“Hey,” Drew said. She sat down on Netic’s bed where Netic was paging through a magazine.
“Hey,” Netic answered. She didn’t look up.
“I don’t think-“
“For once, Drew, don’t think.”
“How’s the database-thing coming?”
“I’m finished with what I have, but I can’t get into Isomorphix’s hidden files. I know they’re there, but I can’t see them. They’re locked behind this intense security program. It’s, like, ten times better than what the CIA has.”
“Wonder what he’s hiding. Have you tried asking Iso if he remembers anything about the computer?”
“No. Once Iso is back to normal, I can’t look anymore.”
“I try.” Drew twisted a braid around her fingers. “I have some new stuff in the lab. Want to come see?”
Netic closed her magazine and pushed herself upright. “Yea, sure.”
Let's go, slave.
What? Xiao sank to the tiled floor, her back to the wall. She held her head tightly, as if she could squeeze out the knowledge of what had happened to her brother, Luke.
I said, we're leaving. I don't have time for this.
I can't go…She wanted desperately to wake up, or else go to sleep. A long nap.. .I can't...
Oh, pull yourself together, Fred snapped. Don't make me take over this situation, slave. You're trying my patience.
He's my brother. She still felt sick inside, like something was weighting her to the floor.
...Too bad I didn't realize who he was. I would've given him more than a broken ankle. He laughed, and then continued, Besides, don't you share some of the blame in this? After all, if you'd never accepted me this never would have happened. He waited a moment, but Xiao said nothing. Didn't you ever realize the people you did this to yourself had their own families? Their own loved ones? This little sermon was followed by a derisive noise. Of course, I forgot. It wouldn't occur to you, would it? You were having fun, enjoying my strength...You took everything for granted, as if this was a game.
Fred… Xiao no longer had the will to argue with him. A few tears were spilled down her face. She wiped them quickly away. If she started crying now, she'd never stop.
It's too bad you don't learn your lessons the first time, slave...You'd better get out there and say your goodbyes.
There was no point in staying any longer, she realized. There was nothing she could do...Nothing...And she was afraid to stay now. With Luke in the next room, comatose, or whatever state you were in when you were soulless, so nearby, all she could do was think of him. Maybe...it would get better away from here. Away from him. Xiao stood at Fred's order, and after taking another minute to compose herself, exited the bathroom.
"Oh, there you are, Ann Marie." Her mother smiled weakly. "We were just watching Doctor Phil. Some of your friends were on it."
"Oh?" She tried to sound interested and controlled. "I didn't realize there was anything going on today."
There most certainly is, Fred whispered.
"I......I have to go now," Xiao quavered, and then steadied herself. "Mom...dad...Ginger...I...I'll see you sometime soon again, okay? I...hope the doctors figure out what's wrong with Luke..."
"I'm sure they will," Her father spoke again, glancing up in her direction.
"Yes," Ginger said, eyes narrowing as she looked at Xiao. "I'm sure they will too."
"Ann Marie! Are you really leaving so soon?" Her mother asked, but she looked relieved herself at the news.
"I am," Xiao said. She glanced at the bed, where Luke lay motionless. Goodbye, she thought.
Her mother moved as though to hug her, but then stopped. Father had already turned back to staring listlessly at his son. Ginger was still staring at her, in a way that made her want to crawl out of the room quickly as possibly. They stood awkwardly for a moment, silent, until Xiao turned slowly and left.
Go to the Hall first, slave. We need to grab some things...and then we'll begin. Fred barely waited for her to get into the hallway before he launched into a narrative about the glories of himself and his mission. He seemed oblivious to her mood. This is the beginning, slave...
The beginning... Xiao thought dully.
Raven felt a predatory smirk as she looked down upon her prey. Her quarry fidgeted under her gaze; sweat beginning to bead up on his brow. She had him cornered - and he knew it.
It had been a long, hard battle. They had exchanged blow after blow, but the odds had finally tipped in her favor and now he was on the run. The chase had been just as long, but now… now, it came to an end.
Oh yes. This was her playing field, and she was calling the shots. She would size him up, and then, like a coiled viper… strike!
A brief pause.
“Miss!” Holden cried exuberantly.
“Damn,” Raven said, a bit deflated. “So C-1 is a miss?”
