by John R. Plunkett
Batteries of enormous lights mounted at the tops of skinny but incredibly high towers cast a cold, harsh light over the Hanjin Shipping Lines cargo transfer terminal. Even so, the rows of warehouses just outside the terminal's perimeter fence- which was three meters high and topped with razor wire- were dark shadows lit only by the very occasional and rather forlorn looking street lamp. Thus it was with some concern when the security guard in the armored booth overlooking Gate Four noticed a shadowy figure coming across the street. The guard reached for his phone but hesitated. It was just a single person. Even if the fellow decided to get nasty there wasn't anything he could do on the outside of the fence. If he did get nasty, then there would be a reason to call in a mobile unit.
The figure stopped, looking up at the security booth. It wore a long, black leather coat and a fedora pulled low over its face. Odd getup for someone on foot in this part of town in the middle of the night. The guard's hand moved toward the phone again.
A black gloved hand lifted the brim of the fedora and the stranger's face became visible. He was a cat, specifically a Siamese. Dark, coffee brown fur on his ears and muzzle faded into a light coffee with cream on the rest of his head, accenting his bright, blue eyes. He shook back his coat, revealing the long hilt of a Japanese katana, wrapped with black thread and inlaid with mother of pearl.
"Bugger me!" the guard exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "It's Katakana Kat!" He grabbed the phone-
Because he had been watching the man in black the guard had failed to notice as the door of the booth opened silently. He did hear a sharp snap as a taser fired; after that he heard nothing. His entire body spasmed violently as eleven thousand volts coursed through it; he knocked his chair over with a crash and fell to the floor.
Another feline stepped into the booth, of a type sometimes called Russian blue. He possessed a pelt of solid, dark gray that under bright light looked blue but in semidarkness faded to invisibility. He chuckled to himself, securing the guard's hands with his own cuffs. "Poor boy," he said in a thick, Slavic accent. "Surely you must realize that where Katakana Kat goes, Cat Burglar can't be far behind." He pressed a button; security locks withdrew and the gate swung open. Katakana Kat turned and waved; a dark painted van sped down the street and pulled into the driveway. Cat Burglar sprinted down to it.
"Good work, Vyacheslav," Katakana Kat said as he climbed in through the van's side door.
Vyacheslav Soborin, also known as Cat Burglar, laughed out loud. "You deserve the credit, Daitakerou. He was so hypnotized by you I could have taken his underwear. We now have-" he consulted his watch, a solid gold Rolex with diamond movements- "twenty six minutes and forty-two seconds."
The van entered the yard. Two of Daitakerou's men rode in front, wearing Hanjin dock worker overalls. Four more, similarly dressed, rode in back. They were a varied lot: an English bulldog, a Newfoundland terrier, a Bhrama bull, a pair of Rotwielers who were brothers, and a Kodiak bear. One quality they all shared was being large, powerfully built individuals. They really did look like they could be wharfies.
The van stopped near the foot of a massive crane and the crew bailed out. Daitakerou walked along a line of half a dozen containers, inspecting them carefully. "This one," he pronounced, slapping it.
The bear used a pair of bolt cutters to remove the seal. Using his picks Vyacheslav had the padlock open in less time than its rightful owners probably could have done with a key. The Rotweiler brothers pulled the doors open. Crates wrapped with blanket filled the container; the last two consisted of a long one standing on its end and a shorter one laying on its side. Daitakerou looked at the shipping label on the smaller crate- then paused, his gaze shifting to the larger.
"What is it?" Vyacheslav asked, glancing nervously at his watch. They hadn't the time to mess around.
"This is the one," Daitakerou pronounced, indicating the larger crate.
"But-" the bear protested.
"Are you arguing with me?" Daitakerou demanded. His hand strayed toward the hilt of his sword.
"No, no," the bear protested quickly. He'd seen Daitakerou in action; that sword could be out of its sheath and through a bloke's neck before you could blink. "All right, you nobs! Get moving!"
Despite its size the crate didn't seem to weigh much; the crew picked it up and loaded it in the truck without difficulty. Vyacheslav frowned; he would have expected it to weigh more. "Are you sure about this, Daitakerou?" he inquired, as tactfully as possible.
"Yes," Daitakerou replied in a tone that brooked no argument. Vyacheslav shrugged and took his seat; If it wasn't the right crate he was perfectly content to let Daitakerou explain it all to the Boss.
When the van returned to Gate Four it still stood wide open with no security in sight. In spite of his misgivings Vyacheslav grinned. Piece of piss, as the locals would say.
Several blocks away the van stopped again. The Rot brothers replaced the van's plates with a new set. After leaving the port area the van got on the Wellington Urban Motorway. In Johnsonville they pulled off onto city streets, wandering for a while to shake off pursuit. Finally they stopped in front of the Calico Cat, a nude dance club that, according to the sign, was closed for repairs. Even so, the front door opened even as the van came to a stop; in very little time the stolen crate had been carried inside. To all appearances the place really was a dance club; a bar ran along one wall, opposite a stage with three brass poles. Small tables filled the floor except for a cleared space at the center.
Six people waited. Though as varied as Daitakerou's crew only one really mattered: Mr. Paul-Constandinos Ulysses, also known as the Big Bad Wolf. He stood as tall and powerful as any of his thugs, even in his impeccably tailored white on white suit. His hoary pelt and steely eyes brought to mind the wolves of the Siberian steppes, who would not hesitate to make a meal of a person if they could catch one. He was the only thing Daitakerou Sotohoji feared and it was at his command that this robbery had taken place.
Only after taking careful note of each member of the group did Mr. Ulysses look at the crate. He walked up to it and around it, studying it from every angle. "And what," he began in a deep, rumbling voice, "the fuck is this?"
"It's what you asked for, Boss," Daitakerou replied. He didn't sound very confident, though.
"Is it." Mr. Ulysses' heavy brows drew together like monsoon clouds gathering on the horizon. "Open it."
Pry bars were produced and applied. The front of the crate dropped off with a crash and a flurry of wood shavings. It contained a brightly painted, intricately decorated Egyptian style sarcophagus.
"Does this look like a gold statue to any of you?" Mr. Ulysses demanded, thumping the front of it with his finger. "This happens to be a sarcophagus. In other words, a box in which dead bodies are stored. Which is perhaps fortunate. Unless some of you can explain- quickly- then I predict that you may be in need of one. Soon."
"But-" Daitakerou swallowed. "I checked the manifest numbers! This was the one!"
Mr. Ulysses tore the label from the crate and held it up. "No it isn't," he replied. "Besides, Daitakerou, you knew what you were supposed to get. You should have known the minute to picked it up that it wasn't the right-"
The sarcophagus swung open.
In less than a heartbeat a dozen weapons were drawn. Pistols, knives, and in one case a sub machine gun. Even Mr. Ulysses held a nickel plated Desert Eagle. "Well, bugger me," he said, stepping aside to give his men a clear line of fire.
The sarcophagus did not contain a linen wrapped mummy. It did contain a body, and a rather attractive one at that: a woman in her late twenties or early thirties, possessing a most enticingly voluptuous figure. Her pointed muzzle, tall, sharp ears, and fluffy tail resembled a fox's, though she looked significantly taller and more powerfully constructed than was typical for that breed- and her fur was black. Not dark gray like Vyacheslav's but the impenetrable black of obsidian. She wore a white gown that clung to her hypnotic curves like a second skin and hung down to just below her knees. A collar made of interlocking gold plates hung around her neck; it stretched from shoulder to shoulder and lay over the tops of her enormous breasts. Golden bracelets hung around her wrists and ankles. A golden circlet rested on her head; a snake-head device with green gems for eyes arched from the front of it.
"What the-" Vyacheslav began.
"What indeed," she said, her eyes snapping open. They were gold, as brightly so as her jewelry. Her voice sounded throaty, with an almost purring quality. She stepped out of the sarcophagus.
Everyone opened fire at once. With dozens of bullets ripping through it the crate topped over with a crash.
"Stop!" Mr. Ulysses bellowed. Instant silence fell. The strange woman still stood. A gaping hole chewed in the front of her gown left her nipples bare. Her flesh looked utterly unscathed, as if the bullets had simply passed through her.
Daitakerou's sword flashed out of its sheath, the blade nothing but a metallic blur in the air. As it came down to spit the woman's skull in half it froze, only a few centimeters from her skin. Daitakerou's whole body quivered with tension but he could not seem to move any more than if he'd been encased in concrete. The woman raised her hand and made a flicking motion; everyone except Daitakerou and Mr. Ulysses flew back as if a bomb had gone off. The woman stepped around Daitakerou and walked up to Mr. Ulysses, heedless of the fact that his Desert Eagle pointed unwaveringly at a spot precisely between her eyes. "Can we quit with the guns already?" she asked. "They're Hell on the wardrobe." She tugged at the front of her gown for emphasis.
"What the fuck do you want?" Mr. Ulysses demanded in a voice as jagged as broken glass.
"If I wanted to kill you or your men, I'd have done it," the woman replied. "What I want is exactly what you want, Paul-Constandinos Ulysses. Wealth. Power. Sex." She chuckled. "I aim to help you get those things and by extension get them for myself. And have a little fun along the way." She looked him up and down in a frankly admiring fashion. His brows twitched; Though on the down side of middle age he wasn't a half bad looker. Still, he wasn't used to women looking at him that way, at least not so brazenly.
"All right, then. Who the fuck are you?" Mr. Ulysses looked the woman over. "And what?"
"To answer your second question first, I am a jackal," she pronounced, raising her arms and pirouetting gracefully. "The people you now call the ancient Egyptians associated us with death because we liked to hang around tombs and graveyards. But we were not drawn by the smell of carrion, as were our wild counterparts. Oh, no. We were drawn by the smell of riches that the deceased would take with them to the afterlife." She grinned, her teeth startlingly white against her black face. "At night we broke into the tombs and carried away what of the loot we could. In one of the tombs was treasure of an entirely different sort: knowledge. The notes of a great wizard."
"If he was so great," Mr. Ulysses couldn't resist asking, "Then why was he dead?"
"Because he'd mastered the secrets of this world, and sought to master the next," the woman replied. "And, following the prevailing custom of the time, he had his great works buried with him. Where I uncovered them. And learned from them. How to draw into myself the spirit of Bast, which made me young and beautiful." She laid her hands on her hips and slid them upward across her belly, cupping her breasts and thrusting them forward. In spite of himself Mr. Ulysses found himself looking at them. Rarely had he ever seen such huge- they spilled out of her hands- and yet perfectly formed mammaries, with large, clearly defined nipples. And he had seen quite a few. "The sprit of Anpu- whom you call Anubis- made me the color I am," she continued. "And, since he guards the way between this world and the next he makes me immune to your weapons. The spirit of Aset- Isis- gives me access to long lost secrets of mystic power, whispered into her ear by Ptah, creator of all things." She spread her hands; inky black shadows with bright, golden eyes oozed from the room's corners and edges, flitting across surfaces like bats in the night. "Lastly, the spirit of Sekhmet makes my eyes as they are." She narrowed them; they seemed to gleam with a strange inner light of their own. "Being the goddess of violence, bloodshed, and revenge, she also gives me tremendous strength... and, incidentally, the skill to use it." She gestured; the bear rose into the air and settled on his feet. She grabbed his arm and turned, laying it across her shoulder.
Mr. Ulysses smiled. He'd done some wrestling in his youth. Even if this woman were much stronger than she looked there was no way she could-
As casually as bending over the woman threw the bear over her shoulder. When he hit the floor it shook. "Herendeth the thru'penny tour," she pronounced, dusting her hands. "I am Daughter Night. For more personal interactions-" she gave Mr. Ulysses a smoking look- "you may call me Zalika Corby."
Mr. Ulysses wasn't moved. "There are men of power all over the world," he pointed out. "You could offer your services to any of them if all you wanted was money and power. What do you really want? That made you come to me?"
For a long time Ms. Corby and Mr. Ulysses stared at one another. But the Big Bad Wolf had not become one of the most feared crime lords in southeast Asia by being weak of will.
"I want Super Collie," Ms. Corby announced.
For the first time Mr. Ulysses smiled. "Very well, then," he agreed. "I think that we can do business. In fact, I think that it will be a pleasure to work with you, Ms. Corby."
Ms. Corby grinned, a wild and feral expression. "Oh yes. It will be. Most assuredly."
"For starters, is there perhaps something you could do about this-" Mr. Ulysses gestured at the fallen men- "mess?"
"But of course." Ms. Corby knelt by each man, resting her fingers lightly on his forehead. A golden glow would flicker momentariy around her hand and the man would blink and sit up, apparently unharmed. "Aset happens to be the patron of healers, as well as the goddess of magic, knowledge, motherhood, and-" she grinned- "lesbians." She gestured at Daitakerou; he un-froze suddenly, completing his swing and whirling. He didn't try to attack but he didn't sheathe his blade either.
"It's all right, Daitakerou," Mr. Ulysses said, speaking quietly but firmly, as if to a child. Daitakerou glared for a moment- at Zalika, not Mr. Ulysses- then put away his sword.
Mr. Ulysses pulled a cell phone from inside his jacket, flipped it open, and dialed. "This is Paul," he announced. "Send the cars. And an extra, we have a guest." He put the phone away. "Vyacheslav, see that everything gets cleaned up."
Vyacheslav's ear twitched. "Okay, Boss," he grumbled. As if I were some damn janitor. And after it was Mr. Katakana Kat who screwed up in the first place. He kept his thoughts to himself, though. It was worth a man's life- or more- to argue with the Big Bad Wolf. Mr. Ulysses was big and, when he had a mind to be, very, very bad.
Cleanup didn't take long. The crate, sarcophagus, and anything else damaged by gunfire went into the delivery van. It and everything in it would be disposed of. Finally a car pulled up.
"It's been very... interesting meeting you, Ms. Corby," Mr. Ulysses said as he and Daitakerou walked to the car. "My people will take you to a safe house and attend to your needs. We'll speak again soon. Ta."
"I don't get to ride with you?" Zalika pouted. "Don't you trust me?"
"Implicity," Mr. Ulysses replied. "I have absolute faith that you'd do whatever is in your best interest, including betraying me." He pulled the door shut and the car drove away.
"Hrmph." Zalkia stamped her foot and waited. In due course another car arrived. She continued waiting until the driver came around, opened the door, and handed her in. "Where are we headed?" she asked as the car pulled away.
"Mr. Ulysses will tell me," the driver replied. He was a rat, with a black face but white hands. In due course a phone rang; he picked it up. "Yes? I understand. Right away, sir." He hung up.
"Well?" Zalika demanded.
"We're going to a safe house in Wellington," the driver replied. Zalika bored holes in the back of his head with her gaze but he would say no more. After a while she looked out the window but there wasn't much to see at night through the heavily tinted glass.
"I hear New Zealand's a nice place to live," Zalika commented.
"Climate's nice, economy's fair," the driver replied. "Currency's a little weak right now but the scenery's wonderful."
"And not overrun with super heroes, like some places," Zalika added.
"Except Super Collie, of course."
"Super Collie, yes." Zalika's eyes narrowed. "And her Mystic Staff of the Shepherd, which gives her all her powers." She glanced up. "I've done some research. Enough to believe that I can use the ancient secrets to channel the spirt of the staff into myself. Then I would be Super Collie." She chuckled. "Or maybe I should call myself Super Jackal. What do you think?"
"Well- I'm sure it's not my place to say, Ma'am."
"Of course." Zalika reclined, lifting one leg and placing her foot on the seat. The hem of her gown rolled back, revealing her crotch. "Stop the car."
"I'm sorry, Ma'am. I have orders." Nevertheless, he kept glancing in the rear view mirror.
"I expended a lot of energy tonight and I need to recharge it," Zalika said, slipping a hand between her legs and rubbing. "I'd expected to satisfy myself with Mr. Ulysses but you'll do fine. Stop the car." Her eyes seemed to flash.
The car wavered, then drifted over to the left shoulder of the motorway and came to a stop. "Now get out," Zalika ordered, removing her circlet and collar and setting them on the floor. As he complied she wriggled out of her shredded gown. Now completely naked, she opened the back door and waved him over. "Take off your trousers," she directed. His hands quivered slightly as they undid his button and fly; his face was slack as he stared- not at her voluptuous body, but at her terrible, gleaming eyes. His trousers fell around his ankles. "Briefs," she added. His thumbs hooked under the waistband and let them drop. "Hmm." She leaned forward, closely inspecting his nether regions. "A bit disappointing, but we can fix that." She took his male organ in her hand; light like pale yellow flames flickered around her fingers. The chauffeur grimaced as if in pain but did not pull away. His member expanded to half again its original length and thickness. "That's better," Zalika exclaimed, curling her fingers around it and jerking him in. The door slammed behind him.
Motorists happening along that stretch of road in the wee hours of the morning might have noticed the limo rocking back and forth. Far more noticeable, though, were the eerie flashes of strangely colored light that could occasionally be seen even though the heavily darkened windows.
"If she's Egyptian," Daitakerou wondered, "Why does she have an American accent?"
"She never said she was Egyptian," Mr. Ulysses replied. "Only that she had gained power from Egyptian deities."
"That container came by ship from Port Sahid," Daitakerou continued. "She couldn't have been in it the whole time, could she?"
"Who knows?" Mr. Ulysses shrugged. "Speaking of which, why did you chose that particular carton, Daitakerou?"
Daitakerou took a breath, trying to mask his nervousness. Mr. Ulysses had been very calm about the whole affair, even reasonable, and it was terrifying. He only got that way when he was working out how to solve a problem- and didn't take a genius to see that one of his problems was Katakana Kat. Nor did it take a genius to guess how he was likely to solve it. "I... when I looked at the carton I just... knew it was the right one. I couldn't say how, but I was absolutely sure."
"Hmm." Mr. Ulysses leaned back in his seat. His limo was taking a roundabout way back to Wellington, giving the two men plenty of time to talk. "It seems there's more to Ms. Corby than meets the eye, or what she's told us. Hardly a surprise. If her little demonstration was a true indication of her power then there's a real chance she could defeat Super Collie." He smiled briefly. "Which leaves us with the question of how to get rid of Ms. Corby after she gets rid of Super Collie. Don't worry, Daitakerou, I don't blame you for what happened. I think Ms. Corby took unfair advantage of you. Which, unfortunately, means I can't entirely trust you. Therefore I'm sending you on a mission. I want you to go see some of your friends in Japan. You know which ones I mean."
Daitakerou nodded, his eyes hardening. "I think I know what you want me to ask, too."
"Yes. I want to know if any of that ancient Ninja sorcery will help us deal with this Daughter Night."
A bright new day dawned over the fair city of Wellington and the populace happily went about their business- with one particular exception. Constable George Kremmin had been dragged out of bed at a most obscene hour and packed off to the Hanjin cargo terminal.
"He was standing right there!" The security guard pointed out into the street. His voice quavered; he was a Corgi and- at least at the moment- just as nervous and excitable as that implied. "It was Katakana Kat. There's no way I could mistake it. Then- I blacked out."
"He was hit by a taser," the medical examiner said, indicating a bruised looking spot on the back of the guard's shoulder.
"Hmm." Constable Kremmin turned slowly, surveying the scene. He was a bulldog, and in truth not nearly so phlegmatic as that suggested. It did mean that his squat frame was far more powerful than his otherwise dumpy appearance might suggest. He walked around behind the guard booth. The lock on the door showed no sign of damage; it had been opened with a key or picked with consummate skill. Containers filled the terminal, sometimes stacked as many as four high, but at least two meters separated them from the perimeter fence. Kremmin walked along the gap until he reached a place where the fencing had been cut and folded back. Two officers crouched on the pavement outside; they's laid a sheet of what looked like tinfoil on the sidewalk and attached electrodes to its corners, which in turn connected to a bulky electronic device. The intruder had used patch cables to bypass the anti-tamper wires in the fence before cutting it.
Kremmin flipped open a cell phone and dialed. "Inspector," he began, "It was definitely Katakana Kat and Cat Burglar. Katakana Kat kept the guard looking at the street while Cat Burglar broke into the booth, neutralized him, and opened the gate. No, no fingerprints. We have a good impression of a vehicle tyre track, a few partial foot prints, and I have some people sweeping for fibers." He nodded. "Yes sir. I'll be right there." He returned to the gate and got into one of the parked patrol cars, which he drove into the terminal. He arrived to find a large and diverse group clustered around the burgled container. Quite a few of them seemed to be Hanjin executives and administrators, bemoaning their loss to nominally attentive officers. A smaller number of constables seemed to be occupied mainly with keeping the crime scene clear of spectators.
Inspector Tekukuni Samson stood out from both groups. He was a whippet, tall and scarecrow-lean. He affected a long trench coat regardless of the weather. He paced and smoked constantly; whenever he finished a cigarette he'd drop the butt and crush it under his shoe without missing a step. "We know what happened," he said as Constable Kremmin walked up. "Now all we need to do is fond out why. Such as why Katakana Kat would break in to a container full of ancient Egyptian artifacts and take the one that's least valuable."
"What was taken?" Kremmin inquired.
Kremmin glanced toward the source of the voice and had to restrain himself from doing a double take. The speaker was a young woman in a cream yellow blouse and a nut brown tube skirt. She was an Abyssinian; the golden brown of her fur seemed to be a subtle blending of the colors of her clothing. Prominent tear markings accented her large, yellow-gold eyes. The clothes themselves perfectly accented her slender but firm and compellingly curved body.
"Constable, this is Doctor Cymbeline Lathasar, who was to receive these artifacts on behalf of Te Papa," Inspector Samson said. "Doctor, Constable Kremmin is one of our top men."
"At your service, Ma'am." Kremmin doffed his cap and bowed. It gave him an excuse to look away from those captivating eyes. Yes, his wife had divorced him and returned to Bristol. Frankly he never did understand how she could have left the vibrant beauty of New Zealand for drab, dreary England. Perhaps that's why they were no longer married. Even so, Dr. Lathasar looked young enough to be his daughter even if it weren't against his principles to date clients. He'd seen too many good officers ruin themselves that way.
"The mummy was bulky, and despite its book value, difficult to fence," Inspector Samson said. "While right next to it is a solid gold sphinx." He patted the smaller crate. "If nothing else, it could be broken up and sold as bullion. Then there's all sorts of gold and jewels among the rest of the collection. They knew what they wanted; the collection wasn't rifled. But why, of all things, the mummy?"
"Was there anything special about this mummy?" Kremmin inquired.
"Only from an archeological standpoint," Dr. Lathasar replied. "He's not a king, though he was quite wealthy. Egypt may have banned exports of mummies but so many were produced- and exported during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries- that there's something of a glut on the market these days."
"Then there's something else about it that's valuable, something we haven't seen yet," Inspector Samson pronounced. "Katakana Kat isn't a two bit thug. Somebody spent a lot of money to get in here. Unless they took the mummy by accident, It's gotta be worth something. We find out what and we have it. Kremmin, I want you to work with Dr. Lathasar."
"Yes, sir." Kremmin nodded. "Doctor?"
"Why don't we go to the museum?" Dr. Lathasar suggested. "I don't have much information with me. This was all so... sudden."
"Yes." Kremmin nodded, thinking of the call that had dragged him out of bed. "Do you have a car, Doctor?"
"Yes. Right over here."
Moments later they left the yard. "Where did these artifacts come from?" Kremmin inquired as they drove around the harbor toward the Central Business District.
"A newly discovered tomb in the Valley of the Kings," Dr. Lathasar replied. "Which is odd, because it's clearly not a royal tomb. Frankly there wasn't much treasure, not like King Tut and some of those. But there were a lot of writings." She fell silent for a moment. "Constable..." she seemed to be debating with herself. "This may sound crazy-"
"I've dealt with a lot of crazy things in my life," Kremmin replied. "Whatever you say, I will treat it with utmost gravity."
"Okay." Still, Dr. Lathasar drove for a while before continuing. "I think this person was a powerful priest, or wizard, or something. I've translated some of the texts. They read like... spells. They speak of calling... forces. And bending them to one's will. To the best of my knowledge the mummy hasn't actually been examined. But it might be worth quite a lot to some with an interest in the... arcane."
"I see." Kremmin's expression revealed nothing of what he thought. "Why are the artifacts being sent here?"
"A tit for tat," Dr. Lathasar replied. "Dr. Selig Columbarnus, who discovered the tomb, received some money from the New Zealand government. He agreed to send his artifacts here for study and display."
"Where is he now?"
"Still in Egypt, as far as I know. I haven't heard from him since we made the shipping arrangements, which was more than a month ago."
Kremmin nodded. He seemed to be in deep thought but he watched Dr. Lathasar out of the corners of his eyes. She wasn't acting like she realized that she'd just made herself a prime suspect. No matter; whatever she was hiding- though she hadn't lied outright she hadn't told the whole truth- he would find it out, sooner or later. In some respects Constable Kremmin was very like a bulldog.
"You want to what?" Mr. Ulysses demanded, turning away from the windows. His penthouse apartment looked out over the Terrace and Wellington's financial district. As such it was fantastically expensive real estate- which, of course, was why he chose to live there.
"Rob a bank," Ms. Corby repeated. She seemed utterly unconcerned that Mr. Ulysses started to glower. Vyacheslav, on the other hand, tried very hard to pretend that he didn't exist. Conversations like this were known to end with people dying.
"Why?" Mr. Ulysses flexed his fingers. In particularly egregious situations he was known to take matters into his own hands- literally- rather than calling in an assassin.
"What better way to persuade Super Collie to present herself?" Zalika wanted to know, taking a sip of her champagne cocktail and crossing her legs. A snugly fit tube dress of purple silk that gleamed like mother of pearl replaced her tattered gown. A comparatively modest silver necklace set with canary diamonds replaced her golden collar.
"You presuppose your ability to defeat her," Mr. Ulysses pointed out.
"You doubt me?" Zalika demanded, haughtily tossing her head.
"So you defeated some armed thugs." Mr. Ulysses dismissed it with a flick of the wrist. "Hardly in the same league as Super Collie."
"Oh, come on." Zalika batted her eyelashes. "If I fail it doesn't cost you anything."
"My men go to jail," Mr. Ulysses pointed out.
"Then pick ones that are expendable."
Mr. Ulysses snorted. "You think you can do a bank job with a crowd of random drongoes you get off the street?"
"I can," Zalika declared. "They don't have to be good. All they have to do is obey. Which, after I've had some time to work with them, they will. Oh, yes they will." Her eyes gleamed with a maniacal joy that was, to Vyacheslav, almost as unsettling as Mr. Ulysses' glare.
"All right. What do you need?"
"A bank, and when best to rob it," Zalika began. "Transportation. Three gunman, whom I will train myself. And costumes. I have a list." She drew a piece of paper from her cleavage, since her gown had no pockets.
"Vyacheslav." Mr. Ulysses nodded toward the list.
With some trepidation Vyacheslav took the paper- and found himself gazing down into the chasm between Zalika's breasts. A man could get lost in there, he found himself thinking. Zalika smiled warmly at him, as if to say why don't you come on in and find out?
Vyacheslav backed hastily away. He didn't know what was going on between Ms. Corby and Mr. Ulysses and had no desire to find out by jumping into the middle of it. Not to mention that he kept seeing that polar bear hit the floor like a ton of bricks. He'd decided it wasn't his policy to sleep with women who could break him in half without working up a sweat. As such, only as he was turning to go did he think to actually look at the list. When he did he stopped and did a double-take in spite of himself.
"Is something the matter, Vyacheslav?" Ms. Corby purred, if one can imagine a canine doing such a thing.
"Ah-" Vyacheslav forced himself to look away from Zalika's captivating eyes and seemingly bottomless cleavage. "Sir-" He faced Mr. Ulysses- "have you seen this list?"
Mr. Ulysses took the list, looked it over, and handed it back. "Is there a problem?" he inquired.
"Ah-" Vyacheslav swallowed. "Um, no sir." He hurried to the door but couldn't resist glancing back as he opened it.
Zalika reclined diagonally across the couch. "So tell me," she began, lifting one leg and sliding her foot up near the opposite knee. As she did so the hem of her gown rolled back along the top of her thigh. If she wore underwear- which Vyacheslav doubted- someone standing in front of her would have seen it clearly. "Are you as big and bad as they say you are, Mr. Wolf?"
Vyacheslav hastily closed the door. He had the feeling that he'd escaped just in the nick of time.
At ten minutes past four on a sunny Friday afternoon the Farmers and Merchants Bank was doing brisk business. Individuals wanted to deposit their paychecks or get folding money for the upcoming weekend. Businesses were depositing weekly receipts. All of the teller windows were manned, the cash drawers full, and more on hand in the vault if required. Given that, it was perhaps no great surprise when four armed persons burst suddenly into the lobby. One of them raised a pump shotgun, charged it, and shouted "All right! Everybody down! This is a stickup!"
