      "A stasis field around the koala, please," Christine requested.

      Just at that moment, Xanthus drove up, screeching to a halt in front of the mansion, and Saint Saffron jumped out.

      "Hey!" she shouted. "If anyone's interested, I got a couple of bodies for you."

      "Saint Saffron!" exclaimed Pamela. "The real Saint Saffron!"

      "The one and only," Saffron replied. "But, uh, autographs later please. I think I got a busy day ahead of me."

      Saffron opened the back door and Pammy exclaimed even louder, "Oh, my goodness. It's Miss Rutherford . . . And Patti!"

      "Patti!" Perry and Blair chorused in alarm, both rushing to the car to pull the bodies out.

      Perry held Miyan while Blair cradled Patti in his arms as if she were his little sister.

 photo blairholdingpatty.jpg


      "What happened to them?" Blair demanded.

      "They were trying to get down from up there," said Saffron, pointing to the two tallest structures in town. "And I guess you were, too. But at least you had the sense to take a helicopter. These two thought they could fly."

      "Did you hit the Rhoades Instruments building as well?" asked Blair, giving Saffron a look of death.

      "Listen, big shot," said Saffron, dismissively. "Whatever your problem is, I don't have time for it. More people might need rescuing."

      "Carry on," said Perry, waving Saffron away.

      Saffron then jumped back in her car and sped away.

      Not bothering to watch after her, Perry and Blair started carrying Patti and Miyan towards the house. And as they passed the copter, Blair asked, "Where's Kenny?"

      "Christine already took him into the house," said Michelle. "It was the craziest thing I ever saw. He just lifted into the air and floated before her."

      "You surprise me, Michelle," said Blair. "I'd think you'd be board of miracles by now."

      Blair and Michelle followed Perry as he carried Miyan down to the lab. There they saw Kenny laid out on a table where Christine was already hard at work on him - she seeming to be in considerable pain.

      "What's her problem?" asked Michelle.

      "Empathic healing," Sir Jon explained quietly, as he directed Perry and Blair to two more tables where they should place Patti and Miyan. "She has to experience all of Kenny's injuries before she can heal them."

      "Gracious," said Michelle. "Glad I'm not her."

      "Sir Jon," said Blair. "Please tend to Patti first. I think she's hurt worse."

      "Is he right, Rocie?" called Sir Jon, over his shoulder.

      Blair and Michelle watched in incredulous disbelief as the little robot girl skated from table to table, casually examining the two unconscious furs.

      "They're both in a state of shock," Rocie announced. "Nothing a little healing sleep won't fix. I'll create sleep zones for them."

      Blair and Michelle were again astonished as all the white light suddenly disappeared from around the two tables, and was replaced by a sparkling purple glow.

      Seeming mystified, Blair started to slowly insert his hand into the purple area.

      "Please don't do that," said the robot. "The zone functions best with no outside disturbance. All but Christy should leave the lab."

      "Like she said," said Sir Jon, indicating the door. "Everybody out."

      Blair felt the impulse to protest, but then he thought better of it and went along with the others.

      When they got back to the foyer Blair started to say he should leave and see to his business matters, but Miss Sonny would have none of that.

      "You'll do no such thing," she said, in a commanding tone. "You'll come in the drawing room and sit down, at least until you catch your second wind."

      Again, Blair's natural compulsion was to argue, but he realized that he was indeed tired, and a little rest before facing the stress of what was surely to come sounded too good to be dismissed. Besides, Miss Sonny had been much more than The Queen Of Suburbia to his childhood self. Regardless of who he had become since, the impulse to regard her as a mother figure was still irresistible. And thus he could not show disrespect.

      Blair followed the others into the drawing room where they found Kacey, Vicki, Jenny, Rob, Grease and Becky watching the news reports.

      Everyone found a comfortable seat around the TV, and Pamela went to the kitchen to prepare tea.

      Blair made it a point to greet Kacey in a friendly manner, which surprised her, as she did not know him all that well.

      "It's good to finally see you out of that hospital," he said.

      "Thank you, Mr. Montgomery," Kacey replied, hard put to hide her astonishment that he would care. "I . . . I'm sorry about Kenny."

      "Yes, well, I'm sure he's in good hands," said Blair, seeming unaccustomed to the emotions that demanded his expression.

      "So, Perrykins," said Michelle. "Where is your fair Miss Lappina?"

      "She left when she saw you come in," said Kacey, not looking directly at Michelle.

      "How strange," said Michelle. "I'd think she'd want to protect Perrykins from me."

      "Do nyot call him that," said Jenny, sternly. "You nyo longer have the right to call Perry by pet names. Nyone of us do."

      "Be good, Michelle," said Blair. "Let today be a day of truce."

      "Have we been at war, Blair?" asked Perry, obliviously.

      "At war?" said Blair, thoughtfully. "Perhaps not. But we have been rivals forever."

      "I'm well aware that you and Michelle have played business games with me in the past," said Perry, pleasantly. "I have never held them against you. How could I when you hired someone who made being taken advantage of so pleasant?"

      "You miss me, don't you," said Michelle, in her alluring southern drawl.

      "Actually, I've been quite worried about you," said Perry. "You didn't look at all well before you disappeared. It's so nice to see you back to your normal fluffiness."

      "Indeed," said Sir Jon. "Which is somewhat curious, being as you've just been in an explosion. Or were you two not as close to the blast as Kenny?"

      "Kenny's injuries did not come from the blast, as I'm sure you've realized already," said Blair. "We saw the missiles coming and jumped out the window before they hit."

      "Your office window?" asked Perry, with alarm. "That would be suicide."

      "No no, Perry," said Blair. "Remaining in a confined space with an exploding missile - that is suicide. Jumping out of a window a mile above ground to avoid a missile is . . . a calculated gamble. Unfortunately, not being an experience superhero like Saint Saffron, I'm not accustomed to making that kind of calculation with such haste. Had I calculated properly, I would have landed on my feet on the top of your building with both Michelle and Kenny safely secured."

      "But you missed a digit somewhere," Vicki assumed. "And that was too bad for Kenny?"