“Uhh… I thought you said… I mean, yeah… it’s a miss.”
“I thought so,” Raven nodded sagely, as she put another white peg into the board under B-1. There were identical pegs fitted into identical notches all over her scope. Where in the world could that stupid patrol boat be hiding?
Then again, how could one tiny patrol boat keep up the firepower of an entire fleet on its own? It was ridiculous, really. She would have to rewrite the rules so each ship had to contribute to the overall firepower. The aircraft carrier could give five points, the battleship four points, the destroyer three points, and so forth. That way, the stupid dinky patrol boat harassing her fleet would only be doing a mere damage worth… two-seventeenths of a point?
Bah! This is why she liked Princess Maker 2. The computer handled all the math. The only reason she was playing Battleship with Holden is because she needed to kill some time and because that PR guy - Boyd Billeh - said that chronic addictions didn’t project a good image. And that the Hehing would have to go, too.
What is he, some sort of therapist? Raven thought as she fiddled with the figurine on her board. The USS Lourdes, to be exact. Three red pegs had angrily dug themselves into the vessel’s hull. The fourth would be the last.
Therapists. She did not need another therapist in her life. And since when did she Heh anymore? That was all in the past, a figment of their imaginations, the water under the shattered bridge of Lansky’s self-respect…
Raven looked between her fingers at the model she was toying with.
“Your battleship is sunk!” Holden crowed.
Raven blinked. Why? Why Lourdes?? How many times does she have to SUFFER?!
“Heh. Heh. Heh!Heh!Heh!”
Isomorphix slept for the first time in many years. Not the pseudo-slumber that encompassed much of his adult life or even the past couple of confusing weeks on the street as an amnesiac. Not the sleep in which he could awaken at a moment’s notice, at almost any offending sound. No, this time he actually slept - eyes closed in blessed unconsciousness.
He still didn’t know who he was. Nevertheless, his mind still fed him fragments of thought - little pieces of jumbled information from somewhere in the depths of his brain…
Three boys. Playing in an open garden while their parents meet to discuss their adult matters. Close they are, those three. Friends - family, even; blood brothers, as it were. Carefree, but not without competition, they set off on their little game.
The three diverge, each holding their water rifles. Big boys with their toys. They sneak around for some time - hiding behind trees, crouching up along the marble fountains - each seeking to gain the upper hand on the other. Finally, the youngest of the three finds an elder in his sights.
But something isn’t right. Something is horribly wrong as he pulls the trigger. The toy seems to explode in his hands and the older boy drops to the ground, motionless. Only he isn’t a boy anymore… he’s a grown man. And he is very, very dead.
The youngest stands in shock, looking into the other’s lifeless gaze. He doesn’t seem to realize the change that has come over himself. Had he a mirror, perhaps he would. They seem to pull him in, those empty eyes, and before he realizes it he’s engulfed in them - he’s in some sort of warped tunnel, falling down its length.
All around him, images flash. Places. People. Things that ought to be familiar, but are somehow just beyond the grasp of his recollection. Voices call to him amongst the myriad of floating scenes. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but the shrill desperation is apparent.
Suddenly, the scenes are replaced by something at the end of the tunnel. It is hard to make out at first, but slowly the image clears.
It’s a boy. His back is turned, yet the boy seems oddly familiar. In fact, a suspicion begins to surface, and then he realizes the boy is sitting on his shins, leaning over something. Curiosity - and fear - begins to grow. What is it? Somewhere, he may already know the answer, but for whatever reason, he remains oblivious.
He tries to get closer - close enough to peek over the boy’s shoulder. But as he tries to get near the child, the further the crouching figure slips away. He runs harder, faster… but the boy eventually disappears.
There is laughter, cruel and menacing. Taunting.
Then the surroundings mercifully slip into blackness.
On the infirmary bed, Isomorphix’s face gave a faint twitch and his head rolled slightly to the side as if to shake off a bad dream.
The Hall was pretty quiet at night as Raven made her way down to Drew’s self-styled lab.
Holden had gone to sleep, so she no longer had a partner to play board games with… and that left her only one option: Princess Maker 2. An hour or so of playing the game wouldn’t hurt, and after all, Boyd wasn’t back yet and what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Or her. The only problem was that the laptop she regularly played on was missing. And the only person she could think of that would have any interest in computers was the Justice League’s resident techie.