Utter silence fell. All eyes turned toward the four intruders but no one moved to comply with the shouted orders. Bank patrons and employees alike stared in gape-mouthed shock at the robbers, or more specifically their outlandish costumes. Three of them- all men- wore nemes headdresses, postiche beards, shenti kilts, and sandals after the fashion of ancient Egyptian kings. Their decorations included heavy gold bracelets and ornate belts studded with gold and semi-precious stones. The rest of their bodies, except only their eyes and mouths, were swathed in linen that exuded a faintly herbal smell. Their weapons, on the other hand, were entirely modern: pistol gripped shotguns whose metal parts were non-reflective black.
The fourth member of the party was female, clearly so since her substantial bosom was bared to public view. She wore what looked like a white tube dress, which conformed closely to the shapely curves of her body but only started just below her breasts. Around her wrists and ankles were gold bracelets and around her neck a gold collar that reached from shoulder to shoulder. Unlike her companions, who were clearly feline in spite of being completely covered, she was a canid. A black jackal mask covered her face, though against her similarly black fur it was hard to tell. Her eyes, even through the mask, were shockingly bright gold.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the inconvenience," the woman began in a voice that was clearly feminine but still carried strongly. "However, since so many of our tombs have been pilfered and our treasures taken, we thought we'd return the favor." She waved her men forward.
The bank's security guards shook off their paralysis. In a flash one drew his pistol and leveled it. The woman glanced at him and gestured minutely with her left hand; he went flying arse over teakettle as if clotheslined by the most vicious wrestler that had ever been. He landed in a heap, his jaw twisted at an unnatural angle. Blood drained from his mouth, pooling on the marble flooring. Because the woman's attention had been diverted- and because her thugs made no move to intervene- the other guard managed to get his gun out. When he saw what happened to his companion he fired; now the patrons began to scream and fall to the floor, but for a woman standing behind the robbers' leader it was too late. She spun and fell, clutching the side of her chest just under her right arm.
"My turn." The jackal woman held out her hand. The second guard yelped as he suddenly catapulted toward her, as if being dragged by his pistol. It landed in the woman's grasp; she wrenched it out of the guard's hands and kicked him in the face, sending him sprawling backwards.
"Empty the cash drawers, now!" one of the robbers bellowed, vaulting up on top of the counter, dropping a sack in front of the terrified teller. "And no funny business! If you try to slip anything in there but money I'll blow your fucking head off!"
Another robber ran to the bank's front door and locked it. The third moved among the patrons, cursing at them and occasionally kicking them if they hesitated to obey. Seeing that everything was under control the jackal woman knelt and took a ring of keys from the guard's belt and used them to unlock the metal grate over the vault entrance. The actual door stood open, its workings visible through a glass cover on its inner face. She beckoned, and the cart loaded with ready cash rolled out of its own accord. The robber who'd locked the front door now began working the patrons, rifling their wallets and purses. He didn't bother with watches or jewelry; he took only cash.
"Well, well, our little party is nicely under way," the jackal woman declared as she paced about, her sharp eyes seeming to take in every nuance of what was happening. "Now we have but to wait until the guest of honor arrives, whereupon the real fun will begin." She rubbed her hands together gleefully.
"Yes?" Esmerelda glanced up from her computer screen to find a skinny, somewhat weedy young man standing before her desk. His ill-fitting white shirt and lumpish grey pants looked clean but probably hadn't seen starch or an iron since leaving the factory. His Navy blue tie had been repeatedly stained and improperly laundered. He seemed to be some sort of rodent, with a long, pointed face, round ears, and prominent incisors.
"I brought you a flower," he continued, proffering it with a trembling hand. It looked like a crudely-made cloth rose he could have bought from a street vendor on the way to work.
"Why thank you, Erdin, that was sweet," Esmerelda said, smiling warmly.
Erdin's face lit up with transcendent joy as if he'd just been touched by the Grace of God and his whole body quivered as if he were about to burst into song. "Oh, thank you, Esmerelda! I'll just put it here on your desk-"
"No, that's okay-" Esmerelda began but it was too late. As Erdin tried to place the flower on the corner of her desk his shaking hand brushed and upset a plastic holder full of pens and pencils. He made a desperate grab for it, in the process sweeping a vase full of white silk roses onto the floor- where it shattered- and knocking over a tall commuter mug, releasing more than half of an extra-large double latte. The wave of pale brown liquid washed across Esmerelda's blotter and the neatly arranged stacks of paper and office supplies around it. The high back of her computer's keyboard diverted the flow across her mouse pad, which displayed a beautifully photographed scene of Lake Tekapo. Finally it cascaded over the edge of the desk, splashing the front of Esmerelda's Navy blue blazer and tube skirt.
Erdin froze as if turned to stone, his face locked in an expression of unspeakable horror. Gradually the paralysis wore off and he began to stir-
Esmerelda leapt to her feet and caught Erdin's wrist in an iron grip. "Erdin," she said in a voice that was not loud but would brook no possibility of disobedience, "Go to the supply cupboard. Get a sponge, a can of spray cleaner, and a roll of paper towels." She released his arm; he almost fell down in his haste to go and nearly collided with one of the cubicle partitions because he couldn't look away from her eyes, normally so gentle and expressive, now hard as stone and snapping with a terrible light. He could not have been more frightened if she'd suddenly metamorphosed into a chimera. Once he was out of sight Esmerelda slumped, blowing out a huge sigh, surveying the wreckage of her carefully ordered world. It wasn't Erdin's fault; he couldn't possibly understand how long it had taken to carefully position each one of those pens and pencils-
Somewhere an electronic device beeped out the opening bars of "God Defend New Zealand." Reaching into her jacket Esmerelda pulled out her PDA, which also acted as an e-mail terminal and a display pager. A new message had a arrived: "Egyptian priestess and three mummies robbing Farmers and Merchant's Bank." The incongruity of it was such that for a minute or so she could only stare. Of all the messages she'd received that had to be the strangest.
Esmerelda shook her head. Strange or not it was a call to action that required her immediate attention. She slipped the PDA back into her pocket and turned away but after a single step she froze, clenching her hands to keep them from shaking. In her mind she could hear the mess leering at her. Go ahead and go, it whispered in an oily voice. See if you can go set the world straight knowing you left me here!
When Esmerelda spun on her heel to face her desk her lips were drawn back from her tightly clenched teeth, her eyes narrowed almost to slits. If Erdin had seen her just then he probably would have wet himself in terror. Fortunately the expression passed as she began arranging things and cleaning up as best she could until Erdin came back with the supplies.
"Where the Hell is she?" the Egyptian priestess demanded, pacing back and forth like a caged animal. All the money had been loaded into sacks and stacked in the middle of the floor. Bank patrons and employees had been sorted into three groups and herded into corners of the building, watched over by one each of the mummy henchmen. The Armed Offender's Squad had arrived some time ago, clearing away bystanders and surrounding the bank with a cordon of armed officers who peered over their patrol cars, weapons drawn. "Three thousand years in a tomb, two months on board ship, and now this," the woman continued. "Bloody Hell!"
A phone rang. The woman who'd been shot picked it up; her chest was bound up with linen borrowed from the mummies. "Hello?" she asked in a somewhat tremulous voice. "Okay." She held out the receiver. "Um... miss? It's for you. It's the police."
Still muttering, the priestess marched over and snatched the phone. "Hello? Wellington's finest? I've been waiting for you to call." She spoke in a bright and cheery tone, as if greeting a dear, old friend. "I'd like to tell you my demands now. Don't interrupt." Quick as a wink her voice became as cold and hard and glacial ice. "I have at my disposal sixty three hostages. Think of it as sixty three potential corpses. One for each time you interrupt. One for each of your inconsequential concerns. One for each time I ask for something and you tell me it can't be done. One for each time I ask for something and it fails to materialize. One for any time I have even the slightest reason to suspect that you aren't being straight with me. Now listen closely, this is the important part. Don't interrupt. Your total obedience buys you sixty three warm, breathing bodies. What your disobedience buys you is bodies, warm perhaps but not breathing. It buys you blood and brains splashed on the ground by a blast of buckshot. It buys you not a bank but an abattoir, filled with the stink of death and a floor slick with blood. To make sure you understand we will now have a lesson." She snapped her fingers and pointed. One of the mummies hauled a middle aged man to his feet, frog-marched him to the bank's front door and slammed him spread eagled against it. The mummy stood to one side, masked by the door frame, the muzzle of his shotgun socketed against the side of the hostage's head. "I grant you permission to speak," the priestess continued. "I advise you to consider carefully before you do. What's that?" She grinned. "Of course. You may call me Daughter Night. Now I will tell you my demands. Are you ready? Good. First, we've been waiting here for rather a long time, so I want you to give us twenty large Canadian bacon and sausage pizzas and ten cases of Foster's. I understand how difficult it can be to get deliveries during rush hour so I'll allow you forty five minutes. If you're late I'm afraid it'll all go to waste because dead people don't eat. Thank you for your consideration. Good bye." She hung up the phone.
"If that doesn't get her, nothing will," Daughter Night muttered as she resumed her pacing. "What does a person have to do to stir up a super hero around here? Send out an engraved fucking invitation? Good God!"
"There." Esmerelda carefully set the last pencil in place. Everything was as it had been before: blotter and mouse pad replaced, all damaged papers re-printed and neatly stacked, keyboard and mouse carefully cleaned. The silk roses had been put away for the moment because Esmerelda hadn't a vase to replace the broken one. Her blazer and skirt were on their way to the cleaner's; she wore a backup set she kept in her filing cabinet for just for just such an emergency. They'd required some touch-up with the travel iron, also part of her emergency supplies. A coffee stain on her chair had refused to come out so Erdin was fetching a clean one. She'd given him detailed instructions as to the model, style, pattern, and color; all he had to do was search through inventory until he found one.
For the umpteenth time Esmerelda pulled out her PDA and reviewed her messages. The robbery had developed into a hostage crisis. Where the Hell was Erdin and that chair? Damn, damn, damn. She didn't have time to waste; she could only hope that Erdin would leave the chair and not try to straighten anything up. Still, it took an effort of will to turn away and march briskly to the stairwell. One level up was another landing and a small door leading to a roof access; Esmerelda opened it with one of many keys on a large ring. Once inside she closed and re-locked the door, then fished out a small pendant hanging inside her blouse. It looked like a tiny silver hook hanging on a finely made chain; she slipped it off, holding the pendant above her head clasped tightly in her hand.
"By the mystic power of the Shepherd, I am transformed," Esmerelda whispered. All at once a bright, silvery light shone between her fingers; the pendant grew suddenly into a hook-headed staff. Her clothing shimmered, melting and reforming. Now she wore a blue bikini style top and bottom trimmed with gold, a long blue cape held by a golden clasp, and high-heeled blue jackboots also trimmed with gold. Large golden bracelets circled her wrists and a larger one her left thigh. Esmerelda herself looked fundamentally the same as before: a tall, voluptuous but firmly constructed Sheltie collie woman. Yellow-gold fur covered most of her body, except for snowy white on her front and the insides of her arms and thighs. A retainer held her silky, nut-brown mane in a tight bun; when she pulled the retainer loose and shook her head her tresses spilled down to the level of her shoulder blades. Lastly she removed her glasses; they and the retainer went into her boots. She stretched, arching her back gracefully. Being Super Collie was, in many ways, much easier than being Esmerelda Braithwaite. Much less to worry about, for one. Beating up crooks was, for the most part, a very straight forward affair. At times she wished she could be Super Collie all the time... but super heroing didn't pay the bills. If only she'd been the only child of an eccentric millionaire-
No matter. There were criminals to be caught. Super Collie lifted the upper trap door and peeked out. No one in sight. She flung the door open; spring returns caught it and flipped it back. Long before then Super Collie was gone; at that point if anyone had been watching all they would have seen was a blue-gold streak flashing away across the rooftops.
"Damn, damn, damn," Daughter Night muttered as she chewed on a slice of pizza, glancing at a large clock hanging near the vault. "Frankly, I'm tempted to just take the money and leave." She popped a can of beer and guzzled it down. The hostages were more spread out now, sitting on the floor in small clusters around open pizza boxes. Quite a bit of the beer was gone already; at Daughter Night's insistence empties were arranged in neat stacks.
"This beer is warm," a voice called plaintively.
"Don't push it!" Daughter Night snapped, whipping her head around.
The bank doors exploded out of their frame in a spray of shattered glass and twisted metal. Then there came a noise as sharp and stunningly loud as a thunderclap, as if lightning had struck right in the lobby. Pizza and beer flew everywhere as people scrambled for cover but it was Daughter Night who received the brunt of it. Her half-eaten slice of pizza vaporized in a spray of goo that splashed across her face, neck, and shoulder. Her mask broke in half and the pieces spun away. The beer can leapt from her hand, skipping from the counter behind her and clattering away across the floor. She slammed backwards hard enough to rattle the mouldings, then slumped forward in a heap. For an eternal instant no one moved or spoke; only the fizzing of spilled beer broke the silence. All eyes turned to the incredible figure standing proudly just inside the doorway.
"Well?" Super Collie demanded, looking around the lobby. She stood on the balls of her feet, holding her staff in both hands, horizontally in front of her. "Are you lot going to give up now or do we have to do this the hard way?"
A ragged cheer erupted from the hostages. It broke the spell, though; the three mummy gunmen whipped their shotguns up-
Super Collie swung her staff like Babe Ruth going for a home run. It telescoped to nearly three times its original length, striking the weapon from one of the robbers' hands and knocking him spinning. In the same instant she looked the other way and barked. It was the sound that had struck down Daughter Night; the robber flew backward, his weapon and headdress spinning away, his costume torn off in a shower of tattered linen. He lay where he fell, blood oozing from his mouth and nose. Only the third robber got off a shot; it caught Super Collie right across the chest, knocking her backwards. But even as the storm of pellets struck her skin they vaporized in a spray of silver light. As he charged his shotgun for another shot Super Collie leapt to her feet. She closed the distance in the blink of an eye, nothing but a blurred streak to the amazed spectators. Fortunately for the robber she stopped before crashing into him, slapping aside his shotgun with her staff while landing a vicious uppercut with her other hand. His headdress flew off and he fell in a heap, his jaw hanging at an unnatural angle and blood soaking the linens around his face.
"We'll have none of that, thank you very much," Super Collie declared, tossing the shotgun away and dusting her hands. "Now, all you people get up and move toward the exit in an orderly fashion-"
Daughter Night's eyes snapped open. With her left hand, which lay out in front of her, she made a flicking motion. The air in front of her shimmered as if with heat haze; Super Collie flew off her feet and smashed headlong through the bank's front window. Her staff, which she'd set in the crook of her arm, clattered to the floor.
"Ssscore!" Daughter Night exclaimed, leaping to her feet and reaching for the staff. It quivered, then leapt through the air into her hand. At that instant Super Collie came streaking through the front door, shoulder down as if she were about to check the tie-breaking score attempt in a world championship match. Daughter Night started to move but wasn't fast enough; she caught the tackle head on. Reaction sent her flying through the counter, smashing a gaping hole in it as she went. Super Collie didn't give her a chance to recover; even as Daughter Night struggled free of the overturned desk against which she'd fallen Super Collie leapt into the gap, drew a deep breath, and let fly with a bark unlike anything yet heard. Everyone that was still standing dropped flat, clasping their arms over their heads. Desks, counters, and furniture along or beside the line between the two women leapt into the air and blew apart. Every window in the bank blew out of its frame, showering the streets outside with glittering shards. Daughter Night hit the wall so hard that she left an impression of her body in it. Super Collie waited a moment, then walked over and nudged Daughter Night with the toe of one boot. She wasn't faking this time.
"I'll take that, thank you." Super Collie retrieved her staff. "I don't know what you thought you were doing with it. Well, you'll have plenty of time to think about it while you cool your heels in the pokey." She moved briskly to the front door and waved. Spectators cheered; police left the cover of their vehicles and hurried forward. Super Collie stepped aside and leaned on her staff, beaming happily. Another crime thwarted- and this time with only moderate property damage. She hoped the bank had Super Hero Insurance.
"First a container full of Egyptian artifacts gets broken into, now this," Inspector Samson declared. "Rather much of a coincidence, don't you think?"
"Yes, sir," Kremmin replied. Especially as Dr. Columbarnus seemed to have disappeared. Several weeks ago- the last tine Dr. Lathasar had spoken to him, as a matter of fact- he seemed to have simply dropped off the face of the earth. Interpol was running an investigation but it could be weeks or more before anything turned up.
Samson stopped pacing and looked through the one way mirror. The four would-be robbers sat on benches in the interrogation room; the mummy gunmen slumped in poses of varying dissipation and despair, as one might expect from captured criminals. Daughter Night, on the other hand, sat up straight with her arms crossed over her chest and one leg over the opposite knee. Her eyes flicked back and forth as if she could actually see through the partially mirrored glass. And though the criminals were in custody, questions still remained. The mummy costumes, while cleverly made, were fake; the various components could have come from any number of local shops. Daughter Night's accoutrements, on the other hand, were apparently authentic. Her collar and bracelets, for instance, were made of real gold. But none of the items matched up with what had been taken from the shipping container. On top of that, none of the robbers had said so much as a word. Finger prints had matched each of the mummies to a minor criminal; on Daughter Night herself no records of any sort seemed to exist- a fact which Kremmin in particular found most perplexing. Even if she'd never been arrested before a black jackal with golden eyes wasn't exactly inconspicuous. He couldn't believe that she'd just appeared out of nowhere-
"I've never seen such a tight-lipped bunch," Samson muttered. "Usually that sort's more than happy to rat out their buddies."
"Yes, sir." Kremmin had watched it all. Samson had tried everything short of truncheons and rubber hoses to get the robbers to talk, all to no avail. Through it all Kremmin's suspicion had grown into certainty: the three mummy henchmen were more afraid of Daughter Night than they were of the police. Even the certainty of spending a goodly part of their lives in jail hadn't persuaded them to speak.
"What about you, Kremmin?" Samson inquired, cocking an eyebrow. "Any progress with that cute doctor?" His expression left it very much open what type of progress he had in mind.
Kremmin cleared his throat. "I've learned a great deal about Egyptian mythology and burial practices," he began, to pin the conversation firmly to the track he wanted and steer it decisively away from the one he didn't want. "I've also learned that there seems to be a great deal of mystery surrounding these particular artifacts. Ever since the tomb was discovered there've been problems. Talk of curses, disputes over ownership... no less than three mysterious deaths, and now Dr. Columbarnus himself is missing. The Royal Museum in London and the Smithsonian in Washington both put in claims, then suddenly backed off for reasons that are unclear. Te Papa got them because Dr. Columbarnus was desperate for a sponsor. He sent Dr. Lathasar to keep things smoothed over as much to handle the details."
"Interesting how that gives her the perfect alibi," Samson mused. "She couldn't have been involved, she was on the other side of the world."
"Indeed," Kremmin agreed. "But she did make all the arrangements for shipping the artifacts here. And the Egyptian government did approve the export with unusual speed. Dr. Lathasar knows far more than she's telling. In fact, all I'm waiting for is-"
As if on cue Kremmin's cell phone rang. "Kremmin speaking," he answered. The ghost of a smile flickered across his face and there came gleam to his eyes Samson had come to know well. The old bulldog had a scent in his nostrils. "Yes, thanks, I'll be right there." He put the phone away. "A matter has come up in the Lathasar case... which will, I think, answer all our questions. By your leave?"
"Of course, Constable, of course." Samson bowed.
"Thank you, sir." Kremmin practically skipped as he left.
Samson grinned. Kremmin would never become an inspector himself but a smart investigator would never hesitate to use him. He was like a weapon; you aimed him at a target and let him go. More often than not he found the mark. With his attention focused on Kremmin, though, Samson didn't notice Daughter Night grin broadly, stand up, and turn to face the wall. While he lit another cigarette her outline blurred and softened, as if she were going out of focus. She then stepped into the wall, which rippled slightly like the surface of a pool. Her clothes fell in a heap on the bench she'd just occupied. All Samson knew was that when he looked up she was gone. His jaw sagged, his cigarette slipping from his mouth and falling unheeded to the floor. "Bugger me!" he screamed.
Darkness had long since fallen over the Central Business District and most of the museum staff had gone home for the night. Cymbeline Lathasar remained at her desk, located in the corner of a large, otherwise deserted office. She ran the last stack of papers through the document shredder, then started opening drawers in her desk and filing cabinet. She came up with an assortment of odd artifacts, all clearly Egyptian and almost all made of gold. She loaded them into her briefcase along with a thick bumf full of papers and several exceedingly old looking parchments. She closed and locked the case and handcuffed it to her wrist.
"Calling it an evening, doc?" the guard at the staff entrance said as Cymbeline hurried up.
"Yeah." Cymbeline set her briefcase on the counter. Unlatching it one handed was tricky but she managed. "Everything's all right," she said, looking the guard straight in the eye. There might have been a strange flicker in her eyes just then, or perhaps it was just a trick of the light.
The guard stared for a moment at the artifacts, parchments, and the big folder clearly marked "Museum property- Do Not Remove." He blinked, then nodded. "Okay, Doc. See you tomorrow."
"Thanks." Cymbeline nodded and hurried out. She tried not to run but couldn't resist glancing furtively about as she crossed the parking lot. Maybe she was going to make it after all-
"Going somewhere, Dr. Lathasar?"
Cymbeline yelped and leapt back, fishing desperately in her pocket with her free hand. A pair of constables appeared at her sides, catching her arms before she could produce whatever she sought. A dark shadow emerged from between two parked vehicles, resolving itself into the squat, powerful shape of Constable George Kremmin.
"Constable, I'm sorry I misled you and I'd be glad to explain but we need to leave now," Cymbeline began in a tense, frightened voice.
"I certainly hope you can explain," Kremmin continued. "I've had my men watching you. As soon as I learned that you'd purchased an overseas ticket I knew it was only a matter of time before you rabbitied. I'm terribly sorry, Doctor, but it is my sad duty to inform you that your are under arrest-"
"Can't this wait?" Cymbeline nearly shrieked. "We have to go now! Before- before it's too late!"
"And have your lawyer get you off on a technicality?" Kremmin glowered in a way that had made hardened criminals quail in their boots. "I think not." He drew a breath to continue-
"Shoulda listened to the chick, Kremmie boy," another voice declared. "Now it is too late."
Kremmin whirled, drawing his pistol. As a constable he technically wasn't supposed to carry a weapon but he'd worked with the Armed Offenders Squad often enough that no one begrudged him the affectation. A shadow emerged from between two cars but even though downtown Wellington was hardly dark even at night it stayed a shadow. Except for the eyes, gold and shining like the vent holes in a furnace. "Daughter Night, I presume," he said, thumbing off the pistol's safety.
"Got it in one, dog boy." Daughter Night moved sideways into open ground. She seemed to be completely naked; her black color made her a blot of negative space against a dimly-lit background.
"You realize of course that I'm going to have to arrest you," Kremmin said, the muzzle of his pistol tracking the spot where the center of her chest would be. "In addition to your other crimes you're now guilty of evading justice."
"No I'm not," Daughter Night replied. "I'm not guilty until declared so by a jury of peers. Which might be difficult to find in this day and age." She started forward, directly toward Kremmin.
"Stop," Kremmin commanded. "Or I'll be forced to shoot you."
"Go ahead," Daughter Night replied. "See what it gets you."
Kremmin licked his lips. He'd been in gun battles and once or twice he'd shot at fleeing suspects. He'd never shot in cold blood, though. Now he would be shooting a naked, unarmed woman who wasn't even resisting-
Two of Kremmin's men drew their truncheons. They moved in with the weapons held high, ready to strike if Daughter Night resisted.
"No!" Cymbeline exclaimed. Kremmin flinched and almost fired-
Quick as a wink Daughter Night dropped and spun, sweeping first one then the other of the officers with her outstretched foot. Even as they fell she bounced to her feet, kicking the first in the side of the head. Kremmin heard bones break, and not in Daughter Night's foot. He fired; his bullet struck a scratch in the parking lot surface and howled away into the night. Kremmin blinked; he knew the bullet had passed right through the center of her chest. He couldn't have missed at this range-
Daughter Night kicked backwards, catching the second officer under the chin. He went down and stayed. She hopped forward and grabbed Kremmin's forearm; he yelped as he felt his bones grate together. Her fingers gripped with a strength far greater than what a woman of her size and build should rightly possess, crushing his arm like the jaws of a vise. She jerked him off his feet, stepping and turning; for an instant his world cartwheeled crazily, then the ground came up and landed a sledgehammer blow on his back. The night sky seemed to light up with shimmering pinwheels and sparklers.
"Back!" a voice shouted. Kremmin became aware that Daughter Night stood over him, her shapely ankle right in front of his face. His pistol was gone; his hand clasped empty air. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out but only two people remained standing: Daughter Night and Dr. Lathasar. The latter held something in her outstretched hand that sparkled pale yellow in the dim light.
"Your pretty baubles aren't going to help you this time," Daughter Night growled, baring her teeth and stepping forward.
Dr. Lathasar spoke something in a language Kremmin didn't know and had never heard. The device in her hand glimmered; it might have been a momentary reflection from brightly polished gold, but Kremmin couldn't bring himself to believe it. The glitter had been too much in character like pure sunlight and it was dark. Daughter Night screamed and reeled back, throwing up an arm to shield her face as if Cymbeline had lit a magnesium flare.
"This isn't just some pretty bauble!" Cymbeline exclaimed, marching forward, her hand thrust out in front of her. "This is the power even you can't overcome!" Daughter Night cowered on the ground, arms clasped over her face, whimpering. "You thought I was helpless so you came after me without recharging! Well, you're not the only one who can call on the spirits of the ancient gods!" She kicked Daughter Night viciously in the ribs. "Crawl back into your hole if you can't stand the light, jackal!" She aimed another kick but it never landed. Daughter Night blurred and melted away into the ground. After looking around for a moment Cymbeline slipped the talisman back into her pocket. "Come on, Constable," she said, taking Kremmin's arm and trying to pull him up. "We have to go. I was only able to drive her away because she's weak. Once she recharges she's gonna come after us with a vengeance."
Kremmin groaned. His spine felt like he'd been broken on the rack. In his youth he'd been undefeated champion of the precinct wrestling team but that was more years ago than he cared to remember. Still, getting up seemed less painful that having Cymbeline tugging on his arm, which felt like it had been nearly wrenched from its socket. He shambled forward, leaning heavily on Cymbeline for support. As they walked she reached around him and fished his keys from his pocket; he noticed in a distracted way but didn't react because the fog of pain in his mind blocked out other concerns. "Which car?" she asked. He nodded to one of the unmarked cruisers parks parked discreetly nearby. Cymbeline fed him into the passenger's seat, got behind the wheel, and pulled out. At what Kremmin felt was an excessive speed she turned onto Cable Street, then up Tory to Vivian. From there they left the city on the Wellington Urban Motorway.
"I really am sorry about everything that happened," Cymbeline said as she drove. "I didn't want to lie to you but I didn't think you'd believe me if I told the truth. I guess it doesn't matter now."
Kremmin groaned. Sitting up in the cruiser's seat wasn't any less painful than laying on hard pavement. He suspected he'd pulled a muscle in his back, possibly several. Every little jounce of the cruiser's suspension sent rivers of agony coursing through his tortured flesh.
"I'll help you as soon as we get some distance between us and Daughter Night," Cymbeline added.
Next thing Kremmin knew, Cymbeline was pulling off the motorway at Waterloo. The sharp pain in his back had faded to a dull, burning ache that was somehow even worse. Cymbeline stopped in the parking lot of an all-night diner and opened her briefcase. Taking something in her left hand she whispered words in her strange language. Kremmin gasped; flickers of silvery light leapt like flames around her fingers as she gently stroked his shoulder. He sighed; her touch felt like cool water quenching the burning pain of his body. For a moment he lay there basking in the sensation, flexing his arm experimentally. It seemed as good as it had ever been, possibly better. Then he started, eyeing Cymbeline suspiciously. With the pain gone other concerns reasserted themselves. She held, he noticed, a golden artifact comprised of a round disk about the size of a coaster with S-shaped attachments on either side of it, forming curved horns sticking off the top. "What is that?" he demanded.
"This is a talisman of Isis, goddess of magic, love, motherhood, and healing, among other things," Cymbeline explained. "I called upon her spirit to enter you and heal your injuries."
Kremmin didn't respond immediately. As incredible as it sounded he couldn't argue the fact he wasn't hurting and his body seemed to be functioning quite normally. "What was that thing you used on Daughter Night?"
Cymbeline put away the talisman of Isis and dug out another. This one consisted of a simple disk with an eye inscribed upon it. A vertical bar and one angled to the right protruded from the eye's bottom, like the lower half of a capital R. "This is the Eye of Ra," she explained. "It has the power to destroy undead and other creatures of darkness. It can't kill Daughter Night because she's protected by the spirit of Anubis, who is Ra's grandson. But because she is undead, it hurts her."