      "I thought I was strong enough to hold onto both of them," Blair admitted, regretfully. "I was wrong. I also thought I was capable of making a perfect landing. But I realized at the last instant that the only way to save Michelle from serious injury was to land on my dignity."

      "That must have been quite painful," Miss Sonny commented.

      "Indeed," said Blair, adjusting his sitting position as though he had severe back pain. "I'll never understand how superheroes do this sort of thing for a living."

      "I'm amazed at your calculations," said Perry. "I can't calculate one fur jumping from your building to mine, let alone carrying two others. You should all have sank like a stone, straight down into the street."

      "Are you sorry we didn't?" asked Michelle.

      "Let's just say my leap was aided by some gadgets I've invented that I'm not free to discuss in present company," said Blair, gesturing towards the two reporters. "You know how that is, don't you, Perry?"

      "I do, indeed," Perry agreed.

      "Kacey," said Blair, noting that Kacey was holding the TV remote. "Would you mind turning up the volume. I'd like to hear this part."

      While a live image of the burning building continued to be shown, a voice over was saying "Fire fighters seem powerless to control the intense blaze at the top of The Montgomery Technical Building. Safety devices for extinguishing fires above the range of conventional firefighting equipment seem to have failed. It is assumed the designers of the building never took the possibility of terrorist bombs into account."

      "That's a blatant lie," said Blair, with slow malevolence. "I took everything into account when I designed that building."

      "Surely back then you didn't take seriously the idea of Suburbia ever being at war," said Becky, nudging Grease to take notes.

      "Well, perhaps not," Blair admitted. "But I was certainly wary of industrial sabotage. There's no reason for that fire to still be burning, unless someone deliberately turned off the extinguishers."

      The voice over continued, "Hundreds, possibly thousands of Suburbian citizens remain trapped in the jammed stairwells of the two giant skyscrapers. Meanwhile, I'm handed a bulletin stating that the fire department is expanding the evacuation area, due to concerns that part or all of The Montgomery Technical Building may fall."

      "Ridiculous," said Blair, with casual dismissiveness. "The building has too much back up structure. Things may fall out of it, but the structure itself is designed to survive hurricanes, quakes, aircraft collisions and bombs. There's no possible way it could fall."

      "You seem proud of your building," said Grease.

      "Well, it is sort of a status symbol for me," Blair admitted. "As well as being one of my first great achievements."

      "Still," said Vicki. "I've often imagined that, if it fell, it would leave a path of destruction all the way across Suburbia."

      "Only if Perry's building were to fall the other way," said Blair with amusement. "But I know well the construction of both buildings. Neither could possibly fall."

      But then Blair added, with considerably less amusement, "At least, not by accident."

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S11E222: Waiting For Ground Zero

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 222
Waiting For Ground Zero

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

      

      Kacey awoke on a table in Sir Jon's lab to find her friends gathered around her, all with worried expressions on their faces.

      Realizing she was not waking up in her bed, Kacey started, her insecure nature requiring that she assume something was wrong and she needed to orient herself immediately.

      "Where am I?" she asked anxiously. "What's happened?"

      "I hear you had a bit of a run-in with some soldiers at the office," said Christine, pleasantly, hoping to ease Kacey back into her reality by acting as if nothing serious had happened. But it didn't work, as the word "soldiers" triggered Kacey's memory. And in a flash she relived the whole trauma.

      "No," said Kacey, with uncertainty. "It was just one. She . . . She called me a terrorist. OH MY GODDESS! SHE SHOT ME!!!"

 photo kacey waking up.jpg


      Kacey became hysterical and began frantically searching her body for the bullet hole.

      Christine and Vicki ran to embrace her and assured her she was alright, and that she was safe.

      "I can't believe it," Kacey cried, mournfully. "I've never been so scared in my whole life. How could anyone think I'm a terrorist?"

      "Well, Kacey, you might find it hard to believe," said Sir Jon, in a fatherly tone. "But you know, I think that soldier was just as scared of you as you were of her."

      "Why?" asked Kacey, plaintively.

      "Think of it this way," said Sir Jon. "To a mind hyped on the idea that enemies are about, any little thing out of the ordinary is terrifying. Soldiers may like to appear confident, but they're constantly on the edge. So anything that seems unusual, which can't be immediately explained, will terrify them."

      "All I did was drop my pencils," Kacey protested.

      "Yep," said Miyan. "All because you dropped your pencils, seven Camelodian soldiers are dead, my heliport is full of holes, 4 helicopters were destroyed, including one of mine, and I expect a warrant to be issued for my arrest at any moment."

      Kacey clasped her hands over her face in shock, her eyes widened in terror.

      "All because of me?" Kacey whimpered.

      "Kacey, dear," said Perry, comfortingly. "If it wasn't you, it would have been somebody else five minutes later. These soldiers have never seen real action before. They don't know who their enemy is, or even what their enemy looks like."

      "My desk is littered with complaints of these soldiers making similar mistakes," said Sir Jon. "They jump at anything unusual. They're especially scared of felines. And quite often they think they'll live longer if they beat confessions out of people before there's any real reason to think they're up to anything. But what makes it so much worse is that they can't think for themselves. They can only obey orders."

      "They would have let Kacey suffocate waiting for orders to let her be rescued," said Leela, angrily.

      "They're obviously more of a threat to the town than a protection," said Vicki, with righteous indignation. "Suburbia won't be Suburbia again until they're gone."

      "But that's terrible," Kacey whimpered, as if terrified by the realization. "I won't be able to live my life. I won't be able to go to work. I'll be scared to set foot outside the house. Can life in Webberton possibly be this terrifying?"

      "Life in Webberton is nyot terrifying for squirrels," said Jenny, in a gentle but depressed voice. "Squirrels in Webberton knyow how their lives will end. They are resigned to it. They are nyot uncomfortable as cattle. Except for the few who dream of escape. It is harder on those who believe there are other places where they would be safer. It is better that they nyot dream of coming here. They would be . . . disappointed."

      Jenny sniffled sadly and wiped at her eyes.

      "Now, now," said Sir Jon. "Don't anyone be writing off Suburbia just yet. Things are a little rocky right now. Times are a little hard. But I'm sure before too much longer the Camelodians will realize Webberton does not mean to move against us. They'll go home, and things will get back to the way they were."