She sneaked around into the hallway to the rear wing. It was dark. And quiet. That made the spacious interiors of the Hall seem even more foreboding and dangerous. And, of course, there was that whole thing about Julian that gave her the creeps. What if he was waiting around some corner, ready to ambush her?
Oh, stop it, she berated herself. He wouldn’t dare after that meeting. And even if he did, she could just phase right through him. And then he’d really be gone. She wondered what would happen when the rest of the more “senior” members returned from Los Angeles. Would they officially give him the boot?
The thought made her smirk. Technically, she was about as “senior” as any of them since she was the first the join after the founding of the original team. But the age factor probably had something to do with it. Pinzz had handled the whole meeting, after all. She might have even kicked him out, but lately she just wasn’t her normal, leader-like assertive self. Actually, she seemed more like Isomorphix, who never really got involved in anything. If those two had made a firm decision, they could have probably been rid of Quake by now. Though, Iso might’ve found that difficult without a proper memory.
Down the stairs, Raven could see the lights on and the unmistakable chatter of voices. Drew was still awake. Good, now she could get the laptop back and play some PM2 before the rest of the team (and Boyd Billeh) got back.
She was just about to make her way down when a hand clasped her shoulder.
“AAHHHH!!!” she screamed.
“Shhhh! Good grief, you’re going to wake everyone up!” came the hushed reply.
“What are you doing up?”
“Making sure Mr. Playboy isn’t out harassing anyone. He isn’t on the couch. I swear if I find him I’ll throttle his wiry little neck.”
“You wouldn’t really, would you?” Raven asked, only a bit perturbed by the seriousness in Pinzz’s tone.
The older woman didn’t answer the question. Instead, she asked, “What are you doing up?”
“Just going to see if Drew has the laptop.”
“Good idea,” Pinzz said. “Maybe she knows where the little bastard is.” They both made their way down the steps.
Sure enough, Drew was sitting in her lab amongst a vineyard of wires. Netic sat on a stool close by, magnetically tinkering with a set of screwdrivers. Raven suspected there might be more than one reason for that.
“Hey, what are you all doing up so late?” Drew asked, noticing the two enter.
“Could ask you the same thing,” Pinzz countered.
“Cam couldn’t sleep. I was giving her some company.” It was then that Raven realized what Drew was doing.
“What did you do to my laptop?!” The computer was opened up and circuit boards, chips, and other gadgets were protruding from its shell.
Drew rolled her eyes, “It’s not your laptop; it’s Iso’s. Besides, it’ll be fine. I’m just tinkering with it.”
“I’ve got all my Princess Maker games on that! Iso doesn’t even use it anymore!”
“That’s what you think,” Drew said slyly. “He actually accessed it a few times before the cruise.”
“See, it all started out when I thought I could help jog Iso’s memory by looking into his stuff. But he doesn’t really own anything except for that sword he carries around with him all the time. And this laptop. It looked empty at first, except for the stuff Raven keeps on here, but then I noticed some discrepancies in the -“
“Cut the technobabble, Drew,” Pinzz interjected. “Just speak in English.”
Drew looked a little annoyed, but continued, “Basically, there are some hidden records in here. It’s really dressed up - segments of the encrypted source code are actually essential parts of other seemingly innocent files. It’s actually quite - “
Drew caught a look from Pinzz and then summarized her point: “I found some hidden stuff Iso put on this computer and I just cracked it a few minutes ago.”
“What’s it say?” Raven asked, temporarily forgetting her PM2 dilemma.
“I’m not sure. That’s what I was hoping you could answer,” Drew admitted. “It looks like a list of a bunch of former gangs… and some companies that went bankrupt, too.”
“Is that Mason Steelworks?” Pinzz asked, pointing to a record on the screen.
“You know about them?” Drew asked.
“They were a subsidiary of PowersCo. We think they were a front involved in helping out a Sexy Orange Hat smuggling ring that I broke up with X-y back before the League. But before we could investigate, the company just vanished.”
Pinzz let out a dry laugh at her own comment. “Pointless, really.”
“So what do you think all this has to do with Isomorphix? You guys have been around him since the beginning. Do you know anything about this?”