Kremmin blinked. "Undead?"
"Like vampires or zombies," Cymbeline clarified. "The Eye of Ra is like a cross, only better. The fire of His eye burns them like sunlight."
"Yes, yes," Kremmin cut in shortly. "How is Daughter Night undead?"
"She belonged to a family of grave robbers," Cymbeline replied. "They found the tomb we got the artifacts from and broke into it."
Kremmin frowned. "She found it before you?"
"Yes. About three thousand years before. The tomb wasn't for a pharaoh or a great lord, it was for a priest or wizard. He'd laid a powerful curse on it; when Daughter Night entered the burial chamber her body died but her spirit was trapped. Her family sealed it up again for fear of the curse, leaving her inside. Three thousand years later Dr. Columbarnus found the tomb and opened it; he noticed the old disturbance but thought nothing of it. It's not unusual for tombs to have been opened and pilfered in antiquity. Grave robbers have been around for as long as graves. Anyway, the wizard's curses had worn off but somehow Daughter Night had taught herself sorcery. When Dr. Columbarnus entered the burial chamber Daughter Night entered him. She absorbed his spirit and took over his body. The person you met, who calls herself Daughter Night, is actually the fusion of two people: Dr. Columbarnus and the ancient grave robber. The body she's in now is actually Dr. Columbarnus', re-shaped into its present form."
"How do you know all this?" Kremmin wanted to know.
Cymbeline shuddered. "I was there. I barely escaped with my life."
"How did you lean how to use these artifacts?" Kremmin gestured at the briefcase.
"Everything in the tomb was... highly charged," Cymbeline replied. "While Dr. Columbarnus puttered around I found myself drawn to this." She raised the talisman of Isis. When I touched it... the spirit of Isis entered me. It was trying to warn me about Daughter Night, but... I didn't assimilate it quickly enough."
Kremmin frowned. "Daughter Night let you load all this stuff up and ship if off to New Zealand without a word?"
"Actually, yes. She wanted to get away from Egypt for some reason. She has powers to fiddle with people's minds; The spirit of Isis kept me from being affected but I played along as if I were. Once she was safely on board ship I flew ahead; I figured I could use the time to figure out a way to deal with her." Her shoulders slumped. "But I couldn't. Then her sarcophagus gets stolen and now she's loose."
"If you have the spirit of Isis, why can't you just fight her?" Kremmin wanted to know.
"It doesn't work that way. The prime vector of Isis is love; there's nothing in her spirit that grants you power for combat. The spirit of Ra would do it but I'm nowhere near strong enough to command it. If I tried to call it into myself it would, it would burn me up."
"What about Daughter Night?"
"She has four spirits in her," Cymbeline explained. "Isis, Bast, Anubis, and Sekhmet. Anubis makes her immune to bullets, allows her to walk through solid objects, and read people's thoughts. Isis allows her to influence people's thoughts, create illusions, and move things with the power of her mind. But Sekhmet is the one we have to worry about. That's where she gets her incredible strength and skill in combat. The vector of Isis is love, Anubis is compassion, and Bast is pleasure, but Sekhmet is vengeance. After being locked in a tomb for a few thousand years she's got a lot of pent up anger- and the more she calls on Sekhmet the more Sekhmet's rage will fill her, until she goes nuts and starts destroying everything."
"What about Bast? And what did you mean about her having to recharge?"
"Bast is, among other things, goddess of sex and sexual pleasure," Cymbeline continued. "Daughter Night calls on the spirit of Bast while she's having sex and it recharges her power. Bast is also an aspect of Sekhmet; they fit together like Yin and Yang. Ra is the father of all the spirits, and He can take away their power, but his vector is duty. Since I'm not a priestess who's dedicated her life to Him and His teachings, He won't give me His spirit except in little doses. By itself it's not enough to overcome Daughter Night, not at full power."
"I see." Pieces of the puzzle fell together in Kremmin's mind. "What sort of man would Daughter Night find it most advantageous to have sex with?"
"One whose masculine properties are strong," Cymbeline replied. "Big, powerful, handsome... an Alpha male, who commands fear and respect. Or a woman; those Egyptian goddesses go both ways. A woman whose feminine properties are strong. Beautiful, loving... who protects and nurtures."
"Hmm." Kremmin tapped his chin. "Now I see why she came here. There are two people in New Zealand who precisely fit your descriptions. One is Mr. Paul-Constandinos Ulysses, also known as the Big Bad Wolf. A powerful man, both physically and politically. An underworld king who rules by fear and greed but who manages to stay enough on the edge of the law that we can't do anything about it." Kremmin smiled grimly. "And, of course, Super Collie."
Vyacheslav stepped out of the private elevator and looked around Mr. Ulysses' suite. There wasn't anyone in the front room so he moved to the door of the master bedroom. After more than merely a moment's hesitation he knocked.
"In a moment!" someone called from inside. Vyacheslav stepped back and waited. Eventually the door opened and Mr. Ulysses came out, dressed in a florid red dressing gown. Vyacheslav suppressed a gasp; the Boss looked terribly haggard.
"I swear, that sheila's gonna bonk me to death," Mr. Ulysses commented, stretching mightily. "Oh, but what a way to go." He grinned wickedly.
"Is she, here now?" Vyacheslav asked, unable to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
"No, she went back to the safe house." Mr. Ulysses flexed his arms, then rubbed his back. "Fix me some brekkie, won't you Vyacheslav? Right now I could eat the ass end out of a dead rhino, God's truth."
Vyacheslav hurried into the kitchen. Rather than waste time cooking he threw together two sandwiches: a large one for the Boss and small one for himself. He wasn't particularly hungry but it seemed impolite not to eat. Despite its excessive size, Mr. Ulysses gobbled it down in quickly and in a decidedly wolfish fashion.
"I was wondering," Vyacheslav ventured, nibbling on his own sandwich. "Ms. Corby's plan didn't exactly turn out."
"Yeah, but it's no skin off our butts," Mr. Ulysses replied. "Now she has a better one."
"Oh?" The Boss seemed to be in an expansive mood; Vyacheslav decided to take advantage of it.
"She's got it sussed that Super Collie's powers are tied to that staff she carries," Mr. Ulysses explained. "Take away the staff and she loses her power. But you just can't just pick it up; that's what went wrong at the bank. Super Collie has to consciously choose to give it up."
"And how does Ms. Corby figure to get Super Collie to do that?" Vyacheslav wanted to know.
"Simple." Mr. Ulysses picked between his teeth with the tip of a fingernail. "Seduction. And if that doesn't work, extortion."
Some women might spend half an hour picking the right lipstick for a big date. Esmerelda was not one of them. Unerringly she selected #16, Cherry Blossom Mist. It was right there, step #39 on "Date with John Dress Procedure Alternate C (Rev 2.1.6)." The color blended nicely with her eye shadow (#05 Passion Pink, Step #37 on the procedure). To prepare for this auspicious evening she'd begun with a full body trim, shampoo, and rinse (#0C Orange Mango Blast, "To Give Your Coat That Tropical Shine") followed by a perm that fluffed up her mane and left it hanging in tight ringlets. Her ensemble for the evening consisted of a peach colored long sleeve blouse with pleated trim, a matching tube skirt, high-heeled pumps, and a leatherette handbag. Once she finished Esmerelda glanced at the clock hanging by her dressing able. Five minutes ahead of schedule; excellent. Plenty of time to meet John by the gallery (with an error factor of eighteen minutes figured in since he was notoriously lax about schedules) and make it to the restaurant for dinner. Then off the movies. They'd be back at Esmerelda's flat by twenty-three hundred... and it would be time for "Unscheduled Intimate Activities" for the rest of the night. She allowed herself a shiver of delight at the prospect. What with the demands of work- and super-heroing- she didn't get to see John nearly as much as she'd like-
When the opening bars of "God Defend New Zealand" trilled out Esmerelda froze. She gripped the edge of the dressing table until her knuckles turned white. "No!" she exclaimed, shaking her head. "Not tonight! Oh please, not tonight!" But she couldn't help it. She fished out her PDA and took a look at it. After a moment she put it away and got out her cell phone. No alternative but to call John, cancel the date, and hope she could schedule another one. One thing was for certain, though. In return for forcing her to give up "Unscheduled Intimate Activities," some criminal was going to get a drubbing he'd never forget.
As New Zealand's largest city Auckland was never precisely a sleepy place, but late on a Sunday evening found the usual bustle decidedly subdued. Except for one specific area, around the intersections of Victoria and Federal Streets. Police had cleared several blocks; gigantic search lights probed upward into the night sky, painting the north face of the SkyTower in harsh, cold light. News and police helicopters buzzed about like moths around a candle. The object of all this attention couldn't even be seen from the ground; only in the telephoto eyes of news cameras could it be seen that a woman sat on the railing just outside the observation deck windows. A picnic basket rested by her side and she waved to the helicopters as they went by, apparently unconcerned with the fact that two hundred meters of empty air lay between her and the cold, hard ground. She looked something like a fox except for her color; her jet black fur contrasted sharply with her dazzlingly white evening gown.
Chief of Police Charles Moose stood in the middle of a blocked section of Victoria Street, looking upward with narrowed eyes. People who'd never met him generally expected him to be a moose and were shocked to find that he was, in fact, a rat. "What is she doing up there?" he demanded aloud.
"For the moment, just sitting." The chief's adjutant was a pretty young mouse; even with her cap she came only to his shoulder.
"What about those Government people?" Moose demanded.
The adjutant glanced over her shoulder, noting a large official car pulling up to the blockade. "I think they've just arrived."
Two people got out of the car, both in Army uniforms. After some quiet words they were allowed to pass the barricades and moved briskly up to Moose. "Good evening," the older and more brightly decorated one declared. "I'm Colonel Bathsfield of the Civil Defense Unit. This is Captain Wilkes of the Special Anti-Super Villain Squad." The colonel was a rhinoceros, massively built and a bit saggy around the edges, peering out through thick lensed spectacles. Captain Wilkes was a spotted hyena, lean and powerful.
"Charles Moose, chief of police," Moose replied. "This is my adjutant, Sasha Brisby."
"Is this person in fact a super villain?" Captain Wilkes wanted to know.
"She matches the description of one Daughter Night, a person who just this last Friday tried to rob a bank in Wellington, but it turned into something of a cock-up. Other than her appearance, though, we haven't any specific proof that she's the same person. Except for one thing: she wants to talk to Super Collie."
Colonel Bathsfield glowered. "I don't care for super heroes," he growled. "They purport to uphold the law but by their very nature they operate outside of it. And what if one decides to go rogue on us? Where are we then, hmm?"
"Super Collie is popular," Miss Brisby pointed out.
"Only because-" Colonel Bathsfield began, then bit it off and turned away to gaze balefully at the officers patrolling the street. Moose found himself wondering if the colonel had been about to say something along the lines of because she's a cute chick.
Another vehicle pulled up to the barricades and two people got out. Almost immediately a cheer went up from the spectators; that blue and gold costume- what there was of it- could not be mistaken. Super Collie paused to smile and wave; the crowd roared even louder and camera flashes flickered like distant lightning. Finally the pair came up and joined the group.
"Thanks for coming, Super Collie," Moose began. "I know it's a bit of a ride up from Wellington."
"Glad to be of service," Super Collie responded. She smiled but Moose couldn't help thinking that her bonhomie seemed just a bit forced. Well, in all probability super heroes didn't care to be dragged out on a Sunday night any more than police officers did.
Moose turned to the second person. "Inspector- Inspector-"
"Samson," Miss Brisby put in.
"Samson. Thank you." Moose shook hands firmly.
"Is this Daughter Night you've got here?" Samson asked. A cigarette bobbed in the corner of his mouth. Miss Brisby wrinkled her nose.
"She hasn't exactly given us an ID but she matches the description," Moose replied. "A black jackal, full figured, with golden eyes."
"Is she dressed in Egyptian clothing?" Super Collie asked.
"Not specifically, no," Moose replied. "She did ask for you by name, though."
"Well, then I guess I'd best get up there," Super Collie commented, glancing upward.
"Chief, I think you should let our squad back up Super Collie in this," Colonel Bathsfield said. "They're standing by and ready to go." He turned to Super Collie and smiled ingratiatingly, though the glint in his eye looked anything but friendly. "No offense, Super Collie, but if anything happens to you we have to see if we can look after ourselves, don't we?"
"Yes, I suppose so," Super Collie allowed, somewhat uncertainly.
"Ah, Colonel, as precarious as this situation may look, so far nothing dangerous has happened," Moose jumped in quickly. "I of all people appreciate what the Special Anti-Super Villain Squad is all about but I wouldn't care to risk escalating things."
"Not to worry," Colonel Bathsfield assured. "My men are highly trained. They're only along as backup; unless things go south you won't even know they're there."
"Well-" Moose began.
"Excellent," Colonel Bathsfield cut in, rubbing his hands together. "Captain, ready your men."
"But-" Moose protested.
"Now now," Colonel Bathsfield reproved. "People in top levels of the Government are interested in this, Chief. Top levels." He nodded knowingly.
"All right," Moose muttered.
"Good!" Colonel Bathsfield clapped his hands together. "If you need me I'll be at the SASVS command post."
"If you come with me, Super Collie, I'll introduce you to the squad," Captain Wilkes invited.
"Thank you." Super Collie fell in beside him, with Inspector Samson trailing behind.
"Just what we bloody need," Moose growled under his breath as he turned away. "A bunch of bloody Government wankers sticking their noses into things. I wonder what the colonel's top men will have to say if they pick up the morning edition and find themselves reading about a spectacular super hero battle in the SkyTower! Just the thing to kick off the tourist season!"
Approaching the SkyTower's massive foundations Super Collie found herself craning her neck upward. From almost directly below the tower took on an entirely new aspect, utterly unlike the views from across town one usually saw. The mass and size of it hit home in a particularly visceral fashion; she found herself wanting to run away, to get out from under it.
"I hope your trip up from Wellington wasn't too bad?" Captain Wilkes inquired
"I'm sorry?" Super Collie blinked and shook her head. "No, it wasn't. We flew up in a charter jet." Better than running, at least, she added to herself. Which she could have done and probably arrived no less fatigued. Inspector Samson could not sit still, not even in a cabin too small for pacing. Being deprived of tobacco for an hour and a half merely added petrol to the conflagration.
Instead of going to the SkyTower Colonel Bathsfield led the group into the Sky City lobby and down into the casino's utility levels. Finally they arrived at the bottom of the parking structure. Super Collie gasped; A pair of massive troglodytes guarded the doorway. Their grotesquely squat bodies and thick, simian arms meant their hands nearly touched the ground even when they stood completely upright. Their dome shaped heads sat directly on their broad shoulders without a neck and sported no features at all other than a glassy, Cyclopsian slit in place of eyes. At two and three quarters meters in height they loomed over the visitors.
"Amazing, aren't they?" Colonel Bathsfield said, smiling expansively. "ZX3000 Powered Battle Suits, manufactured locally under license from Mitsubishi."
"I heard that the Sony CombatMan 2800 got a better write up," Samson commented.
"It did, but the price is rather dear and there's some questions about the cost of long term maintenance," the Colonel replied, unfazed. "As far as that goes, I'd rather have the Stark Industries WarMachine XLR. Getting it through bloody Yank export restrictions is about worth you life, though." He spat.
Captain Wilkes walked to the rightmost of the two machines and pulled a lever attached to its massive thigh. With a faint whine of servos it crouched, leaning forward and putting its hands on the ground. Its back clamshelled open, revealing a fighting compartment that looked like it would fit its operator as snugly as his own skin. The captain stripped off his tunic, handing it to an assistant who folded it and put it away, then climbed up and settled himself inside. The back shut behind him and the suit straightened up.
"Believe it or not, the suit is actually quite flexible and dexterous," Captain Wilkes' somewhat tinny voice said from somewhere in the vicinity of the suit's head. The suit bent over and executed a perfect hand-stand. "For this mission we'll be carrying standard load-out: twenty millimeter auto-cannon and our own custom built Anti-Super Power Electronic Warfare Module." The suit picked up a weapon that looked like a standard folding-stock assault rifle but was huge, built on a scale with the suit itself. Next came a large backpack bulging with odd protuberances. Instead of having straps it mated directly to lugs on the suit's back. It's weight and bulk caused the suit to lean forward a bit, making it appear hunchbacked.
"Oh my," was all Super Collie could say.
"Captain Wilkes and Sergeant Harris will back you up, Super Collie," Colonel Bathsfield said. "Of course we have every confidence in your ability to handle this situation... but if the inconceivable should arise, don't hesitate to give a shout. Both the men and their machines are the very best New Zealand has to offer." His chest puffed and his eyes fairly glowed with national pride.
"Isn't all this rather excessive?" Samson wanted to know.
"Is it?" Colonel Bathsfield inquired. "Especially in light of that incident at the Farmers and Merchants Bank?"
"In spite of what anyone might think," Samson replied tightly, "No one was seriously injured."
"Shouldn't we be going to see what Daughter Night wants?" Super Collie ventured.
"Of course we should," Colonel Bathsfield replied before Samson could speak. "The sergeant's done suiting up, so if you'll follow me?"
The service elevator running up the center of the SkyTower's support column did not, as did the passenger elevators, give a stunning view of the city as it rose. But it would support the weight of the battle suits, which the passenger elevators would not.
"We'll wait in the mezzanine, Ma'am," Captain Wilkes said as the group exited the lift. "Daughter Night is out there, on the upper observation deck level." He pointed toward the north stairwell. "Don't worry if you can't see us. We're patched in to all the news cameras. If anything happens, we'll know."
"Thanks." Super Collie smiled fleetingly, then hurried up the stairs. The captain was polite and doing his duty as he saw it but his presence altered the situation profoundly. Daughter Night was already an unknown quantity; bringing in the SAVS just stirred even more chaos into the mix. Super Collie hated chaos. The irony of feeling that way and being a super hero wasn't lost on her; at times it seemed her intervention created more disorder, not less. But the alternative was to stand back and do nothing.
A chill wind blew through the observation deck. Two of the glass panels had been removed and the prevailing westerlies came through the gap at a stiff clip. Just to the right of the gap Daughter Night sat at the tower's northmost extreme, the edge of the spoked rim protruding out from the gallery floor. She turned and gestured for Super Collie to join her.
Super Collie moved to the gap and hesitated, licking her lips. To her immediate right one of the in-floor windows looked straight down. She liked to think of herself as not being afraid of heights but the cold wind snapping at her cape only emphasized how very close to the edge of nothing she really was. The flat top of one of the rim spokes reached out from center of the gap, forming a path wider than the top of a balance beam, but in the event of a misstep the dismount would be killer. Super Collie swallowed and took off her cape; Daughter Night showed no sign of coming in so there was no alternative but to go out. Using her staff for balance she stepped out over the void.
"I was beginning to wonder if you'd show," Daughter Night commented, taking a pair of sandwiches from her hamper. "Tuna?"
"What do you want?" Super Collie demanded. She didn't trust the footing. "And why do we have to meet here?"
"Here we can talk without being pestered," Daughter Night replied, taking a bite of her sandwich. "And, I freely admit, since our first meeting didn't exactly go well, I wanted a spot where you'd be less inclined to jump to conclusions."
"You're a villain," Super Collie snapped, somewhat more brusquely than she'd intended. "Why shouldn't I jump to conclusions?"
"Being a super hero makes you the final arbiter of right and wrong?" Daughter Night inquired.
"No, nothing like that," Super Collie replied apologetically. "But you did rob a bank."
"I wanted to meet you," Daughter Night replied. "I couldn't think of any other way to do it. You super heroes aren't exactly listed in the directory."
"I suppose so," Super Collie allowed. "Then why did you want to meet me?"
"I think that you and I have something in common," Daughter Night said. "Something profound and precious."
"We have nothing in common," Super Collie insisted. "Other than having powers, perhaps. I don't use mine capriciously!"
"Really." Daughter Night smiled knowingly. "Do people like what you do?"
"Come now. I've done my homework." Daughter Night turned, bringing one leg up and planting her foot on the rail so she could face Super Collie more comfortably. "There's a certain reporter about. Goes by the name of Squid Vicious. I've read some of his work. He seems to have made it his career to embarrass you. Like that incident in Nagasaki."
"That's wasn't my fault!" Super Collie blazed. "The Ministry of Super Being Relations made me wear that stupid sailor scout getup! How was I supposed to know my natural invulnerability wouldn't protect it?"
"And yet, after tripping and skidding for half a block on your face, who was there to snap a photo of you as you picked yourself up?" Daughter Night inquired. "Of course it wasn't your fault. The costume couldn't take the strain while you were super-running and a heel broke. But what does the world see? You, picking yourself up off the street with a dazed expression on your face, the entire front of your costume stripped off, and not a super villain in sight. That's probably the only time in his miserable life Mr. Vicious ever broke a story globally. Even now there's uncensored versions of the photo on the Internet. If someone did that to me I'd be sorely tempted to string him up by his own intestines."
"I'm not like that," Super Collie snapped.
"But you've thought it," Daughter Night insisted. "You've dreamed about force feeding him every copy of every salacious story he's ever written about you. And you enjoy thinking it."
"I do not!"
"That's a lie and you know it. On top of it, you know things would run more smoothly if you allowed yourself a freer hand. All it would take is a little common sense. A commodity which seems in precious short supply among the doofuses in the Beehive who claim to have everything under control. So you bite back your feelings and do what they say is right even when you know it isn't."
"For society to work there has to be law and order," Super Collie insisted.
"Obviously," Daughter Night replied. "But tell me this: what makes others more qualified to lead? You spend all your time fighting crime and actually dealing with the problems facing your country. But do they listen to you? I rather doubt it."
Super Collie's eyes narrowed. "I know what you're trying to do. Sure society's messed up, but me forcing my will on it isn't the way to make it better. People are better off with me fighting for justice."
"But are you?" Daughter Night countered. "I'm flattered to think that you made yourself up to come see me but I doubt it's so."
Super Collie said nothing. That particular comment struck rather close to home.
"While you're out fighting crime and righting injustices, who's looking after your needs?" Daughter Night continued. "The people you protect? Not hardly. They thank you for saving them, then bad-mouth you behind your back. They hate you."
"They don't!" Super Collie exclaimed, scandalized.
"They do," Daughter Night insisted. "They hate you because they fear you. They fear you because you're powerful." She clenched her fist; yellow light like flames flickered around it. "The proof of their fear is none other than our dear friend Squid. If you were loved people like him wouldn't be allowed to do what they do. Not like illegal, but people would refuse to buy the rags he publishes in. They do sell because people want them. People want them because it's comforting to think of you as a costumed bimbo. The alternative is to recognize your power- and to do that they have to recognize their own weakness." She picked up the hamper and set it on the opposite side so she could scoot right up next to Super Collie. "I'm not a villain, Super Collie. I don't enjoy making people suffer. But I've been where you are. People hate and fear me because I'm powerful. They marginalize me because I'm not a meek, subservient female. They try to use me for their own greedy purposes. You could very easily have ended up like me. And me, I think I might even enjoy being a super hero... but no one's ever given me a chance." She took Super Collie's hand, lifting it to her face and licking it tenderly. "You and I do have much in common. We're opposite sides of the same coin. As alike as sisters." She scooted closer, so their thighs pressed together. "As close as lovers."
Colonel Bathsfield sat by a bank of electronic gear set up to monitor the powered suits but he kept the corner of his eye on Inspector Samson. The colonel was getting tired watching the man pace and already a scattering of discarded cigarette butts marked his path. Bathsfield predicted a heart attack or an ulcer some time in the next five to seven years, if not sooner.
Samson halted when his cell phone rang. "Hello?" he snapped. His eyes widened in shock, then his whole face hardened. "Kremmin? Where the Hell are you? What happened-" he fell silent. "Yes. Yes. Yes. As a matter of fact, she's up there right now." Again his eyes widened in shock; his latest cigarette fell unheeded from his lips. "Good Christ!" he swore, spinning to face Colonel Bathsfield. "We have to stop this! Super Collie's in danger!"
"Um- I don't- I mean- I have a boyfriend," Super Collie protested, edging away from Daughter Night as hurriedly as she dared.
Daughter Night snorted disdainfully, scooting along to keep Super Collie from escaping. "What mere man could possibly satisfy your desires? Unless he was a super hero himself... and then he'd probably start treating you like a servant, existing only to serve his wants."
"But- um-" Super Collie stopped when she realized she was scooting past the opening in the observation deck windows. "I don't mean to be rude but I don't go... um... that way."
"Have you ever tried?" Daughter Night inquired.
"Of course not!" Super Collie snapped.
"Why?" Daughter Night wanted to know. "Because you really don't want to? Or because you've swallowed the lies of the parochial patriarchy, who wants to keep you locked in a prison of shame so you won't discover the depth and breadth of your own sexuality? Because if you did you might stop being nothing but a walking sex object, existing only for the pleasure of men?" Daughter Night licked her muzzle in a highly suggestive fashion. "I think there's more to you than that. You have feelings, needs. In your heart of hearts you lust. You crave a lover you don't have to coddle, either his delicate ego or his fragile body. Someone who really understands what it means to be Super Collie... and isn't afraid of it. Someone who can show you what it means to be a fully expressed sexual creature but still a woman. And..." Daughter Night reached over, gently cupping and caressing Super Collie's breast. "The fact that I'm bad excites you. Because, somewhere under that goody two shoes armor you put up around yourself, you want to be naughty."
Super Collie quivered in a way that had nothing to do with the cold wind. Physical threats to her person she could deal with easily enough; they could be faced and either overcome or evaded. She sensed that Daughter Night was launching a subtle attack but she hadn't the faintest idea how to counter it. Worse still, each and every point had landed. Being good was a terrible amount of work... and people didn't appreciate it. Squid Vicious was only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. In the face of that having an affair with Daughter Night was dreadfully tempting, even if only as a way of thumbing her nose at the Squids of the world. Then too there was the chance, however remote, that Daughter Night might be turned to goodness. Her powers would be useful in fighting crime... and it would be nice to have someone to talk to, someone who did understand the rigors of being a super hero... or more specifically, a super heroine. John was a dear fellow but he didn't know that Esmerelda Braithwaite was really Super Collie... and that itself put a terrible strain on their relationship. She did have to be careful with him; he wasn't very secure with having a beautiful girlfriend and the Mystic Power of the Shepherd didn't completely leave when she transformed back into Esmerelda. It wasn't at all inconceivable that she might injure him in a fit of passion. Whatever else Daughter Night might be she was strong, emotionally and physically. Super Collie opened her mouth-
Daughter Night suddenly looked over her shoulder. Super Collie felt it too: a minute vibration transmitted through the structure of the tower. She twisted around just in time to see the first of the power suits come storming up the stairway, taking the treads four at a time. She didn't know which it was but it carried its weapon shouldered and ready. Glass that could withstand winds of up to two hundred klicks exploded in a shower of fragments, pulverized by a stream of twenty millimeter shells. Adjacent panels vibrated from the muzzle blasts, as terrifyingly loud as thunderclaps. Super Collie screamed, her voice lost in the general cacophony. Instinctively she reeled away- and stepped off into space. As she fell she spun, swinging her staff. The hook telescoped out- and just barely managed to catch one of the spokes. Super Collie's teeth chattered uncontrollably as she swung in the open air two thundered meters above Federal Street.
Another burst of twenty mike-mike roared out into the night, the phosphor tracers at the base of each shell leaving bright green streaks through the air. Daughter Night slashed her arm as if throwing a Frisbee; windows all along the deck exploded from their frames and the power suit flew back as if struck by a freight train, landing with a crash that shattered the wooden decking. One mailed fist clenched convulsively and a burst tore a line of ragged holes in the observation deck's roof. A second suit leapt from the stairwell, four long probes extended from its ASPEW backpack. Daughter Night slashed at it; the air flickered and rippled as if through badly warped glass and the suit slid backward about two meters but the corona of strange, blue-white energy radiating from each of the probes like Saint Elmo's Fire seemed to be doing its job, preventing her from getting a good grip. She used both hands, her lips drawn back in a snarl of exertion. The suit started forward, arms up before its face like a man struggling against a strong wind. Bits of glass and decking lifted up and blasted at it like wrack driven before a hurricane. And yet inexorably it continued forward, gradually closing the range.
When Super Collie was sure her fingers would obey she pulled herself, hand over hand, up the shaft of her staff. Daughter Night screamed, the air around her flickering with pale fire. A few tatters of cloth hung over the tops of her breasts; otherwise she was completely naked. The other suit had picked itself up and extended the probes from its ASPEW module but the force field kept flickering out.
"Please, wait!" Super Collie shouted as she struggled onto the observation deck. She could feel the floor vibrating under her, as if in response to an earthquake. Her words were lost in the roar of helicopters, the crackling of the ASPEW pack, and the shattering of wood and glass.