      "I don't think so," said Kacey, sadly. "I'll never be able to work at the office again. I might as well hand in my resignation right now. And without my job my life's as good as over."

      "What are you talking about?" asked Miyan, kindly. "Nobody blames you for what happened. It's probably best that you stay home until the soldiers are gone, but after that we'll want you back."

      "I can't come back," said Kacey. "I won't be able to go near my desk without remembering getting shot."

      "But you weren't shot," said Miyan.

      "In her mind she was," Christine explained. "In her mind, the worst possible thing happened in a place she was used to feeling secure. A squirrel will never return to such a place."

      "Well, I'm counting on you to talk her out of that," said Miyan. "I can't exactly explain why. But if it gets to a point where Kacey is no longer on my payroll, I'll feel a failure. And that would not be tolerable."

      "You need her?" asked Christine.

      "I do," said Miyan, as if there could be no question of it.

      "It will be an interesting test," said Christine.

      "Test?" asked Kacey.

      "Yes," said Christine. "When the time comes for you to return to work, we will see if you can overcome your squirrel nature to be what Miyan needs you to be. If your human concern for Miyan trumps your squirrel sense of self-preservation, it will be conclusively proven that you're more human than squirrel."

      "Can I do that?" asked Kacey, in wonderment.

      "You're not all squirrel," said Christine. "You have a human side as well. I have a feeling your human heart loves Miyan, and will not be kept apart from her by any fear."

      "I at least expect the old college try," said Miyan.

      "I'll be back, Boss," Kacey promised, reverently.

***


      Several more senseless incidents occurred that day in which innocent lives were endangered by highly strung Camelodians. And Sir Jon was forced to report to The Queen Of Camelot that her troops were not only a total failure at keeping the peace, they were a menace to it.

      The Queen apologized for the inconveniences, but assured him these security measures were necessary, as her intelligence reports suggested an attack from Webberton was imminent.

      "What kind of attack do you expect?" Sir Jon demanded to know.

      "Webberton will most likely invade by air," said The Queen. "As it would be difficult to get ground troops to Suburbia without the train or road system, both of which Camelot has blocked off. But Webberton is close enough to Suburbia to launch all manner of air strikes, which will no doubt be preceded by a number of terrorist attacks, designed to break Suburbia's will and encourage an early surrender. If I withdrew my troops now, Suburbia would be defenseless against these attacks. In accordance with our contract I can not allow this."

      "I still say you're doing more harm than good," said Sir Jon. "And I am formally requesting that you remove your troops immediately and cancel our contract."

      "I can not in any good conscience honor that request," said The Queen. "The canceling of a contract is something both parties must agree upon. And since I can not agree that your town is safe, I am required to see to its protection. Have patience, Sir Jon. It will not take us long to eradicate The Webberton Menace once it comes out in the open. Peace and security will be restored to Suburbia, and the entire world will be a much safer place. Trust us."

      "Do I have a choice?" he asked.

      "Certainly you do," said The Queen. "Our contract doesn't require you to trust us, or to have confidence in us. But it does require you to let us do the job contracted for."

***


      The following day, Leela and Miyan returned to Rhoades Instruments as normal, half expecting to have to kill more soldiers just to get in the building. But, to their surprise, no soldiers met them at the door. There did not appear to be any soldiers anywhere.

      "This is just too weird," said Miyan, as they rode up on the elevator. "Why would they just bug out like this?"

      "Fear of The AD, perhaps," Leela conjectured. "If Spike was here they'd sure be quaking. Or perhaps someone actually listened to Sir Jon's recriminations."

      "Neither seems true to form," said Miyan, suspiciously. "I wish I wasn't so glad to be rid of them that I'm not at all inclined to inquire why we've been left to deal with the make-believe terrorists on our own."

      "Let's just hope they are make-believe," said Leela, warily.

      "You don't seriously expect Webberton to attack us," said Miyan, rolling her eyes.

      "I don't know what to expect," Leela admitted, uneasily. "But I'll tell you one thing I definitely don't expect. There's no way Camelot is going to go home with egg on its face. They're going to make sure something happens to justify their actions."

      "As in arranging an attack themselves?" asked Miyan, nervously.

      "You read Bixyl's article," said Leela. "What do you think?"

      "I think the former Queen Of Camelot was off her nut," said Miyan. "But she's been replaced, hopefully with someone more sensible."

      "Miyan, you're a sensible business person," said Leela. "You know better than what you're saying, as does Sir Jon. Camelodians are loonies. Sick, paranoid, megalomaniacal, imperialistic loonies. You can't seriously expect better of them just because one loony has been replaced with another."

      "I guess deep down I know you're right," Miyan admitted, with a sigh. "But what can I do? All power in this situation seems to rest with The Ruling Family. And they don't seem to have that much."

      "Next to The Ruling Family you're one of the most powerful people in this town," Leela reminded her. "Camelot in Suburbia is bad for business."

      "Well, it's bad for my business, anyway," said Miyan. "It doesn't seem to be hurting Blair Montgomery at all. Do you know what he was doing yesterday while we were risking our necks to save Kacey?"

      "What?" asked Leela, intrigued.

      "He was buying up a controlling interest in every soft drink company in town," said Miyan.

      "And the logic in that is . . .?" asked Leela.

      "Camelodian soldiers wear heavy uniforms over their fur," said Miyan, as if the answer should have been obvious. "They drink a lot."

      "Heh," laughed Leela. "Weird I would miss that. This trench coat only weighs about 25 pounds. It doesn't affect me so badly in Noir, but in the Suburbian sunshine? Ooooh, murder."

      The elevator door opened and they walked across the hall to the office.

      As they entered, the office fell silent, and Patti presented Miyan with a message from the Camelodian Field Commander.

      It read, "Dear Miss Rutherford. Being as we have learned your workers are insured by The AD, and to comply with requests from The Ruling Family Of Suburbia that local businesses not be disrupted, we have withdrawn all protection from the premises. We trust that The AD is better equipped to defend your building against terrorists, since you seem to prefer their protection to ours. We hope they will not let you down."