“Pssh! What do I look like? Some girl who likes to chase weenies who dress in black and get off on acting all though and shady? Hell if I know, he never tells us anything.”
“Yeah, he doesn’t exactly say much,” Raven added. “He leaves for long periods of time and then just shows up again. I think the only times he’s really done anything with us is the Kut Kastle investigation and the Delivery Men incident. And those were by accident, too. He showed up at the Oscars and the time those Seeker monsters attacked, but only afterwards.”
“Hmm,” Drew pondered out loud.
“As interesting as all this is, do you all know where Julian is?” Pinzz asked. Netic glanced up from the stool, but still didn’t say anything.
“I thought he was supposed to be sleeping on the couch?” Drew asked.
“So did I,” Pinzz said. And then, giving one more glance at the computer screen, she vanished up the stairs to resume her hunt.
There was a moment of silence.
“So… I guess this means PM2 is out of the question,” Raven sighed, looking back at the dissected laptop.
How she managed to avoid an accident was beyond Xiao, but she made her way back to the Hall safe and sound. Maybe Fred took over her driving; it was hard for her to stay focused for long. She kept thinking about Luke.
Maybe there was a reason why superheroes in comics had so much drama all the time after all.
Xiao parked the Justice Van in the Garage of Justice, and after shutting off the engine sat motionless. She wasn’t thinking, just…sitting.
Are we going anywhere anytime soon, slave? Fred demanded, once again dragging her from her self-pity and acting as if she had no feelings whatsoever. How friendly of him.
In a way, she was almost glad Fred kept yelling at her. If he wasn’t keeping her moving and doing things, who knew what she’d end up doing. ….Then again, if Fred wasn’t with her in the first place, nothing would have happened to her brother, would it?
She grabbed the keys and slipped out of the van. She locked the doors out of habit and went into the Hall. Inside, it was quiet. The others must have been gone on some PR mission. Dropping the keys onto the nearest empty surface, she headed to the kitchen to grab a drink and see if anyone else was around. What are we doing, O High and Mighty One?
...You need to change your clothes. And we need a large bag... Fred paused, thinking. He ignored her biting sarcasm and wily wit. Er… Do you have enough money for a cab?
I think so…Depends, where are we going? Can’t we just take the Van? Or even some blurbs?
No, we can’t. We can’t be linked to the Justice League…Although, I suppose we could fly… He fell silent again, and she let him be.
Xiao once again realized Fred had changed. He didn’t seem to be the same bungling evildoer she remembered, or even to be the egotistic demon he had been when they first formed their unholy (albeit reluctant) alliance of evil. Something had focused his attentions. It was like he wasn’t content with the occasional hostile possession of her body, or delighting in the recitation of his conquests and deeds of yore, or draining the souls of……Her train of thought jumped the track.
From the fridge she grabbed a Pepsi and after a few sips, headed to her room. She flicked on a hall light and was startled again at how quiet and dark everything was. Although…could she hear voices? It sounded like Raven yelling about Princess Maker 2. Nothing unusual about that. She walked quietly, incase anyone was asleep, and winced at the squeak her door emitted when opened.
What should I wear?
Dark clothing. It will make my work much easier. Hurry up. He still seemed distracted.
Dark clothing? What exactly was going on? Were they going goon-hunting again? Xiao decided against that theory. He never seemed so excited about that, really, since the people he drained weren’t above averagely evil, nor was there any real danger. But she grabbed a pair of black pants and socks, and even managed to find a long-sleeved black shirt. The only bag she had, however, didn’t seem to fit Fred’s expectations.
It’s much too small. And that bright red color? He grumbled. Don’t any of the other Nitwits of Justice have anything better?
I don’t know if anyone else is even around…But I can check, She added hurriedly, when he made a dissatisfied noise.
Don’t change your clothes yet, slave. They might get…ideas if you go out looking like that.
Xiao agreed. Whatever they were doing, it was probably for the best if the others knew nothing, so that they would not suspect Fred. She dropped the clothes on the bed and crept out of her room. Remembering how she heard Raven’s voice as she had entered the house, she headed toward the general direction she thought the screaming had come from.
Eventually, she managed to figure out that the others were in Drew’s inner sanctum. Xiao was quite proud of this deductive reasoning as it had only taken a search of half the Hall to decide upon this point. Woo-hoo!