Suddenly Daughter Night leapt, somersaulting through the air and landing on the roof of the gallery. The suit spun, thrusting out one hand. Searingly bright actinic discharge flashed into the darkness like a bolt of lightning, missing her by less than half a meter. But as it turned the suit stepped right on the clear floor panel. It was strong but not that strong; the pane burst out of its frame and the suit crashed down on its side. Its weapon flew out into the darkness. Only its leg through the view port hole kept the suit from following it. Two of the probes from the ASPEW pack were bent almost double; the crackling force field flickered and vanished.
From inside the gallery Super Collie couldn't see Daughter Night but she noticed air shimmering around the fallen suit as it began to lift. It grabbed the edge of the deck so that as it was upended its legs fell across the spoked rim instead of plunging into the darkness. Blow after blow fell across the mechanical fingers until they began to deform, but its grip did not weaken. The other suit surged to its feet, charging forward and firing into the ceiling.
Super Collie gritted her teeth. There was no quick way up onto the gallery roof except from outside. She leapt out onto one of the spokes, balanced for a moment, them leapt onto the roof. Her staff was already swinging though she didn't precisely know where Daughter Night was. Daughter Night seemed to have known Super Collie was coming; she stepped backward, passing through the aluminum facing on the base of the communication mast. The end of Super Collie's staff rebounded from the metal, leaving a dent.
After waiting a moment to see if Daughter Night would return Super Collie slid back down to the observation gallery level. "Dear, dear," she muttered, surveying the damage. Windows blown out, decking ripped up, ceiling fixtures hanging in ruin. "Nothing good's going to come of this, I'll warrant."
"Sir?" Vyacheslav called. "Mr. Ulysses?" But the suite appeared to be empty. Gritting his teeth, he moved to the bedroom door. The Boss and Zalika had to be in there. But good God, it was almost five o'clock in the afternoon-
As Vyacheslav lifted his hand to knock the door opened. Mr. Ulysses looked back at him with rheumy eyes, yawned, and smacked his lips. Vyacheslav was shocked beyond words; Mr. Ulysses' dressing gown hung loosely on his frame like a towel tossed over a clothes rack. His fur looked as dull and gray as his eyes; he seemed to have aged ten years. Vyacheslav opened his mouth to comment- then looked past Mr. Ulysses into the bedroom. Zalika lay on the large, circular water bed, propped up on her elbows. Her figure looked as full as ever, her coat so silky it almost gleamed. And she looked at him, her intense, golden eyes seeming to see straight through into his soul.
Vyacheslav stepped aside as much to break eye contact as to make way for his boss. "Sorry to bother you, sir, but I thought you'd like to know that Daitakerou is back from Japan."
"Excellent, excellent." Mr. Ulysses moved to the kitchen and began pulling stuff out of the cooler. He didn't bother fixing anything, he just started eating. "Tell him to hang on until tomorrow. And tell Harold to have the car ready. Zalika and I are going 'round Courtenay Place this evening for an art show." He grinned with something like his usual wolfish self. "We're going to see if we can't pick up a little something."
"Exactly what are we looking for?" Mr. Ulysses demanded. He wore his white on white suit; Ms. Corby, on his arm, wore a matching silk tube dress with ruffles on the shoulders.
"Honestly I can't say," Zalika replied as she glanced around. "When I last met Super Collie she mentioned a boyfriend. Something about her keeps me from reading her thoughts but when we talked about him some strong impressions came through. Nothing I could really explain intellectually but enough to convince me that we should find something here."
"Hmm." Mr. Ulysses looked around. Tuesday evening apparently wasn't a great time for the art scene; only a handful of people wandered about, looking with what seemed only marginal interest at the paintings, photos, and sculptures. What really bothered him was that he and Zalika, in their formal clothes, stood out like hogs at a sheep mustering among the people who were at best young professionals and at worst almost beatnik. Yet no one paid them the slightest attention, not even the gallery owner who should be fawning obsequiously on a couple with such obvious potential to be wealthy patrons. It wasn't like they were invisible; people would look, then turn away as if what they saw just didn't mean anything. He knew Zalika was doing something but he still felt naked and vulnerable. "I hope you find it soon," he muttered, almost a growl. "This is the fourth gallery we've visited."
Zalika froze suddenly. Mr. Ulysses glanced around quickly, fiddling with his lapel. It gave him an excuse to keep his hand near the butt of the pistol he wore in a shoulder holster. Nothing seemed to be wrong, though- then he grinned when he noticed what Zalika was looking at.
Back in one corner of the gallery was a painting of Super Collie. She was frozen in an incredibly dynamic action pose, running down a city street. Only her head showed clearly and it had been rendered in exquisite detail, showing her face set in an expression of fierce determination so vividly lifelike that one could almost hear her panting. The rest of her was increasingly motion blurred; her hands and feet were fans of translucent color. The cityscape behind her also blurred, as if the scene had been shot with a camera panning rapidly to keep Super Collie in frame. And yet the background was clearly recognizable: the land side of Cable Street, looking toward Mt. Cook.
Two people stood near the painting, speaking quietly to one another. On the left was a young man, a cocker spaniel with fine, beautifully golden brown fur and large, wonderfully expressive eyes, dressed in a black short sleeved sweater and matching slacks. Facing him was a young woman, a white French poodle, delicately built and nearly a head shorter than her companion. Her tightly curled fur was styled in traditional poodle fashion; she wore a pale gray blouse and a matching pleated miniskirt.
"I know it's a bit of a break from my usual stuff but the idea came to me suddenly while I was looking at Rain, Steam, and Speed by Turner," the man was saying. "Super hero pics aren't really in vogue right now but I couldn't help it. I guess you could say I've got a bit a soft spot for Super Collie."
"You and every other young man," the girl tittered, winking obsequiously. The man smiled self consciously. "Seriously, though," she continued, "I'm glad you brought it. Maybe it won't ever be a big commercial hit but it's a beautiful painting. Your love just- just shines out of it. After you become rich and famous they'll auction it at Christie's for three million dollars."
"I wish." He hung his head in embarrassment at the praise but his smile broadened.
"That's him," Zalika pronounced, quietly but with finality.
"Surely you're not suggesting we just walk over there and grab him?" Mr. Ulysses inquired. The gallery might not have been full of people but it was hardly the place for a kidnapping.
"As a matter of fact I am," Zalika replied, gliding over to the couple. Mr. Ulysses found himself unable to tear his eyes away from her buttocks, sliding sensuously under the material of her gown. Zalika Corby may not have been overtly muscular but beyond a doubt her body was as finely crafted as Daitakerou's sword and every bit as much a weapon of deadly potency.
"Good evening," Zalika said as she breezed up. The man and woman started as if she'd suddenly appeared out of nowhere, yet gave no indication whatsoever that they noticed Mr. Ulysses, standing only a couple meters away. For his own part Mr. Ulysses found himself smiling as he watched the couple's reaction. The young man looked first at Zalika's face- then, almost as if his eyes were moving against his will, his gaze dropped to her bosom, belly, hips, and legs, then came back up. His expression was of stunned incredulity, as if he couldn't quite believe what he saw. The young woman did almost exactly the same thing, looking Zalika up and down, but her reaction was far different. She seemed almost to collapse in on herself, withered by Zalika's raw sexual power, cowed by her own comparative inadequacy. Whatever else he might think of Ms. Corby, Mr. Ulysses respected and admired the consummate skill- and ruthlessness- with which she pursued her goals.
When Zalika wrapped her arms around the young man, dipped him, and kissed him passionately Mr. Ulysses almost laughed aloud. The poor boy's whole body quivered as if it were about to turn liquid and drain out of Zalika's arms. When she returned him to his feet he would have collapsed if she hadn't propped him against the wall. Then she turned to the woman, pinning her with a gaze like a viper's. With her left arm Zalika caught the young woman across the shoulders and thrust her against the wall hard enough that nearby paintings rattled. With her right hand Zalika reached up under the woman's skirt, now using the weight of her body to hold her in place, then jerked back her head and kissed her fiercely. The woman struggled meekly, emitting small muffled sounds. But when Zalika released her she made no sound, no attempt to escape. Her knees buckled and she slumped to the floor.
"Take them," Zalika commanded, glancing back over her shoulder and licking her fingers.
Mr. Ulysses was chuckling as he caught the young man around the chest. Though reasonably tall he wasn't very heavy and he made no attempt to resist. Mr. Ulysses grabbed the girl and hauled her bodily to her feet; she was tiny and delicate and he was far from weak. She couldn't seem to stand on her own so he tucked her under his arm. Out at the curb the limo waited; Harold opened the door and Mr. Ulysses tossed his burden in like so many sacks of grain.
"Do we really need them both?" Mr. Ulysses asked as they all rode away.
"Hmm..." Zalika studied the young woman thoughtfully. "I don't think so. Just him. The girl..." She gave Mr. Ulysses a knowing smile. "Do what you like with her. She won't remember in the morning. At least, not enough to give the police anything useful. Think of it as my gift to you for being so considerate." She gave him a peck on the cheek.
Now Mr. Ulysses did laugh. Having his way with the poodle would be a pleasant diversion but what really amused him was thinking of that gentle young man in the grip of Zalika's tender mercies. The poor dumb bastard couldn't begin to imagine what he was in for.
John awoke with a start, his eyes snapping open suddenly. For an instant he wondered what could be wrong; he was in bed-
But not his bed. Not even his own bedroom. He lay sprawled on a king sized single with white sheets and a pale green coverlet. It sat in a small room with hardwood floors, plain white walls, and no other furnishings. Curtains covered both windows, admitting light but blocking the view. A sudden biological need drove John to throw back the covers-
And reveal that he was naked as a jaybird. With no sign of his clothing on the bed, in the room, or even under the bed. Nor in the attached bathroom, a very small affair with only a toilet, shower, and sink all in very close proximity. He relieved himself and returned to the bedroom.
Unless he intended to climb out through a window there was only one other way out. He opened the door and stepped out-
-Into what might have been the front room of a two or three bedroom flat or the upstairs of a small to medium sized house. He couldn't tell; he couldn't see a door or stairs because everything except the door he'd come through was covered by gauzy, pastel colored draperies. A number of expensive looking Oriental carpets covered the hardwood floor; piled on them were soft, intricately embroidered cushions. In the middle of it all stood an enormous bed dressed in firey red silk. Laying on it was- a woman. She had sharply pointed, fox-like features and a voluptuous, full figured, and not at all fox-like body. Not to mention that every part of her was midnight black except her eyes, which shone like brightly polished gold.
"I- I- I-" John gobbled, groping for the door, turning suddenly and colliding painfully with it.
"Don't be embarrassed," the woman said in a deep, sexy voice. "I wouldn't invite a young man into my boudoir if I didn't expect him to stare." She lay on her side, head propped on one hand. Now she rolled languidly onto her belly, stretching her arms out in front, lifting her tail, and looking back over her shoulder. Her breasts bulged out from beneath her torso.
"Err... uhh..." John's mouth worked; he swallowed convulsively.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"John," he replied. "John Palmer."
"I'm Zalika." She rolled onto her back, gazing at him over the rise of her breasts. The only reason she could see over them was because they fell to either side, leaving a gap between. Even her nipples- large, well defined, and prominently erect- were black.
"Um..." Now that he'd started looking John couldn't tear his eyes away. His body reacted to the stimuli; self consciously he covered himself with his hands.
"Don't be embarrassed," Zalika said gently. "You think I'm beautiful. You want to have sex with me."
"Ah-" It seemed pointless to deny, especially as he was butt naked and sporting a stiffy so hard it hurt. "I... have a girlfriend," he muttered.
"What's her name?" Zalika rolled onto her side, back to John, and drew up her legs.
"Esmerelda." John stared at Zalika's buttocks. They were large, fleshy, yet perfectly formed. Her vulva was a slash of pink against her black on black skin and fur.
"Is she pretty?" Zalika asked.
"Do you have sex often?"
"She works. It's... hard to find time when we can be together."
"That's a pity." Zalika slipped a finger between her thighs, rubbing herself. "If you were my boyfriend, I'd have sex with you all the time."
"I-" John turned away. "I... I'm sorry, Zalika. I can't do this."
"Why not?" Zalika didn't sound the least bit upset.
"I... Esmerelda's been so wonderful to me. I'd feel like... I was betraying her."
"How noble." Zalika sounded like she really meant it. "You must love her very much."
"I do." John leaned against the door frame, but even the sharp wood digging into his flesh couldn't banish the captivating vision of Zalika's buttocks. "Where would I ever find another woman like her?"
"You're handsome, gentle, and loyal," Zalika replied. "Women would kill to have a boyfriend like you."
"Really?" John looked up.
"Absolutely. I know I would." An odd smile flickered across Zalika's face, there and gone before John could react. "It's touching. You want so desperately to please her, but you're not sure you can." She slipped a finger inside herself; it went in with a soft shlurp. "Let me teach you, John. I can show you how to please her. You might say I'm something of an expert on the subject. Have you tried different techniques? Positions?"
"Yes, but..." John took a step toward the bed. "I mean... how many different ways to have sex are there?"
"As many as the mind can imagine," Zalika replied. "For example, do you have anal sex with her?"
"Ag-" John's eyes goggled; he retreated a step. "No!"
"Well- She's not- I mean-"
"You mean you never had the courage to ask her," Zalika interjected. "You don't know she wouldn't enjoy it."
"It's perfectly healthy if you take a few basic precautions," Zalika continued. "And quite stimulating if you know how to do it. Half your pelvic nerve endings are in your anus. A lot of women claim not to like it, but that's mainly because they've had bad experiences or their partners don't know how to make it fun. And you want to do it, John. You want it so much you can taste it."
"Um-" John took another step forward.
"Come now," Zalika admonished gently. "If a lady asks you to sodomize her, surely it's not gentlemanly to refuse?"
"Ah-" John took another step. Intellectually Zalika's reasoning sounded spurious. To another part of him, whose desires and concerns were of a much simpler, more straightforward nature, it made perfect sense.
"If you're asked later, you can always claim it's not really intercourse," Zalika said with a chuckle. "Or better yet, tell the truth. That you did it to learn how better to pleasure your lady friend."
John took another step.
"That's better." Zalika extended her leg, catching his penis between her toes and pulling him close. "The first step, as with any sexual encounter, is to prepare. Pick up that tube you see by your right foot."
John knelt, picking it up. "What is it?"
"KY jelly. The anus isn't self lubricating. Put a little on your left index finger and smear it around the hole. Then take your other hand-" she caught his in one of hers, guiding his fingers between her legs from the front. "You get the idea. Your lady will agree to anything at all if you apply yourself diligently." She stiffened, drawing a sharp breath as John's fingers set to work. "Good, good. Very good." She sighed heavily. "Now... go in with your left hand. Gently, gently... the sphincter has to be... persuaded to relax." Her eyelids drooped, narrowing her eyes to slits. "Yes... All the way in. Both hands. Good. Good."
John felt Zalika quivering, the rhythmic tensing and relaxing of her muscles. His lips drew back from his teeth, less a smile than a reaction to the tensions he felt building inside him. His cock was so hard it ached.
"Now," Zalika gasped. "Put it in!" She thrust her pelvis at him. John freed his left hand, grabbing her thigh just above the knee, using it and pressure with his other hand against her crotch to guide her into position. He leaned forward, pressing the head of his penis against her sphincter. It yielded suddenly, his shaft sliding in until his pelvis stopped against hers. He switched hands, holding her leg with his right and probing her vulva with his left. His first tentative strokes slid smoothly; he'd added enough jelly. He gasped as Zalika clenched herself tightly around his shaft. Hot pleasure burned away his doubts and concerns; he started pumping, slowly at first, then faster and faster-
"Slow down!" Zalika restrained him with a hand on his hip. "Don't be... in such a hurry. Draw out... the pleasure."
John forged ahead at a slow, steady pace, exhaling sharply at the end of each stroke. As he drew out Zalika clenched her anus tightly and he'd gasp. It went on and on; time ceased to have any meaning- until John felt the pressure of orgasm building rapidly inside him, on the verge of bursting out. He sped up; he couldn't help it. In the moment of release he jammed himself against Zalika, arching his back, shuddering and groaning as every muscle in his body seemed to clench tight. That too went on and on, pulse after pulse, until he was utterly spent. He groaned, slumping forward over Zalika and gasping for breath. He felt like he'd shot about a liter.
"My, my," Zalika murmured, stroking John's head. "If that's what you've got in you, I'm surprised Esmerelda ever lets you out of bed." Gently she levered him off and sat up. "Come on now, darling. Time to clean up." She slid off the bed, pulling him to his feet.
"Uh?" Afterglow fogged John's mind with warm, fuzzy pleasure.
"There are bacteria in the lower intestinal tract that, while quite happy there, can put up a ruckus if introduced to other areas, such as the mouth or vagina."
"We're not done yet, not by a long shot." Zalika steered John into a large master bathroom. It had a huge enamel bathtub with a wrap-around curtain and a gigantic shower head. Zalika turned on the water, adjusted it, pushed John in, then joined him.
"W- w- what's that?" John stammered as Zalika produced what appeared to be a hot water bottle with a long hose attached.
Zalika giggled. "You mean you've never seen an enema bottle before?"
"Ack-" John stumbled and almost fell out of the tub.
"Oh, calm down," Zalika admonished. "It's not for you. Unless you want to try it, of course." She filled it at the shower head, then hung it from a hook on the stand pipe. "Be a dear and put this in, won't you?" She handed John the nozzle.
"Um..." John stared at it in horrid fascination.
"Now now, you've put plenty of other stuff in there, surely this isn't so bad," Zalika said, waggling her bottom at him.
"Ah, okay." John cautiously inserted the nozzle. Nothing happened while the bag drained but he couldn't tear his eyes away.
"Pull it out," Zalika directed. "And stand back."
"Huh?" John blinked, then yelped as water sprayed out across the fronts of his legs.
"Sorry." Zalika tittered. "Couldn't resist. Now..." she lathered her hands with a bar of soap. "Time to get you cleaned up." She grabbed John's penis, squeezing and massaging it.
"Oh- uh... ohhhh..." John gaped. Zalika was big for a woman, as tall as him and probably as heavy. Though unquestionably feminine her hands were large and, he discovered, powerful. In a few minutes his tool was not only clean but stiffening up, too.
"There." Zalika stepped aside to let the water rinse John clean. "Now we're ready for stage two of your instruction." She shut off the water. "Out." No sooner had he stepped out of the tub when she pushed him against the tiled wall. From the wash stand she fetched two objects. One he recognized: a tube of KY jelly. The other was an ivory rod about twenty centimeters long and about two and a half in diameter. Its surface had been intricately carved with intertwined figures. One end flared out slightly, forming a stand; the other resembled a flower bud with leaves.
"Since I let you put your thingy in my bottom," Zalika said, smearing KY on the rounded tip of the rod, "I think it's only fair I get to put my thingy in your bottom. But don't worry." She chuckled. "You'll love it. I guarantee it." She dropped to her knees in front of him, setting he tube and the rod aside. One hand she slid up between his legs, probing between his buttocks. The other she wrapped around his penis, squeezing it erect and holding it while she ran her tongue across the tip. While she took his shaft deep into her mouth her middle finger teased his anus until it yielded. In time she drew out her finger and replaced it with the ivory rod, sliding it in and out with a gentle screwing motion.
John thought nothing of it. Rational thought- or any kind at all- simply wasn't possible in the face of the overpowering sensation pouring in from his nether regions. His eyelids flickered, his mouth hanging limply while his breath came in short, ragged gasps. His hands clutched futilely at the tile wall. He felt orgasm building but could only watch it coming, like a deer caught in a car's headlights. Again and again Zalika brought him right to the edge only to back off, letting the pressure dissipate a bit before starting up again. Release, when it came, was even more intense that the first had been. John's knees buckled and he dropped to the floor. Fortunately Zalika slipped the rod out before he sat on it.
"Now that's something, ain't it?" Zalika asked, licking her muzzle. "Come along, darling." She hauled John to his feet and deposited him on a pile of cushions out in the main room. Next she fetched several items: the dildo, a tube of KY, several towels, and a brush. She brushed him until his fur was back in reasonable shape. "Ready for your next lesson?"
"Next?" John blinked.
"Tit for tat, my dear." Zalika pressed the dildo into his hand and lay back on the cushions, spreading her legs.
"Ah." After his experience John needed no prodding. He smeared a bit of KY on the dildo and settled himself on his elbows between Zalika's knees. He inhaled deeply, delighting in her rich, female scent. He flicked out his tongue, running it across the surface of her vulva then probing deeply, inserting the dildo in her anus using the same screwing motion she'd used on him. He slipped his free hand under her thigh, reaching up to grab one of her breasts. Zalika clamped her thighs around his head; as such he couldn't hear her moaning and gasping but he felt her chest heaving, her back arching, her legs rhythmically squeezing. Her vulva produced copious quantities of fluid as his tongue explored its innermost recesses; greedily he lapped up every drop. He lost track of how many times he felt her shudder in the grip of ecstasy, and despite having already gone twice he felt pressure building in his own loins. He pried her knees apart and dragged himself up onto her belly, leaving the dildo buried deep in her rectum.
"Wait!" Zalika gasped, slithering out from under him and getting on her hands and knees. John grinned ferally; it was appropriate, after all, that they should do it doggy style. He grabbed her hips, whose ample curve afforded an excellent grip, and slammed into her as if jack hammering the street. His tool felt about hard enough for it, too. He pounded and pounded, gasping and panting, his tongue lolling out. He slobbered on her buttocks and his own chest and barely noticed. But even as Zalika bucked against him like a rodeo bull John's own release remained elusive. He drilled harder and harder until he bruised himself against her pelvis in spite of generous padding. He howled, not with joy but frustration at how near was his prize yet still just beyond his reach.
Zalika squeezed. John yelped; her pelvic muscles were amazingly strong. That was enough; with the majestic certainty and awesome power of an alpine avalanche his orgasm swelled, crested, and broke within him. He screamed, half for pleasure, half for pain; the intensity of this orgasm exceeded the other two by an order of magnitude but his cock felt about ready to split open. After a subjective eternity the pressure eased. John slumped like a deflating balloon; he felt as if his flesh had liquefied and gushed out through his penis, leaving behind only and empty skin.
"Now tell me that wasn't the best sex you've ever had in your life," Zalika chuckled, straightening up and laying down on her back, then in an amazing feat of flexibility swung her legs up over her head so that her crotch was right in front of her face. In leisurely fashion she cleaned herself, licking up every drop of semen. It took a while; John had ejected quite a bit. John missed the sight; he lay crumpled in a gasping heap, his eyes rolled back. "Mmm, now I'm horny," Zalika purred, unfolding herself, spreading John out on his back, and sliding on top of him. "But first I need to make some adjustments. This may hurt a bit, but only for a moment." She slipped a hand between her body and John's, curling it around his flaccid penis and squeezing. John yelped, his eyes flying open; he didn't see the bright yellow light flickering around her hand as she kneaded him but he felt it, a burning sensation as if she were smearing deep heating lotion on his cock. Nor did he notice his cock changing, lengthening, thickening, and developing a heavily textured surface. He struggled but couldn't escape with Zalika's soft, fleshy mass pinning him down. As promised, though, the discomfort passed quickly. Zalika sat up, guiding John's new penis into her vulva and sitting down on it, rocking her pelvis back and forth. "See? That wasn't so bad." She grinned, an expression John would have found unsettling if his mind hadn't been fogged with afterglow. "Now the real fun starts." She laughed, her eyes gleaming like the heart of a furnace. "Who's your girlfriend, John?"
"Ah... Esmerelda," John said, frowning as if he had trouble remembering.
Zalika gripped his face, forcing him to look into her eyes. "Who is your girlfriend, John?" she repeated, massaging his chest with her other hand and picking up the pace of her rocking.
"Es- Esmer-" John's face contorted with effort.
"Who's your girlfriend?" Zalika's eyes glowed like twin suns staring down at the Egyptian desert.
"Es... I..." John's eyelids fluttered, his face relaxing.
"Who's your girlfriend?"
"Ah... For a long time John said nothing. "Z..."
"Who's your girlfriend?"
"And don't you love her more than anything else in the world?"
"You want to stay with her forever, basking in the pleasure of her body, don't you?"
"Yes." John smiled dreamily.
"That's my darling." Zalika kissed him tenderly on the nose. "Now tell me about Esmerelda."
Mr. Ulysses growled deep in the back of his throat as he pumped with feverish energy, his lips drawn back in a hideous snarl. The poodle woman whimpered and sobbed, struggling futilely against her bonds.
With a gasp Paul staggered backward, catching himself against the wall with an out flung hand. He turned about, facing out of the bathroom into the bedroom. The poodle woman lay face down on the bed, naked, her ankles and wrists lashed together behind her back. Quite a looker if one liked trim and petite; she had the sort of firm, round breasts that stood up on their own without folding over on the bottom and a smooth, pleasantly curved body, neither bony nor fleshy. Her small, delicately built vagina would be deliciously tight when he put the meat to her-
Just thinking about it caused Paul's semi-erect penis to go limp. "God damn it all to Hell," he cursed, leaning over the toilet and pumping his tightly clenched fist up and down on his member with frenetic energy. He imagined ramming his stiff cock into her tight little ass. He imagined licking and sucking those wonderfully firm breasts with their delightfully understated nipples. He imagined grabbing the back of her head and shoving his rod into her mouth until she gagged. None of it did the slightest good; he might has well have imagined fucking an adolescent boy.
Compared to the poodle Zalika Corby was a fat cow. "By God I'd like to see her tied up," Paul growled. At the mental image of Zalika laying helpless on the bed, arms and legs lashed cruelly behind her back, a muzzle pulled tight over her mouth, he grinned ferally- and his tool sprang to attention. First off he'd take a cricket bat to those enormous buttocks of hers and paddle them until she screamed for mercy. That huge ass just begged to be spanked. Next he'd find out how big her cunt really was by shoving his fist as far up it as it would go. After that... something involving nipple clamps. He pictured her bent backwards over a horse- the gymnastics kind- with weighted claps hanging from her labia. For her nipples he'd arrange the wires so they'd pull her breasts straight out. Then he take a cane to her, working up from her thighs and across her belly. But he'd pay extra special attention to those gawdawful udder like jugs of hers. He'd make sure to leave off her muzzle so he could listen to her scream.
With Zalika Corby's screams of agony echoing in his mind Mr. Ulysses came in a hot, sticky rush. For some time after he leaned heavily against the toilet, panting. Then he cleaned up and returned to the bedroom. The poodle still blubbered miserably to herself. As if you've got anything to whine about, he thought. I never actually did anything to you. More for the principle of the thing than any real desire he thrust his middle and index finger into her vulva and spent a moment probing. Yes, she was every bit as tight as he'd hoped. She yelped a little but it wasn't very satisfying. Zalika had already broken her.
"You knew this was going to happen," Paul growled as he left the bedside, distractedly wiping his fingers with a handkerchief. "Somehow during all that fucking you did something to me so I'd only fuck you." He picked up the phone. "Mr. Green," he said and hung up. Zalika said the poodle wouldn't remember anything in the morning but Paul wasn't one to take chances. Blinders and ear plugs insured she wouldn't see or hear anything incriminating. He put on his red silk bathrobe, poured himself a brandy, and sat down to wait.
Some time later Vyacheslav arrived. Without a word he muzzled the poodle, fed her into a sack, and slung it over his shoulder. Between that and his black shirt, trousers, and shoes he looked every bit the traditional burglar. All he needed was a mask and "Swag" written in large block letters on his sack. Paul didn't worry, though; Vyacheslav could be trusted to dispose of his burden discreetly and untraceably.
"I hope you enjoy boning your artist, Zalika," Paul said aloud, downing the last of his brandy. "I'll play along with your sick little game until Super Collie's out of the way. After that things will be different. Bet on it." He grinned; wolfishly, it must be said.
Noon on Tuesday saw a slightly dinged and battered but otherwise quite serviceable late model silver Honda rolling down a quiet back street of a lower middle class Petone suburb. The driver, a charcoal gray feline male of indeterminate age wearing a grey shirt and khaki slacks, appeared as unremarkable as the vehicle itself. His passenger, though, drew stares. A black furred, exceedingly voluptuous canid female, she wore a brightly colored plaid shirt, knotted instead of buttoned, and a pair of blue jean cutoffs that looked like they'd been painted onto her shapely pelvis.
"Stop there," Zalika said, indicating a boxy, single floor, pale yellow house with white trim and a small but neatly kept yard.
Vyacheslav grimaced but complied, bringing the car to a stop at the curb. Zalika let herself out and started up the walk. Vyacheslav swallowed convulsively; no woman with a figure like that- especially one who knew how to walk, as Zalika clearly did- should be allowed to dress like that. The danger of masculine heart failure was simply to great.