      "Well," said Miyan. "Now it would seem we have no protection at all against the great bogeys from Webberton."

      "Nonsense," said Leela, pointing to herself. "You have the same protection you've always had, The AD."

      "You're going to protect this entire building by yourself?" asked Miyan, skeptically.

      "As much as I can," said Leela. "But mainly my job is to protect you. If there's trouble and I can do anything for the others, I will. If not, I'll see that they're avenged. That is the nature of AD insurance."

      "But you won't be shedding any tears over them," Miyan assumed.

      "Tears?" said Leela. "Do I look like the kind of fur that cries? Time's wasting. You should get to work."

      Miyan turned to Patti and said, "Patti, would you mind covering for Kacey again?"

      "Is she going to be alright?" asked Patti. "We've all been worried about her."

      "Don't worry about Kacey," said Miyan. "Sir Jon and Christine fixed her up just fine. But I do think asking her to do her normal job in a time of war is a bit much."

      "You didn't fire her did you?" asked Patti, with trepidation, the whole office listening intently.

      "Certainly not," said Miyan. "I didn't fire her all that time she was in the hospital. I'm not going to fire her now. But I'm counting on you all to cover for her so I can keep her position open."

      Everyone in the office simultaneously saluted, as if to say the order was understood and taken seriously.

      Miyan then went into her private office with Leela and Patti to begin their day's work.

      Miyan sat down behind her desk, and Leela sat down in the chair where Jasper had previously sat, while Miyan did her best not to think about him.

      Patti brought over a stack of folders and said, "These are the stock portfolios you wanted to look over."

      "Excellent," said Miyan, eagerly rubbing her hands. "Now let's see what I can buy out from under Blair while he's preoccupied with soft drinks."

      Miyan looked over one folder and said, "Ummmhmmmm."

      She looked over a second and said, "Ummmhmmmm."

      Then she looked over a third and said, "Ahh-ha!"

      She then snickered in an evil, greedy, villainous manor, which drew a raised eyebrow from Leela.

      Miyan then went through the rest of the folders, putting some in one pile and the others in a second. Then she handed the smaller of the two piles to Patti and instructed her to purchase controlling stock in each of those companies.

      "That will be a considerable drain on our resources," Patti warned.

      "It will indeed," said Miyan. "But it will pay. And it will leave Blair Montgomery looking like a fool."

      Miyan could not help indulging in a hearty laugh.

      "Would you mind sharing what you're so happy about?" asked Leela. "Good chuckles are hard to come by these days."

      "This is how business works and how progress is made," said Miyan, boastfully. "Blair just invested a fortune in dehydrated soldiers, which he probably thought was a sure thing. I'm about to invest a fortune in keeping the soldiers from dehydrating. I can use the technology I inherited from my predecessor to create light weight, breathable uniforms for the Camelodians."

      "I guess that's the only good thing about war," said Patti, sadly. "It encourages the advance of new technologies. Once this war is over furs will be able to wear clothing that won't make their fur fall out."

      "And shoes that won't cause infections," Miyan added. "Can you imagine what The Camelodians would pay for boots they could comfortably wear?"

      "I'm sure you could sell such things to the Webbertonians as well," said Leela. "And you'd probably put most Noirnian trench coat makers out of business."

      "The entire face of the world could be changed," Patti remarked, seeming awed by the power of big business.

      "There's just one thing about it," Leela observed. "For both Blair's investment or yours to make back the required windfall, you must both be counting on this war to last a long time."

      "Well," said Miyan, seeming somewhat deflated, but by no means discouraged. "The records of the elder race suggest wars tend to last between 5 to 20 years."

      "But the people of Suburbia are counting on this to be resolved overnight," Leela reminded her.

      "The people of Suburbia were counting on this never to happen," said Miyan, in a matter of fact tone. "They're already disappointed, and they're probably in for more disappointments. So, if these disappointments are going to happen anyway, why shouldn't I profit from them?"

      "But what if these disappointments fail to happen by themselves?" asked Leela. "The Ruling Family Of Suburbia are noted miracle workers. What if they somehow have this business over and done with by next week?"

      "Both Blair and I would lose out on a considerable fortune," Miyan relented.

      "What would it be worth to you if someone like me could insure that this war goes on for at least five years?" asked Leela, deviously.

      Miyan seemed caught off guard, her atrophied sense of morality quickly giving way to the calculation of profits.

      "I'd have to say that would be worth a considerable investment," said Miyan.

      "Boss?" said Patti, in a tone of extreme disappointment.

      "What would it be worth to you if, between the two of us, we could keep this war going indefinitely?" asked Leela.

      More calculations ran through Miyan's head, finally adding up to a huge cha-ching ringing in her ears, and dollar signs flashing in her eyes.

      "Dare I ask how you would do it?" asked Miyan.

      "Easy," said Leela. "As long as you're manufacturing efficient military uniforms, you could manufacture more efficient military weapons. I know Rhoades Instruments has the facilities and the technology to do so. So first you sell your weapons to the Camelodians, which will enable you to keep control of Suburbia. Then you sell your weapons to Webberton. Camelot will feel its superiority endangered, and they'll find an excuse to attack Webberton. You equip and finance both sides and let them fight all they want. Then we kind of let the news leak out that both Webberton and Camelot are thinking of occupying other towns in order to improve their strategic position. All the other towns will become terrified and demand the ability to defend themselves. You won't be able to build enough factories to supply the demand for your weapons."

      "I'm sure Blair Montgomery has already thought of that," said Miyan. "He's probably already got a plan like that in motion."

      "Precisely," said Leela. "So why should you let him take all the gold if he means to keep the world perpetually at war anyway?"

      "Hmmmmmm," said Miyan, thoughtfully.

      "Boss, you can't!" Patti exclaimed. "For Goddess sake, there are other ways to make money."

      "You know, Leela," said Miyan. "You're not the first to bring a proposition like this to me. It always seems tempting when I think about it in terms of cash flow. But then I have to ask myself, what kind of quality of life would I have in a world perpetually at war?"