When she finally walked into the lab, Pinzz, Drew, Netic and Raven were all hanging out. Drew had pieces of a laptop scattered on one of her desks and was poking some of the pieces with some tweezers. Raven was watching closely, as if worried that Drew would mess something up, Netic was organizing some screwdrivers according to length and size, and Pinzz was just…being Pinzz, who noticed her first.
“Xiao, you’re finally back! What happened at the hospital?” She asked. “Oh! And you haven’t seen that %$@&er Julian around, have you?”
“Umm.. My brother broke his ankle, that’s all. My parents made me hang around forever to catch up on some things. I haven’t seen Julian around at all. Why do you ask?”
Pinzz explained what Julian had attempted to do to Netic (Xiao noticed that while this story was going on, Netic began to send the screwdrivers like missiles at the wall. Right before they hit, she pulled them back though, which was probably a good thing. Honestly, would Netic approve of holes in the wall? Probably not.). She used many words Xiao had never heard before, some of which she was sure were made up, but they sounded pretty impressive to hear.
“I can’t believe he’d do something like that!” Xiao said, surprised. “He never really talked to me much, but he didn’t seem like that big of a jerk. I mean, X-y is always kind of kidding around and using his vision but he never did anything.”
The others nodded. “I don’t know where the $# @^ he gets @*ing off, but if it was ^%$#ing up to me I’d castrate the bastard.”
“Yeah, really.” Xiao agreed.
“So what’s up?” Raven asked her, keeping her eyes glued to Drew’s work on the laptop.
“I need a backpack or a duffel bag, or something. It needs to be at least-“ She broke off. Four feet long. Fred supplied. “Four feet long?”
“Er..I need to take some things of my brother’s to the hospital tonight. The only bag I have is too small. Do any of you guys have one I could borrow?”
Netic spoke up. “I have a navy blue duffel bag. You can use it if you need to. But I better get it back!”
“Of course!” Xiao said.
“Wait here, I’ll grab it then.” The girl returned the screwdrivers to the counter, and left the room.
“What are you doing, Drew?” Leaning closer for a better look at the pieces.
“It’s Isomorphix’s computer. I’ve been trying to hack into some of his private files. It’s been difficult though. The boy knows what he’s doing.”
“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”
“My PM2 files are on it.” Raven told Xiao. “If Drew messes them up, I’m going to be very, very, very upset.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about anything happening,” Xiao reassured her. “Drew’s really good with...um…technological…things...”
Drew nodded. Just then, Netic returned, brandishing a dark blue duffel bag.
“Here Xiao. Guard it with your life. There better not be any stains, rips or broken straps or anything at all wrong with it when you give it back.” Netic reverently handed Xiao the bag.
“Thank you! Don’t worry; I’ll give it back to you tomorrow. Or, if something else insane happens, as soon as possible.” Smiling, she said a quick goodnight to the girls.
“Hope your brother gets better,” Raven said, just as Drew muttered, “Whoops.”
“Whoops? Whoops what??!!” Raven grabbed Drew’s arm.
“Just kidding,” Drew laughed. Raven made a face, and then shook her head. “That was totally not funny.”
Xiao went back to her room, and quickly switched into the black clothing she had laid out. Anything else, Fred?
This should be all, slave.
Should I call a cab for us to take, Fred?
No…we’ll fly. Much harder to trace.
I thought you said we shouldn’t do anything to draw attention to the JL? She was a little skeptical. After all, if the other JLers were working to improve their image, the last thing they needed was Xiao messing their image up again by running around carrying on errands for an evil demon.
It will be fine. His tone was final. Xiao let it drop.
So, if we’re flying…where are we, uh, blasting off? She asked. And also, Mr. Almighty, how are we supposed to see?
We can leave just outside, as long as none of the other Justice Jokes are around. As for your second question…where are those ridiculous sunglasses you insist on wearing during the summer?
Great. Fashion help from a demon. Rolling her eyes, Xiao dug through some random junk in a drawer until she found the sunglasses to which Fred was referring to.
Possibly for the first time since Fred had returned to her, he suddenly became substantial. Her shadow grew and distorted as he filled it out. One hand flexed, and for a moment, Xiao felt empty without him resting in her mind. The shadow reached out and took the glasses from her hand. She thought she heard him mutter something in Babylonian (after his original incessant ramblings, she had managed to pick up a word or two), but it was very short. Then he handed the glasses back to her.