At the front door Zalika rang the doorbell. After some minutes passed with no response she tried again. "Come along, darling," she beckoned over her shoulder after a few more minutes had passed.
Vyacheslav got out, tool kit in hand, reminding himself over and over that he didn't like dogs. He didn't like their smell, their comparatively rough fur, or their long muzzles. As he stared at Zalika's buttocks- he couldn't help it- all he could think of was how they'd look bent over, without those skimpy shorts-
"There's time for that later, darling." Zalika bussed him gently on the cheek. "Now be a dear and open the door, won't you?"
Vyacheslav pulled on his gloves, latex over suede to avoid even the remotest possibility of leaving fingerprints, and studied the locks. Zalika might have read his mind or simply his face. Certainly it didn't take a genius to figure out what a man was thinking in her presence. As he picked up his tools another thought came to him, considerably less pleasant. "Um-" he straightened up, glancing around under the pretense of scratching behind his ear. "Ah, Ma'am, I don't particularly mind driving your around- though I don't really see why Harold can't do it- but I really shouldn't be doing any work without telling-"
Quick as a wink Zalika seized Vyacheslav around the neck and slammed him against the door. Just as quickly her whole demeanor changed, from pleasantly flirtatious to something dark and terrifying. "I would have thought you were smart enough to see how things are going, Vyacheslav," she said in nearly the same quiet, deadly tone Mr. Ulysses used when ordering an execution. "When I am around what the Big Bad Wolf may think is the least of your worries. All he can do is kill you. I trust we have an understanding?" Vyacheslav nodded frantically, tearing uselessly at her fingers. His feet dangled several centimeters above the stoop. "Good." Zalika dropped him and stepped aside. "I brought you because I have need of your particular skills. This is the last time I will answer a stupid question."
"Yes Ma'am," Vyacheslav gasped, rubbing his bruised throat. The sight of a one hundred and forty kilogram polar bear hitting the floor like a sack of cement exploded into his mind. Dealing with Mr. Ulysses was easier in some ways. You didn't forget what a vicious, powerful, and deadly brute he was from staring at his tits and ass. He picked up his tools and set to work; both door lock and dead bolt quickly yielded to his gentle caress. He pushed the front door open and bowed Zalika in. She acknowledged with a regal nod and entered.
Vyacheslav snorted disdainfully, looking around at the small but nicely appointed front parlor. A nice looking Oriental carpet covered the hardwood floor between a dark blue couch and an oak home entertainment center. Nothing there, not even the 48cm TV or the component VCR, DVD player, and tuner, were worth the effort for a thief of his caliber.
"It doesn't impress you?" Zalika asked, studying a glass-fronted corner cabinet containing fancy etched glasses and fine china.
"Frankly, no," Vyacheslav replied. "Unless she's got some fancy jewelry hidden somewhere, I doubt there's anything worth stealing."
"She?" Zalika inquired, raising an eyebrow.
"You insult my intelligence, Ma'am," Vyacheslav huffed. "A single professional woman in her early to middle thirties lives here. She cleans regularly, even dusting inside the china cabinet there. No man would bother with those lace slip covers," he continued, indicating the couch. "And just look at these DVD's." He pulled several from the rack. "Titanic, City of Angels, The Remains of the Day..." He put them back carefully in their original slots. "Chick flicks every one. No toys, accoutrements, or sign of disarray that might speak of children or pets."
"Very good." Zalika chuckled. "Let's take a look in the kitchen, shall we?"
The kitchen combined a cooking area and breakfast nook, small but efficiently arranged. At least Zalika had the sense not to go fingering everything in sight, Vyacheslav thought- until they reached the laundry room. Dirty clothes were folded and neatly stacked in plastic bins with labels like "Warm wash cold dry," "No bleach," or "Hand iron." Zalika plucked a pair of panties from a bin and sniffed them thoroughly. Vyacheslav kept his face rigidly composed; cloth wouldn't take fingerprints and he really didn't want to know too much about Zalika's sexual preferences.
"Mr. Palmer told us the truth about one thing, at least," Zalika chuckled, stretching the panties between her index fingers. They belonged to a full figured woman, though not so much as Zalika herself. "His gentle fingers have caressed this garment, and probed the fastness within."
Vyacheslav blinked. "How do you know?" he asked, peering at the underwear. Their young professional woman was a canine, he could tell from the scent. He couldn't see how Zalika concluded that the garment had been handled.
"Sex evokes the most basic and intense of emotions, Mr. Soborin," Zalika replied, tossing the underwear back into its bin. "It is the thing around which our entire existence is centered. Mr. Palmer and his lady friend feel very strongly for one another, but their love is... frustrated by outside factors. When such a union is consummated it leaves... psychic traces, you might say." She smiled wickedly. "That's why I needed you to open the door, Vyacheslav. I could have walked through it, but that would leave traces too. And if I'm right, our young professional woman would sense them."
"How?" Vyacheslav asked, frowning.
"Haven't you ever wondered how Super Collie got her powers?" Zalika asked, heading toward the master bedroom.
"Yes, but-" Vyacheslav hurried after. "You mean- this is her house?"
"I think it is," Zalika replied. "When I met Super Collie in Auckland I got from her... a psychic impression, you might say, of her boyfriend. Using that as a template I scanned around Wellington and found Mr. John Palmer. He, it turns out, has a girl friend who bears a striking resemblance to Super Collie."
"How will you know if she is?" Vyacheslav asked.
"Super Collie's powers comes from a spirit, as mine do," Zalika replied, peering into the second bedroom. It was an office, with book shelves along the walls. A small desk supported an obviously home-built personal computer. "Something very old. Gaelic, probably, brought by settlers from Scotland or Ireland. A spirit like that is definitely going to leave traces." She paused, studying a framed picture hanging on the wall. It showed a small building on a spit of land thrust out into a dazzlingly blue lake surrounded by jagged gray peaks. "If I find them, I know I picked the right boyfriend."
Both Zalika and Vyacheslav heard the front door open. He started toward a window but Zalika caught him, dragging him toward the master bedroom closet. After studying the doors for a moment- during which Vyacheslav clearly heard footsteps coming down the hall- Zalika opened one side of the closet and thrust Vyacheslav inside. Closing the door behind her, Zalika kept one hand around Vyacheslav's muzzle and the other around his torso. Vyacheslav gritted his teeth; he enjoyed being crushed against Zalika's delightfully snuggly body and hated himself for it.
Someone entered the bedroom and puttered around for a while. Water came on in the shower. The other side of the closet opened; feminine hands with golden yellow fur removed several items then closed the door. A ventilation fan in the bathroom started up and someone got into the shower. After what felt like an interminable wait Vyacheslav suddenly noticed a a tinny, electronic sound. In his current state it took him a bit to finally recognize New Zealand's national anthem.
"What's that?" Zalika whispered.
"Pager or cell phone, probably," Vyacheslav hissed back.
Zalika released Vyacheslav and opened the closet door. He had to bite his lip to keep from calling out. The bathroom door stood open; he could see a blurry, yellow-gold form moving in the shower. Zalika picked through clothing items discarded haphazardly on the floor until she found a small black handbag. From it she extracted an ordinary seeming PDA and briefly studied its display. After putting it back she waved Vyacheslav toward the door. He moved quickly but quietly out into the hall, being careful not to disturb anything. At the front door he glanced back and saw Zalika standing near the kitchen, concentrating. He heard the person leap out of the shower; his heart leapt into his throat, expecting her to come bursting out at them. Instead, though, she returned to the shower. Zalika pointed; Vyacheslav opened the door and they both hurried out. "Leave it, we don't have the time," Zalika said as Vyacheslav turned to the locks. They got in the car and drove away, not quickly like a getaway but briskly, as if they were late for a meeting. With the house out of sight Vyacheslav's terror began to fade but only a little. Super Collie could run-
"You did very well," Zalika purred, caressing Vyacheslav's thigh.
"Not now!" Vyacheslav shrieked. The car wove erratically.
"I insist." Zalika untied the front of her shirt; there wasn't anything under it but bare breast. "You've earned your reward. And besides, I can't have you telling Paul about what you've seen, can I?" She grinned, licking her lips in a decidedly predatory fashion.
Esmerelda looked frightful as she walked up to the front door of her house. Dirt and dead bugs clung to her fur and her mane frizzed out wildly. Fatigue rounded her shoulders and hollowed her face. Her suit looked as neat as ever but even that was shocking compared to the rest of her. Inside she kicked her shoes off in the hall and left them on the floor. Monday's mail lay under the slot but she left it with hardly a glance. In her bedroom she turned on the shower and stripped down to the fur, excepting only the pendant around her neck. That never left her person, not even during Unscheduled Intimate Activities. She entered the shower and just stood there as the water washed away road grime and insect carcasses, wishing it could so easily wash away the dark thoughts chasing one another through her mind.
Sunday night in Auckland now surpassed the Nagasaki sailor suit incident as the worst day in her life. Half way down in the elevator the adrenaline wore off and a violent reaction set in as she contemplated how close she'd come to ending up as a decorative smear on Federal Street. The Mystic Power of the Shepherd had protected her from fists, knives, clubs, bullets, and in one particular case a chain saw, but never had she tested it with a two hundred meter drop onto hard pavement. No sooner did the elevator doors open than a horde of people start screaming at the tops of their lungs. Inspector Samson carries on about Daughter Night. Chief Moose carries on about how the SASVS screwed everything up and created a PR nightmare. Colonel Bathsfield says it's not his fault, the idiotic civilian police didn't give him all the information. A whole squad of Harrah's corporate hand-wringers start moaning about who's going to pay for all the damage. Somehow a mob of reporters made it past the police barricades and came charging forward like bloodthirsty Hottentots. When Chief Moose punched Colonel Bathsfield in the eye something in Esmerelda snapped. She ran, scattering the crowd like jackstraws. Near Hamilton she stopped at a motor lodge and called in sick at work. But she couldn't sleep and eventually got on the road again. In fits and starts she travelled on, stopping occasionally for food or rest but never for more than a couple hours at a time. Eventually she arrived back in Petone.
Esmerelda slumped against the shower wall and sank to the floor, clutching her head in her hands. In a very real sense the fiasco at the SkyTower was her fault. She'd grievously underestimated Daughter Night, not once but twice. Realization of how perilously close she'd come to falling from the SkyTower didn't frighten her nearly so much as realization of how perilously close she'd come to falling under Daughter Night's seductive spell.
"I... don't know if I can keep doing this," Esmerelda whispered, clutching her pendant in a white-knuckled grip. She wanted to call John, more than she'd ever wanted anything in her life... but he didn't know about Super Collie and in her present state if she said anything she'd spill it all. At the moment she didn't care about her own security but being known as Super Collie's boyfriend would put John in terrible danger. Super villains and criminals aside, the press would hound him to death. If only she'd realized, when she'd first touched the Staff of the Shepherd and felt the power surging through her, what a terrible price she'd end up paying for it.
Something made Esmerelda look up suddenly, ears twitching. Had her PDA gone off? Normally she brought it into the bathroom so she'd hear it over the shower. This time she'd left it in her purse. She planted her hand to lever herself up but hesitated. Maybe Daughter Night was right. New Zealand had gotten along fine before she came along; in time it would have to make do without her. What would it matter if that day came sooner than later? No one had ever forced her to do this. Laying the mantle aside would be a relief beyond words.
With a convulsive shudder Esmerelda struggled out of the shower and rushed into the bedroom. Truth was, whatever her personal feelings, she couldn't let it drop. It wasn't in her nature. As she scooped out the PDA she hesitated, fingering the pendant with her other hand. A sense of foreboding filled her; she looked around quickly but couldn't detect anything obviously wrong. She looked at the PDA's screen; no message, just a phone number. Dialing it probably wouldn't get anything, though; it was a code she'd worked out with Constable Kremmin. This particular number meant he wanted to meet her in two hours at the Brooklyn Wind Turbine. As she dropped the PDA back in her purse she looked long and hard at the closet. Suddenly she recalled quite vividly a scene from her childhood, laying in bed with the covers pulled up over her head, cowering in fear of the monsters lurking in her closet. Her hand clutched the pendant even more tightly. She forced her fingers to let go; for security reasons she'd never transformed in her house and now didn't seem like a good time to start, especially for the sake of childish phantasms. Besides- she sighed heavily- Constable Kremmin would be waiting and she had a lot of filth to clean out of her fur. She went back into the shower.
"Are you sure she'll come?" Cymbeline asked. She perched nervously on the unmarked police car's left rear fender, constantly scanning the nearby terrain.
"Yes," Kremmin replied. He faced only one direction, along the road leading up to the turbine's base. Above him the thirteen meter long blades whooshed by, driven by a stiff westerly coming in across the hills. "She's never let me down yet. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," Cymbeline replied with a nervous smile.
Kremmin allowed the corners of his mouth to turn up. In becoming entangled with Daughter Night Dr. Lathasar was in way over her head and she knew it. That she kept going in spite of the danger- and her own fear- was something Kremmin respected immensely. Now if only her theories turned out correct-
"There she is," Cymbeline said, pointing. Kremmin looked but he didn't see anything. When he turned to ask what she'd seen he caught a flicker of motion in the corner of his eye. Turning back quickly he saw Super Collie jogging up. He blinked; her sudden appearance surprised him but it wasn't unusual. The mountaintop on which the wind turbine stood was barren but cut with gullies and falls. A person who ventured off the road could get very close to the summit without being seen and Super Collie, with her super speed, could cover the remaining distance in the blink of an eye. Usually she took the road but not always, especially if there was a danger she might be followed.
"Thank you for coming, Super Collie," Kremmin said, stepping forward. "Especially after what happened in Auckland. I saw it on the news."
Super Collie sighed, fingering her staff. "It was a mess, I know. I felt like I was so close, and suddenly-" She frowned, glancing at Cymbeline. "Who's your friend?"
"Super Collie, this is Dr. Cymbeline Lathasar," Kremmin replied. When Cymbeline started forward Kremmin waved her back. "Dr. Lathasar figured out what Daughter Night wants, why she's here. I'm afraid that's why things went badly in Auckland. After she explained Daughter Night's line of attack I realized that you were in terrible danger. I called Inspector Samson; he must have told the SAVS."
"Do you know what Daughter Night's on about?" Super Collie asked. "I feel like- like she's toying with me, but I don't understand why."
"Let's get in the car," Kremmin said, turning. "I don't want to stay here, it's too open. Cymbeline will explain as we go." When Super Collie stepped up beside him Kremmin slipped the Talisman of Ra from his shoulder holster and slapped it against Super Collie's upper arm. She let out a blood-curdling shriek and leapt away, dropping her staff to clutch at her arm. The talisman had burned its design into her fur and the flesh underneath. She batted frantically at the wound, which smoldered as if red hot.
"Run!" Kremmin screamed, starting for the car at a dead run. Cymbeline leapt off the fender and jerked the driver's door open, twisting the key even before she'd settled into the seat.
Super Collie moaned and howled, writhing on her belly in the dust. Blackness spread outward from her wound like ink until her whole body was ebon. Her flesh melted and re-formed. When she opened her eyes they were bright gold. She extended her right hand, as if flinging something away. Cymbeline screamed; Kremmin saw the air around him shimmer and felt a sledgehammer blow on the back that slammed him violently against the car's side. He slumped to the ground, blood oozing from his mouth and nose, dazed but with the talisman still clutched in his hand. Cymbeline slammed the car into gear and jammed the accelerator; the engine roared and the tires threw rooster tails of dirt and gravel but the car didn't move. Daughter Night, still in Super Collie's costume, struggled to her feet and started forward, hand outstretched. Blood oozed from the wound on her arm. Cymbeline got out of the car and knelt by Kremmin, gently massaging his face. The pain and dizziness faded away and he got to his feet. Cymbeline cowered behind him, peering past his shoulder.
"So tell me... how did you know?" Daughter Night inquired in her own voice and accent, though it came out a bit ragged.
"Truth is I didn't really," Kremmin replied. Cymbeline was doing something behind his back; giving her time to do it seemed to be their only hope. "Though something felt... odd. Better safe than sorry, I figured. If you were Super Collie, I didn't think the Talisman of Ra would affect you."
Daughter Night chuckled, shaking her head. "I suppose deep-seated mistrust is a survival characteristic for a policeman. Well, it doesn't matter anyhow." She rubbed her arm; silvery light flickered around her fingers and when it faded the wound was gone. "Dr. Lathasar isn't the only one who can channel the power of Aset- or Isis, as the Greeks called her," Daughter Night continued. "This time I charged up before dropping by. I'm afraid your little trinkets won't be anything more than an incoh- incof- inc... oh...." Daughter Night's eyes unfocused, her knees quavering. Slowly, jerkily, as if against her will, her left arm crept down to her crotch. She slipped her fingers into her bikini bottom and started rubbing herself. Her right hand scooped her left breast out of her top and she sucked greedily at the nipple.
For a moment Kremmin could only stare in shock. A stirring in his crotch snapped him back to the present; now wasn't the time to stand around watching Daughter Night masturbate, however exciting it might be. Her eyes, though glassy with pleasure, still burned with dark malevolence. He raised the talisman-
"No," Cymbeline gasped, clutching Kremmin's shoulder. Her breathing came in quick, rhythmic gasps and she leaned heavily against him. "Run... away!"
Daughter Night also breathed heavily, her chest heaving up and down. Her face twisted through a bizarre series of contortions and she lurched forward, almost but not quite falling. Whatever was happening hadn't immobilized her completely.
Kremmin spun, catching Cymbeline's shoulders- and again froze in shock. She'd undone her trousers, pulled down her panties, and was masturbating furiously with a small golden figurine of some sort. Kremmin picked her up and fed her into the back seat, carefully so she wouldn't lose her rhythm. Judging from the increasing tempo and volume of her gasps he didn't have long. Kremmin leapt into the driver's seat, put the car in gear, and floored the accelerator. Cymbeline tumbled against the door as the car came about in a spray of dirt, dust, and gravel; Daughter Night shook her head and leapt, sailing through the air and landing hard on the car's boot. Kremmin swerved wildly trying to sling her off but she remained, stuck in place as if she had suction cups all over the front of her body. Cymbeline, laying sideways across he back seat, started masturbating with both hands. Likewise Daughter Night felt compelled to touch herself but she didn't fall off. In fact, even with both hands between her legs she continued to inch forward on her belly until her face pressed against the rear window.
A chain link fence with a sign warning trespassers to keep out separated the turbine's plot of land from the rest of the countryside. Kremmin slammed through the gate at full speed, swerving up onto the blacktop with howl of rubber. Daughter Night ducked as the gate went over the car and fell away behind, then glared fiercely. As if broken by her gaze the rear window crazed; when she smacked it with her forehead the pane shattered. As she dragged herself over the lip jagged bits of broken glass tore bloody furrows in her breasts. Cymbeline screamed as if her own breasts were being lacerated but didn't slack off.
Kremmin's foot came off the gas. He was going to do a bootleg and hope it threw Daughter Night off when something blue and gold flashed in the rear view mirrors. Super Collie came sailing through the air, staff raised to strike. Somehow Daughter Night rolled at the last possible second; the butt of the staff punched through the boot lit with a heavy shock. Kremmin almost lost control and Super Collie clung desperately to her staff to keep from falling. Cymbeline's concentration faltered for only an instant but it was enough; Daughter Night pointed, the air around Super Collie blazed with fire and bright sparks and she flew straight up into the air, still clutching her staff. She twisted as she fell, trying to land on her feet, but didn't quite make it. She tripped and fell, tumbling off the roadway into the drainage ditch.
As if they'd rehearsed it a hundred times Kremmin tossed the Talisman of Ra into the back seat. Cymbeline caught it and slapped it against Daughter Night's face. Daughter Night screamed horribly but as she slipped off the boot she grabbed Cymbeline's arm. Cymbeline screamed; the weight of Daughter Night's body dragged her through the broken rear window. Daughter Night forced the talisman away from her face, one side of which had been reduced to a charred, bloody ruin. Smoke streamed between her fingers as the fur on her hand shriveled, the flesh charring black and flaking off. Cymbeline brought her other hand up, clutching something small and golden, using it to hammer desperately at Daughter Night's hand. Daughter Night's grip failed and she slid off the boot, still glaring hatefully from her remaining eye. Unfortunately the Talisman of Ra went with her; Kremmin saw it flash brightly as it bounced on the roadway and spun off into the brush. Cymbeline collapsed in the back seat, clutching her hand and sobbing uncontrollably.
Kremmin eased back only slightly on the throttle though he was driving way too fast for the steep, narrow, and winding mountain roads. His hands quivered even as he held the wheel in a white-knuckled grip. Super Collie, even on her own, had a better chance of dealing with Daughter Night than he and Cymbeline. Also, the degree of attention required by driving kept him from thinking about how desperately narrow their escape had been. When they came around a corner and he saw Super Collie standing by the side of the road he almost lost control. He stood on the brake; the car fishtailed to a stop. Super Collie jogged over and slipped into the front passenger's seat.
"Super Collie, I don't think I've ever in my entire life been so glad to see you," Kremmin said, blinking away tears as he pulled out.
"But- But-" Cymbeline sat up in back. "How did you get ahead of us?"
"The road doubles back," Super Collie replied. "I took a shortcut down the slope. I go running out here, you see. For exercise."
"Super Collie, this is Dr. Cymbeline Lathasar, Egyptologist," Kremmin said. "She's been helping me with the Daughter Night case."
"Pleased to meet you, Doctor." Super Collie twisted around, offering her hand. "Ah-" She blinked, glancing down. "Pardon me, but what happened to your trousers?"
"Well-" Cymbeline ducked her head, her ears flushing. "I have some artifacts that I thought would help me fight Daughter Night. They haven't worked as well as I'd hoped, though- and now I've gone and lost the most powerful one!" She clutched her hands over her face.
"You did the best you could," Kremmin said gently. "Honestly, I can't imagine anyone doing better. Without you we'd never have made it this far, that's for sure. Whatever you did to Daughter Night saved our lives." He frowned. "I assume it was you?"
Cymbeline nodded, sniffing and wiping her face. "I'd given you the Talisman of Ra, so when I jumped into the car I grabbed one." She held up a golden statuette about eight centimeters long formed in the likeness of a slender bodied cat. "This is a talisman of Bast. I'd meant to grab the Talisman of Isis but there wasn't time to search. Then I remembered that Bast is goddess of sex. So I, I, um-" She hunched her shoulders.
"You what?" Super Collie prompted.
"She, ah, masturbated with it," Kremmin replied. As a police officer he was accustomed to reporting dispassionately about intensely personal and sometimes disturbing things but even so he felt acutely embarrassed to say it out loud.
"Daughter Night uses the spirit of Bast because it gives her the power to shape flesh- Bast is a shape-shifter, you see- and also she can charge herself with sexual energy," Cymbeline explained. "But it makes her hyper-sensitive to sexual stimulation. When I- you know- with the talisman I was able to, ah, broadcast the sensation to Daughter Night. She couldn't reject it without cutting off her source of power. It disoriented her enough to let us get away." Cymbeline shuddered violently. "But- George- how did she know where to find us?" Panic welled up in her eyes.
"I think-" Super Collie began, remembering her premonition. She'd been about to say that she suspected Daughter Night had been in her house. Thinking that brought up another question: how had Daughter Night found her house? "Can Daughter Night read minds?" she asked.
Cymbeline nodded. "Yes, she can. But not casually. She has to spend time with someone before she can get anything like detailed information. But I don't think you need worry about that, Super Collie. Daughter Night can control minds as well as reading them. If she could do that to you she'd already have made you do what she wants."
"What does she want?" Icy dread gnawed at Super Collie's guts but she kept it out of her voice.
"Your staff," Cymbeline said. "That is to say, she thinks it's a spirit that gives you your powers, just like it's spirits that give Daughter Night her powers. She thinks that if she captures your spirit she'll get your powers in addition to what she already has."
"That's an ugly thought," Kremmin put in.
"Taking my staff won't do it," Super Collie said. "She tried that at the bank and it didn't work."
"It's not about the staff," Cymbeline said. "I mean, the staff is a symbol of your power but not the power itself. The staff is- is a point of focus you use to call the spirit into yourself. You'd have to- to give Daughter Night the staff in such a way as to make it symbolic of transferring the spirit to her. You'd have to want to give her the power."
"I'd never do that!" Super Collie snapped- but her voice quavered ever so slightly. She could think of one condition under which she might be persuaded to do the unthinkable.
"I think that's why she came after us," Kremmin said grimly. "She takes us hostage, threatening to torture or kill us if you don't give up the staff. Super Collie-" he glanced at her- "I want you to promise me you won't give in no matter what happens to us. Even if we die, or worse. I'm sure Dr. Lathasar would agree. The stakes are too high."
"I do, and they are," Cymbeline said. "What you've seen so far, Super Collie, is only a fraction of what Daughter Night is capable of. George and I have a plan to trap her-"
"I want to hear everything you know about Daughter Night," Super Collie cut in. "She seems to know everything about me but I know practically nothing about her. I feel like she's been one step ahead of me all along. But-" she swallowed; her throat was dry as dust. "There's something we need to check on. Right away."
"What is it?" Kremmin asked.
"I-" Super Collie fingered her staff, shifting uneasily in her seat. In Auckland she and Daughter Night had chatted for some time. She'd been thinking quite a lot about John... and he knew where Esmerelda Braithwaite lived. She didn't at all like the implications of that line of thought- but Kremmin didn't know about John. Now she'd have to tell him and a stranger. "Meet me at the Central Police Station in an hour!" she exclaimed, opening the door and leaping out.
"Wait!" Kremmin shouted. He caught a handful of Super Collie's cape but had to let go or be dragged out after her. Cymbeline screamed in terror as the car fishtailed, nearly colliding head-on with an oncoming delivery van. By the time he'd regained control Super Collie was gone. "Hell and damnation!" he thundered, pounding the dashboard with his fist.
"What do we do now?" Cymbeline wailed.
"We go to the Central Police Station," Kremmin growled. "We need to speak with Inspector Samson in any case." I just pray to God Super Collie doesn't run into Daughter Night on her own. Some times that girl is just too bloody impulsive for her own good.
When he saw a black furred body laying in the road Vyacheslav jammed on the brake. It seemed too good to be true that Zalika might have died in a simple roadway accident but neither he nor Mr. Ulysses would shed any tears-
Zalika sat up. No such luck, Vyacheslav thought wryly. As she got to her feet Vyacheslav noticed two things. First, she wore not a stitch of clothing. Second, a large patch on the left side of her face and narrow vertical strips along her chest were devoid of fur, she kept her left eye closed, and her right hand- wasn't there. Her right arm terminated smoothly at the wrist as if there'd never been a hand there.
"Park there," Zalika commanded, pointing with her truncated arm. "And get out."
Vyacheslav's hand quivered slightly as he set it on the shifter to put the car in gear. Why did I even stop in the first place? Maybe if I just drove away-
As if sensing his thoughts Zalika turned her remaining eye on him. Don't even think about it, Vyacheslav. You've tasted the pleasure I can give you. Do you want to taste suffering as well?
Vyacheslav parked the car and got out. He felt hollow, as if his insides had turned liquid and drained out. At least he wasn't afraid any more. It was much too late for that.
"Someone'll be along eventually, I expect," Zalika commented, laying back on the Honda's bonnet with her legs apart. "In the meantime-" she smiled, idly fingering herself- "I again require the services of your dexterous fingers, Vyacheslav. Not to mention your tongue."
In something like a trance Vyacheslav sank to his knees, staring with a curious blend of horror and fascination at Zalika's crotch. She possessed what he had to admit was a very attractively proportioned vulva. Despite her overall fleshiness the major labia did not bulge unduly. The minor labia opened like an inviting pink blossom against her black skin and fur but were not at all loose or floppy. He stroked it gently with the tip of his forefinger, marvelling at the smooth, silky feel of the already damp flesh, then probed deeply with his index and middle fingers together. Adding the middle and index fingers of his other hand- they all went in without undue difficulty- he spread the opening as much as he could and reached in as deeply as he could with his tongue, savoring her rich, musky flavor. He drew his tongue out slowly, dragging it over the fold of flesh covering her clitoris. Gladly- gratefully, even- he cast aside thoughts about the day's tumultuous events and abandoned himself to the glorious pleasure of the moment, slurping and probing as if there were no tomorrow-
The sound of a car coming down the road didn't register on Vyacheslav's consciousness. Nor even did the squeal of rubber which only ended with a sickening, metallic crunch. What drew him back to the present was Zalika swinging her leg over his back and rolling off the bonnet. He straightened up, unconsciously licking crusted fluid from his muzzle. A pale green medium-small sedan had gone off the road and violently intersected a guard rail post. "What... did you do?" he asked as Zalika walked briskly up to it.