      "For me it would be business as usual," said Leela, in a casual tone. "Noir has always been perpetually at war. And I think my quality of life's pretty good. Most cats in Webberton think their quality of life is pretty good too. And the Camelodians couldn't be happier now that war has been established on this planet. Yep, a lot of furs would see a drastic improvement in their quality of life."

      "Miss Lennox," said Patti, sternly. "Are you just playing devil's advocate, or are you really that despicable a person?"

      "I'm afraid I'm that despicable a person," Leela explained. "You see, I'm Noirnian. And more than that, I'm Law & Order. And the way I see the future is that either Miyan Rutherford or Blair Montgomery is going to be writing the laws from now on. But unless I've got some vested interest, I don't really care which one it is. If The AD could buy into a piece of Miyan's future establishment, that might make it worthwhile for me to insure that Miyan wins out over Blair. If not I'll be just as happy enforcing the laws Blair Montgomery will write."

      "So you're saying if I cut a deal with The AD, you can help me put Blair out of business," said Miyan.

      "All you'd need to do is offer some proof that Blair Montgomery had murdered someone insured by The AD," said Leela. "Then we'd have to eliminate him, wouldn't we?"

      "Kacey is insured by The AD," said Miyan, thoughtfully.

      "That's right," said Leela. "And we still owe someone a death sentence for burning her. So tell me the truth, Miyan. Did Blair have Kacey burned?"

      Miyan thought hard a moment, knowing that her next few words might irrevocably alter the future of the world.

      "I don't know," she reluctantly admitted, eventually.

      "What do you mean you don't know?" Leela demanded, incredulously. "It was either him or you. Which was it? What possible reason do you have to protect him? Go on, blame Blair Montgomery, and the world will be yours."

      "I see what you're trying to do, Leela," said Miyan. "But it won't work. I honestly don't know who burned the house. I may have been there. The place may have been torched by my own hand. But if it was, I wasn't controlling it."

      "I know for a fact you didn't do it," said Leela. "If you'd done it you wouldn't be able to sit here with me without sweating bullets. If I thought you'd done it, no acquittal from any court would save you from the judgment of The AD."

      "So Blair Montgomery is your prime suspect, it seems," said Miyan. "What restrains you from going after him?"

      "Who says we're not?" said Leela. "We're investigating the hell out of him, but we still don't have enough of a case to act against him. I'd hoped you'd fill in some of the blanks. But if promises of astounding wealth won't bring any answers out of you, I don't suppose anything will."

      "But, Leela," Miyan protested. "Under that kind of temptation, wouldn't you expect someone like me to lie their head off?"

      "A lie would have been sufficient justification for a sanction," said Leela. "I don't need absolute proof that Blair is guilty. A reasonably sound suspicion would do."

      "Look, I don't really want to put out a hit on Blair," said Miyan. "Nor do I particularly want to rule the world, or be so wealthy I wouldn't know what to do with myself. But Blair does. And if he's really preparing to keep the world perpetually at war, I should do everything in my power to stop him."

      "Very well then," said Leela. "Convince me that he's tried to kill someone insured by The AD."

      "Was Duke Turner insured by The AD?" asked Miyan.

      "Unfortunately, no," said Leela.

      "Too bad," said Miyan. "I'm pretty sure Montgomery had him killed."

      "What about Ratzo?" asked Leela. "Tell me he had Ratzo killed and I'll go straight away to blow his brains out."

      "I haven't heard anything about Ratzo being dead," said Miyan. "I think Ratzo just went off somewhere to nurse her broken heart. I'm sure she'll be back. And she'll have no mercy for Saint Saffron. Or the phony Saint Saffron, whoever it was. But then you'd know, wouldn‘t you? You'd know if the real Saint Saffron had a reason to kill Duke Turner."

      "I'm afraid you just have to wait for the comic book to find out about that," said Leela. "My last issue should be coming up soon."

      "Last issue?" asked Patti, in disbelief.

      "Thanks to Suburbia," said Leela, "its Magic Fox, its wretched sunshine, and its damned romantic atmosphere, Ratzo will never be able to hunt Saint Saffron again. If she tries she's as good as dead. And I can't tell you how upset Saint Saffron is about that. The next issue should tell the tale of which of my main characters will live or die; if one will have a happy ending, or if both will end in tragedy."

      Seeming absorbed in the thought of losing her successful news comics enterprise, Leela got up and went to the nearest glass wall and gazed ruefully into the open air outside the high-rise. Miyan and Patti decided to leave her alone with her heavy thoughts and went on quietly with their work.

      The view near the top of The Rhoades Instruments Building was not terribly interesting. It was mostly open at that height; The Montgomery Technical Building being the only other structure reaching up that high.

      It was, in fact, several stories higher than The Rhoades Instruments Building. Just one more superfluous way Blair had found of saying to Perry, "Anything you can do I can do better."

      The town itself was difficult to see from a mile above. Mostly there was nothing to be seen but open sky with orange clouds, and the green of the surrounding jungle below. Looking down Leela was sure that with a pair of binoculars she could see all the way to Noir from there.

      For a time she let her memory go, half smiling as visions of her adventures in Noir passed before her mind's eye. But she denied herself a tear at the thought that all that was over now.

      No, Leela would not shed tears. She was not the sentimental type. Only the type to feel vengeful for being robbed of something; in this case, her entire world, and probably her life itself.

      She had not much time left, she knew. But in that time she would have revenge; revenge on those whom she had determined were responsible for the loss of all she had held sacred. Yes, revenge was always preferable to tears. It was the Noirnian way.

      Yet for some reason she found it difficult to take pleasure in the thoughts of her enemies suffering. It was all getting to be a bit much. Perhaps she had had it too good for too long. She'd been foolish to think it would last forever. But that would be ok. As long as her last adventure ended with a bang big enough to let her ego die satisfied, she would know joy at the end.

      Suddenly Leela's reverie was disturbed by the sound of an approaching helicopter.

      Both Miyan and Patti noticed it as well.

      "Are we expecting any air deliveries today?" asked Miyan.

      "Not that I know of," said Patti. "I was under the impression the Camelodians had established a no fly zone over Suburbia."

      "That probably means we're about to be bothered by the military again," said Miyan.

      "I have a bad feeling about this," said Leela, in an urgent tone. "Why would Camelodians need to enter the building by air, unless they were up to something underhanded?"