“These will let you see,” he whispered, as if paranoid someone would hear. “Simply put them on.”
“See? See what?” She asked, taking them back. “In the dark?”
Fred didn’t answer. Instead the shadow shrank back to normal, and inside her head, he replied. Anything. If there are infrared wires, invisible barriers or objects. Night will become day.
And day become night? She joked. He didn’t seem amused. Interested, she pulled the glasses on her face. Nothing seemed different, although…if there were any invisible objects in her room she’d be a little suspicious about it. So where are we going that we need to leave at night to get there, and I have to dress like a burglar because…?
Because we are going burgling.
We have to get going. It’s already late. The museum has been closed for several hours already. The only people you will have to deal with are guards, and the possible late-night scholar or janitor. He continued, and Xiao thought she caught a touch of glee in his words.
Well…You’re the boss… She said finally.
Leaving the glasses on, she shut off the light in her room. In the hallway, the lights were still on since she had turned them on when she had first arrived at the Hall that evening. Surprisingly, the sunglasses did nothing to tone done the illumination. Instead, it was like wearing prescription lenses. In fact, she could even see perfectly well away from the lighted passage. Flipping off the light switch, she was unable to see anything under the lenses. But through them…Everything was lit up as if the sun was shining. Er, in the house. She left as quietly as possible. Outside, it was chilly and damp. Xiao imagined flying wasn’t going to improve the situation at all, especially since Fred hadn’t allowed her to take a jacket. He insisted on her walking as far from the Hall as possible, and then flying to their destination, which he still hadn’t revealed to her. Every time she tried to get him to tell her where they were going, he deflected or changed the subject. The slippery devil! Oh. Yeah…
So what happens if any of the others decide to go night hawking and spot me, flying? Or stealing? How are we…me…I…going to explain this?
Fred was confident, despite her doubts. I’ll think of something if that happens. I’ve fooled them once, I can do it easily again.
At last, frustrated, Xiao stopped walking. Is this far enough?
I suppose… Fred conceded. Although-
Good! Great! Let’s get this over with. So, where too, Conductor?
The Shuster Museum of World History. He answered calmly.
The Shuster Museum of World History was only one of several buildings that together made up the Shuster Institute. Xiao was stunned for a moment, and repeated him. The Shuster Institution. The Shuster Institution?! How do you expect us not to be caught? She went into full-blown hysterics. Bo Powers donated millions- maybe even billions of dollars to them, which they used not only to purchase rare historical objects and fund their world-wide research, but also to install the most expensive security system ever for a museum! This is not like holding up a gas station! They have lasers, cameras, guards, weight-alarms that go off if you move anything from a case; they probably have those crazy poison spears that go flying at you from the walls if you remove the Sacred Idol, like in Indiana Jones! Are you insane?! Xiao finished her mental rant, and waited for a good answer.
Of course not. But I am a demon, and therefore possess powers that possibly overshadow those of mere human technology.
Oh! Well then! We should have no problem then! Everything will be just hunky-dory!!
That settles it. You are off your rocker, aren’t you? Xiao sighed audibly.
Well then, let’s get this underway, slave.
This would be Xiao’s first time flying. Oh, Fred himself had flown her around, but he still seemed nervous about being spotted. Which was kind of stupid, since how would Xiao explain her new-found ability to FLY? “Oh yeah, I uh, forgot to tell anyone. I can fly, as well as be a puppet to a demon.”
But he was in control now, and she really didn’t need to get on his bad side. Again. For the five hundredth time.
So, feeling ridiculous, Xiao jumped into the air.
She waited for something to happen- a sudden rush of wind, a “woosh” noise, anything. But instead, she stayed where she was, unmoving-
Xiao glanced down.
She was unmoving six feet above the ground.
“Gah!!” Losing her balance, Xiao pin wheeled madly to keep herself from falling. It was like a goofy cartoon, where someone runs off a cliff and for several seconds hangs in the air before plummeting.
If you’re done messing around, we can get going, perhaps? Fred interrupted.
How does this work??!! Xiao demanded, yielding.
Sounding exasperated, Fred said, Do I have to do everything? Look just think…up…and.. you’ll go up.