"Nothing," Zalika replied, studying the wreck thoughtfully. A young male deer in a gray business suit lay slumped over the steering wheel with a deflated airbag in his lap. "He was so busy staring at you eating me out he just drove off the road." She grabbed the driver's door and tugged; with a scream of metal it came reluctantly open. She took the deer by his arm and hauled him out onto the ground. Other than being stunned and bruised he didn't seem unduly injured; his vehicle's front crumple zone, seat belts, and air bag had performed exactly as intended. When Zalika knelt beside him, lifting him with a hand behind the neck that left his head lolling back, he moaned and stirred a little. He let out a sharp scream that trailed off into a gurgle as Zalika's jaws closed on his throat, her sharp canines biting deep into his tender flesh. He thrashed weakly as Zalika slurped up the blood spurting from the ragged wound she'd torn in his neck. Bright, arterial crimson stained Zalika's muzzle, soaked into the deer's suit, and pooled on the pavement under him. In only a few moments it was over.
"That's better," Zalika declared, licking her muzzle. The scarring on her face and chest faded away, replaced by normal skin and fur. "Now, let's see..." She turned the deer's head, studying the left side of his face. With her thumb and forefinger she carefully popped his eyeball out of its socket, severing the tendons and nerves with a delicate bite. After forcing open her own eyelid- revealing a blank, empty cavity- she stuffed the eyeball into her own head and started blinking rapidly. After bit- during which time the replacement eye spun crazily- it finally synchronized properly and changed color from deep brown to bright gold. Next she spent a moment studying the deer's right arm, turning it this way and that. "Vyacheslav, there's a hacksaw in the trunk, isn't there? Be a dear and fetch it, won't you?"
A well stocked tool chest was essential in Vyacheslav's line of work. The large, red box tucked behind the Honda's rear seat contained mallets, saws, screwdrivers, drills, spanners, pry bars, and other tools of a sufficiently generic nature as to not arouse suspicion if discovered. More specialized equipment- lock picks, jimmies, and the like- were hidden in secret compartments inside the car's body panels. After some thought he decided Zalika was right in selecting the hacksaw; in choosing his equipment load out he'd never anticipated the possibility of dissecting a corpse. He returned with the saw and a pair of blocks. Zalika would need something to prop the deer's arm on while she cut it.
"Good, good," Zalika exclaimed, taking the blocks and laying the deer's arm across them. "Here, you hold his forearm and his hand. Try to keep it tight if you can." She took up the saw and started cutting. The blade, meant for metal, cut slowly and messily.
Vyacheslav's stomach churned. He didn't throw up because he'd managed to convince himself it was all just a horrible nightmare. Any minute now he'd wake up and Mr. Ulysses would send him off to burgle houses, break strong boxes, rob a jewelry store, steal paintings, or some other act of reassuringly normal, wholesome theft.
As they worked several cars when by, at least one of them a police car, but none of the motorists paid the slightest attention to the wrecked sedan or the pair of individuals busily mutilating a corpse. Finally Zalika laid the saw aside and detached the hand with a sharp tug, breaking the last few tags of skin. "Not exactly what I'd choose, but quite serviceable," she commented, holding the gory, severed wrist up to the stub end of her forearm. Her skin peeled back, revealing naked flesh underneath; tendrils grew out of it and into the severed hand, binding the two together. The hand twitched, it's flesh bulging as if worms were crawling around in it. New skin covered the ragged wound at the wrist, the fingers wiggled, and their color came back as the hand became completely joined to Zalika's body. Finally it's fur and skin turned black, its proportions changing to match those of her left hand.
"Now, then." Zalika rose, wiggling her newly installed fingers. "With that out of the way we can retire and prepare for tomorrow." She picked up the hacksaw, wiping it clean on the deer's shirt.
"Are we just going to... leave him?" Vyacheslav heard himself asking.
"Unless you have a sack we can put him in so he won't ruin the upholstery," Zalika replied. "What are you worried about, anyway? You didn't leave any fingerprints and this blacktop won't take footprints." She started toward the Honda but stopped, glancing over her shoulder. "Still," she added, thoughtfully tapping her chin, "It seems like a terrible pity to waste an opportunity like this. Have you a utility knife in that tool kit of yours, Vyacheslav?"
"I... uh..." Vyacheslav's knees turned to jelly; only by leaning heavily against the Honda's fender did he save himself from falling. It's only a nightmare. It's only a nightmare. "Yes," he admitted.
"Fetch it here."
Vyacheslav's worst fears were realized when Zalika opened the deer's trousers, then picked up the utility knife and extended the blade. After carefully picking out the deer's penis and stretching it tight she severed it with a few deft strokes. Not at the surface as one might expect but a ways down, leaving a bloody crater once she'd cut it completely loose. "We need to transplant this before it mortifies," she commented, heading back to the car with the bloody, flaccid member in one hand and the utility knife in the other. When Vyacheslav noticed how Zalika was looking at him the thin crust of self-denial shielding his sanity gave way. He emitted a frightened squeak but couldn't run because his legs gave out. Warm wetness spread in the crotch of his trousers.
"Good grief, Vyacheslav," Zalika exclaimed, dropping to one knee beside him and wrinkling her nose. "Do you have any idea how many men would give their right arms for this?" She unbuttoned his trousers and pulled them down. He couldn't resist; white hot terror paralyzed his mind and left his limbs twitching spastically. Using the tip of the utility knife she made a tiny nick just above his penis and pressed the tip of her finger against it. Vyacheslav grimaced in pain as the wound opened, flesh and muscle peeling back layer by layer. She stuffed the deer's cock into the hole; Vyacheslav felt his flesh merging with that of the transplanted organ. He drew a shuddering breath as sensation flooded up the new shaft. "Ready to try it out?" Zalika asked, massaging it gently with her right hand. Both it and his original penis stiffened to erection. Vyacheslav's eyes bulged until they seemed about to fall out of their sockets. A distant corner of his mind observed that the deer's hand, now attached to Zalika, was stroking the deer's penis, now attached to his body. It was too much. He passed out.
"Wake up!" Zalika slapped Vyacheslav sharply across the face, snapping him back to consciousness. "I didn't do this for you. If things pan out as I expect I'll be meeting Super Collie again very soon and I need to be fully charged when it happens." She grabbed his ankles and dragged him away from the car, laying him flat on his back on the pavement. "We've only time for a quickie but this way we get two for the price of one, as it were." She chuckled, bending over his crotch and taking one tool in each hand. She pursed hir lips and let a big gob of spit drop on the head of each one then slathered it around with her tongue. That finished she swung her leg over him and gently lowered herself onto the twin shafts, guiding them with her hands. Since she faced him that put the new cock in her vagina and the old one in her rectum. Once the heads were safely through their respective openings she bore down, driving the shafts in until her thighs slapped against his belly. Vyacheslav twitched, making a sound somewhere between a groan and a moan.
"Oh, shut up and enjoy the ride," Zalika said, rolling her hips forward and back as she rose up and down so the in-and-out rhythm for each penis was slightly out of sync with the other. Though she spoke in a very businesslike way Vyacheslav heard her begin to gasp rhythmically and felt her clutch at his chest, not to mention speeding up a bit. When the moment came he distinctly felt the semen rising separately in each penis and they spurted at precisely opposing phases, one then the other, back and forth. It was like coming twice at the same time even though it didn't last any longer than usual. He slumped with a gurgle, his head flopping to one side, his eyes glazed, spittle dribbling from his slack mouth.
Zalika panted several times and shook her head. "Not bad," she allowed, rising to her feet. She picked up Vyacheslav's trousers, expelled his semen onto them, used the material to wipe herself, then tossed them into the back seat. "Come on, Vyacheslav. Fun time's over." She grabbed his arm and pulled; he flopped limply like a rag doll. "Bloody Hell," she muttered, dragging him to the car and stuffing him roughly in the passenger side. On the third try she got the engine started and after fiddling with the shifter for a bit got it to go forward. She started to drive across the road. "Oh yeah," she muttered, jerking the wheel back to the left. "We're below the equator so you drive on the other side of the road." The Honda's flank rebounded from the guard rail with a crash and squeal of abused metal and wandered across the center line. "I really should've learned how to drive," she commented as she struggled to keep the vehicle at least on the road, if not on her lane. A motorist coming the other way swerved off onto the shoulder, horn blaring.
Vyacheslav's head flopped back and forth as the car jerked this way and that. His eyes had the glassy, hopeless look a deer's do as they stare blankly into the headlights of an oncoming road train. It's only a nightmare, he thought, over and over. It's only a nightmare, it's only a nightmare, it's only a nightmare....
"Are you all right, Vyacheslav?" Daitakerou inquired. His tone and expression evinced genuine concern.
Vyacheslav grunted noncommittally. He wasn't all right. He had to piss like a fire hose but couldn't bring himself to go to the bathroom. Zalika had done a thorough job; both his cocks were fully plumbed. Which meant that while taking a leak he had to hold both of them- and every time he looked at his new dick he saw Zalika chopping up the deer's corpse as casually as a normal person would yank parts at a U-pull-it wrecking yard. Then he remembered doing Zalika in the vagina and the anus at the same time and both his tools suddenly got hard. In spite of the horror he liked having two cocks and he hated himself for it. "So your Yakuza contacts came through? What did you get?"
"A Kamakura guardian," Daitakerou replied. "I'm assured it'll block her mind powers and weaken any other spirit-derived abilities she has."
"Great!" Vyacheslav's face lit up. "Then let's get it over here right away. Mr. Ulysses will want to see it."
Daitakerou grimaced. "I'm afraid... there's a bit of problem on that front. It's still in Nagasaki."
Vyacheslav frowned. "Can't you smuggle it out?"
"Well, of course," Daitakerou replied. "The Yakuza stole it from a shogun's tomb, I understand. But they can't move it right now because it would put them over their export smuggling limit for the fiscal quarter."
"Excuse me?" Vyacheslav cocked his head.
"The Yakuza clans have an agreement with the national government," Daitakerou explained. "Each clan, based on seniority and past performance, is assigned a quarterly value cap on gains from illegal activity. If a clan stays within its limit the government lets them alone. It's part of a national initiative to cut down on crime."
Vyacheslav rubbed his face. "You Japs are nuts, you know that?"
"I suppose you Russkis think you've got it all figured out?" Daitakerou inquired.
"At least Russian criminals are reliably dishonest," Vyacheslav pointed out.
"I suppose I need to tell Mr. Ulysses," Daitakerou said, clearly not relishing the prospect.
Vyacheslav glanced toward the bedroom. Zalika was at her safe house making plans and doing things Vyacheslav didn't want to know about. Mr. Ulysses was in the bathroom wanking, where he'd been almost continuously since yesterday. "Daitakerou, if you don't find a way to bring that thing in soon I don't think it's going to matter any more."
Daitakerou blinked. "Vyacheslav, what's going on here?"
"You don't want to know, Daitakerou." Vyacheslav rose to his feet, unzipping his fly. "I could try explaining but I can't believe it and I lived through it. Not easier, I think, but definitely quicker just to show you." His trousers hit the floor.
In the bathroom Mr. Ulysses paused, cocking his head. Had he just heard someone scream?
The old building near the intersection of Frederick and Tory Streets had once housed shops and offices. It still housed a shop or two but the upstairs floors were now apartments and lofts. Esmerelda realized how out of place she looked in her business formal outfit but changing would take time she didn't care to spend. She hurried into the lobby and hit the call button labeled "Palmer, John."
"Hello?" a tinny voice replied almost at once.
"I-" Esmerelda's mouth worked. Suddenly it all seemed so dreadfully silly. Obviously John was all right; he worked odd hours at temporary jobs so it wasn't unusual for him to be in on a weekday afternoon. Probably he was up there painting like he usually was.
"Essie? Is that you?"
"Ah-" Esmerelda swallowed. "Yes. I just happened to be in the area-" Good grief, that was lame. "Look, I'm sorry to bother you. Anyway I've got an appointment-"
"Essie, please don't go."
Esmerelda shifted from foot to foot as if she had to go to the bathroom. She turned away but couldn't bring herself to release the call button. In her mind's eye she saw John's eyes, so soft and expressive, almost puppy-like.
"You don't have to tell me what's going on. I know things happen at work you can't talk about. Just- I can tell you're upset. Come up and have a cup of tea. Please?"
Esmerelda blinked rapidly as tears welled up in her eyes. John was so sensitive, so sympathetic. Date after broken date he never complained, never took it with anything less than understanding. She'd seen women at the art shows practically climbing all over him; with very little effort he could find a pretty girlfriend far more sympathetic to his goals, ideals, and lifestyle. But no; he remained unswervingly faithful to his Essie. "Okay," Esmerelda croaked. She felt like such a heel. The door buzzed and she went through it to the elevator.
The door to John's loft opened even as Esmerelda raised her hand to knock. "G'day, Essie," John said, smiling warmly. "C'mon in."
Esmerelda froze. Something was terribly wrong. At home John favored sweats and a tee shirt, often foregoing the shirt. Now he wore a red silk bathrobe he hadn't bothered to tie up, revealing that he wore nothing under it. "John-" she began, her gaze falling on his semi-erect penis. It glistened wetly, as if-
"Come in, Esmerelda," a different voice invited.
John's loft contained only one piece of real furniture, an ancient and badly battered couch that was his bed as well as a place to sit. Reclining on it- wearing not a stitch- was Daughter Night.
Esmerelda's hand flew to her throat. "John-" she began, reaching for him, meaning to fling him out into the hall. There might be a chance-
John hopped back. Still smiling he let the robe slip off his shoulders and went to the couch, seating himself beside Daughter Night. He slipped an arm around her torso, using his other hand to lift one of her breasts so he could run his tongue over the nipple. His penis stiffened to full erection.
"John-" Esmerelda repeated. Her entire body vibrated; she felt as if it were trying to explode. She wanted to transform and beat Daughter Night into a bloody smear, no matter what the cost. But if she did John would know the truth. The lie of their relationship would be exposed.
"My, my, such violent, bloody thoughts for one who is supposedly defender of all that is good," Daughter Night commented, curling a hand around John's shaft and massaging it gently.
"What do you want?" Esmerelda managed to croak.
"You have your hand on it right now," Daughter Night replied. "Just as I have my hand on something you want." She bussed John on the cheek. "And you do belong to me, don't you John?"
"Yes, Zalika," John replied, nuzzling her cheek.
"What would you do for me?" Zalika asked.
"If I asked you to leap out that window to prove your love for me, would you do it?"
"Without hesitation." John buried his face between Zalika's breasts.
"I thought you said you didn't enjoy hurting people," Esmerelda growled.
"I don't," Zalika replied. "But I won't hesitate to do what's necessary. That's why I decided to meet you here, in private. So we could conduct our business without a lot of... unpleasantness."
The pendant seemed to burn against Esmerelda's skin. "What are you suggesting?"
"A simple trade," Zalika replied. "What I have for what you have."
"What assurance do I have that you'll keep your word?" Esmerelda wanted to know.
"Self interest," Zalika said. "Once I have what I want, you and your boyfriend are of no concern to me."
"You won't kill him," Esmerelda stated. "He's no good as a hostage then."
"I don't have to kill him. John, darling, what's your greatest love? Second to me, that is?"
"Painting," John murmured. He slipped to the floor and started licking Zalika's vulva.
"Painting." Zalika lifted one of John's hands away from her thigh. "I wonder how well you could paint with your hands maimed." She squeezed; John screamed and struggled, all to no avail. The bones in his hand grated together and broke with sickly crunching sounds.
"No!" Esmerelda shrieked, leaping forward. An invisible barrier caught her mid-stride.
"There's a great many things I could do to him without killing him to make his life unbearable," Zalika said, releasing John's hand. He slumped to the floor, moaning; his hand dangled obscenely from his wrist, a mangled and bloody mess. "He's got another hand. And two feet. I could gouge out his eyeballs. I could snap his spine, leaving his paralyzed. I could bite off his genitalia, or his fingers, or his ears. And that's only the start. If I wanted to get creative I could use my flesh shaping powers. I could turn him into something that would make a nineteenth century sideshow operator toss his cookies. Or just as easily I could make him whole again." She touched John's hand and it reformed. "Or you could end his suffering. I've waited three thousand years for this moment, Esmerelda. Can you imagine what that's like, entombed for eternity in dead, festering flesh? I'm more than happy to spend as long as you like demonstrating the all the ways I can imagine to inflict pain. And the only way you can stop it is to make the trade. Even if you took John away from here, it wouldn't do any good. He'd come right back. Wouldn't you, John darling?"
"Yes, Zalika," John gasped, rubbing his hand.
"You'd endure any torture for me, wouldn't you?"
"Yes." John looked up at Zalika, his eyes shining with devotion.
"Fetch a kitchen knife, won't you?" Zalika asked.
"Of course, my love." John went to the kitchenette and selected a steak knife.
"Are you ready to prove your love for me?"
"John! Don't do it!" Esmerelda shrieked.
"Of course," John said as if Esmerelda hadn't spoken.
"Disembowel yourself, if you please."
"Okay." John dropped to his knees, gripped the knife tightly with both hands, aiming the point at a spot just below his belly button-
"All right!" Esmerelda screamed, breaking down into hysterical sobs, tears streaming down her face. "I- I'll give it! Just- put him back!"
"Very well." Zalika rose to her feet. "Place it in my hand."
Esmerelda almost fell when the imprisoning force around her eased off. With violently shaking hands she fished the pendant out from under her blouse. As she tried to lift it off she couldn't; the pendant seemed to have grown unbearably heavy, dragging her down to her knees.
"Just because I have waited doesn't mean I will," Zalika prompted.
Esmerelda gripped the chain tightly in both hands. In an instant time and space seemed to break apart; with startling vividness she recalled stumbling through the upland heaths of the South Island as night fell, hopelessly lost after abandoning her broken-down vehicle and trying to take a shortcut across country. Just when she thought she'd freeze to death she stumbled on a cave- more of a crevice, really- but it sheltered her from the biting wind and icy rain. In fact, so relieved was she that it wasn't until she actually put her hand on it that she noticed the skeleton sharing the cave with her. Scavengers had scattered the bones but clearly enough they had once belonged to a person. Esmerelda almost fled in panic; even stormy darkness seemed preferable to spending the night in a place where some other hapless traveller had met his end. Then she noticed the staff. A shepherd's crook, as smooth and bright as if its owner had laid it aside only a moment ago. For some reason she picked it up- and in that instant she heard the voice of this long dead traveller- and the voices of those who'd come before him, in a line reaching back into the deepest depths of antiquity. Their voices joined into a mighty chorus, welcoming their youngest sister. As Esmerelda lifted the chain over her head she again heard the chorus of shepherds past, calling, pleading, warning, imploring. Before them all, though, was John. Slumped on the floor in an expanding pool of blood, his eyes glassy and blank, coils of pink, slimy intestines spilling from a ragged gash in his belly.
"Thank you," Zalika said. At once the weight was gone, along with the voices and the visions. Esmerelda tottered and fell on her face. Zalika stared at her hand, where lay the silver pendant. One by one her fingers closed over it; a feral, unholy grin split her face, her eyes blazing brighter and brighter. As she raised it above her head she started giggling hysterically; silver light shone between her fingers, glowing brighter and brighter until it came through her hand. She bellowed something- not in English- and the light blazed like a supernova, wrapping her in searingly bright fire. When it faded the pendant had transformed into a shepherd's crook. But it did not stop there; the hook closed with the shaft, forming a loop, and a horizontal crosspiece grew from just above where Zalika clutched it. The crook had become an ankh. Now too Zalika was clothed: in a blue and gold striped Nemes headdress, matching Shenti kilt, gartered sandals, and a massive golden collar decorated with precious and semi-precious stones. Other than the collar her torso was bare. Her eyes blazed so brightly Esmerelda couldn't look directly at them. Without a word she stepped over Esmerelda and left the room.
John blinked, gaping at the knife in his hands as if he'd just realized he had it. He flung it away with a frightened yelp. "Essie!" he exclaimed, rushing to Esmerelda's side. "Are you all right?" Gently he lifted Esmerelda's face.
Through a curtain of tears Esmerelda saw him. Not bleeding and dying, not horribly disfigured, with love and deep concern shining in his eyes. Daughter Night had kept her word. She'd given him back, whole in mind as well as body. But at what price? What horror had she released on the world because of her selfish need? She burst out sobbing. John cradled her head in his lap, gently stroking her head and back, cooing softly.
For once Inspector Samson wasn't pacing or smoking. He sat at his desk, looking at Kremmin and Cymbeline with an expression somewhere between stunned incredulity and skeptical disbelief. He kept knocking his pack of cigarettes against his hand as if to shake one out but never actually did it. "That's... a pretty incredible story," he finally said.
"Sir, if you accept the existence of Daughter Night, then what Dr. Lathasar does really isn't all that amazing," Kremmin pointed out.
"Yes, I see that." Samson started to crush the cigarette pack, realized what he was doing, and dropped it. "What concerns me-" He glanced suspiciously at Cymbeline. "Would you excuse us a moment, Dr. Lathasar?"
Cymbeline glanced at Kremmin, who nodded. "Of course," she replied, exiting and taking a seat on a wooden bench just outside the frosted glass walls of Inspector Samson's office, pulling the blanket a little more tightly around her. She must look a frightful mess, she thought distractedly. No worse than some of the unfortunates she saw out in the squad room, speaking to officers or waiting- quietly or not so quietly- for their turn. A diminutive young poodle woman suddenly leapt to her feet, speaking quite energetically with several officers. She quivered violently though wrapped in a police-issue blanket identical to Cymbeline's. She's probably the only person here who looks as bad as me, Cymbeline thought distractedly. Not that it mattered any. Her fate rested now in the hands of Constable Kremmin.
"Kremmin, five days ago you left here to arrest that woman," Samson was saying. "Next thing I know a bunch of your boys are going to the hospital. You and the suspect are gone without a trace. Now you show up spouting this- this incredible story about mystic powers. One of which happens to be mind control. What am I supposed to think?"
"You believed me in Auckland," Kremmin pointed out. "Why not now?"
Samson shook out a cigarette and thrust it in his mouth, then planted his elbows on the desk and dropped his face into his hands. "I didn't know about the mind control then, George. And look what happened. A fiasco. Super Collie leaves me dangling in the breeze and then everyone decides it's my fault because I passed on your message. My arse is gonna be sore for an incredibly long time because of this, Kremmin. That fight in the SkyTower got on international news feeds. That's got the Beehive crowd in an uproar like you wouldn't believe. There's an incredible amount of shit coming down the pike and right now I'm the most convenient target."
"It seems that only makes it easier," Kremmin replied, calm as ever. "You know perfectly well that the only way out of this is to pull a rabbit out of the hat. If you're the one who nicks Daughter Night they can't touch you. If you fail- or do nothing-" he shrugged. "Cymbeline and I will be in the dock right beside you in either case. What's there to lose?"
Samson clenched his teeth until he'd bitten end off his cigarette and it fell to the desk.
The constables tried to be conciliatory but the poodle wouldn't have it. Her shrill voice rose sharply, cutting through the babble. "They raped me!" she screamed. "They dragged us out of the gallery, threw us in a car- why doesn't anybody believe me?"
"Look, Miss, we interviewed a dozen people and none of them saw a thing," one of the constables exclaimed, exasperation showing in his tone and expression.
An icy sensation clawed at Cymbeline's gut. She pulled her blanket tighter but it did nothing to stop a chill that wasn't physical. She got to her feet, moving quickly but quietly toward the group. One nice thing about the blanket was that no one asked to look under it, so no one knew that she had the Talisman of Isis in her right hand and the Talisman of Bast in her left. On leaving the car she'd grabbed them, more for comfort than anything else. With the Talisman of Ra lost they were the most powerful of the artifacts, but even together they wouldn't be enough to face down Daughter Night. They might come in handy after all, Cymbeline thought. No one paid the slightest attention as she moved up to the group clustered around the poodle. Only when she shifted the Talisman of Bast to the crook of her right arm and reached out to touch the poodle on the shoulder did anyone react.
"Hey!" one of the constables exclaimed, more in surprise than anything else. "What're you doing?"
The poodle gasped. Her eyes got very large, her entire body stiffening- then she collapsed. One of the constables stepped in to catch her. "I'm all right, I'm all right!" she insisted, shaking off the hands and struggling to her feet, facing Cymbeline.
Cymbeline no longer doubted. She'd felt a chill on her soul, like the breath of a tomb. Daughter Night had touched the poodle, and rather severely too. "I believe you," Cymbeline said. "I've... gazed into those terrible, golden eyes. And worse." She shuddered. "But- it's okay now. I can protect you." In the bright light of the squad room either no one noticed, or they deliberately ignored, what appeared to be pale, silver flames flickering around Cymbeline's fingertips.
The poodle wavered for a moment, then flung herself into Cymbeline's arms, sobbing hysterically. Cymbeline comforted her as well she could with one arm; the constables stepped back, relived that the poodle's attention focused on someone else.
"What's your name?" Cymbeline asked.
"Miffy," the poodle gulped.
"What happened, Miffy?"
Miffy swallowed and wiped her face. "I- was in the gallery. John was showing me his latest painting. He'd done this amazing picture of Super Collie-"
"Super Collie?" Cymbeline cut in.
Miffy nodded. "Yes. He's really got a thing for her... he paints lots of pictures of her. I keep telling him he should show more of them but they aren't very commercial right now. All of a sudden she shows up. She looked at me with those- those awful eyes and I- I couldn't resist!"
"I know." Cymbeline hugged Miffy tightly.
"Then- then her man picks us up," Miffy continued. "He throws us in the car. I'm laying on the floor; I can't- can't move. She- she and he are necking. Then we stop somewhere. He gets out of the car- he takes me- he- he-" she broke down, wailing.
"It's all right." Cymbeline rocked Miffy gently. Daughter Night had taken this poor creature and twisted her mind-
Wait. Something was wrong with the story. "What happened to- to John?" Cymbeline asked.
"I don't know," Miffy sniffed. "She took him away with her. I never saw him again!"
Cymbeline comforted Miffy but her face frowned in perplexity. Daughter Night grabs two random people out of a gallery, using her powers to make sure no one noticed. But why an art gallery? If all she wanted was sex, why not a single's bar? But no. She'd gone to a gallery. She grabs two people. She gives Miffy to her henchman. She keeps the man who paints pictures of Super Collie for herself-
"Omigod!" Cymbeline screamed, dropping Miffy and leaping back. Archeology and police work have a lot in common; both are about piecing together what happened from incomplete and often contradictory bits of data. Cymbeline had become Dr. Columbarnus' assistant because she was good at what she did. "She's got- She's got-" Cymbeline dropped her blanket and ran for Inspector Samson's office.
"Stop!" a constable shouted, leaping after her. Half a dozen people jumped up from their desks, blocking the way forward. Cymbeline skidded to a halt; more constables closed in from behind. "Back!" she commanded, thrusting the Talisman of Isis out in front of her.
Everyone saw the silvery light blazing from Cymbeline's eyes. The constables fell back as if struck, their expressions dazed and frightened. Cymbeline rushed past them, smashing open the door to Inspector Samson's office.
"I know what happened!" she exclaimed. "Daughter Night kidnapped an artist and a woman with him. She gave the woman to her henchman but kept the artist for herself. The artist knows Super Collie!"
Kremmin's jaw dropped. Suddenly it all made sense. Super Collie had become agitated when she learned Daughter Night could read minds. She ran off to "check on something-" because she thought Daughter Night had somehow gotten to her boyfriend- who knew where Super Collie lived- which explained how Daughter Night had known about the secret meeting at the wind turbine. He leapt to his feet, jerked Cymbeline inside, and slammed the door. "Sir, Daughter Night wants Super Collie's powers," Kremmin said. "She has Super Collie's boyfriend held hostage. We need to get over to where this fellow lives right away. Cymbeline can't fight Daughter Night directly but she can slow her down, hopefully enough for Super Collie or our own forces to take care of her. But if we don't act right now we're going to have to deal with Daughter Night having not only her own but Super Collie's powers as well."
Samson opened his mouth. At that precise instant the the rang. "Samson!" he snarled, grabbing it up. His face underwent a strange and terrifying evolution of expressions. "I see," he finished, and slammed the phone down. "I've just been told there's a major disturbance on Vivian Street. They're asking for the Armed Offenders Squad and every available officer." He rubbed his temples. "Kremmin, take your men and do whatever you can. I just hope this doesn't mean it's already too late."
A police van came to a screeching halt in the middle of Frederick Street. Kremmin and Cymbeline leapt out, followed by half a dozen constables. All of them wore full riot gear.
"Are you sure this is necessary?" Cymbeline asked, struggling with her shield. A baton hung from her belt but she carried the Talisman of Isis in her hand.
Kremmin smiled. It was the sort of expression a one might have seen on a regular bulldog just before it threw itself at a bull, a creature easily fifty times its mass. "I think that if we need this gear, it won't be enough," he said. "Better safe than sorry, eh wot?"