      "You don't suppose it isn't a Camelodian helicopter," said Patti, nervously.

      Leela looked out another window and said urgently, "I can see it. It's not Camelodian. It's black!"

      "Only Webberton uses black helicopters," Miyan gasped in disbelief.

      "Hurry, Miyan," Leela shouted. "Give the order to evacuate the building."

      Miyan hurriedly called the switch board and shouted "Execute emergency order! Evacuate! Evacuate!"

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S11E221: Soldier Of Fortune's Luck

Spectral Shadows
Serial No. 11
The Planet Of Genetic Misadventure
Episode 221
Soldier Of Fortune's Luck

Copyright 1993, 2018 by Symphonic Rock Productions.

Featuring:

            

            

      

      At the memorial service for Jasper, Blair Montgomery approached Miyan saying he was glad she wasn't hurt in the explosion.

      She asked if he was not responsible for the explosion, and he assured her he had every intention of keeping the truce they had agreed on with Sir Jon, and that it was not his organization targeting her. Rather, it seemed to be forces from Noir that were causing trouble in Suburbia of late.

      Leela, now unofficially standing in as Miyan's bodyguard, interjected that if the problem was originating from Noir, The AD owed enough to Perry to take on the case as a courtesy.

      Blair asked if this was not a violation of the Noirnian constitution, bringing gang wars into Suburbia. Leela agreed it was indeed a crime against the Noirnian constitution, and that was why The AD was most interested in putting a stop to it.

      "Will the male detectives of The AD be joining you in that investigation?" asked Miyan.

      "Unfortunately they are indefinitely detained by another case," said Leela, giving Blair a smug look.

      "You'd think they could find better things to do than confounding my plans for the revitalization of Halloween," said Blair. "But if they want to tie themselves up trying to uncover something illegal in a town where I am for all intents and purposes the law, it's no skin off my nose."

      "Sounds like they're being a bad influence on you," said Leela. "You're starting to talk like a Noirnian."

      "Please, Miss Lennox," said Blair, jovially. "I get enough such insults at home."

      "Anyway," Leela concluded. "I see no reason why I shouldn't be able to handle things in Suburbia myself. It's not like I don't have other associates in Noir I can call in if things suddenly get hot here."

      "More Noirnians," said Blair, in a droll tone. "Just what everyone needs."

      "Should I take that as a religious insult?" asked Leela, not seeming at all offended.

      "Noirnians seem to pride themselves on being obnoxious," said Blair, with a smug smile. "I'd think they'd feel themselves off their game if I didn't put them down."

      "Speaking of things getting hot in Suburbia," said Miyan. "What's your opinion of the Camelodian occupation?"

      "It seems bad for business in some ways, good in others," said Blair. "But since they are only here to protect Suburbia, I see no reason not to support the troops."

      "Have you noticed any of your workers disappearing?" Miyan inquired.

      Michelle, standing at Blair's side, replied, "I have noted numerous disappearances. At first I thought there was some kind of exodus from Suburbia; people not wanting to be caught in a war zone. But even people running from a war don't stop spending their pay. We should be able to trace these people through their bank accounts, but all spending activity ceases after they disappear."

      "This is terrible," said Miyan, seeming incensed. "I want Suburbia back the way it was."

      "Don't let it shake you, Miyan," said Blair, seeming unusually compassionate towards his rival. "Times will change. This is unavoidable. You can't hold them back. But no matter how the world changes we will still have our products to sell, and we should not be too particular about who we sell them to. Free Suburbians or occupied Suburbians will still have money to spend, will still have needs they'll depend on us to supply. Roll with the changes as I am doing. I'm making a fortune off that Camelodian base in No Fur's Land. Anglophiles wouldn't know what to do without their afternoon tea. And they buy a fortune in soft drinks as well."

      Miyan seemed irritated by Blair's off handed attitude, saying, "I hope that doesn't make you complicit in the torture or even the murder of your own employees."

      "If furs murder each other in the pursuit of their religions it is not for me to be concerned," said Blair. "It is simply the natural state of things on this planet. Ours is not to reason with human nature, but merely to profit from it. If you can no longer manage that philosophy, you're losing your business sense. Or, if for any reason you decide you don't like doing business with whatever form Suburbia will take in the future, you always have the option to move your base of operation to Webberton. Fat cats with bloody claws also have money to buy your products."

      At this Miyan saw red, recalling that it was Blair's insistence on doing business with Webberton that had broken the intertownal boycott, which was in all likelihood why Webberton remained a threat, and consequently a contributing factor to Suburbia's current misfortunes.

      Miyan bared her teeth with a feline hiss and raked Blair's face with a swipe of her claws, instantly drawing back in horror at her impulsive action.

      But Blair hardly seemed to notice. He merely smiled and reached up to touch the blood leaking from his wound, and then he put his fingers to his mouth.

      This by itself had Miyan thoroughly weirded out, but as she watched, the wound healed itself over and disappeared in a matter of seconds.

      Then Blair turned to casually walk away, saying politely, "Good day, Miyan, Miss Lennox. See you in the comics."

      As they were leaving the service, Michelle asked Blair if they really had no involvement in these latest crimes.

      Blair stated flatly that he took no responsibility for their former partners who had for whatever reasons gone rogue. His plans had been made a shambles, and there was nothing to do now but try to put a stop to everything they had set in motion and begin again from scratch to achieve their main objective.

***


      The town of Suburbia was in an uproar over the recent disturbances to its peace and security. Protesters gathered outside Town Hall demanding that something needed to be done to restore a sense of security to the town, threatening to depose Jon as mayor if he could not resolve the situation.

      A Camelodian officer addressed the crowd, assuring them that the terrorists who had ordered the death of Jasper Phillips would be apprehended and peace restored, if the Suburbians would give The Camelodians their full cooperation and patience with any inconveniences security measures might cause.

      The crowd seemed to accept the assurance of the Camelodians. They were, after all, still widely regarded as "The Good Guys." And, feeling their grievances had been properly aired, the demonstration began to break up.