Oh yes, that’s definitely a scientific answer if I ever heard one, Xiao thought back sarcastically. But to her surprise, Fred was right. If she thought about going up, she went up. Likewise in the down department.
It was a lot better than using the blurbs.
For one, Xiao had no time limit- there was no fear to get where she was headed in a hurry, or to stay close to the ground so that she didn’t suddenly drop when the shoes malfunctioned. And she had a lot more maneuverability. She could go up, down, turn quickly or even upside down. She started wasting so much time, getting the feel of flying (FLYING!) that Fred, being the party-pooper he was, yelled at her to get her rear in gear.
Another thing that surprised her was that no matter what she did, the glasses seemed glued to her nose. Possibly Fred had, besides enchanting them to give her sight, made them impossible to lose, unless you took them off yourself. Either way, it was a good deal. And they made it possible for her to see the entire city from the air. Amazing.
All too soon however, she arrived at the enormous Shuster Institute. It was a massive edifice, with several different wings and thousands of exhibits. She had been herself on countless field trips, as had probably every other child in the city, to visit at least one or more of them during her school life.
And now she was going to steal something from it? What could Fred possibly want-or need, rather, since it wasn’t like him to waste his time and powers on anything…well, except impressing the masses…-from a museum? Did she really want to know, for that matter?
Okay, Master, we’re here. What next? What’s your plan to break into this place? How in the world are we going to be able to get inside this place even?
The first question is easy enough. Like any classic typical museum break-in, we’re entering through a skylight on the roof. Except, of course, we don’t need to break any glass- we already have one thing in our favor, now don’t we?
Xiao landed uncertainly on one of the only flat surfaces of the building. Okay, nice plan. Except how do we get in through a window without breaking any glass?
By going through the glass, of course.
Well why didn’t I think of that? She thought, irritated. And if we can get through glass, why don’t we go through a wall, instead?
Because walls are thicker and stronger, slave. They require more energy to slip through, and it’s one thing to transport an inanimate object through a wall, but much worse to carry something living through a wall. The thin glass will be easy as walking on water to penetrate.
Whatever. So what window?
The Asian exhibit is on the Eastern side of this museum.
Xiao was forced to float, inches above the building, to the proper end of the museum. With her glasses, she was able to see some of the artifacts and exhibits through the glass, far below. This building alone was several stories high, not to mention how long it was. But she finally located a place that was satisfactory to Fred. There, she tied the bag Netic had allowed her to borrow to a convenient pipe of some sort. Satisfied it was secure, she allowed Fred to direct her. She sat on the cold cement roof, and scooted towards the glass. First one foot, then the other slid through, until half was in, and half out.
Slipping through a window was not one of the most pleasant experiences Xiao had ever had either. It was like having all your body squeezed to a point, and then expanding again once it emerged from the other side. Afterwards she wasn’t looking forward to exiting the same way.
Inside the museum, the air was much warmer, which Xiao was very grateful for. But there were also trip lasers. Everywhere. In fact, there were so many she was surprised that she hadn’t hit one coming through the skylight. It was like a laser-light show. Some of them were even moving, up and down and sideways… A headache began to form.
So, where to next, Fred? Everything is categorized by country and then year, as far as I know. Hopefully, the museum hadn’t been rearranged since her last field trip, and she would be able to find what they were looking for, quickly.
We’re looking for a very small object, slave. It is a Chinese artifact dating back to around the seventeenth century.
Only the seventeenth? That’s not very old, is it? Xiao said, doubtfully. She began to drift towards where she thought the Chinese section began. Fortunately, if she stayed near the ceiling, there were no lasers.
Just because something isn’t old, doesn’t mean it can’t contain something useful. Fred pointed out. It is a scepter made of jade- small, two or three feet long- with nine ruyi-lotus-blossoms carved into it.
Okay, one jade stick coming up, Xiao said, and at that moment was lucky enough to spot the entrance to the Chinese wing. It was aptly decorated with a flowing script of Chinese letters (imagine that), and a dragon. And also five or six bright red lines that cris-crossed the near entrance. So, now was the time to panic. If she hit any of the wires, an alarm would go off, which would trigger not only a lock down system- bars crossing in front of all the exits, including exhibit rooms- but the police. And most likely, the Justice League.