"Don't we need a warrant for this?" Cymbeline gasped as the squad hurried up the stairs. The tiny elevator wouldn't carry more than two officers at a time and Kremmin didn't want his men dribbling onto the scene.
"If Daughter Night isn't there, it doesn't matter," Kremmin said. "If she is there... I suspect it still won't matter."
A few doors cracked open, then immediately slammed shut, as the heavily armed officers tramped down the corridor. At the number Miffy had given them Kremmin knocked loudly. His men spread out to either side, shields up and batons at the ready.
The door opened. John, still in the red bathrobe, recoiled when he saw who was at his door. "I- I- I-" he stammered.
"John Palmer?" Kremmin asked.
"Y- yes, sir."
"Are you alone, Mr. Palmer?"
"Ah- no, sir. My- girlfriend, Esmerelda, is with me."
"Was Daughter Night here?" Kremmin asked.
"Ah-" The way John hesitated and glanced down was enough for Kremmin. "Yes," he admitted.
"Where is she now?"
"I don't know, sir. She... left. I don't know where she went."
"May I come in, Mr. Palmer? My men will wait outside."
"I- uh, okay." John leapt out of the way as Kremmin moved forward. In a regular constable's uniform George's heavyset, somewhat pudgy body looked almost comical. In body armor he took on a decidedly menacing and sinister aspect.
Someone huddled on the couch. Judging from the shape and color of the feet and calves and the muffled sounds coming from under the blanket covering the rest of her it was a female Sheltie collie.
"Look after her," Kremmin said, pushing Cymbeline forward. He retreated to the doorway.
"Where are you going?" Cymbeline asked.
"Up to Vivian Street," Kremmin said. "There's nothing to do here. I suspect there's going to be a lot for us to do there." He left, waving his men after. They trooped away down the corridor.
"Aren't you going with them?" John asked.
"No." Cymbeline shook her head. "I'm not a constable. I'm an Egyptologist." She set her shield aside and knelt in front of the couch.
John frowned. "Why are you in that getup, then? What do the police need with Egyptologists?"
"You spent time with Daughter Night," Cymbeline said. "Ever wonder where she came from?"
"She sounded American," John replied.
"Actually, she's Egyptian," Cymbeline replied, transferring the Talisman of Isis to her left hand and gently touching Esmerelda's foot with her right. Esmerelda let out a shriek and lashed out; her helmet saved Cymbeline from any serious injury but she fell back on her butt.
"Hey!" John exclaimed. "Leave her alone!"
"You know she's Super Collie, don't you?" Cymbeline asked.
John looked down. "Yeah," he admitted. "I kinda guessed. When she gave Zalika that pendant."
"I'm not Super Collie," Esmerelda moaned. "Not anymore."
Cymbeline got to her feet. She grabbed the blanket and jerked it off, letting it fall in a heap on the floor. Esmerelda yelped, then curled up in a ball and sobbed.
Esmerelda had approximately the right color and build to be Super Collie. But her pelt looked... somehow dull, as if she'd faded from being washed too often in hot water. Her clothes hung loosely on her frame, which itself was lanky and bony, as if she'd starved for the last few weeks. Around her neck was a thin black line and right below her throat was a patch where the fur appeared to be charred.
"Look, it's over," John insisted, his eyes narrowing. "Can't you just- let it be?"
"It's not over," Cymbeline stated flatly, touching Esmerelda's thigh. Silver light flickered around her fingers and when she lifted her hand away the fur under it had resumed the vivid color and silky texture she remembered from earlier. "Daughter Night ended up trapped in a tomb for three thousand years because her family abandoned her. They were afraid to try and help her. For all that time she's hated them. She wants revenge. She called the spirit of Sekhmet into herself- and Sekhmet is vengeance, the vengeance of the gods upon humanity. Every time she does something violent, murderous, or vengeful, the spirit of Sekhmet grows stronger. Now she has the spirit of Super Collie- which is going to be a huge boost in her power. If she uses it in an act of vengeance- or violence- the spirit of Sekhmet will claim all that power. She'll go mad with bloodlust and start destroying everything."
"What can Esmerelda do about it if she's not Super Collie any more?" John wanted to know.
"She may not be Super Collie but she does seem to be especially attuned to receiving spirits," Cymbeline said, fishing out the Talisman of Bast. "It's possible she might be able to take into herself another spirit and use it to fight Daughter Night. That is, if she's willing to help us."
Esmerelda sat up suddenly. Her eyes were red and puffy from crying. "Are you saying... there's a way I could undo the harm I've done?"
"Maybe," Cymbeline allowed.
Esmerelda wiped her face with a shaking hand, glancing at John. "Tell me what to do."
Zalika strode briskly down the corridor, rode down in the elevator, and stepped out onto the street. People gawked and pointed, whistled, or shouted. She smiled at them, licking her muzzle and fondling her breasts. Quite a large crowd gathered as she headed up Taranaki; on Vivian she turned northwest. The crowd behind her spilled into the street; motorists honked and shouted as traffic began to clog up. Halfway up the block a particularly bold- or brash- young man forced his way through the press and grabbed Zalika's breast, quite roughly. She glared at him- and beams of light as searingly bright as the noonday sun in the Sahara sprang from her eyes. The would-be fondler didn't even get a chance to scream; his clothes vaporized, his flesh boiled, his bones shattered. What fell to the sidewalk was a charred, twisted mass that looked more mineral than organic. Only after the Hellish light went away did it start to smoke and melted fat begin to burn. The crowd surged away, shrieking in terror. Zalika turned slowly in a circle, playing the light across fleeing pedestrians, parked cars, and shop windows. People fell to the sidewalk, screaming and thrashing, their clothes and flesh afire is if they'd been soaked in napalm. Tyres and petrol tanks exploded, paint bubbled and burned, metal glowed red hot. Glass windows exploded in showers of red-hot fragments. Stone and brick facades didn't burn but they shattered under intense thermal stress. Smoke poured from buildings as their flammable contents ignited. Fire alarms added their cry to the general cacophony. Zalika continued on, apparently unmoved by the destruction. She walked through a pool of burning petrol; the flames wrapped around her but didn't touch her. She came out the other side leaving flaming footprints behind. Just short or Cuba Street she encountered a barricade of police cars and vans, manned by constables in riot gear and the Armed Offenders Squad. She stopped in the middle of the street, studying the scene thoughtfully.
Inspector Samson raised a megaphone. "This is the police! Throw down your... staff and surrender!" he commanded. Officers cocked their weapons, sighting in on the lone figure.
Zalika chuckled. "You idiots think your puny weapons are any match against the Fire of Ra's Eye?" she shouted. "Bring it on!" She raised the ankh-staff threateningly.
"Fire!" Samson shouted, but the word was nearly lost in the fusillade of gunfire. Zalika held the staff in front of her; bullets splashed against an invisible barrier just in front of it, falling to the pavement as gobbets of liquid metal. Firing died down as officers had to stop and reload; Zalika smiled wickedly, lowering the staff and gesturing with her left hand. Facades of buildings on either side of the street exploded as if wired with detonation cord; falling rubble buried hapless officers or drove them from cover. Zalika continued forward, making a flipping gesture with her hand. Two patrol cars upended, cartwheeling through the air to crash down atop their fellows. As she passed the barricade she turned her heat-ray vision on the fleeing constables. Ammunition cooking off in the conflagration popped and crackled like fireworks. Zalika beckoned; a relatively undamaged police car rolled over to her. She leapt atop it and rapped twice with her staff; the car blazed forth with dazzlingly bright light and rose into the air, zooming away up the street. At Victoria Street she encountered police setting up barricades to hold back the public. These officers weren't armed and fled along with the inevitable spectators. Instead of using her heat ray, though, Zalika landed her police car in the middle of the intersection and transferred the staff to her left hand. Air around her shimmered as she gesticulated, sending cars, vans, and small trucks leaping into the air and crashing into buildings or sometimes the crowd. Mostly the vehicles were empty, parked or abandoned, but not always. One fellow, loathe to abandon his new Nissan, fell a good ten meters. About the time he hit the pavement his car smashed into the fifth floor of an office building. For good measure she set fire to several buildings, piling cars and wreckage in Victoria Street to block access to the intersection. As she continued onward, about eight meters up, she set fire to each and every vehicle encountered and flung it into the buildings at either hand.
As Zalika moved into the Bueller Street intersection a TV van came around the corner. Realizing his mistake the driver tried to turn back the way he'd come; the van tipped precariously as it spun end for end but didn't quite go over. Just when escape seemed possible it slammed to a stop as if colliding with a wall. Zalika landed her police car nearby and jumped to the ground just as the news crew abandoned their vehicle.
"Stop!" Zalika commanded. The force of her voice froze them in their tracks. "Why are you running away?" she inquired. "You're reporters, right? Well, if there's anything in this country more newsworthy than me I'd sure as Hell like to know what it is!"
The correspondent, an attractive young Malamute in a gray suit, turned slowly about. Fear warred with excitement in her face. She gestured to her cameraman, a pincer in a baseball cap. He swallowed nervously but lifted the bulky camera to his shoulder. The driver, a diminutive Dachshund with enormous wire-rim spectacles, opened the van's side door to reveal a miniature control room. In moments they were ready; the correspondent composed herself and began.
"Good afternoon. This is Cokie Christian, reporting live from downtown Wellington. With me is Daughter Night, arch-villainess who recently-"
"Wait," Zalika cut in, stepping forward. "I am not a villain." She spoke directly to the camera. "I am priestess and living embodiment of the spirits of Aset, Anpu, Bast, and Sekhmet. You wonder why, if I am not a villain, I spread chaos, destruction, and death. I ask you this: was He Who Must Not Be Named- whose truly unpronouncable Hebrew name has been corrupted into Yaweh or Jehova- a villain when He called down the fire of His wrath upon Sodom and Gomorrah? Or when He caused the rain to fall for forty days and forty nights, plunging all that was back into the dark waters from which it sprang? I am the instrument of divine justice, unleashed upon a world filled with sin and corruption, to punish those who have cast down all that is holy, all that is righteous, and set themselves up gods in its place. I am Armageddon. I am Ragnarok. I am death, the destroyer of worlds. I am-" she stopped suddenly, looking through the open door of the news van. One monitor showed raw feed from the camera, another what seemed to be the interior of a newsroom, and a third the actual news broadcast. It looked just like the raw feed, delayed by about three seconds, with computer-generated logos and sidebars included. And-
"What the fuck is this?" Zalika demanded, leaping into the doorway so she could examine the monitor more closely. In the broadcast signal a zone of pixelation covered her chest, obscuring her breasts and part of her necklace. She glanced over her shoulder and jumped down. Her image on the monitor exclaimed "What the [beep] is this?" and repeated the motion.
"Daughter Night, could you tell us-" Cokie began.
"Shut up," Zalika cut in sharply. "You know, Cokie, this is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about." She spoke to Cokie this time, not the camera. "Why the Hell did you come down here in the first place? Because of the smoke. The fire. The sirens. What did you expect to see? Destruction. Suffering. Death. Were you going to point your cameras at the charred corpses littering the street? Linger touchingly on the gory, mutilated survivors? Of course you were. But the sight of my bare nipples would be too much for the audience's delicate sensibilities. What a crock of shit." She seized Cokie by the front of her coat and flung her hard against the side of the van, then turned to the camera. "Your putrid Puritan ethics make me sick. You mercilessly crush even the most innocuous expressions of sexuality, driving into your childrens' minds that this entirely natural and healthy aspect of their beings is somehow weird, icky, and disgusting. But let there be the least bit of violence or inhumanity and you revel in it, like hogs in mud. You set yourselves up as the final arbiters of what is right and wrong, claiming your position is divinely sanctioned by whatever god happens to be in favor at the moment, and yet the higher truth your preach somehow always manages to advance some individual's personal agenda. If anyone points this out you destroy them, claiming the divine right of vengeance. Well, y'know, I find myself wondering." She studied Cokie thoughtfully. The correspondent struggled, her face twisted into a rictus of terror, but she could not escape Zalika's iron grip. "Exactly how tightly do you cleave to your beliefs? I propose a test." Zalika stepped away from the van but Cokie remained frozen in place. "You, whoever's controlling this broadcast." She pointed at the camera. "You want ratings, I'll give them to you. Let's play a game. The rules are very simple: you just tell me what you'd rather let your audience see. Choice one would be me and this attractive young lady having sex. Shot live, as it happens, without any censoring. Choice two is that I show you in graphic detail what the Fire of Ra's Eye does to mere mortals. Watch this young woman scream and bleed as she burns alive. No censorship there either, of course. Or you could opt not to play, simply by shutting me off. If you do that I promise I won't kill these three brave news gatherers. But by the time I finish with them they'll wish they'd died." She gestured; Cokie's scream died off suddenly as her lips grew shut. Her jaw worked and she clawed desperately at her muzzle but the orifice was gone as if it had never existed. "That, I might add, is a very minor demonstration of what I can do," Zalika continued, gesturing dismissively. Cokie's mouth reappeared. "I give you five minutes to make up your minds," Zalika concluded. "If you haven't chosen by then I'll try something more ambitious. I bet I could reverse her digestive system so she has to eat through her anus and shit through her mouth. Though it'd be easier just to swap her head and tail. Then maybe I'll swap her arms and legs. At least then she'll be able to walk. After a fashion." She twirled her staff like a baton. "If you hope the SASVS or Super Collie will save you from having to make a decision, don't count on it. The SASVS wasn't much of a challenge even when I wasn't half as powerful as I am now. As for Super Collie... well, where do you suppose I got this cool staff, hmm?"
"Bugger me!" the driver exclaimed, slamming the van to a halt. Charred corpses and wrecked vehicles littered the street. Smoke and flames billowed from the shattered faces of buildings. "Looks like a bleeding war zone!"
Kremmin kicked the door open and leapt out. Further up Vivian Street he heard crashes, screams, and explosions. All around were the sirens of emergency vehicles though none were immediately in sight.
Kremmin glanced around quickly, his eyes falling on a figure slumped against a wrecked police van. "Sir?" Kremmin knelt by the person.
Inspector Samson coughed weakly. "My wife always said smoking would kill me." He smiled, but only with one side of his mouth. The right side of his face and body was a charred, bloody ruin. "George, she went through us like- like- I don't know what. I don't know who survived. I know we can't fight her. Call the SASVS. Or the army. Or whatever. But George-" he clutched at the front of Kremmin's body armor with his left hand. "Promise me you won't throw your life away. We're going to need men like you." He coughed. "Afterward." His hand quivered and dropped, leaving a bloody smear on Kremmin's breastplate.
"Sir? Sir!" Kremmin reached out a hand but drew it back. Shaking the inspector would only make things worse. He rose to his feet and jogged back to the van. "Get an ambulance here immediately, he growled, climbing in. "Then head up to The Terrace. I think I know where Daughter Night is headed."
"Where, sir?" one of the constables in back inquired.
"I imagine she plans to drop in on her dear friend Mr. Paul-Constandinos Ulysses."
"No big loss," another officer snorted.
"Perhaps," Kremmin allowed. "Get on the horn to HQ. Tell them to call the SASVS hotline and have them stage at Mr. Ulysses' building."
Vyacheslav removed the cap from a bottle of vodka and filled two glasses. After setting the bottle aside he lofted the cap into the trash.
Daitakerou followed it with his eyes. "Aren't you going to need that?" he asked.
"Not if I can help it," Vyacheslav replied, gulping down his first glass and quickly refilling it.
Daitakerou took a sip, barely wetting his lips. He disliked vodka; to him it seemed flavorless. Vyacheslav, on the other hand, disliked sake, finding it cloyingly sweet. Something you had to grow up with, Daitakerou supposed, like lutefisk. "You could always have it removed," he commented.
Vyacheslav shuddered as if a bucket of ice had just gone down his trousers. "I'll live with the nightmares," he pronounced, finishing off another glass. "But as God is my witness, so long as there's breath in my body no one with a knife is getting anywhere near my peter." He took another swig. "Peters."
Daitakerou looked down and coughed to cover a snicker. It wasn't enough so he cleared his throat. Even that didn't help; he clasped a hand over his mouth, his shoulders heaving.
"That's right. Laugh it up, you lousy Jap bastard." Vyacheslav took a swig straight from the bottle. "Never mind that your oldest and dearest friend is suffering on the horns-" he clamped his mouth shut but the damage was done. Daitakerou fell out of his chair, laughing hysterically.
The bedroom door slammed open with a crash, revealing Mr. Ulysses in the altogether. "Where the Hell is my silk bathrobe?" he thundered.
Daitakerou appeared to teleport instantaneously to his feet, an expression of terror etched onto his face. Vyacheslav would have appreciated Daitakerou's discomfit more if not being scared half to death himself. "I- I think Ms. Corby has it," Vyacheslav croaked. In fact he knew no such thing. There were suspicious gaps in his memory regarding Zalika Corby.
"Bloody Hell." Mr. Ulysses glowered; he seemed about to add something but his eyes shifted away from Daitakerou and Vyacheslav to the windows behind them. "What the fuck is going on there?"
Vyacheslav turned slowly, fearing to put his back to Mr. Ulysses. Once he saw what was going on outside his jaw dropped. Columns of smoke billowed into the sky, forming a hazy pall trailing away downwind. "Good lord," he breathed. Daitakerou muttered something in Japanese.
"Where is Ms. Corby, exactly?" Mr. Ulysses inquired. He'd switched to his calm, reasonable voice.
"Ah-" Vyacheslav swallowed nervously. "I last saw her at the safe house, about an hour ago."
Mr. Ulysses switched on the TV. A pair of news commentators appeared, speaking earnestly though with the volume down their voices were just a murmur. After a moment they disappeared, replaced by a streetscape littered with rubble and the flaming wrecks of cars.
"That looks like Vivian Street," Daitakerou commented.
The commentators returned for a moment then vanished once more, replaced by a different streetscape. Zalika Corby- it could be no one else in that getup- grabbed a Malamute woman by the front of her blouse and shoved her against the side of a truck.
"That explains that," Mr. Ulysses commented, switching off the TV. "Daitakerou, please tell me you have the guardian with you."
"Ah-" Daitakerou swallowed, fingering his throat.
Mr. Ulysses sighed. "Never mind. If it's not in my hand in the next ten minutes it won't matter anyway."
"S- sir?" Daitakerou stammered.
"Didn't you see those streets?" Mr. Ulysses demanded. "The first was Vivian and Cuba. The second was Vivian and Bueller. She's right around the corner from us. Now she might just stroll right past us and go hit the New Zealand Reserve Bank but somehow I doubt it. She's gained enormously in power, enough that she doesn't feel she needs us anymore, or she wouldn't be doing this. I think it would be a spectacularly bad idea for us to still be here when she arrives. Clean up the place while I get dressed."
Vyacheslav and Daitakerou rushed about wiping glasses and countertops to clean up as many fingerprints as possible and searching for any random scraps that might be used as evidence. If for any reason police searched the place it wouldn't do for them to find evidence of wanted criminals staying there. In not too long Mr. Ulysses came out of the bedroom wearing slacks and a pullover, shockingly casual attire for him. All three of them crowded into the private elevator. As the doors opened on the bottom parking level, though, the garage was full of soldiers. Massive army trucks blocked the driving lanes and six massive powered suits were arrayed in a block of unused parking spaces. A heavyset rhinoceros in a colonel's uniform stood not four meters away, facing a bank of electronic gear. If he turned around- or any of the soldiers happened to glance over- they'd see Big Bad Wolf, Katakana Kat, and Cat Burglar, three of New Zealand's most wanted criminals, ready for the taking. But none of them did; with all the noise they probably hadn't even heard the elevator. When the doors closed Daitakerou gasped; he'd been holding his breath.
"Damn," Mr. Ulysses muttered, without any particular heat or emphasis.
Daitakerou shivered. If Mr. Ulysses didn't bother to get angry the situation was grave indeed.
"You know what to do?" Cymbeline asked.
"Yes." Esmerelda nodded.
John said nothing. He licked his lips and looked down.
"John..." Esmerelda gently lifted his face. "I... I'm sorry. For everything."
"I know." John curled his hand around Esmerelda's forearm. "You have to do this. I... understand. Though I really don't want to." He dabbed at his face with his other hand. "I just... sometimes I dream of a place were you and I could spend all our time being lovers and nothing more." He smiled sadly. "But even as I think it I know it wouldn't work. If you were a person who could do that... you wouldn't be my Essie."
"Oh, John!" Esmerelda pulled him against her, kissing him fiercely, reaching down the front of his sweat pants-
"Careful," Cymbeline admonished, gently prying John and Esmerelda apart. "Remember, use the spirit but don't let it run away with you."
Esmerelda nodded, parting from John only very reluctantly. "When I come back, John, I'll spend the night with you."
"I'll be waiting." John blew her a kiss.
"Come on." Cymbeline tugged Esmerelda out of the elevator before she could fall back into John's arms. "You've got the talisman?"
"Yep." Esmerelda nodded.
At the lobby door Cymbeline paused. "Close your robe," she said.
"Huh?" Esmerelda glanced down at herself. The front of the bathrobe had fallen open, revealing the entire front of her otherwise naked body. "Oh, yeah." Absently she tugged it closed and re-tied the sash.
"I hope to God this works," Cymbeline muttered, glancing up and down the street. "Gods," she added. For this late in the day traffic was remarkably sparse. Eventually a yellow sub-compact appeared; Cymbeline rushed out into the street, directly in its path. "Stop!" she commanded, pointing her truncheon. The car skidded to a halt; Cymbeline rushed to the driver's side and rapped smartly on the window.
"Ah- is there a problem, Constable?" the somewhat dazed looking driver inquired.
"Yes," Cymbeline replied shortly. "Sir, I'm commandeering your vehicle. Please step out."
"Now, citizen! Lives are at stake here!"
"Yes Ma'am!" he squeaked, scrambling to comply. Cymbeline threw her shield into the back and settled into the driver's seat, gesturing for Esmerelda to join her.
As they pulled away Esmerelda glanced back wistfully. "He's cute," she commented.
"Focus," Cymbeline said. "You're carrying a Hell of a lot of spirit. How do I get to the back end of Bueller Street?"
"Left on Tory, left on Courtenay Place, jog right onto Dixon, left on The Terrace," Esmerelda replied.
As she wove through traffic at an excessive speed Cymbeline observed that here, only a few blocks away from Daughter Night's trail of destruction, life in Wellington seemed to be getting along quite normally. Too normally for her likes; commuters heading home clogged the streets. At Courtenay Place she ran the stoplight, narrowly avoiding a collision with a city bus. For her part Esmerelda seemed particularly unaffected by Cymbeline's highly offensive driving. She took it all in with a happy smile,occasionally waving to people. Her other hand she slipped inside the robe, idly caressing her breast and playing with the nipple. Cymbeline applied more pressure to the accelerator. The spirit Esmerelda carried was devilishly tricky to control and she'd absorbed a Hell of a lot of it. If she couldn't keep it bottled up until they reached Daughter Night-
"Shit!" Cymbeline stood on the brake; the car slid to a stop with a howl of rubber. There seemed to be an accident or something near the intersection of Taranaki.
"Back to Tory, turn left, then left on Wakefield," Esmerelda said. She'd slipped her other hand between her legs but her voice and face seemed lucid.
The analytical portions of Esmerelda's mind seem to be holding out okay, Cymbeline noted as she pulled a U-turn that let tyre marks on the pavement. Maybe this is going to work after all.
"Sir, we're ready to deploy," Captain Wilkes reported, saluting smartly.
Colonel Bathsfield nodded, his eyes never leaving bank of monitors showing live feeds from a number of police and news cameras as well as several news channels. "Have the squad suit up but don't move out until I give the order," he said.
"Sir." Captain Wilkes saluted again and hurried away.
Not just yet, Colonel Bathsfield thought, studying one news feed in particular. Not until Daughter Night moves away from that news van. Then, when we do deploy, there won't be any reporting sources we don't directly control. No chance of anything getting on the news that might embarrass the Squad. Best of all, no Super Collie in sight. His face broke into a particularly unpleasant grin. This is going to be the Squad's finest hour. And, having unequivocally demonstrated her inability to help, we'll be rid of Super Collie for good and all.
At Mcdonald Crea a police barricade blocked the street. Cymbeline swung around the line of stopped cars and pulled right up to it. As a constable approached Cymbeline got out. "I need to get past the barricade," she said before he could speak.
"I'm sorry, we have orders," the constable replied. "Daughter Night is down there and the SASVS is preparing to engage her. Unless you have orders from the military we can't let you in."
"Look, I don't care what the army jerks say! I have to get down there! This is important!"
More constables came forward, joining the argument. Some of the spectators turned to watch since there wasn't anything to see down the street. Esmerelda got out of the car, leaving the robe inside, and threaded her way through the crowd. The Spirit of Bast had affected her profoundly; as Super Collie she'd been full figured but also muscular and athletic. Now she was, if anything, even more full figured and without the muscular firmness. Her pelt gleamed as if it too were silk and everything about her, from her sultry walk to her partially lidded eyes, radiated raw sex appeal. In spite of this, and that she was butt naked, no one paid the slightest attention as she climbed over the barricade and continued down the street, the Talisman of Isis clutched loosely in her left hand.
"You know, I almost hope they refuse," Zalika commented. "There's so many things I'd like to try out on you." She caressed Cokie's cheek; Cokie whimpered and turned her face away. "Oh, quit whining," Zalika snapped. "This is your finest hour. Your fifteen minutes. Right now you're getting the highest ratings you've ever had. Ever will have, probably. All over the country people are glued to their sets, wondering what's gonna happen to you. And you know what?" She leaned close, whispering into Cokie's ear. "They'd watch no matter what I did. If I ripped your clothes off and raped you they'd eat it up. If I tore you apart and left the bloody fragments of your corpse smeared all over the pavement they'd love that, too. That's your adoring public. They don't care who gets fed to the lions as long as they get to watch. Maybe I should ask the station to conduct a telepoll. Let the people choose whether they want to see me fuck you or kill you. I wonder what they'd say."
The camera man licked dry lips, coming in tight on Zalika's face. According to the timer in the camera's view finder the five minute deadline had passed twelve minutes ago. He didn't know if the network was airing what he shot but he didn't dare act otherwise. If someone didn't come along to rescue them their only hope of escaping reasonably intact was if Daughter Night got tired of playing and left.
Daughter Night turned, seeming to look straight into the camera. She stepped away from the van and Cokie slumped to the ground, moaning. "Oh, hello again," Zalika commented.
The camera man risked a quick glance over his shoulder. What he saw caused him to lower the camera, his jaw dropping as he stared. Even without her costume he recognized Super Collie at once. Yes, he'd fantasized about what she looked like naked, as had every other man in New Zealand, he was sure. But he'd never imagined-
"I had to come see you," Super Collie began.
"Why?" Zalika asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.
"You need someone," Super Collie replied. "Someone who understands what it's like to be, be powerful. Like you said in Auckland, though I didn't understand at the time. I was only thinking about myself so I didn't see what you were really saying. That you needed my love and understanding as much as I needed yours."
Conflicting emotions warred in Zalika's face. For the first time her regal self confidence slipped a little. "You won't convince me to give you your staff back."
"That doesn't matter any more." Super Collie moved forward, closing the gap between her and Zalika. "All I want is the opportunity to show you how much I care."
Zalika tensed as if to run or strike in some fashion but she didn't do it. Super Collie came right up to her, smiling tenderly. She gently cupped Zalika's face in her hands, drawing her close and kissing her passionately.
The cameraman raised his camera. At this point he didn't care if the network were broadcasting or not but he'd never forgive himself if he didn't get this on tape.
Zalika quivered all over. Her eyes widened, then closed. She threw her arms around Super Collie and pulled her close, somewhat awkwardly since she wouldn't drop the staff. She returned the kiss avidly, groping at Super Collie's buttocks with her free hand. She squeezed Super Collie's breasts, sucking greedily at the prominently erect nipples. She sank slowly to her knees, nuzzling Super Collie's crotch. Ferociously she attacked Super Collie's vulva with her tongue, lips, and fingers; Super Collie tossed her head back, gripping Zalika's head with one hand and squeezing her own breasts with the other.
Suddenly Zalika stopped. She frowned, probing Super Collie's vulva not in a sexual way but as if looking for something. Her fingers came out grasping a small, golden figurine. Super Collie gasped and shuddered as if in the throes of orgasm; as Zalika stared at the figurine a strange, subtle metamorphosis came over her. She didn't look any different but her demeanor changed completely. Her eyes were still golden but the fire left them. Tears began to run down her cheeks. "How... how can you love me after all the terrible things I've done?" she mumbled.
Super Collie sank to her knees, slipping her arms around Zalika and hugging her tenderly. "Love isn't about deserving. It's given for its own sake. It's enough that you needed my love to be worthy of it."