      But as the crowd dispersed, many were arrested by Camelodian soldiers and disappeared, adding to the huge pile of missing persons reports burying the desk of Officer Growlitz at Suburbia's police station, where he noted to a Camelodian soldier assigned to assist him that every one of these cases seemed to involve a person of feline extraction.

      To which the soldier offered the theory that they were probably all traitors who had defected to Webberton.

***


      Christine seemed to show little interest in getting involved in the occupation situation. If anything, hearing others discussing it seemed to depress her. And she confided to Sir Jon that she was once again pondering the possibility that this disturbance of the peaceful Cygnesian planet was somehow her fault, due to her nature as a heroine or because of something evil that came along with her from Chikyu.

      Sir Jon dismissed this, saying that this eruption of long held at bay instability was bound to blow up sometime.

      Sir Jon elaborated, "As you have observed, laws based on fantasy rather than practicality do not well serve the people. It has resulted in the towns of Suburbia, Webberton, Noir and Camelot becoming like the super powers that exist on most other planets. They are so blinded by their dogma and illusions of self-righteousness that they would hinge the survival of the entire planet on an inconsequential argument. That things remained as stable as they were for so long was nothing short of a miracle. And it is far more likely that you were brought to Cygnus at this time to save it from itself, rather than to destroy it."

***


      Kacey, having become disgusted with her online fandom's sudden obsession with political correctness and identity politics, had suddenly found herself leaning more conservative. The idea that she was somehow entitled to the easy life she'd been living rubbed her the wrong way. As much as her liberal friends encouraged her to, she just couldn't see her abuse by her family, doctors and Noirnian arsonists as oppression points she was socially obligated to flaunt and milk for all she could get out of them. She saw that attitude as lazy, rather than some kind of social justice.

      As a consequence of this dissatisfaction, she had asked Miyan for her old job back. And though Miyan thought this was probably not the best of times for Kacey to decide to reassert herself, she wasn't about to discourage her.

      Arriving at The Rhoades Instruments building on her first day back, Kacey found there were soldiers everywhere, scrutinizing everything. And the way they tended to look at her with suspicion made her feel ill at ease in a place where she had once been entirely comfortable.

      As she walked in the main entrance a soldier demanded her identification and then rudely searched her person, which set her teeth to clenching and her tail fur to bristling. This was just the kind of thing that everyone who knew her did not do without the proper protocols.

      As she signed the register a soldier looked over her shoulder. While she rode up in the elevator a soldier stared at her sternly the whole time, fingering her weapon, as if daring Kacey to give her an excuse to use it.

      When she reached the main office where she worked as a receptionist, Kacey was again accosted for her identification and searched. By the time she reached her desk she was a nervous wreck. So she sat down and started attempting to organize her work space with shaky hands.

      Suddenly another soldier came up behind her desk and stood staring down at her. And Kacey felt as if that soldier's critical eyes would burn a hole in her back.

      "What are you doing there?" Kacey asked, anxiously.

      "Watching for suspicious activity," said the soldier, a female German shepherd. "It's my assignment."

      "To look over my shoulder all day!" Kacey exclaimed.

      "Certainly," said the soldier. "No spies will be getting past my watch."

      Kacey tried to continue filling her pencil cup, but she was so nervous she could not control her hands, and the pencils flew everywhere. And then she just sat staring at the mess, whimpering in her helplessness.

      Suddenly Kacey felt the soldier grab her shoulder and spin her chair around to face her.

      "You're acting suspiciously," said the soldier, threateningly. "What treachery are you up to?"

      Kacey could only gape at the soldier in shock, her throat becoming paralyzed with fear.

      The soldier grabbed her radio and shouted into it, "This is DC 31. We've got a dirty one here."

      Unable to call for help, Kacey began feebly reaching behind her for the intercom button, her sense of panic filling the entire office, which looked on horror stricken.

      "Freeze!" the soldier shouted at her. "I'll shoot you before I'll let you trigger any terrorist device."

 photo gunpoint.jpg


      The soldier drew her gun and thrust it in Kacey's face, but Kacey could not cease whimpering or struggling.

      "I won't warn you again!" she shouted, preparing to shoot.

      Then, a shot rang out. And the entire office staff held its breath.

      The soldier drew back, and the now paralyzed squirrel fell out of her chair to the floor, where she lay as still as death, her eyes widened and unblinking in her state of terror, causing many onlookers to think she was dead.

      The soldier then looked down at her uniform, seeming bewildered by the sight of the blood that covered it, as if she had never seen blood before.

      Then she looked across the desk where Leela stood, striking a cool Noirnian pose with her smoking gun.

      "AD insurance," said Leela, emotionlessly. "She's my client. And you're dead."

      Leela then fired her gun three more times, each shot knocking the bewildered soldier back until she hit the wall, and then she slid down to a crumpled heap on the floor, leaving the white wall smeared with red.

      No sooner had Leela blown the smoke from her gun and put it away than a number of soldiers came running into the office shouting, "Where's the terrorist?"

      Everyone in the office then pointed at the dead soldier.

      The soldiers then watched in disbelief as Leela filled out a righteous kill card with the number of Kacey's insurance policy, and tossed it on the dead soldier's body.

      Miyan then broke through the crowd and pushed her way to Kacey, kneeling beside her to assess her condition.

      "She's in a bad way," said Miyan, urgently. "She needs emergency care immediately."

      "We have to take her into custody," one of the soldiers replied. "She'll be taken to the medical facility at our base."

      "She can't get the kind of help she needs there," shouted Miyan. "Why are you trying to kill my receptionist?"

      "Let me handle this," said Leela, calmly facing the soldiers. "You all should be aware that Perry Rhoades has purchased extensive insurance on all workers in this building. Any further endangerment of AD clients will be met with instant death. And any harm coming to any member of The AD will be taken as an act of war against my organization. In other words, if you don't get out of our way right now, The AD will burn Camelot to the ground."

      "The AD can't threaten us," said one of the soldiers. "We have treaties with Noir."