Perhaps…you should take over here? Xiao suggested to Fred.
Glad to. The instant he answered, Xiao felt shoved aside as he reasserted control. In a series of dizzying swoops, he managed to bypass the first three wires. He landed on the floor to roll under another, suddenly stood up and hurdled the fifth, and actually rebounded off a decorative pillar to miss the sixth and final wire.
Cool. Now all they had to do was find the room it was in, grab it, and come back out. Great. No worries. Yeah. Oh- except the camera that was right over their heads!
Fred! As she recovered from a heart-attack, Xiao gave him a rough mental poke.
Don’t worry about the cameras, slave. To them, we’re invisible. The glasses, see? With a laugh, he waved at the camera, which continued to rotate back and forth, oblivious.
Oh. Xiao said, relaxing. Slightly.
The next room was full of helpful and informative plaques that listed the various rooms within the Chinese Wing. Fred studied it a moment, and apparently spotted what he was looking for before Xiao had time to process anything, because he moved quickly through the first four rooms, took a sharp left, and finally froze. It was like a jerky rollercoaster ride.
In this room, there were glass display cases ringing the perimeter. Several cases were positioned in the middle of the room, but Fred ignored them. He headed straight to the far wall, and glanced through the items. A small smile appeared as he located what he was after: a small, delicate green stick that had circularish blobs cut into it.
That’s what we broke in here for? That?! She was a little indignant. They had risked their lives and cover…for this. Just… this.
Shut up. Fred said. He stuck an arm through the glass (again, the squeezing sensation), and carefully seized it. Apparently there were no weight-sensors in this display, because no alarm sounded, no barred gates crashed down, and the police didn’t burst in on them with guns. Almost reverently, Fred drew the scepter back through the glass, and inspected it carefully. “Do you know how long I looked for this, slave?” He asked. “Hundreds of years…All for this...”
Up close, Xiao had to admit it was beautiful. Each lotus blossom had been deftly carved. It was slightly abstract, but artfully done so, not because the artist was unable to capture them. There were indeed nine blossoms, encircling the entire scepter, with one larger blossom on the bottom. A small bead protruded from the top, and from it one white thread branched off to two brown strands, two yellow-gold, and two emerald green. They were faded with age, and fraying, and Xiao was sure they would break as Fred dangled it by them- but they did hold.
Fred let loose a very maniacal and evil laugh, which made Xiao wonder the exact nature of the jade ornament, but then again, Fred was in the habit of letting loose an evil laugh whenever he was particularly pleased. “They won’t even realize it’s gone for some time, slave. It’s the perfect crime. Quickly- we must get back to the Hall, so that you’re not missed.”
Once we slip past the lasers, we can return directly to the Hall, slave. He clutched the scepter to her/their chest, and rapidly made his way back to the first room of the exhibit. Repeating his original acrobats he was able to again pass by the lasers, and then push them out through the skylight.
Once they emerged back into the chill air, Xiao quickly stuffed the scepter thingy into the duffel bag, and untangled it from the pipe. Their journey back was quiet, and Xiao felt worn. Her visit to the hospital seemed years ago, not to mention how hungry she was. When she returned, she was going to eat, and then sleep everything off.
However, Fred rudely reminded her before she could do anything, she would have to dispose of the artifact, and the best place for it probably wasn’t anywhere in her room. And then, she would have to return the bag to Netic….
Once again, she was forced to land half a mile away from her actual destination, and made to brave damp grass and chill winds, dragging her heavy burden across the Great Plains, as nature and mankind worked against her! …Okay, so this time Fred let her pretty much land three feet from the door, and the bag probably weighed like ten ounces, so it was no big deal. But still.
At the Hall, she stuffed the jade carving into the first place that crossed her mind: the coat closet. Come on, how many people actually used the coat closet? No one! Even though it was jammed chock full of coats, that were clean, everyone had their own jacket to wear. Who actually put their coat away in the right place, anyhow? Why had anyone bothered to add a coat closet to the Hall? And why was she asking herself so many questions regarding the usage of a coat closet? Wasn’t it enough that carefully tucked away in the pockets of an ugly red and orange windbreaker enough? And as a double precaution, she left the sunglasses in the same coat. No one would be able to figure out they were hers, right? At least, no one would be wondering why she had a pair of magical glasses in her possession.