Zalika's face quivered. The staff slipped out of her hand; she buried her face against Super Collie's neck, sobbing piteously.
"No, no, no!" Colonel Bathsfield screamed, leaping to his feet. "Captain Wilkes, scramble your squad at once!"
None of the powered suits moved so much as a millimeter. "Sir, I respectfully submit that I don't think that would be tactically sound-"
"Are you refusing a direct order, Captain?" Colonel Bathsfield thundered.
Deathly silence fell over the command post. Soldiers with jobs concentrated on them, intently but quietly, trying to ignore everything else. Soldiers not immediately busy stood frozen, trying very hard not to exist.
"Yes, sir," Even through the distortion of his suit's external speaker Captain Wilkes' voice sounded wooden. "It is my opinion that scrambling now would place civilian lives in undue jeopardy. I recommend that we give the situation more time to develop."
Colonel Bathsfield turned to glare at the bank of monitors. There on the screen, as clear as day, Super Collie was stealing away the SASVS' glory. How the Hell had she managed to get past the barricades without being seen? If looks could kill Super Collie and Daughter Night both would have died horribly. "Very well," he growled. It didn't matter what he said; his authority over the squad had been irrevocably damaged. There'd be times to set things right at the court martial, though. And there would be one, as sure as the sun rose. Captain Wilkes might think he was some hot shit in a suit but he wasn't getting away with this. Absolutely not.
Zalika rose to her feet, looking terribly sad. She opened her hand and the staff levitated into it. "I... I'll give it back to you. But first I need to set things right."
"I know." Super Collie got to her feet as well. "Where shall we start?"
Zalika looked down the street. Near to hand was nothing moved in the piled wreckage but leaping flames and billowing smoke; in the distance fire crews battled blazes and paramedics collected bodies. "Down there," she said, pointing.
"Right." Super Collie jogged over to the news van. "Get in," she ordered, hoisting Cokie and stuffing her in the back. The camera man leap in and closed the back door when he saw Super Collie climb into the driver's seat. She swung the van around and stopped by Zalika, who got in on the passenger's side.
Police, paramedics, and fire fighters looked on in surprise as the news van came down the street, threading its way between wrecked vehicles. There was some panic as Zalika jumped out, but Super Collie followed. "It's all right!" she shouted. "She's here to help!"
Zalika gripped the staff tightly in both hands, concentrating. Silvery light flickered around it, then burst into a scintillating corona. Streaks like miniature bolts of lightning shot from it, skipping along to strike each and every corpse or wounded survivor in the area. Fear gave way to amazement as wounds miraculously healed. Corpses, even severely burned ones, reformed and sprang back to life. The light flickered and died; Zalika staggered, gasping and clutching at the staff for support. She'd aged decades in a few seconds, her fur turning gray and dull, her figure slumping and withering. "Take me... to the hospital," she gasped.
After that demonstration no further exhortation was needed. Some paramedics came forward with a gurney and laid Zalika on it, rushing her to an ambulance no longer needed because the wounded it carried were now on the sidewalk, somewhat dazed but fully healed. Super Collie ran alongside and got into the back with Zalika, holding her hand as the ambulance rushed to the hospital. Paramedics lifted the gurney out but Zalika struggled to her feet with Super Collie's aid. In the emergency room she repeated her performance; silvery light washed away wounds and DOA's- stacked in a corner because the morgue was full- abruptly sat up. Zalika aged even more; her fur came out in clumps and her shenti kilt slipped off as the flesh of her thighs shrank. At each corridor intersection she called up the healing power once more; by the third time she'd wasted away to little more than skin and bones. The staff slipped from her grip because she couldn't hold it any more. Super Collie picked it up, holding it for her in one hand while keeping her other arm around Zalika's torso so she wouldn't fall. Zalika called up the power but this time the staff emitted no more than a pale glimmer. Tiny, almost invisible bolts touched six or seven nearby patients, then Zalika went limp with a gurgle, her hand dropping to her side. The last of her fur fell out, her flesh drying and shrinking tight over her bones like leather. By the time Super Collie lowered her to the floor Zalika had shriveled into a desiccated corpse. Anyone looking at her now couldn't help but believe that she'd been dead for a thousand years.
Super Collie wiped tears from her face. Forgotten in her hand the staff glowed and reformed, becoming once again a shepherd's crook. She gasped as her own body reformed subtly. Zalika's costume dissolved in a shower of silver sparkles and Super Collie's own shimmered into being around her.
For a long time there was not a sound. Then someone applauded. In a moment everyone was clapping, cheering, and shouting. Super Collie nodded, regally acknowledging the praise. She knelt, taking what remained of Zalika in her arms. Without a word needing to be said the well wishers cleared a path for her out of the hospital.
For the sixth time Esmerelda smoothed down her already impeccable suit. For the fifth time she raised her hand to press the call button but hesitated before her finger actually touched it. She knew full well that standing around here, at this time of night, was practically an invitation to be mugged. But she couldn't summon the courage to go forward or back. John knew about Super Collie; if she just walked away he might tell. On the other hand, how could she face him now that the lie of their relationship had been exposed? Especially when it had put him in such terrible danger?
As Esmerelda's hand dropped yet again the elevator door opened and John stepped out. She quivered; her legs wanted to run but it was too late. He'd seen her. He walked up to the front door and opened it. "Come in," he said, taking her hand and gently tugging her inside. "You shouldn't be out there alone. It's dangerous. Besides-" he smiled warmly and squeezed her hand gently to take the sting from his rebuke- "you promised to spend the night with me."
After a brief hesitation Esmerelda allowed herself to be led. Tears welled up in her eyes; she clenched her jaw to keep from sobbing. "If- if you didn't want to- I'd understand," she managed between sharp gulps.
John frowned, thoughtfully rather than angrily. "Now why ever would I want to do that?" He gently wiped Esmerelda's cheeks with his free hand.
"I- I-" she gasped.
"Essie, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me," he whispered, pulling her close as they stepped into the elevator. "Even with everything else. Maybe you didn't tell me the truth about your- you know- work- but thinking back on it that was a good thing. Back then I, I'd have blabbed. Because I didn't understand what the cost would be. Not like now." He nuzzled her gently, licking her cheek. "Besides-" he smiled mischievously- "I bet every man in New Zealand fantasizes about being Super Collie's boyfriend. And I'm the one who gets to be it. I'd be willing to endure things far worse than Zalika's company to retain that honor."
The elevator doors opened; Esmerelda kept one hand in John's and the other around his waist as they walked down the hall. "Was being with Zalika really so terrible?" she asked, only half facetiously.
"The sex was pretty incredible, I have to admit," John replied. "But- Essie, even the very moment I saw her laying naked on that bed I knew something was terribly wrong. Underneath all that soft, curvy flesh was something- something deadly and wicked, like- like a poisonous snake."
"But you went to bed with her," Esmerelda couldn't help but comment.
"She said she'd teach me things. That... if I learned, I could use them on you. And you'd stay with me, always." He looked down. "You're not the only one who's ashamed of things you've done, Essie."
They'd reached the door to John's flat. Esmerelda looked at it, then him, and smiled tenderly. "Let's go inside," she said. "I said I would, after all."
As she stepped inside Esmerelda glanced around. It was John's flat, all right. Easels and half-painted canvases were stacked against one wall. Sketch books, ranging from new to ancient, were piled haphazardly here and there. Clothes (clean or dirty, Esmerelda couldn't tell) overflowed a pair of plastic hampers shoved into a corner. Empty crates, spools, and boards laid on cinder blocks served as tables and stools. Only the shelves containing his brushes, pencils, and other art tools were anything like neatly arranged and even then only somewhat. Esmerelda clenched her fists so she wouldn't start picking things up. He hated it when she did that.
One thing was conspicuously absent. The battered old couch was nowhere to be seen.
"What happened to the couch?" Esmerelda asked as John gestured for her to sit on a futon folded in half with a sheet laid over it.
"I got rid of it," John replied, moving into the kitchenette. "I couldn't even look at it without- without thinking of her." He shivered. "Would you like some tea?" he added quickly.
"Yes, please." Esmerelda really didn't care for the instant tea John drank but at the moment she didn't want to refuse anything of him. She felt the bonds growing back between them but they still felt terribly fragile.
"Okay." John ran water into a plastic bowl and set it in the microwave. As he watched the seconds tick by he suddenly felt how eternally long two minutes really was. "So... um... what exactly did you do to Daughter Night?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on the microwave's digital readout. "Dr. Lathasar's explanation didn't... um... make a lot of sense."
"It was the relationship between Bast and Sekhmet," Esmerelda replied. She didn't really want to talk about it but the silence was worse. "In some stories it says that Ra created Sekhmet, goddess of war and violence, to punish humankind. But she spread so much war and destruction she threatened to exterminate humankind. So Ra transformed her into Bast, goddess of love, sex, and fertility. Daughter Night, trapped in that tomb, called on the spirit of Sekhmet to destroy the people who'd abandoned her. But the spirit of Bast was tied to it and came too. In the end she used that connection, giving power to the spirit of Sekhmet by having sex. When she... took my staff she used its power to boost the spirit of Sekhmet even more. The connection works both way, though, and it boosted the spirit of Bast, too. When Dr. Lathasar gave me the Talisman of Bast some of the spirit came into me, sort of like a reservoir filling. When I gave Zalika the talisman all that power went into her, just like with the staff."
The microwave beeped. John poured the hot water into two cups he kept in a special box and used only when Esmerelda came by. The cups and saucers matched perfectly and were free of even minor irregularities. He'd spent hours at the store until he found just the right ones. After each use he scrubbed them thoroughly and put them back in the box so they wouldn't even get dusty. "I'm with you that far," he said, handing Esmerelda her cup and squatting down in front of her. "There's still one thing I don't get, though. She couldn't take your power unless you willingly gave it up. How could you make her take the spirit?"
"I didn't." Esmerelda sipped her tea. The instant blend was, as she'd feared, bitter and unrefined but she drank it anyway. John's presence more than made up for any poor quality brew. "She wanted it and I gave it to her."
"But if she could read minds wouldn't she know it was a trick?" John inquired.
"Yes." Esmerelda set her cup aside. "In fact, since it was the spirit of Bast, Zalika knew exactly what I was thinking."
"Then why'd she do it?" John asked. "Didn't she know what would happen?"
Esmerelda picked up her cup, not drinking but lacing her fingers around. "I saw into her mind, too. I saw how terribly lonely and lost she was. Three thousand years trapped in a cold, dark nightmare. Awakening only to find that everything she'd ever known was gone to dust." Tears leaked from Esmerelda's eyes. "She needed my love. She craved it. And in that moment- with the spirit of Bast in me- when I said I cared I meant it. So she took it. That extra boost was just enough to put the Bast part of her in control."
John set his cup aside. "Essie, you never stopped being Super Collie," he said. "No one else would have dared risk so much for the people she cared about." He scooted up beside Esmerelda, slipping one arm around her shoulders and the other around her waist. "No one but my Essie would have given up so much for me."
Esmerelda pulled John close, reveling in his male scent, the warmth of his body against hers-
"John!" Esmerelda pushed him away, holding him at arm's length and staring at his crotch. The front of his sweats bulged prominently, like a tent.
John chuckled. "Zalika gave me more than just lessons." He got to his feet, throwing two switches on the wall. One shut off the overhead light, the other turned on a spotlight he used when photographing his paintings. It cast a bright pool near his feet, illuminating his legs and hips but leaving his torso and arms in shadow. Because of where the light was hung the division between light and dark was a diagonal line across his body. "Would you like to see what it was?" He started gyrating, rolling his hips in exaggerated circles, stepping in and out of the light so Esmerelda was given only tantalizing glimpses as he slowly removed his shirt and cast it aside. As he untied the drawstrings on his sweats he turned his back to her and let them inch down over his hips.
"Show me already!" Esmerelda shouted, grabbing a pillow and throwing it.
John adroitly dodged the pillow and grinned over his shoulder, letting the sweats fall around his feet and kicking them off. He stepped through the spotlight before turning around, thrusting his pelvis forward. The tip of his proudly erect penis emerged first into the light, followed by the rest of it.
In spite of herself Esmerelda gaped. The last time they'd dated John hadn't been hung like that. Now that she looked she noticed that his belly had been flattened, his hips and shoulders tightened and firmed. Individually the changes were subtle; all together they were striking, especially now that he was nude.
"Command me, my lady," John said, sinking to his knees and arching backwards, thrusting his chest and hips forward. "I live only to serve you."
"Well, then." Esmerelda couldn't suppress a smile. "Come over here and rub my feet."
"Gladly." John slid forward, lifting Esmerelda's leg by the ankle and gently removing her pumps. While rubbing her arch with his thumbs he bent over and licked her instep.
Esmerelda yelped. The John she remembered was not so... forward.
"Do I displease you, my lady?" John asked, gently nibbling on Esmerelda's toes. Continuing to massage her foot with one hand he placed the other behind her knee and drew it downward, massaging her calf.
"Ah-" Esmerelda drew a deep breath through tightly clenched teeth. Her jacket suddenly felt excessively warm so she took it off. "You just... keep right on there, okay?"
"Your wish is my command, my lady." John switched to Esmerelda's other foot and continued massaging. He seemed perfectly content to keep doing it indefinitely.
Esmerelda couldn't take it anymore. "John?"
"Yes, my love?"
"Quit messing around and kiss me."
"Your wish is my command, my darling." John slid forward on his elbows, lifting Esmerelda's knees and scooting them apart. Then, much to her alarm, he stuck his head up under her skirt and licked her crotch.
"Oh!" Esmerelda exclaimed. "That's not what I meant!"
John caught the crotch of Esmerelda's panties in his teeth, pulling them down off her hips as he lifted her buttocks with his hands. He ran his tongue over her vulva then probed deeply with is tongue and two fingers. Esmerelda clutched hard at the surface of the futon, arching her back and drawing a sharp breath.
"I'm sorry?" John looked up, licking his muzzle, leaving his fingers in place. "Would my lady like me to stop?"
"You bastard," Esmerelda gasped.
"I'll take that as a no." John grinned wickedly, pulling Esmerelda's hips toward him until she lay flat on her back. He tugged off her panties and tossed them away, then resumed his attentions to her nether regions. Esmerelda arched her back, breathing in deep, rhythmic gasps. She let go of the futon and frantically undid her blouse, popping off two buttons in the process. After three tries she managed to get her bra undone. With his free hand John reached up and squeezed one of her breasts. She hissed sharply, grabbing his head with both hands.
After some time- Esmerelda wasn't sure how long but it involved several orgasms- John looked up, planted his hands to either side of her pelvis, and slid himself up onto her belly. He squeezed her breasts together, teasing the nipples with his tongue and lips. He arched his back, bringing his hips up to hers, but he did not penetrate. Instead he stroked the head of his penis against her vulva, parting the lips but not pushing past them. Esmerelda clutched at the futon so tightly her hands trembled and let out a string of scorching epithets.
"My, my," John murmured, nuzzling her chin. "That wasn't very ladylike."
"Stop teasing me or I swear to God I'm gonna break you, you motherless bastard!" Esmerelda gasped.
"Now you wouldn't do that," John replied, kneading her breasts as if they were lumps of dough. "That'd just leave you even more frustrated, wouldn't it?"
Esmerelda drew a deep breath, arching her back. John lifted his pelvis as she thrust hers toward him- then gagged as she jabbed her pointed fingers into his solar plexus. As he struggled for breath she rolled him off and grabbed the telephone, jerking the cord out of the wall. She flipped him over and lashed his hands together, then tied his ankles with his own shirt. "I told you not to tease me," Esmerelda declared, using a foot to turn him onto his back.
"Ah, but your victory is a hollow one," John pointed out as Esmerelda examined his now limp penis.
"We'll just see about that." Esmerelda lay down on him in the sixty-nine position, drawing out his organ and caressing it with one hand while fondling his testicles with the other. John hissed sharply and the shaft stiffened; Esmerelda bent it toward her, running her tongue along its underside. As it stiffened even more she let it spring erect, sliding her mouth down over it and sucking hard. John gritted his teeth but couldn't resist; he applied himself diligently to Esmerelda's vulva. She kept up a slow but steady pace, sucking and swallowing at the end of each stroke. After a while his attention to her began to waver; his whole body quivered, his head lolled to one side, and he lifted his hips, trying to thrust himself deeper into her mouth. Instead of taking it she pulled back, sitting up on his chest and rubbing his thighs. As his throbbing penis began to soften he hissed and spat like a cat. "Now who's being ungentlemanly?" she inquired with a chuckle.
"Oh, Essie, I'll be good, I promise!" John gasped.
"Oh, all right. On one condition. No matter what you must lay still. If your performance pleases me, then I'll untie you. If not, I'll just leave you to watch while I stroke off."
"Oh, Essie, you weren't ever like this before!" John wailed.
Esmerelda chuckled wickedly. "Maybe when Zalika and I touched minds she showed me something about how to deal with uppity males. Deal or no?"
"Good boy." Esmerelda lifted her pelvis and took John's member in one hand, gently guiding it in as she settled down upon his thighs. She sighed contentedly, rocking her hips gently back and forth. John panted and gasped, his whole body quivering; the sensation of Esmerelda's labia squeezing and stroking his shaft excited him incredibly but the pace she chose didn't quite bring him to orgasm. He cursed raggedly. Esmerelda couldn't help picking up the pace a bit, squeezing harder as she bore down. In his already excited state it was enough; he erupted inside her, filling her with pulse after pulse of hot semen. When it finally ended he went limp as if he'd expended every bit of his strength. Esmerelda clung to him as long as she could; finally his deflated organ slipped out of her. Fluids from both their bodies matted the fur of their nether regions and formed an expanding wet stain on the futon.
"Would you untie me now? I really gotta go."
"Okay." Esmerelda untied John's hands; he undid his own ankles and hurried to the bathroom. She curled up on the futon, inhaling the scent of him clinging to the fabric and basking in warm afterglow. The toilet flushed and John reappeared, carrying an intricately carved dildo in one hand and a tube of KY in the other. "Oh my," Esmerelda exclaimed, unconsciously covering her crotch.
"You misapprehend," John said, applying KY to the dildo's head. "This is for me."
"You?" Esmerelda frowned. "And what exactly are you going to do with it?"
"Well, I ain't gonna swallow it," John replied.
"But-" Esmerelda blinked as realization of the alternative burst into her mind. "Why?"
"Why have sex at all?" John countered. "Because it feels good."
"But..." Sticking things in her bum didn't lie anywhere near what Esmerelda would have thought of as pleasurable.
"When I was a little boy and my dad told me about sex I just about threw up," John began, returning to the futon and sitting down. "The idea if having to actually touch a naked girl made my skin crawl." He shuddered dramatically. "Then he tells me I have to put my thing in her. I spent years praying I was gay so I wouldn't have to do that."
"You seem to have learned better," Esmerelda pointed out.
"Exactly," John replied. "I wouldn't have thought I'd enjoy it either until Zalika popped my cherry, as it were." He sat down on the futon. "If you don't want to try it that's okay. I really did get it out for me."
"But-" Esmerelda's ears twitched. She didn't at all like the notion of John and Zalika sharing something that didn't include her, even if it meant doing what John suggested. "What do you do with it?"
John smiled, his eyes gleaming wickedly. "Would you like me to show you?"
"Dr. Lathasar?" Kremmin peeked into the locker room. Cymbeline sat on a bench, still in her riot gear, head in her hands, with the face shield of her helmet lifted. She didn't move or answer so Kremmin walked up and sat down beside her. "It's been a long day," he said quietly. "Get changed and I'll have one of the lads take you home."
"No." Cymbeline pulled off her helmet and let it drop to the floor. "I'll change... but I want you to take me home."
"I-" Kremmin began.
"Please." Cymbeline took his hand, gently curling her fingers around it. "We've been through a lot, George. You.. you saved my life. At least twice." She squeezed his hand tightly. "I know relationships based on trauma aren't supposed to last... but I'm not ready to let it go with a smile and a hand shake."
Kremmin said nothing. In truth he agreed; Cymbeline's resolution in the face of fear and personal danger touched him more profoundly than he could say. He couldn't recall a time when he'd been more tempted to set aside his policy of not dating clients... but all too often he'd seen it turn out badly. He couldn't say Cymbeline wasn't ready to face the rigors of dating a police officer but there were other factors. "Cymbeline, I understand how you feel but... you're young enough to be my daughter. I can't do that."
Cymbeline looked up. Her expression wasn't what Kremmin expected at all; her eyes gleamed with a mischievous humor. "Really?" she asked. "I'm forty-nine years old."
Kremmin blinked. Cymbeline didn't look more than thirty at the absolute most.
"Remember I said that the objects in the tomb were charged?" Cymbeline asked. "I've had the spirits of Isis and Bast in me for some time. They've... changed me. Six months ago I was a dumpy middle-aged woman." She pulled off her gloves and caressed Kremmin's cheek. "Dr. Columbarnus wouldn't have some fresh-faced kid right out of college as his partner, would he?" Her expression clouded; she looked down, leaning against Kremmin's shoulder. "Selig wasn't just my colleague," she mumbled. "He was... my partner. In every way. Now... he's gone." She quivered, pressing herself more firmly against Kremmin's side. "And you... you loved someone too. And now she's gone. I can feel it."
Kremmin sighed. "She... she went back to England. She just... couldn't adjust to living in New Zealand." His eyes unfocused. And you're right. I still miss her terribly.
"George, I know this isn't a good idea," Cymbeline mumbled into his shoulder. "I know it probably won't work out." She lifted her face; tears stained the fur around her eyes. "And I don't care. Whatever comes in the future... I need you now."
Kremmin shivered. He felt his resolve crumbling. Cymbeline had risked so much. The police department, the city, and the nation owed her more than they could ever repay. He owed her. "I'll drive you home," he said.
Cymbeline sniffed. "You won't regret it," she purred in a very different tone of voice, nuzzling his cheek and caressing the front of his trousers. Kremmin started; she chuckled softly. "Neither Bast nor Isis are goddesses for people who sit around knitting. At one point or another Isis was the wife of just about every god in the Egyptian pantheon. Not to mention lover to most of the goddesses."
Kremmin sighed. Oh well. In for a penny, in for a pound. "Excuse me," he murmured, extracting himself from Cymbeline's grasp and bolting the locker room door. This room was for day shift personnel; no one would need it until morning. "And now, Dr. Lathasar..." He came back, unbuttoning his tunic. "I'm afraid that by wearing that uniform you're impersonating an officer. I'll have to ask you to remove it."
"Well, I guess this is it, then," Inspector Samson declared, pacing up and down behind his desk. His heart wasn't in it, though; he kept starting with a sort of horrified fascination at his right hand. Kremmin said nothing; having seen what the inspector's arm had looked like just a few hours ago he could understand how Samson felt.
"Not quite," Cymbeline put in. "We have to do something about Daughter Night."
"She's dead," Samson pointed out, shaking a cigarette out of his pack. As he tucked it in his mouth and groped for his lighter he hesitated, looking again at his fingers. He put the cigarette back in the pack. After a moment's thought he the put the pack in the desk drawer and locked it.
"She was dead for three thousand years before Dr. Columbarnus and I dug her up," Cymbeline pointed out. "That didn't stop her from causing trouble."
"Then bury her again," Samson said. "With any kind of luck no one will find her for another three thousand years."
"Inspector, the reason she was so much trouble this time is because she was buried for three thousand years," Cymbeline declared. "She's not dead. She's undead. Like- like Dracula."
Samson frowned. "You mean someone could bring her back to life?"
"Yes," Cymbeline said. "Under the right circumstances she could bring herself back to life. Think about it, Inspector. Three thousand years locked in a tomb with nothing to do but practice her powers and plot revenge?"
"Hmm." Samson fingered his chin thoughtfully. "What if we incinerated her?"
"Even the ashes would be strongly charged with her spirit," Cymbeline replied. "We need to set her sprit free, so it can go on to the next world. Then it'll be over."
"How do we do that?" Kremmin asked.
"Frankly I don't know. The fact that she's got the spirit of Anubis in her makes it tricky. I suspect that there'll be something in the documents we took from the tomb where we found her, but first I'll have to translate them all to find the right spell, then learn the spell itself. It won't be quick. In the meantime we need to keep her spirit as happy as possible."
"And how exactly do you keep an ancient Egyptian sprit happy?" Samson demanded, somewhat petulantly.
Cymbeline giggled. "Oh, that's easy."
As he entered Te Papa's lobby Constable Kremmin glanced at the line running from the ticket counter, out the front doors and across the courtyard. Museum employees had set up cones and ribbons to keep it organized. The wait, Kremmin had been told, was something on the order of two and a half hours. Thus it was with great relief that he presented the pass given to him by Dr. Lathasar and was admitted at once. He hurried upstairs, following the line into the largest of the temporary exhibit areas.
"Why George, I hardly recognized you in your civvies!" Cymbeline exclaimed, leading him over to meet two other people. "I believe you already know Mr. John Palmer and Ms. Esmerelda Braithwaite?"
Kremmin allowed himself a hint of a smile as he shook hands. "Why, yes, I do believe we've... worked together, in the past." John grinned; Esmerelda merely smiled.
"What do you think of the exhibit?" Cymbeline asked, turning about and gesturing expansively.
A half circle area of floor had been cordoned off. Backstopping it were several large stele, sandstone slabs with pictures and writing carved on them. Carefully restored statues of Osiris, Anubis, and Bast were dressed in reconstructed clothing and decorated with authentic jewelry. Two full size chariots and a throne, each in its own glass case, stood before them. Freestanding display cases exhibited everything from rings and knives to model boats, pottery, and miniature obelisks.
"It's a pity the original mummy case was lost," Kremmin commented. "But the one you made is really quite pretty."
One had to admit that the mummy case and the mummy it contained somehow lacked the air of antiquity everything else had. That didn't stop people from oohing and ahhing at the intricately carved, beautifully painted sarcophagus and its occupant. A set of placards explained the mummification process and diagrammed some of the important rituals.
"What the ancient Egyptians wanted more than anything else was to be remembered," Cymbeline said. "I think even Daughter Night would be impressed at the burial we've laid out for her, even if it's not exactly traditional."
"I'm sure she loves it," Esmerelda put in. "How could she be anything but happy with all these people come to gaze at her glory?"
"You even get to say it's an authentic Egyptian mummy," John put in, chuckling. "As long as no one asks how old it is."
"The arrangement seems to be working out well for the museum, at least," Kremmin observed.
"It is, without a doubt," Cymbeline agreed. "The exhibit's generating income and good publicity and having it here allows me to work on deciphering the documents."
John noticed something and turned toward it, frowning. "What's that?" he asked, pointing.
Directly across from the mummy was something that didn't look Egyptian at all. In fact it looked strikingly Japanese: a warrior in full armor, squatting threateningly, his hands upon his swords. Instead of a face he had a mask pulled into an almost grotesquely exaggerated scowl. The bronze statue was life size and amazingly detailed, even down to the rivets holding the pieces of his armor together.
"That's a fourteenth century Kamakura guardian from Japan," Cymbeline replied. "It... um... was given to the museum by an anonymous donor." With the provision that it had to be placed near the Egyptian display and that no questions be asked about its origins. Cymbeline was only too happy to comply; when she'd read the instructions for its use she'd understood at once what it was for. After speaking with Kremmin she'd made a guess where it probably came from and he'd agreed that, under the circumstances, it was best to keep quiet. Big Bad Wolf didn't want Daughter Night getting loose any more than the police did.
"Why's it here?" John asked.
"It guards against... unruly spirits," Cymbeline said. "You might say it's sort of a backup."
"Ah." John nodded. "I see."
"We're fortunate Super Collie managed to save the day," Esmerelda pointed out.
"Indeed we are," Kremmin agreed. "If she were here I'd shake her hand. But alas she seems to have departed the scene as suddenly as she appeared, as usual. A favorite speculation around the station right now is how she managed to reach Daughter Night without being spotted. The most common theory is that she came in disguised as a regular person, but no one has any idea who it might be." Except perhaps myself, Cymbeline, and John, he added to himself. But none of them would divulge the secret; they all had compelling reasons not to.
Esmerelda smiled. "Perhaps it's for the better. I've always felt that being able to appear suddenly and unexpectedly is an advantage in super heroing."
"I couldn't agree more," Kremmin said, nodding. "If I were a criminal I'd think carefully about whatever I was planning, knowing that Super Collie might suddenly appear."
"I suggest we retire to the nearest pub and raise a toast to Super Collie," John said, taking Esmerelda's hand and squeezing it gently. "Don't you think that'd be a wonderful idea, Essie dear?"
Esmerelda giggled. "If you say so, John darling."
"Once again I couldn't agree more," Kremmin said, slipping one arm around John and the other around Cymbeline. The four of them did earn some odd looks as they scurried out of the museum, giggling like school kids.
SCA #02: Dark Desires