      "Your treaties with Noir don't mean spit to The AD," said Leela, in a tone that suggested she held the absolute authority of life and death in this situation. "We're an independent intertownal organization. We protect our living clients and avenge those who die. And don't bother begging war as an excuse. We don't buy that crap. If we lose clients because of your war we'll slaughter our way up your chain of command all the way to your queen herself. We won't leave anything left of Camelot but a bad memory in the minds of its victims. I suggest you take that message to your superiors before you continue any further with this."

      Leela began scooping Kacey up in her arms and asked Miyan, "What's the quickest way to get Kacey to the hospital?"

      "Getting paramedics up here would take forever under the current situation," said Miyan. "We're closest to the roof. Can you fly a helicopter?"

      "No problem," said Leela, as she hefted the heavy squirrel into her arms. "Lead the way."

      Begrudgingly the soldiers parted to let them pass, but as they got on the elevator to go up to the landing platform, another soldier, a female hamster, accosted them and demanded they explain what they were doing.

      "Isn't it obvious?' said Miyan. "This girl is sick. She needs medical attention."

      "I'll have to clear it with command," said the soldier.

      "Uh, does the term time is of the essence mean anything to you?" asked Leela, in exasperation.

      "I have my orders," said the soldier.

      "Well hurry up about it," shouted Miyan.

      The soldier took out her radio and reported the situation. A response came back that the heliport could not be accessed without orders signed in triplicate, and the three females should be taken to the first floor for interrogation.

      "Sorry," said the soldier. "Procedure is procedure."

      "Oh well, poor Kacey," said Leela, as she set Kacey down on the floor and propped her up safely against the wall. "Looks like we're just going to have to let her die; a victim of Camelodian red tape."

      "But if she dies then this soldier is responsible," said Miyan.

      "Yep," Leela agreed. "And, according to procedure, she who causes the death of an AD client must be dispatched with all due haste."

      Leela grabbed the soldier's weapon and flung her roughly against the wall, immobilizing her by the force she exerted against the weapon, which was pointed harmlessly at the floor.

      Leela then drew her gun with her other hand and thrust it in the soldier's face.

      "Sorry old girl," said Leela, in a mock Camelodian accent. "But you know how it is, procedure and all that."

      "Quite so," sobbed the soldier, as she closed her eyes tightly and prepared for death. "Carry on."

      "Leela!" Miyan exclaimed, seeing that Leela actually meant to kill the pathetic hamster.

      "Oh alright," Leela relented, reluctantly. Then she sharply pistol whipped the weeping soldier into unconsciousness.

      Miyan then hit the button and the elevator started up to the roof.

      "You hide in here with Kacey," Leela instructed as she readied her machine guns. "There's no more time to waste being friendly. I'm going to have to clear the heliport the most expedient way possible. Just hide in here till I call you. And do yourself a favor. If you can't handle seeing what I'm going to do, don't look out."

      Miyan crouched in the corner of the elevator with Kacey as the door opened and Leela jumped out.

      Almost instantly the air was shattered by machine gun fire and screams. And for once Miyan understood how Kacey felt, hardly able to breathe as she faced the terror of the moment.

      And indeed, a moment was all it was. One of the longest moments of Miyan's life perhaps, but still only a moment before the gun fire ceased and Leela was calling Miyan to come out.

      Miyan tried to pick Kacey up and get her out of the elevator. But it was a no go. Miyan wasn't anywhere near as strong as Leela.

      But Leela soon returned to help her, and together they hauled Kacey to one of the helicopters, loaded her in the back, and then took their seats in the front.

      Leela quickly figured out the controls and got the helicopter running. But by the time she got it lifting into the air more soldiers had appeared on the roof, and they began firing at them.

      Leela held onto the controls with one hand and her machine gun with the other as she returned fire, causing the soldiers to dive for cover - seemingly shocked that anyone in Suburbia would have the ability to fight back.

      Leela wasted no time getting the copter out of range, but she noted that the copter felt unstable. The shots had damaged it, and she knew she couldn't keep it in the air long enough to get to Suburbia General.

      Miyan suggested they make for The Rhoades Mansion where there would be plenty of room to land. And Kacey could probably get better treatment there anyway.

      The ride was not long, but it was unnervingly bumpy. They could never have made it to their destination had they not started off from the mile high roof of The Rhoades Instruments building, as the copter would not climb, and it rapidly lost altitude. But Leela was able to nurse their descent in a straight line that dropped them right on the front lawn of The Ruling Family.

      By the time the copter set down in front of The Rhoades Mansion, three Camelodian copters were swarming about threateningly, a voice booming over a PA speaker, "Surrender immediately or be destroyed."

      "This is getting pretty serious," said Miyan, anxiously. "How the heck are we supposed to surrender?"

      "We're not," said Leela. "They mean to blow up this helicopter, and us with it - claiming a heroic victory over Webberton terrorists."

      "So what do we do?" asked Miyan, desperately.

      "We get moving," said Leela, jumping into the back and scooping Kacey up into her arms. "We'll have to make a break for the house."

      "But they'll shoot us down before we get there," Miyan protested.

      "Trust me," said Leela. "Being shot is always better than being blown up. Let's go."

      As the helicopter above took note of those fleeing the helicopter below and trained its guns on them, a ball of light came flying from the roof of the mansion and slammed into the airborne helicopter, instantly disrupting it's electronics, making it uncontrollable, and it spun off into the distance.

      The two remaining pilots had just enough time to make out The Queen Of Suburbia herself, standing on the roof of the mansion, wearing a most unusual headband, and a glowing ball of energy forming in each hand, which she flung at the copters.

      The pilots tried to take evasive action, but the balls of energy seemed to be drawn to their targets, and upon impact the two helicopters were sent spinning out of control, unable to avoid crashing in the park nearby.

      Miss Sonny then came bounding down from the roof to meet the others and urged them towards the door, where they were immediately admitted.

      Once inside, both Leela and Miyan collapsed, with Kacey's unconscious form lying on top of them.

      As they fought to catch their breath, Miyan commented between gulps of air, "That was crazy. I can't believe we survived."

      "It's what Spike calls soldier of fortune's luck," said Leela, breathlessly. "Something always happens to pull your tail out of the fire at the last minute."

      "And if it doesn't?" asked Miyan, expectantly.

      To which Leela replied, "If it doesn't you'll never know it was the last issue of your comic book."

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